Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Do You Ask Your Interviewers?

By popular demand: Standard Operating Procedure for ending an interview is for the interviewer to say, "do you have any questions for us?" The correct answer is, "yes." But then what?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Most of my interviewers have been frustratingly good about covering all of my questions (mainly concerning time frame for their decision, but also some specific questions about schools and departments). The standard, "Do you have a philosophy club? If so, can I get involved? If not, I would like to start one." strikes me as contrived; I don't have confidence that I can sell it. So, I have left a few interviews with an indication that I had questions, but that they were covered. You can thus compliment the committee for their diligence (sincere flattery is useful) while not feeling too awkward or uninterested.

I have been advised that one should be careful not to ask questions that are too presumptive (e.g. re salary or housing) at this stage. That seems to be good advice.

I think there is nothing wrong with, "Thanks for asking, but I think we've covered all the questions I have for the moment. I've really enjoyed meeting you, and I hope to see you all again soon." It's better than faking some BS; and sincerity sells. On the other hand, I'm still looking for a t-t job after a few years on the market, so I should probably stop giving advice.

Anonymous said...

In the last week of my logic class, I was showing students how to regiment functions, using 'P' for 'is a prime', 'fx' for 'the successor of x' and 'o' for the number one. We translated, 'the successor of one is prime', and I discovered that I was writing my own Pfo.

GP said...

I usually asked about the "typical [Institution] student." This can get tricky, obv., since you don't want to ask anything that makes you sound (1) sexist; (2) racist; (3) classist; (4) biased against religious students; or (5) like you haven't done your research. I tried to steer it more towards academic background (e.g., transfer students vs. straight from high school), choice of major (most popular majors? most visible majors?), number of philosophy majors, extracurricular activities ("How active is the undergraduate philosophy club?"), etc. All of these questions can be tinkered for graduate students as well (typical undergraduate preparation, most popular specializations, etc.).

Oh yes, and most importantly (if you'll be teaching any Intro to Phil classes): Is Intro to Phil required of (all or any subclass of) students that are not philosophy majors? This makes the difference between a relatively congenial classroom and a potentially hostile one. (Of course, since we're all Mr. Holland, they'll all end up loving philosophy when they're done, right?)

Anonymous said...

A few people I know who have gotten good jobs have had success asking completely random non-professional questions about the school or job location that happen to gel with the interests of members of the SC. (For instance, "Is there good bluegrass music in your area?") So, I would suggest doing that.

Anonymous said...

I always recommend asking, "So what are the students like at Harvard?" Unless your interviewing with Harvard. Then you should ask about the students at Yale.

Anonymous said...

Asking the SC what they aim for the avg phil major to have gained would be helpful to you getting a better understanding of the institution, as would asking what goals they have, as a department, in terms of change for the next 5 or 10 years.

Also, in terms of the larger institution, you may want to ask if there are any major curricular initiatives on the horizon that haven't shown up on the website but may have an impact on departmental members.

You might also want to ask them why they chose to stay at that particular institution.

Assuming you aren't selling yourself as the next big name in philosophy (in which case you should probably be focusing on making that case), how are you selling yourself? Assuming all the folks they interview can meet their minimum standards (something which, in my experience, is unlikely to be the case), what can you bring to the department/college/university community that makes you particularly compelling? Then figure out a question that really shows your interest in this particular area (are there on-going teaching workshops? Is the institution discouraging/encouraging/insistent upon the latest pedagogical techniques? Do most faculty have an open door policy or do they mostly teach and then go home?)

Anonymous said...

I think it's true you shouldn't ask presumptive questions, such as about salary or housing.

Another thing to be aware of is: don't ask any questions that are likely to touch people's buttons, such as "what's it like to live in [the tiny town the school is in]" or "how much philosophical interaction is there among the faculty?" Basically, don't ask questions that will touch on points the prof.s either aren't proud of or are sensitive that others have negative beliefs about . . .

I like the completely generic "how many undergraduate majors do you have?" or "how many masters students do you have?" etc, though you should be sure you know whether they have a master's program etc.

Michael Cholbi said...

Anon 10:09 is right. A question that humanizes you is a good way to end things in an interview.

Another good generic Q is something like 'how did this position come about?'/'what significance does the position you're hiring for have for the future of your department?' Giving the SC members a chance to describe how they see the position is a good way to learn what they're looking for. Also, it conveys to them that you're thoughtful and forward thinking, i.e., you're envisioning a career at their institution not just desperate for a job!

Anonymous said...

"Could you take care of me after I pass out at the smoker?"

Or, for the responsible types:

"Would any of you like me to take care of you after you pass out at the smoker?"

Polacrilex said...

I 2nd Anon 11:11's point with regard to asking about the interaction of members of the department. Last year I did this at an on-campus interview. It quickly became obvious that the department did not like to interact.

Anonymous said...

in my experience last year, there were a lot of committees who looked somewhat relieved that I had no substantive questions for them. I more or less did the, "No, we've covered everything I can think of so; if I do have questions, I assume I can email [name of committee chair or whoever called you about the interview/told you what room it was in]?" They would get a little break before the next candidate, and be spared the awkwardness of answering arbitrary questions.

Anonymous said...

What about questions on salary?

A spousal hire? (A job for my husband?)

A faculty mortgage?

How soon can I get leave from teaching top write my book?

I need to know this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Slight hijack:

Did anyone notice the ads at the bottom of the job wiki? The second one below is my favorite:

* College for Philosophy
Earn a philosophy degree online. Respected. Affordable. Accredited.

* Philosophy Teacher Jobs
Teachers are in Demand, Become One! Find Schools with Teaching Programs

* University Construction
Academic Universities, Community & Tecnical Colleges

* How We Choose Our Values and how they shape our lives. Books available online.


Anonymous said...

Off topic, sorry.
Do we have to register for the conference? I actually got an interview, and a hotel room, and I see a form on the APA site about advanced registration. But what about non-advanced registration? Maybe it's there, but I'm too tired to find it? thanks.

zombie said...

Anon 5:58:
the advance reg form says that you can't register in advance after 12/4. You have to register at the hotel.
Congrats on your interview. I got a call today too. Perhaps we shall be competing against each other, in which case, disregard the foregoing. It is now too late for you to register and you can't go.

Anonymous said...

Best answer usually comes out of research you've done on the department: if they have interdisciplinary programs, ask about those; if they have a philosophy club, ask about it, etc.

Also ask questions that give you a chance to sell your strengths. If they have a lot of mature students and you've taught mature students before, ask them about the composition of their student body, and then when they say it has a lot of mature students, smile and talk about how wonderful that is because you have a background in teaching mature students. Generally you're like a lawyer: don't ask any questions you don't know the answer to, because those questions might call attention to weaknesses.

And for the love of monkeys, whatever you do, don't ever ask any questions you actually want to know the answer to. If you ask about salary, or teaching load, or what it's like to live there, you make yourself look like a human being with needs and wants and desires that might not harmonize exactly with theirs. Then they can cross you off the list and replace you with someone who has all your credentials but gives them exactly what they want.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to know whether they expect candidates to come visit their table during the smoker. I get the impression that some search committees would rather be left alone during the smoker, while others will assume you're not serious about the job if you don't stop by their table.

Would it be a bad idea to ask (bluntly or delicately) what their preference is?

Anonymous said...

3:41 raises a good point...can we ask about these issues?

m.a. program faculty member said...

This should be obvious, but I'll mention it anyway, as I've seen people screw it up:

Don't ask anything that can be answered by looking over the departmental website. Doing so makes you look lazy and lame.

Anonymous said...

I'll add two things I learned not to ask about:
(a) Lake Effect snow

(b)Study Abroad. Sounds like a good question right? It shows interest in teaching and ambition as a teacher and is a feather in the departmental cap. Not so fast: These are a pain in the ass to start and run. If there is already one, the faculty member running it won't want Johnny- come-lately horning in on the program. If there isn't one, and you get the job, they might remember it an expect you to do the grunt work starting one, which as I said, is a pain in the ass and usually doesn't count towards tenure.

BunnyHugger said...

I always ask how many majors there are and what the typical students are like. Very boring and standard, I know, and I have yet to land a tenure-track job despite countless interviews, so my advice is probably not worth much. I like some of the ideas that others have posted.

SLAC(ker) faculty member said...

"This should be obvious, but I'll mention it anyway, as I've seen people screw it up:

Don't ask anything that can be answered by looking over the departmental website. Doing so makes you look lazy and lame."

Fair enough. But you can use what you discover on the website as a jumping off point for questions: "I see that your department does X/has Y [where Y and X are somewhat unique to the department]. That looks really cool/interesting. How does that work?"

This shows that you actually spent some time learning about the department. And if you're generally interested in whatever aspect of the department you bring up, it will not come off as forced.

Having said that, I think it is perfectly acceptable to say, in response to the "Do you have any questions?" question that you do not (at the moment).

Anonymous said...

So I got an e-mail asking if I'd like to interview, and I said yes, but the e-mail also asked for a good time to call me. Does anyone know why this is? Is this some pre-interview interview I haven't heard about?

Will Philosophize For Food said...

"So I got an e-mail asking if I'd like to interview, and I said yes, but the e-mail also asked for a good time to call me. Does anyone know why this is? Is this some pre-interview interview I haven't heard about?"

More than likely they're calling to confirm the schedule. I frequently get emails/calls after the interview time has been set up to confirm it. I'm nearly sure that's what this is.

Anonymous said...

Yes, nothing to worry about, they just want to make sure the scheduling is ok

Anonymous said...

3:41 raises a good point...can we ask about these issues?

At a conference interview? No.

Anonymous said...

SLAC(ker) is dead-on. Take his/her advice. I've been on many, many SCs, and those final questions from the candidate can be crucial--monitor your understanding of the department during the interview and adjust your own final questions to the info you receive there based on the prior knowledge you have about the department. Most committees have enough saavy members who can see if you can think on your feet.

This is a terrible time to come on the market--best of luck.

JD/PhD said...

3:41 said

What about questions on salary?

No - not at the conference

A spousal hire? (A job for my husband?)

No, very hard to arrange these days for people in Humanities

A faculty mortgage?

No - do not bring this up at the interview.

How soon can I get leave from teaching top write my book?

Do not bring this up at the interview.

Anonymous said...

How about new thread topics (and btw, thanks for this blog--it's definitely a service)?

e.g., how much should one try to learn about the folks doing the interviewing?

Are interviews 30 minutes or an hour, typically?

Is it better to interview on Monday or Tuesday?

Are the schools that are not listed as having scheduled interviews still looking? Are they skipping the APA? Have they canceled the position? Is the Wiki just not updated?

Also, I'll note that I got an interview offer last week, but the school is not on the Wiki. I'm too lazy to update it with the full information (which would include finding the ad on the APA site, which requires logging on, sorting through a few different pages of ads to find it, etc.) (I'm lazy, obviously.) Are there other jobs not listed on the Wiki?

And so forth.

I need to feed my obsession.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes a good question is to ask, "How does the dean/administration view your department?" But having interviewed at a bunch of places and asked really bone-headed questions, I now ask only questions if I know already what the answer is going to be. In particular, I ask questions that I know will prompt the interviewer to say something good about the department, the students, the area, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:25

Don't know about length, but I'd guess most are 30 minutes.

More research on your interviewers can't hurt but probably isn't necessary (I'm always surprised when a candidate has read something I've written). Research about department and college is, while not necessary, a very good thing.

I have no idea what's better btwn Monday & Tuesday....and I've been a candidate twice (successfully) and been on the hiring side twice....I suspect they are equally advantageous (though for different reasons)

The fact that a place hasn't called yet is not evidence that they aren't interviewing. It's the end of the semester and they're getting done with grading, etc., then looking through files. I could easily imagine calls continuing to roll in from now until a few days before the conference. Smaller departments that are teaching focused will be most likely to be under the gun with grading right now.

Anonymous said...

Do schools still call or should we expect emails? I've left for a new city for the holidays and was surprised to discover that I actually can't check my cellphone until I leave the country I'm currently in for the holidays. (Don't believe the guy at the Sprint store who tells you it won't be a problem to use your phone abroad.)

Dear search committees:
Email me, please! Please, please, please!

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:14, if you call yourself and press # during your outgoing message, and your setup is like mine, this will call up the voicemail menu, and will allow you - upon keying in your passcode - to retrieve your messages.

Anonymous said...

From today's Chronicle..

"Job Slump Worsens for Language and Literature Scholars
The Modern Language Association projects a 37-percent drop this year in faculty positions advertised on its electronic job list. "

Anonymous said...

"How does the dean/administration view your department?"

Ask this only if you know the dept is in good standing. Otherwise, why ask? You will only make them uncomfortable or put them in a position where they must lie. They'd be fools to scare away applicants by revealing how persecuted the dept is. At least save this question for the on-campus interview...and ask the dean directly (which will please the dept).

Anonymous said...

"I got an interview offer last week, but the school is not on the Wiki."

That happens.

"Are there other jobs not listed on the Wiki?"

Yep. And if you want information on them, you should add each to the wiki. It only really works if users actually succeed in bring content to it.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else having chronic problems with the wiki? My laptop (bought this year) always freezes up for a good amount of time on the site.

Anonymous said...

so is it or is it not wise to ask what made them want to hire in your field, or something to that effect? (e.g. a department where there is no one else working on it) assuming i really want to get a sense of what they're like and what they're looking for; because i also feel a bit strange asking something like that, like it can't be good to ask something this 'personal'.

david morrow said...

Anon 5:19,

It's not just you. Your browser freezes at first because the JavaScript that runs the interface takes a while to initialize. The lag got longer when we added the tooltips for the status histories and comments. (The little 'Working...' popup disappears long before the script stops working, too. I'm not sure why that is.)

I just made some changes that should help a bit. You may need to do a hard refresh to load the new JavaScript. Let me know if this helps.

I've also made some changes to make the RSS feed (http://phylo.info/jobs/rss) load more quickly.

Anon 8:25,

You can actually create job listings on the wiki without adding the sources. As Anon 5:01 said, the wiki is only as good as its users make it, so please—if the job listing you're interested in isn't there, add it!

Anonymous said...

It's obvious to me that one should not ask about salary but according to at least one response here, one should also not ask about teaching load. In my last 2 interviews, that's exactly what I asked about first. Despite the forthcoming responses I got, did I mess up in doing this?

Anonymous said...

The "do you have any questions" question is important to see whether candidates have done their research on hiring departments/universities. We want to know whether you have a realistic picture of what life at our institution is like and whether you would be a good fit. We want you to be a happy, productive, and collegial member of our department/university/community.

At this stage in the process, you should not ask about salary (but you might ask about the university's reponse to the "economic crisis" or merit pay). I know we would simply say that our salary is "competitive."

Show that you know who is in the dept, what is taught, by asking about the future of the department, the direction it is going, point out what you take to be strengths of the department and how you could complement them.

Demonstrate that you have looked at the university's www, that you know something about the gen ed requirements, the sorts of majors offered, what the school is known for (esp if it is a smaller school), etc.

You might *carefully* ask about interaction with faculty in different departments, committee work, recreational activities but only if it will give you the opportunity to show that you would fit in! For example, dont talk about your passion for surfing in some land-locked state!

I know it is a terrible market and this is all very stressful, but please remember that SC are really looking forward to meeting you and to finding someone add to their department (in back-to-back 30 minutes interviews)!