Thursday, January 13, 2011

On-Campus Interview Questions

In comments, anon 1:01 asks:

How 'bout a thread for on-campus interview questions, including questions one should ask? Or did I miss one earlier?

Good call. Here it is.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

My advice (from sitting on both sides of the interview table):
1. Remember, you are also interviewing them. Find out what you can't get on the webpage. (If they don't post info on student:teacher ratio, class sizes, etc., ask.) If you have a deal-breaker, bring it up in your meeting with the chair. But don't call it a deal-breaker; just ask casually and see what you get for a response.
2. Ask them about the students. I find that asking what they like best about the students is a great way to find out about how the faculty view the students. (Just as they will be asking questions looking for details about you and your work, here you can look for details about students. The more vague and general they are in their answer, the harder it is for them to say something nice about the students you'll be working with.) If you go through the whole on-campus experience without meeting any of the students, that's a red flag.
3. Not a question, but a reminder: make sure that at some point during your visit, you thank the department secretary for all her hard work in putting together your visit. He/she is the one who did all the scheduling, not the committee, and is the one who will be coaching you through your first year (from an administrative end) if you are hired. The more smoothly things run for you, the better he/she does the job. A quick thank you is in order.

second said...

I'd like to second point 3 above. We had a candidate interview on post who I really didn't want us to hire (because of things he said in a presentation to students which I won't go into). We didn't offer him the job, but not because of what he said. It was his rude treatment of our administrative assistant that sunk him.

Anonymous said...

Is there significant variation across departments regarding oversight of individual faculty members' course design?

I recently spoke with a department which emphasized its open-mindedness to the design of non-traditional philosophy courses, subject to the end-result being of high quality. But the fact that this was emphasized made me wonder whether some departments were less flexible in this regard. Hence, the question above.

Anonymous said...

3:29 That's an interesting question. In my experience there is diversity among departments in terms of the flexibility faculty have with respect to course curricula and new course development.

Back in the day, I interviewed at places that ran the gamut--here are three examples. At a Community College, it was explained that there was one textbook all instructors had to use for particular courses. This standardized curriculum for a set of courses was, they found, helpful for their student body and for instructors with heavy teaching loads of the same sets of courses. There were very few upper level courses, and only these would have more flexibility.

At another place I interviewed, an SLAC, the candidate was to be replacing a retiring faculty member. The courses were to be the exact same courses that this faculty member taught. There was some flexibility in terms of things like assigned texts, but there was no emphasis on new course development or much interest in courses I had to offer in other areas of philosophy.

At yet another place I interviewed the expectation was that anyone hired would need to participate in a curriculum overhaul and that new course development would be a part of annual evaluation (and one's eventual tenure dossier0. Flexibility with respect to how faculty designed their own courses was a given. There were general sorts of departmental objectives set for skills, but faculty hired for their specialization were understood as the experts. Faculty development for pedagogy and technology would be offered.

In answer to your question, the last department I described also explained that this flexibility and their reliance on a hire's expertise was a benefit (a selling point). In my experience, there really were diverse expectations in departments about course development and how tightly curriculum is controlled.

Whether or not a candidate is "sold" on this can vary. At the SLAC, for example, someone whose teaching was already very much in line with the retiree and with the vision of the department might find that a better situation than being handed responsibility for intense curriculum development from the very moment one arrived. The third department "sold" the flexibility they offered because they were looking for a candidate that would arrive with a lot of ideas and take up the challenge.

Anonymous said...

How much advance notice is typically given to a candidate invited for an on-campus visit? More to the point: how little advance notice is considered acceptable?

zombie said...

2.31, I don't know what's typical, but in my experience, there's been a fair amount of advance notice. More than a month. I've got one in a couple of weeks that we started scheduling before Christmas. It always seems to take a couple of weeks to work out the timing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:31: you should be prepared just in case. Like Zombie, I've had ones that were a month in advance, and others that were two weeks away.

Anonymous said...

How much advance notice is typically given to a candidate invited for an on-campus visit? More to the point: how little advance notice is considered acceptable?

I've only had two on campus interviews, both with very little advance notice. One school, which was in the city where I lived, called on a Friday and brought me in the next Tuesday, if I recall correctly. The other emailed mid-week and flew me out at the end of the following week.

Word verification: tonnes, as in, "You should get tonnes of advance notice."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great advice above but I was wondering what other concrete questions might be asked by professors in the department during private meetings with individuals, deans you will be seeing and the other moments of "social" time that are scheduled with the entire department and interview committee?

Anonymous said...

Deans/provosts ask pretty general questions, which seem designed to make sure you are able to justify your existence: What do you do, where is your research going, what attracts you to this place, what courses would you like to eventually teach, etc. I had one provost ask about relevance of my work to other academic units (any position or institution that talks about interdisciplinarity will likely have a question about this) and what other units in the university I'd like to work with. I had a dean at an R1, who was a social scientist, ask which (if any) of my papers would be considered a research paper. This was in the context of tenure/promotion discussion. It was a segue to talking about what constituted research in philosophy; that's surprisingly difficult to pin down in a way that's not awkward (I got the job, though).

During dinner things can range from very chatty/informal/non-work related to pointed questions about your talk. I had a question about an AOS that I really should have been able to answer, but couldn't (are there any disputes in __ that you think just go back and forth with the same moves replicated in different ways?) I replied by begging off. Not ideal, but they were okay with it.

Dinners will often be a lot of selling each other on fit: them saying why the institution is good, and you saying why you like the institution. Lots of opportunity for you to take the initiative and ask them what they want from a new colleague, what they like about the [place, students, town], and to ask about particular things [who lives where, how are library services, etc.]

The thing about campus interview questions (as opposed to conference or phone/skype interviews) is that a lot of it is really low-information and informal. You will get into lots of discussions about life generally, and lots of it is meandering. That will be interspersed with really penetrating questions that test your academic chops. The informal stuff you prep for by knowing things about the place/position and caring to find out stuff from them. The other stuff you prepare for just like your prior interviews.

Anonymous said...

for 11:45

Two points:

1. Some people use the "informal time" on the campus interview to try and suss out the information they aren't supposed to ask about. Someone will try to find out if you are married, and what kind of job your spouse will be looking for. Sometimes this is not insidious, but it can be.

2. Despite what anyone on the search committee tells you - even if they actually believe it - there is no part of your campus visit that is not part of the interview. You never "turn it off." You are always being evaluated, from the moment they pick you up at the airport to the moment they drop you off at the airport. You are in the interview in the car, on the walk around campus, at the friendly dinner at the chair's house, at the bar in the hotel for that last drink to wind down.

Anonymous said...

When an SC member or students asks a poorly formed or confused question, nod, tell them that it's very interesting (deep even) and then answer the question in a way which restates the central argument of your work.

When you're talking about your work, try to recognize that some things which are obvious to you and your colleagues back at Leiterland U. are obscure mysteries to some of the SC members: "What is this necessary aposteriori truth of which you speak?"

I know it's hard to believe, but for example, if you're working in moral philosophy for example, don't assume that the faculty members in the SC really know who Raz, Korsgaard, Scanlon, etc. are. Let alone secondary figures in these debates.

At the very least, don't look at them like they're idiots when it's clear that they have no idea what you're talking about. Let them feel like they're smart and interesting people.

Those of us who have to work with such colleagues are desperately hoping you don't screw this part up.

KateNorlock said...

Unless you have SO many on-campus interviews that you don't have time to do this, heh, snoop around on their website enough to be able to ask administrators from the chair to the president a variation on the following: "What direction do you see the college/university going in, as far as X?" Every SLAC and university has its own state of concern with respect to selectivity of admissions, enrollment numbers, the humanities, retention of tenure and sabbaticals, etc. It just takes some concerted website reading to find out what their burning issues are (which can be accomplished in the airport if you've got the moolah for the effing expensive airport wireless).

I know "quo vadis" sounds like a lame and empty question, but actually, it's always yielded really intense and interesting answers from every administrator I've met, and I've interviewed on campus at wee SLACs and large unis. It grants them permission to talk about what was really on their minds when they had to interrupt their regular stresses to talk to this job candidate. They really spill forth!

Word verification: conwot

As in: I thought she was asking about an existing new conception I had simply never heard of before, but it turned out it was just a conwot.