Monday, November 16, 2009

Positive Interview Stories

A long while back, Plato Potatoes wrote in to ask for a post on interviews that went well.
It would be interesting to read some short narrative stories of job interviews that went great. The specifics would be appreciated. Say, how X answered the question about Y with a reference to Z, in a manner so impressive that the interviewers simultaneously fell off their chairs. It would be interesting to hear, too, what the successful interviewees themselves thought was particularly fetching about their own answers; the time they "clicked" with the committee and so on.
I don't have much experience with successful APA interviews. My best interview was over the phone, and was for the job I have now. The interviewer called me and wanted to interview right then, but I was on the highway driving home from a weekend out of town. She asked if it was a good time; I asked if she could call me back in a couple of hours. (I don't know why I said a couple of hours--I was way more than two hours from home.) I found a coffee shop with WiFi in order to look up the job ad and did the interview in the car in the parking lot.

One thing that helped me with that interview was that it was not my first interview. I'd had some practice answering interview questions in an actual interview setting. Another thing that I strongly suspect was helpful was that I didn't have my materials handy. On the phone, where they can't see you, there is a tendency to make excessive use of your notes. I couldn't make use of my notes at all in this one. I suspect that, as a result, I came off as more natural.

A final thing that helped, and I suspect that this is the most important, is that we saw eye-to-eye on how to teach intro. I have a sort of philosophy of philosophy that I picked up from my teachers at college and grad school, and this philosophy meshes well with the culture of my department. I am a pretty good fit here. You try to represent yourself in the best possible light, but at a certain point, you just have to say, take it or leave it. Also, it was getting pretty late in the VAP hiring season, and I think they were a little desperate.

How about you guys?

--Mr. Zero

31 comments:

Popkin said...

I don't have any good interview stories, but one specific thing I'd be interested to hear is how people answer questions of the form "how would you teach course X?" (I'm rather unclear on what a good answer to that sort of question should sound like).

Anonymous said...

No good stories here. But I'm wondering who got the UCLA job, per Phylo wiki?

Anonymous said...

In my experience (lots of interviews, lots of flyouts, over several searches), there is no correlation whatsoever between one's sense of how the interview went and an actual invitation to campus. Most of my flyouts came from interviews I thought were embarrassingly bad, and most of the times I had the SC 'eating out of the palm of my hand' (phenomenologically speaking) yielded nothing.

The facts are that you don't know what the SC is looking for, and that even if you did you'd probably suck at telling whether you'd provided it.

Matthew Slater said...

Is it wrong NOT to be anonymous here? Hopefully not. . . .

Anyway: it seems to me that thinking about good interview experiences is indeed instructive for how to best approach interviews. Here's my experience (which is consonant with reports of several others): the best interview I had was my second ever, and it was for the job I eventually got at the University of Idaho and it was due primarily to my two interviewers, Michael Nelson and Michael O'Rourke. What made it a great interview was the fact that both had read my writing sample carefully enough to have interesting objections to the position I took there. Though a knee-jerk reaction might have been to think "Oh crap, they're finding flaws with my work. I'm doomed!" I tried to think of it as a moment to engage two smart people who had probably thought more seriously about my work than anyone who hadn't been paid to. It ended up being the sort of conversation that I was used to having in the hallway/lounge/over beer as a grad student. That made it quite comfortable. And I suspect that feeling comfortable (despite the weirdness of having a "high-stakes" interview in some hotel room at 8:30AM) was important to coming off as a decent, interesting human being one might want to have as a colleague. Keep in mind too that while there are some instances in which the people interviewing you know much more about the subject than you do --- you know, John Earman is interviewing you on your work in the philosophy of physics ---, in many cases they don't; they're looking to fill a GAP in their coverage. So they're not looking to see who they can embarrass these poor candidates --- they're trying to see what kind of conversations they might have with them in the hallways, what kind of philosophers they are, what kind of teachers they might be (to the extent that a 45-minute conversation can reveal this). If your interviewers obviously HAVEN'T read your stuff (or don't remember it) or are not as friendly as Michael and Michael were, it may be slightly harder to generate this sort of conversation, but I believe that it's ideally what you should look for: genuine, friendly, philosophical engagement. For places where this doesn't work . . . well, I probably don't want to be employed there anyway. . . .

Briefly on the "how would you teach course X?" front: Speaking from the perspective someone who's been on two search committees ever (one VAP, one permanent), I think that all one wants is evidence that the candidate has thought carefully about different approaches to teaching X and has some considered opinions about which approach might be better in particular circumstances. Thus, consider ASKING about those circumstances. How big are enrollments in X? Are they small enough to have some student interaction? If not, what kind of things would you do? What kind of assignments? What kind of texts/topics? Breadth or depth? And so on. Again, my view is that your best strategy is to make things as conversational as you're comfortable (and works with those interviewers). They're not looking for THE RIGHT ANSWER, but for evidence of sound philosophical/pedagogical tendencies. And if you can provide some tangible evidence that you've thought about their teaching needs (e.g., printed syllabi for the relevant course(s), even if you haven't taught them), that shouldn't hurt either.

Just my $0.02. Hopefully this is helpful to someone. Good luck out there. . . .
Matthew

newly tt said...

I was on the market last year and things went well. I also noticed that there was no apparent correlation between interviews that "felt" as if they went well, and ones that felt as if they went poorly - my flyouts were pretty evenly distributed across them.

I know that I gave a shoddy answer to a "How would you teach a grad course on X?"question. It bothered me enough that I emailed the chair of the committee later that night (or the next day, can't remember), and said that I hadn't been very informative with that answer, could I send them a sample syllabus? They said yes, I did, and whether that helped or not, I got a flyout. Plus I felt better about that answer, instead of lying awake torturing myself with how I ought to have answered it instead.

I also had one that seemed to go very poorly at first, with one committee aggressively asking a lot of very technical questions about my writing sample that were clearly leaving everyone else (about 8 other people) in the room behind. To answer, I had to go techy too, and I just gave up trying to make myself understood to everyone. Turns out that was their plan, so even though it seemed like very poor interview strategy on my part to address my comments solely to one person, it worked out (flyout).

I had a phone interview that I did at home, in my pajamas. Being in the PJs helped me feel more comfortable and more like myself, which probably helped a bit.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a positive interview experience, either, however I would agree that interviews which "feel" a certain way don't necessarily reveal the SC's intentions.

For example, last year, one interview "felt" great--I was sure that I'd get an invite to campus. That didn't turn out to be true. Another interview "felt" quite terrible, and yet I had more chances with that SC than within anyone else.

Anonymous said...

First cancelled search... I am sure this is probably one of many:


date Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 4:06 PM
subject IWU Philosophy Position

November 16, 2009

We apologize for the group email, but wanted to inform you as quickly as possible that our administration has closed our search for budgetary reasons. We wish you well as you continue your job search, and thank you for your interest in the Department of Philosophy at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Anonymous said...

"First cancelled search... I am sure this is probably one of many"

Do most people predict as many cancellations as last year? Just slightly less many? I thought the rumor was that there would be fewer jobs listed in the JFP, but that the fewer jobs would be more stable than last year (i.e., relatively few cancellations for the jobs that there are). Any thoughts? Predictions?

p.s. I know its futile to worry, but wtf else am I supposed to stress out about now that all my apps are in?

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:58 - Was that cancelled search posted in the JFP? I can't find it.

Anonymous said...

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/2-hurt-in-philosopher-fight/389653.html

Anonymous said...

"You try to represent yourself in the best possible light, but at a certain point, you just have to say, take it or leave it."

Terrific point. People spend far too much time panicking and worrying about the job hunt, trying to figure out how to game the system. It's not at all clear that this correlates to actual job-hunting success. Know your own work and interests very well, know the school's interests reasonably well, and from there just let it ride.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that some departments rank candidates in advance of the interview. It may be that even if the interview not only "feels" like it went well, but actually did go well, the candidate may have started from too low a position on the list for a great interview to yield a fly-out.

Anonymous said...

"Don't forget that some departments rank candidates in advance of the interview."

Yes. I found out at the smoker last year that the school that gave me my one interview at the Eastern had a ranking heading into it where I didn't make the cut for a fly out prior to the interview. My man on the inside told me that just about nothing that would take place during an interview would move people from below the cut to the top group. Short of six of the people in the top six slapping two of the people interviewing, it didn't matter what was said. Which was too bad, because it seemed that the interview went well and no one got slapped.

Anonymous said...

"Don't forget that some departments rank candidates in advance of the interview."

I was told that this didn't occur; that it wasn't standard interviewing practice.

But then again, my placement director doesn't seem to know shit. Gosh the faculty in my department are so asinine. Why don't they wake up and confront reality for a change? Clearly this sort of thing goes on, why not just admit it? Fucking idiots, I swear.

Positive interview stories. The placement director needs to balance the good with the bad; that is, they need to explain all dimension to this process, not jut just sugar-coat things.

And this bullshit about certain faculty members having pull here and there, or certain positions being "spoken for." To know that I got my job because its been "spoken for." That would make me an undeserving prick, now wouldn't it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:02,

What could you have said that would have gotten you a flyout if the top picks had only slapped one faculty member?

Anonymous said...

The best interview I had was
in a penthouse overlooking the Boston skyline. I think slivovitz was involved. A night to remember, I think.

zombie said...

I hear ya on the lousy placement directors. Mine was worse than useless last year. I have my doubts about the value of having faculty call their "connections" too. I didn't get a single interview out of any of those calls last year. My dept is far from Leiterific, although they are decently ranked in my AOS, my advisor is a well-known and widely published figure in my AOS, and I didn't get a single interview with any of the people she called on my behalf.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any positive interview stories. They've all been terrible (I thought). Even the ones that apparently went well and landed me a fly-out felt awkward, forced, superficial, and left me with ringing ears because I realized only afterward that my voice had raised an octave, to an unbearable screeching level, the entire interview.

Nonetheless, I keep checking this site in hopes that my obsession will somehow make the time between now and when (if!) I get my first interview fly by more quickly. It's having the opposite effect, of course. These next few weeks are g-o-i-n-g t-o d--r--a--g.

It's ridiculous to expect anything before the second week of December. I know that. But I keep checking anyway.

(And don't tell me it's too early to early to be anxious, because it's either premature job freak out or wade knee deep in grading hell. Only one of those is masochistically thrilling).

Oh joy. Let the job season madness begin.

newly tt said...

I was thinking of "positive" as referring to the outcome of the interview. But the discussion here reminds me that even though not all interviews lead to flyouts, they can still be positive in some fashion.

I mean, you really do get to have some extremely interesting conversations with some often very nice and intelligent people, who are actually trying to make you feel more comfortable because they know how much it sucks to be in your position. And they want to talk about *you*. It is a great chance to talk about your work with members of the field.

Last year, there were four or five of us job seekers waiting awkwardly near the doors of a bunch of suites where about ten schools were interviewing. Some of us were interviewing for a lot of the same jobs, and were trying to make each other less nervous while we waited for schools that were slightly late because they were still discussing the previous candidate. Someone from a committee came out to get their candidate, saw us all standing around, and came back out with a platter of Christmas cookies, so at least the people who had to stand there had something to nibble on. It was a nice gesture.

Anonymous said...

Here's a fun anecdote to make everyone feel all warm inside.

I knew someone who had so many interviews (over 20) that during interview with awesome school A, he/she mistakenly thought he/she was interviewing with awesome school B, and ended that interview by asking school A questions about school B.

Yep, you guessed it: as I recall, he/she received at least a flyout if not an offer from both A and B.

interviewer said...

I've been on many search committees -- well, more than three anyway. I agree that it is useless for your advisor to phone her buddy in the department. (That is somewhat optimistic; I suspect it is useless and I certainly hope it is, but I don't know that it always is.) And I strongly agree that the candidate's perception of the quality of the interview is badly correlated with success (in the form of a job offer).

I can't really remember my interview for the job I actually got (and have). It must have been uneventful. My on campus interview was mixed -- I clicked instantly with a couple of department members but the two famous ones seemed to be asking me an awful lot of less-than-friendly questions.

I really, really want to interview anon Nov. 7th 6:20 PM. Sadly for both of us, my department isn't searching this year.

Anonymous said...

On a different note: Does anyone know if Caltech's philosophy department is a good place to be?

They seem to have only three permanent faculty member and a couple visiting associates. Looking at their bios, pedigree is obviously an important factor in hiring. So no doubt it'd be a tough job to get, but do they actually do anything beyond servicing undergraduate courses, i.e. is it mostly a teaching job? Is there a philosophy or ethics requirement at Caltech?

I know they had a search last year that ended up in a mess. So I'm worried about their general standing in the university too, i.e. if they'd be one of the first targets for budget or program cuts.

Anonymous said...

"Yep, you guessed it: as I recall, he/she received at least a flyout if not an offer from both A and B."

That's no accident. That's just an awesome mind trick. You're getting an interview from some slightly less awesome school than, say, Harvard. Oh, wait, so you're not Harvard? That's weird, because I know that they have been dying to interview me and you all seem so, well, Harvardy.

Filosofer said...

Anon 9:36--

I just instinctively reached for my mouse to click the "like" button on your comment. It didn't work out.

Anonymous said...

Looking at their bios, pedigree is obviously an important factor in hiring.

Correlation does not imply causation!
(OK, you probably didn't actually mean that they look at pedigree and take it into account in their decisions, but your statement came pretty close to implying that...)

Anyway, I think CalTech would be an awesome job, as long as you had some sort of mathematical bent (it may be anyway, but I can't speak to that). I only know one of their current faculty, but some awesome people have been faculty at that department. And Pasadena is lovely. But maybe that's just me.

Good luck to all!

Anonymous said...

I think we should start contributing money to a pool so that come APA time, we'll have a hefty sum with which we can coax someone into pooping their pants during one of their interviews.

Anonymous said...

"I think we should start contributing money to a pool so that come APA time, we'll have a hefty sum with which we can coax someone into pooping their pants during one of their interviews."

Do you know what is absurd about this whole situation? I swear that person would actually get the job if they shat their pants in front of their interviewers. Stand out, be different, ya know?

Anonymous said...

"Do you know what is absurd about this whole situation? I swear that person would actually get the job if they shat their pants in front of their interviewers. Stand out, be different, ya know?"

ummmm ... no.

Anonymous said...

Here's one: I'm interviewing for a tenure track position at some SLAC in New York. Two professors from the department are at the table (in the big interviewing room with many tables). "So why are you interested in [SLAC-X] - have you heard of us before?" I respond "yes, indeed. My close cousin attended your school and in fact she was a major in philosophy". They asked her name, I told them, they were thinking for a while, and then one said "Are you serious! Of course [Cousin's Name] was great! She was such a warm and friendly person! Get out of here - she's your cousin? how is she? What is she up to?" Score: 2 points. Then we talk about logic, since that's what the job is for. "What book would you use?" I respond: "I'd use [Book X] because that's the one I'm most familiar with - it's a classic, I like it, and I've worked with it some." They're response: "Of course! [Book X]! I haven't heard of that book in years - since I was an undergraduate - do they still publish that book? That is an old book - but classic! I love it - I totally forgot about it! In fact, maybe I'll use it next year for my logic class..." Score: 2 points. Then they ask me what I'd be interested in talking about in a metaphysics class. I said something about X, Y, and Z, and expressed specific interest in the nature of teleology in explanation. They inquired about it more, and we got on the topic of evolution, teleology, etc. I said something, and then that sparked reactions out of them, and then they started to argue with each other for a few minutes as I watched and listened. I said a few things in the end, they listened, then went back to arguing with each other. At the end, they said "Woah, we're out of time - that was a really fun and interesting discussion" Score: 3 points.

I don't remember the details, but I remember that I felt really comfortable. That year, I had 7 interviews, and I felt like I screwed up one only (I got 4 flyouts - and the one I felt like I screwed up didn't give me a flyout). Almost all of them I felt really relaxed and excited, and I actually had fun just talking about my work, possible courses, etc. The one I screwed up was the one I wanted - really wanted. So, there you have it...

Anonymous said...

Caltech: Not intercapped!

Anonymous said...

9:31

The only downsides are that it's a pretty small department and doesn't have a grad program, but that's the case with SLACs and a lot of state schools too. The teaching loads are not bad, and class size is pretty small (and no huge philosophy lecture classes), so the folks there can do a lot of research (and are expected to, I think). They have a general humanities and social sciences requirement which amounts to one class per term. This means that a lot of the students taking philosophy are only doing it as a requirement and don't care about it, but there are always a good number who do (especially if you're a good teacher, since they might not have yet realized they'd like it) and they're all pretty bright. I don't know about the finances now. They have a lot of money generally speaking, but the downside of that I'd guess they got hurt by the stock market.