Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A nice article about interviews

Antony Eagle has written a nice article about interviews. He provides a more detailed survey of the relevant empirical data than I'd seen before (though it is admittedly incomplete), and makes a fairly detailed set of practical suggestions, in light of the fact that it seems to be psychologically impossible not to do at least some kind of interview. (See, for example, Asstro's comment here; I don't mean to distance myself from this attitude. I share it.)

Although this essay is written from the point of view of the interviewer, it seems to me that it's important for job candidates to be up on this stuff. It's a very "noisy" process, and the judgments being made in this deeply imperfect environment are about us. Our asses are on the line. You want to be able to do what you can to diminish the noise, or at least get it to work in your favor, or at least minimize the degree to which it works against you.

Thanks to Dr. Eagle for permission to post.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Anyone else find a tad odd if not outright uproariously funny that Princeton is touted as the lone example of the noise-free no-interview hire while also rumored to be a veritable nightmarish soap-opera freakshow of departmental politics and borderline cartoonish intrigue.

Noise-free hires are quiet alright...maybe a little too quiet.

Anonymous said...

Even if all this is true, interviews are still valuable if not only for the reason that they weed out candidates more likely to fail. An ugly person likely suffered the effects of our natural bias against those who are ugly (not that it is morally permissible, only natural), thus making this person less extroverted and comfortable with one's self, at least enough to cope with everyday life. An overweight person likely has self-control and/or self-esteem issues, neither of which are desirable in most employment. And so on. Yes, these are stereotypes and don't describe every case, but there is a reasonable logic to them, as even Aristotle had admitted (that the good life and happiness aren't found entirely in knowledge but also require having friends, being reasonable attractive, etc.).

There's also a lot to be said about someone who can make a good first impression. Part of working in an enterprise is getting along with one's co-workers and, better yet, hanging out with/liking one's co-workers. Whatever first-impression biases we may have had might not all be justified or even true, but it nonetheless remains that, for some reason, we had this bias. Overcoming this bias, even if evil, takes some work. Thus, not hiring this offensive person makes sense, even if they have mad skillz.

Finally, why think that the interview process is broken? Why can't it be that there are simply 'tards everywhere, that no one knows how to hire. There are so many 'tards that there's no common reliable way to screen them out, interviews or not. Even some of your close friends are 'tard. Admit it.

Anonymous said...

The perception of Princeton being a dysfunctional department seems to me quite dated. Any evidence to support this claim? or just hearsay?

Mr. Zero said...

Even if all this is true, interviews are still valuable if not only for the reason that they weed out candidates more likely to fail. An ugly person likely suffered the effects of our natural bias against those who are ugly

Yep. No ugly person could ever be a successful philosopher. No way, no how.

An overweight person likely has self-control and/or self-esteem issues, neither of which are desirable in most employment.

Yep. No overweight person would ever make a good philosopher. Not possible.

There's also a lot to be said about someone who can make a good first impression. Part of working in an enterprise is getting along with one's co-workers

Yep. And nobody who can't make a good first impression while jet-lagged, in an unfamiliar city, and under ungodly levels of stress could possibly ever get along with his co-workers. Obviously.

Whatever first-impression biases we may have had might not all be justified or even true, but it nonetheless remains that, for some reason, we had this bias.

Because even if our biases are not justified or true, the very fact that we have them proves that they are justified and true.

Come on, Smokers. You're better than this.

Glaucon said...

Anon 9:05 --

If faced with a choice of hiring an ugly person or an overweight person, a department should always hire the latter because of his/her usefulness in stopping runaway trolleys.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking Anon 9:05 was trying to be funny. It made me laugh anyway.

Why do we have interviews? No fat chicks, that's why. Too much baggage, clearly have issues and low self esteem. No chance they are big boned, or like to eat and drink and be merry. Nope--issues, and clearly shitty philosophers. OF course, this doesn't apply to ALL of them, but surely it's most; we certainly know better don't we. Those fatties and their lack of self-control. (The rest of us of course have no vices--thank God or what poor philosophers we'd be!)

And without interviews we couldn't weed out the smokers and drinkers. We all know they've got issues up the wazoo; and with the stigma attached to each, self-esteem, confidence, etc. that's a group best avoided. Not ALL of them of course, but it's just so many of them, that you can't take any chances.

But they can't be too skinny either--that spells trouble. Eating issues, childhood problems. More baggage: and the typical poor philosophy that results.

Thank God that no-one has ever had any sort of bias against gays, blacks, asians, etc. or else they will have suffered making them less extroverted and self-conscious. And you can't have those as philosophers...

I could go on. But FFS, I've never heard such garbage. Though I'm well aware of the noise of interviews, I'd been okay with them, until Anon 9:05 stepped up.

Mr. Zero said...


Yeah. I woke up this morning considering the possibility that the anonymous comment @ 9:05 is actually a brilliant piece of satire and that I just didn't get the joke. C'est la vie.

Anonymous said...

When making conversation during the E APA smoker last year, I asked my SC how they would remember their various candidates when discussing the applicants--given that they had admitted that they interviewed more than 20 (my question was in response to that admission)

I was actually (more or less) told that they would note physical features of the applicants, for example, "your balding temples; hair."

Yes, they said that to me.

Yes, I remember you too. By your fat ass and chubby little belly. But at least you have tenure.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why we're all surprised that philosophers can be assholes, bigots, homophobes, racists, etc. A lot of ordinary folks are, so why should philosophers be any different? It's not like they think about these issues, right?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what an interview for a 5/5 load will be like. I suppose you have to explain the same argument over and over again, faster each time with little or no sleep.


Philosophy Full-time Faculty
Montgomery College (Md.)

* Duties will include teaching Philosophy courses at the 100 and 200 level, including morning, afternoon, weekend, and/or evening classes.
* Faculty members teach 30 semester hours per academic year. Opportunities may exist for faculty to teach summer school.
* Faculty members are expected to serve on department, campus, and College-wide committees, hold office hours, advise students, maintain an active program of professional development, and participate in professional organizations and activities.

Asstro said...

Let's see here. I guess I'll be one of the few defenders of interviews.

I agree that there is significant noise in an interview; and I agree that irrelevant features like ugliness or slovenliness ought to be ignored; but I don't agree that philosophy is all about being the smartest horse in the barn, or even, for that matter, about having the best publications.

Being a professional philosopher takes an extraordinary set of skills, including: ability to give impressive talks to other philosophers, ability to think on one's feet, ability to convey an idea succinctly, ability to teach, ability to engage others, ability to generate new ideas, and so on. My list isn't exhaustive.

Each one of us is good at some of these things and often bad at others. I think we all struggle with these issues. We struggle to pull up our teaching evaluations, to make our courses better, to answer questions differently, to summarize our work more provocatively, to slow down while reading a paper, and so on. I can say this honestly about every colleague of mine -- several of whom have international reputations and enormous profiles. We struggle.

The interview offers a way of testing these factors, up close and personal. It offers a way to get a multidimensional picture of a candidate and to get a sense of how that candidate will fare in a range of real-world professional scenarios. When we're considering a job candidate, we really do talk about how a candidate answered the questions, about whether the approach in the talk was innovative, about the breadth of a candidate's research, about prospects for future research, and so on. Sometimes we may discount some aspect of an interview -- maybe a flopped response to a particular question -- because there are other things that happened during the interview that we really liked. Sometimes, yes, we talk about nervous ticks; but we usually try to weigh these against other more relevant candidate attributes.

For instance, take my case. I actually feel that I am quite bad at a few of the things that I value highly in my philosophy colleagues. I'm pretty bad at answering questions on the fly, for instance. I like to think things through. I also speak and read exceptionally fast, which confuses a lot of people.

In retrospect, these weaknesses hurt me on the market. I can think of a few fly-outs where I pretty much shot myself by not having good answers. I knew this then, and it was very easy for me to kvetch and moan about how I wasn't being considered on my strengths. In some cases, candidates who are more eloquent than I landed jobs that I really wanted.

Fortunately for me, I'm pretty good at other things, like writing and pulling together interesting and provocative presentations of my work, so I compensate for my inability to formulate sparkling and impressive answers by demonstrating competence in these other areas. (Please don't take this as boasting. I have every reason to believe that most readers of this site are very good at many things, and perhaps bad at others.)

Luckily, a few hiring committees somehow saw this and disregarded my fumbling and vapid answers. They gave me more credit for things that also matter. I did eventually land a nice tt job, which I love, but doing so was, as I said, a struggle. I struggled to improve myself in the areas that I felt were weak, and I struggled to shine in areas that I felt were strong. My hope was that the interview committees would take all of these features back to their meetings and sift out the goods from the bads. Again, that proved to be a winning strategy. I think it can be for any other person too.

Anonymous said...

I don't see 9:05's comment as speaking to the quality of a philosopher, as Mr. Zero's reply suggested.

His (or her) point seems to be that it's unpleasant to work with unpleasant people. And those most likely to be unpleasant are those who don't have a reasonable amount of natural gifts and good luck, following Aristotle.

Ideally, our co-workers would be both pleasant and good philosophers. But to the extent that we're social creatures and untrusting of those we don't like, those we find unpleasant --- and admittedly this can be a snap and inaccurate judgment --- it is difficult for us qua human interviewers to ignore our first impressions.

And yes, if you don't make a good first impression because you can't manage stress or account for jetlag in your travel planning (arrive the night before to important meetings), that should count against you, unless you have a really good excuse.

On the other hand, it could be that the best philosophers are not socially graceful, that their alienation from others (whether their own choice or not) affords them the time needed to reflect on philosophical matters. So we shouldn't be surprised when our hiring strategies don't give us the most congenial co-workers: we've made a choice between quality and personality, and these might conflict for many philosophers.

Anonymous said...

I guess the 5/5 thing really depends on the number of preps. If I'm teaching 10 courses per academic year, but 6 of them are critical thinking/logic-at-a-level-below-symbolic/logic-for-people-who-don't-want-to-take-math, that really isn't bad. I could teach that course while brain-dead.

Anonymous said...

It's not that fat or ugly candidates can't be good philosophers. An honest committee would first evaluate potential to do "good" philosophy independent of appearances. But if there's a tie between a great philosopher who's a fat chick and one who's a looker, which one would you hire? (Ok, the answer is usually the one with the biggest tits.)

But seriously folks, you can't help but to see the fat, ugly ones as being "damaged goods", and why take the risk of hiring someone maladjusted? The skinny, good-looking candidate might be maladjusted too, but there's no obvious reason to think this (unless she reveals herself to be vain or use her looks to get ahead).

Anonymous said...

mr. zero:
it turns out they're not better than this.

Popkin said...

Anon 9:05/8:51-aren't you worried that you yourself constitute compelling evidence against your view that the fat and ugly are typically less well-adjusted than the thin and attractive? I assume you're not fat and ugly (since if you were presumably you wouldn't say such things), but you're clearly a horrible person that no one would ever want as a co-worker. (I apologize for taking the above comments seriously if they were meant as a joke).

This fat/ugliness point seems connected to another point that a number of other more reasonable people have made: that one of the central functions of the interview is to screen out social misfits. I'm suspicious of this claim because it seems to me that certain sorts of social misfits will do as well or better than non-misfits in an interview. E.g. there's no reason to think that sociopaths or just seriously hateful people (like Anon 9:05/8:51) will perform badly in an interview. If this is really one of the primary purposes of an interview, wouldn't it be more effective to have candidates undergo personality tests?

Anonymous said...

Wow, so politically correct in here!

Would you say that no one ought to discount ugly or fat people as potential mates? Are we unjust in being attracted to whatever we're attracted to? Do we need to be more open-minded and accept all dates, given that first impressions can be misleading, even those with opposite religious or political views?

Look, it may be wrong to discriminate based on things a person cannot change or is irrelevant, such as skin color or sex. But some things, such as morbid obesity, is wholly within one's power to change. Granted, it's not easy given the years of abuse to one's body, but it's certainly possible. Unless some hormonal imbalance is clearly the culprit, obesity seems to be a moral weakness. Being ugly is not something one can change, but it can be compensated for by, say, a sense of humor and other qualities that make for a good impression.

Without redeeming qualities, it's hard to love an ugly face. Sorry, that's just the way humans are built, for better or worse--and it's not clear that discrimination in mate-selection and, by extension, friend- and co-worker-selection is such a terrible thing. Politically incorrect, yes. But also a natural bias that is difficult to overcome. This is not to say we ought not to strive to overcome it, but only that many of you here are being overly critical of hiring committees for being human.

Label this post "hateful" and dismiss it out of hand, if that makes you feel better. But that's not an adequate reply to a reasonable (or not obviously unreasonable) position.

Anonymous said...

The point of a job interview in philosophy is NOT to find the most competent philosopher, even for that particular institution. It is to find someone who is able to make tenure, someone who can be a good academic citizen.

This also means that we are screening for candidates who might potentially make us look bad to the deans, provosts, et al. Remember, these administrators will know little about philosophy and have little interest in knowing more. They rely on a social evaluation, i.e. first impressions.

Today, there's an article in Inside Higher Ed about interview meals: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/mentor/aanerud

Enough employers and search committee members pay attention to the social detail that it is foolish to think that we can unilaterally abolish bias against "social misfits". And to start in the field of philosophy? Even more ridiculous, given that the field is already marginalized and has a public perception problem.


Anonymous said...

12:37 -

How can you possibly be serious? I certainly hope no one ever lets you anywhere in the same city as a hiring committee.

Hiring for a philosophy position is a different sort of hire than "hiring" one as a mate. Do I really need to point this out? You're probably going to be fucking your mate. Hence, attractiveness is relevant. You don't fuck your colleagues (well....sometimes you do, but it isn't supposed to be that way).

Anonymous said...

"Fucking" may be a difference between choosing a co-worker and choosing a mate, but how exactly does it make a difference in this discussion? Why is it ok to discriminate (by skin or hair color or weight or style) in personal relationships but not professional ones?

The person who wants to fuck you, but whom you rejected, may feel just as badly as a rejected job candidate. Indeed, he or she may have more to lose, if they are desperate for companionship and family.

I'm not denying that attractiveness is relevant in choosing a fuck partner. But this thread is headed in the direction of mandating whom we ought to be attracted to, specifically that we ought not to be unattracted to fat or ugly people in hiring. If you want to say that we are morally permitted to discriminate in one area (fucking) but not another (hiring), please make an actual argument. If not, please shut the fuck up.

Anonymous said...

"You should be open to fucking ugly people" seems just as silly as saying "you should be open to hiring ugly people". These are about changing basic judgment calls--instincts--that have neuro-biological-evolutionary roots, as well as social roots. The point is that neither is easy to change, though it would be more democratic if we did.

Anonymous said...

Now you've just changed the issue. You drew the analogy between "hiring a mate" and "hiring a colleague" in order to show that since attractiveness is relevant to mate-hiring, it is relevant to colleague-hiring.

I then proceeded to show you why that's a moronic analogy.

Now you're talking about something completely different. I don't have any comment on that issue.

Anonymous said...

Now you're talking about something completely different. I don't have any comment on that issue.

Actually, it was *you* who started talking about something different (the fucking). I was just using language that you seemed to like. But if you prefer, we can go back to talking about mate-hiring and colleague hiring. My same comments would still apply.

It's understandable if you still don't have a thoughtful response, because your position seems to be untenable: you allow for discrimination in personal affairs but not in professional affairs, yet there is not a clear *and relevant* reason why this should be so.

Mr. Zero said...

what's the relevant reason?

Anonymous said...

12:37, now I really have no idea what you're talking about. You say:

"you allow for discrimination in personal affairs but not in professional affairs"

but I have never committed myself to this position. I allow for all sorts of discrimination in professional affairs. For example, I think it is good to discriminate against the incompetent when it comes to job-hiring.

The problem you seem to be having is that you're pushing the view that the same sorts of discriminations must be made between the two domains. And that's utter nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Since when would considerations of congeniality favor skinny people? Give me a big fat drinker ANY DAY OF THE WEEK! (Do you really think people would rather work with one of the Omegas than with Bluto?)

And I wouldn't have thought ugliness was a huge obstacle. I personally am more likely to undervalue someone's intelligence if they are attractive and especially if they are attractive and well-dressed. (Not defending that bias, just reporting that that IS my bias and I don't think I'm THAT abnormal.)

I get the impression that 9:05 and ilk think that being appealing to a committee means being the kind of person who is completely UNAPPEALING to one's grad school colleagues.

Dr. Killjoy said...

I just wanted to say that I find this all absolutely precious. Seriously, have you dumb motherfuckers actually been to an APA and gazed upon the troll-faced hordes that make up the vast, vast majority of professional philosophers? Giving weight to appearance in deciding which philosopher to hire is like giving weight to nutrition in deciding which piece of dog shit to eat. Yeah, I suppose that if I'm gonna eat some dog shit, it might as well nourish me, but it's still shit.

Just stop it. You're all fucking ugly as sin and can look forward to being even uglier as the profession slowly but surely distorts your already nasty mugs into some horrific parody of face and ass.

Anonymous said...

I like my dog shit to contain corn. I believe it's more nutritious that way. Unless the dog crapped on a multi-vitamin, then I'd rather eat that.

Anonymous said...

Ok, line up, folks. Let's do an informal survey of folks on this blog. In other words, fatties on one side, and skinnies on the other.

Register which one you are in a post: I am a skinny.

And rate your self-reported attractiveness: I am a 5.

And for good measure, your sex: Male.

Jaded Dissertator said...

For sheer ridiculousness: Favorite. Thread. Ever.

You guys are silly.