Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview Fuckups

I thought it might be good to have a thread on the theme of "what not to do in your interviews," where we could share our "here's how I committed a life-altering fuck-up in a job interview" stories.

Here's one of mine: I was once asked a question about what challenges I have faced in my teaching and how I have met those challenges. The answer I was going for had to do with how some of my students are, sadly, not prepared for college-level work, and I have had to develop strategies for getting these people up to speed in a way that will also be valuable to those students who are better prepared. But the answer I gave implied that the main challenge I face is that my students are total dumbasses who suck, and I have dealt with this challenge by treating them as condescendingly as possible. (This is somewhat of an exaggeration. But not that much.) As I was answering this question, I was aware that I was in the process of blowing the interview. I literally had the thought, "because of this answer I am now giving--because of the sentence I am now uttering--I will not get this job." But it was too late; I was already giving the answer. To give a better answer, it seemed to me, I would have had to stop in the middle of what I was saying--in the middle of the then-current sentence--and start over. I considered doing it, but didn't think I could pull it off.

How to avoid this kind of stuff? I don't know, exactly. One thing is to try to anticipate what questions you'll get, and prepare answers to them in advance, and try to get ones that don't make you seem like a racist asshole. Our annual "interview Rehash" has been very helpful to me over the years in this regard. But, for me, anyway, there is no substitute for experience. My interviewing has gotten progressively better over time, as I've gotten more interviews under my belt.

Does anybody have any fuckup stories they wouldn't mind sharing? Does anybody know a better way to get good?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

First, some advice:

People on the market need to practice answering interview questions. My friends and I had a strategy when we were on the market: at any time, under any circumstances, we could ask each other an interview question (we got lists of popular questions from people who have been on the market). So, for instance, it was not uncommon to be followed into the bathroom and asked, "so can you explain the significance of your research to the larger field?," or to be called (I kid you not) at 5:00 am to be asked to explain how I would structure an Intro course for non-majors fulfilling a gen-ed. A couple weeks of that, and you're prepared.

Now, the terrible story:

During a job talk, I basically called out a senior scholar, who at the time was a member of that department. My research was challenging his, and I figured that he had to know this (it would have been clear from my writing sample and an earlier publication). So rather than hide it, I figured to just bite the bullet and make a statement. It was not well-received. I did not get the job.

Anonymous said...

Here was my unbelievable fuck up. And like you, I knew it was a fuck up as soon as it came out of my mouth. There is some lesson here about the lag time between subconscious decisions and conscious evaluations.

I was asked the question: "Why do you want to work at So and So State University?" The answer in my mind (this being my first year as a graduate student on the market), the complete truth, was "Because you are the only school that called me for an interview."

For some reason I was not able to block this answer from making it to my mouth. I think I must have thought it would be funny to say. I would break the ice with humor and proceed to give an answer that would be more flattering to So and So State. I did say something more flattering. But as soon as I spoke the humorous truth, I knew I was doomed. And of course I was!

Anonymous said...

I once asked a question about the 'Associate Professor' position they were interviewing for... Of course, it was an 'Assistant Professor' position and I had just blown my shot at anything more prestigious than adjunct professor at their school...

Anonymous said...

"Why do you want to work at So and So State University?"

This is a horrible question. This isn't that kind of job market. Everyone knows full well that most people just want a job. We haven't had our eye on your shitty third rate school for the last 10 years, only now to be so lucky to finally have the chance to set foot on the promise land. This question is asked by petty little tyrants who want to see you do an ass kissing dance. I really hate this question. I've refused to answer question on interviews, but that was in another line of work. I got this once, essentially refused to answer it, and didn't get the job. Fine. I'll live with that. I have some pride.

Anonymous said...

I have lots of stupid students. Everyone does. If you admit that it's a challenge to teach to the "under prepared" and the brilliant at the same time, that doesn't make you an asshole, at least not if "asshole" is an insult. It makes you honest.

The less desirable the job, the worse the questions. This is the one chance for the search committee to lord over people. You should see their referee reports. Low status brings out some sadistic shit in people.

Anonymous said...

When I left a suite interview I noticed that my fly had was down. My boxer shorts were likely gaping. I sat with my foot on my knee part of the time. They probably saw my dick.

Anonymous said...

I applied for a job several years back for a position in philosophy of mind. I had done a decent job preparing for the interview, and had thought about I would teach various courses. But one course I wasn't able prepare much on was a course on "Philosophy of Cognitive Science," which isn't philosophy of mind, but is often taught at some places. I went to bed, as I didn't want to stay up any later preparing, feeling OK.

What question did I get in my intereview? "Please tell us how you would teach a course on Philosophy of Cognitive Science?" to which I fumbled around for while, talking about things generally, with no specific idea about what book would work best, etc. I had some things to say, but it was apparent I had not really thought through my answer. That part of the interview didn't go so well.

Anonymous said...

When asked if I could read French or German (in addition to the one or two languages already required for scholarship in my AOS) I replied that all the important work in my field was done in English. It turned out that one of the interviewers (who was there by surprise, and whose work therefore I hadn't scoped out in advance) had published a lot of stuff in French on a topic slightly relevant to my field. She turned to one of the other interviewers, and I detected a brief shared smirk between the two. At that moment, I had blown the interview. To be fair, though, all of the important work in the field IS done in English.

RexII said...

Regional State U asked me to name a problem I was interested in but that I didn't study. I blurted out problem X, because it's a problem I'd like to learn more about. They then started to ask me questions about problem X! Why did I find it interesting? What were some of the main views? Did I have a stance on any of it? Did I want to give a class in it someday? Why? D'oh! I should have named any f'ing AOC not actually listed on my cv, or the subject of a grad course I'd taken.

Another RSU asked me how my teaching of course Y had changed over the years. I said, jokingly, "I'm much better at it now!" Yep, that's what I said.

Anonymous said...

So here's mine:

I had two rounds of interviews with the same school. At the first one (where I spoke to only one member of the faculty), I accidentally did the right thing by, well, doing precisely the wrong things. I was his last interview at the end of a long day, we were both tired of the whole business, and I just shut off the ol' self-censor and let 'er rip. There was rather a lot more profanity going on that day than is typically acceptable in a formal interview. It was fun -- I had basically given up on making it past that guy, so I decided to enjoy myself.

Weirdly, he passed me on to the next stage, at which I would be speaking to a group of his colleagues.

To this day, I have no idea why he did that.

So I met with his colleagues. We were getting on well enough when one of them asked me a sort of hypothetical question about how I would respond to a student who asked me to explain some concept or theory or another (something that, honestly, I would never have forced an intro-level undergraduate to deal with, and had little respect for in any case). I knew at once I could NOT say that I wouldn't have an undergrad working on that stuff, though -- and so I completely choked. I rambled about irrelevant BS for three minutes before running down, and I knew I'd blown it. The last thing I heard from them, long after I'd accepted another position elsewhere, was a form rejection letter.

What I probably should've done, when faced with something I simply couldn't answer they way they clearly wanted me to, was be honest. I wasn't really a good fit for what they seemed to be after, in any case.

Best advice: don't punt, bullshit, or guess in an interview. If you don't have an answer, admit it and work through it.

Also don't be afraid, sometimes, to abandon all hope and be yourself. If you worry too much about being a "good"interviewee, you're going to mess yourself up.

Anonymous said...

I once arrived at an APA interview exactly 24 hours late. I had just been my absent-minded self, and mis-transcribed an email with the meeting time in to my appointment book. This happened even though I recognize that I am absent-minded, and so I tend to double or triple check everything, especially when it's that important. I should have quadruple-checked. The committee answered me at the door when I arrived a day late, as if they were expecting me. They seemed to already know what had happened. They were kind enough to reschedule the interview. I think I did an A-/B+ job in the interview. But even if my interview had been enough on the line to possibly warrant a campus visit, the scatter-brained 24 hour late thing surely bumped me down the list. I was not invited. In fact they told me by email that I had made it to the short-list but not the short-short-list (that's almost a literal quote).

Anonymous said...

11:19am, I was among those who interviewed you. We did see it. That's the only reason you got the job. With tenure.

Anonymous said...

Leaving an interview, I said, "So will you be at the smoker?"

A female faculty interviewer turned disgusted to her colleague and said, "We worked so hard to get the name changed to 'reception' and it made absolutely no difference."


BunnyHugger said...

This discussion sure makes me feel better about my own gaffes. Some of these are awfully funny, but in a "laughing with you" sort of way, I promise.

My own worst interview isn't as amusing as any of these; it's just run-of-the-mill incompetence. it was one of my first round of interviews the very first time I went to the APA job fair, longer ago than I'd like to admit. It was with a regional tech university, in the Humanities department. At the end of the interview I was asked, "How would you contribute to our graduate program in rhetoric?" I didn't even know what a graduate degree in rhetoric would involve, let alone how I would contribute to it. The interview did not end well.

Moral of the story: research, research, research.
Other moral: a job where they are going to want you to contribute to a program in a field you know nothing about is probably not a good fit for you.

Anonymous said...

Two years ago I had one interview. Luckily, I had arranged to be at the eastern anyway. One of the people on the committee was apparently responsible for grilling me about my writing sample and so he asked a question. I said, "Good question, on pp. 7 I argue ..." and was interrupted by his saying that he didn't read that far.

Last year I had two interviews (improvement!). During the first the first question came from someone who basically said I took one course in graduate school in your area and thought it was pointless. Can you convince me that what you do is interesting? (Or something dickish like that.) The first fuck up was on the interviewers, but the second was on me because I wasn't prepared for the incompetent/dickish interviewer. I was thrown and never really gained my composure both times. In the end, I got a job somewhere else and thank my stars that I don't have to work with those nobs. My advice is think about ways to artfully deal with the guy who admits he doesn't have any idea what he's talking about or the dickhead that is going to use his position on the hiring committee to try to screw with other people.

Jeremy Fantl said...

I had a campus visit at Lafayette College when I first was starting out on the market. One of the professors was Owen McLeod, who has a very nice paper called "Just Plain 'Ought'". I had too much to drink at dinner and kept riffing on the title of the paper: "It's just plain cold outside," "This wine is just plain delicious," "That joke is just plain funny." Every instance of the joke got less funny. I just couldn't stop. I also gave a pretty terrible job talk and accidentally broke the wicker chair in one of the professor's offices (by sitting in it). So my failure to get the job was quite overdetermined. But I never drank more than a glass of wine at a campus visit again.

Anonymous said...

I'm on a phone interview with State U. They ask, "So why do you want to work at State U?" I am prepared for this question, and I answer to the best of my ability. However, I express my answer by focusing on the philosophy department, specifically. My intention was to discuss elements of the school that I liked by mentioning how those elements were also part of the department. After my answer, they respond, "Yes, but what about the SCHOOL?" At this point, I realize that I've already given the only answer I have, but they wanted something more. From anxiety, I cleared my throat. However, this clearing of my throat produced a sound much like, "Ha!"

So, in essence, I laughed at the idea that I'd actually like State U. Oops.

Also, I was once asked the following: "Why do you think your work is actually philosophy?" I think I got out something along the lines of, "Because... it is?"

Anonymous said...

The following pertains to an on-campus interview, but it has sufficient relevance to this thread. I was interviewing at a small liberal arts school a few years ago. During one of the one-on-one interviews, the faculty member was discussing politics. She claimed that George Bush was more morally reprehensive than Adolf Hitler because the War in Iraq was more morally reprehensible than the Holocaust. Then she proceeded to mock those who might disagree with her, laughed, and then pretty clearly expected me to join in with her assessment. I just sat there and looked blankly at her in disbelief. This prematurely ended that interview, and she escorted me to the office where I was told that I should await the rest of my interviews for the day (another 3-4 meetings). After about 30 minutes the secretary told me that all remaining interviews for me were cancelled and that I should leave. Lesson: Always nod politely, *if* one wishes to procure a job above all else.

While here, I should note that I’m not a fan of casual discussion of religion/politics at any interview stage. I’ve seen incredibly unprofessional behavior in many interviews (though the above story is likely the worst of the ones that I’ve experienced), and I wish that departments would simply not raise these issues at all. I suspect that most bad behavior isn’t intentional, as philosophers are rather homogenous in their political/religious positions, but this doesn’t mean that other philosophers do not exist outside this paradigm.

Anonymous said...

The less desirable the job, the worse the questions. This is the one chance for the search committee to lord over people. You should see their referee reports. Low status brings out some sadistic shit in people.

Word. I've seen this first hand and it's not pretty. The only advice I can offer to people interviewing in from of these kinds of people: play dumb. Seriously. If you act like a dolt, they will love you; if you act like you have any brains or research interests, they will attack and reject you in order to hire an ass-kissing idiot who does not threaten their mediocrity.

Sad, I know, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

When I left a suite interview I noticed that my fly had was down. My boxer shorts were likely gaping. I sat with my foot on my knee part of the time. They probably saw my dick.

But did you get the job?

Anonymous said...

"I suspect that most bad behavior isn’t intentional, as philosophers are rather homogenous in their political/religious positions"

This honestly hasn't been my experience. The vast majority of philosophers I know are atheists or agnostics. The very few exceptions are either philosophical (i.e., non-religious) theists, practicioners of Eastern religions or else ultra-liberal/heterodox Christians or Jews.

As for politics, I can count on one hand the number of philosphers I have ever known who subscribe to "conservative" or "right-wing" views, and they are all libertarians. Everyone else is scattered across the left side of the political spectrum, with a critical mass clustered somwhere around social democracy.

Anonymous said...

@1:15 I'll keep that in mind the next time a position opens up at my less-than-desirable school. If we interview any Leiterrific hot shots and they're playing dumb, we'll just assume they're taking your advice. We will then kick their arrogant, condescending asses to the curb.

Anonymous said...

2:27 - I love you.

Anonymous said...

During a phone interview, I was asked how I'd manage overseeing the department's Minor program in Philosophy. Caught off guard by the question, as I had no indication that this would be a responsibility of a new hire, I expressed my surprise, asking, "Is this a responsibility that I would be given?" The chair curtly told me that this was mentioned in the ad. I answered the question as well as I could (not badly, in my estimation, especially for having been taken by surprise). After the interview, I checked the ad and it said absolutely nothing about overseeing the Minor. I emailed the ad to each member of the committee. I figured that I'd blown it in the interview and that this would either erase the blemish from the interview or further ensure that I'd not get on campus. Assuming that my interview wasn't full of other blemishes, it did the latter.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed at Carleton College once, years ago, and I'm still regretful that I completely effed up the on-campus. The funny thing is, I really admire that school, I just think it's the bee's knees, and for some blasted reason, I did NOT see the "Why do you want to work at Carleton College" question coming. When it was dropped on me by an admin, I went all blank and stupid, because ALL I could think was, "Are you kidding? Why on earth would I NOT want to?" I thought about my current job with its pay (less than half what Carleton was offering), its course load (more than double Carleton's, natch), its non-existent location (long story), and its utter lack of a library, let alone research support. I thought about my own dumbass working-class background -- until grad school I was scarcely aware of the existence of liberal arts colleges -- and how great the advantages were for the students of these beautiful little student-centered teaching colleges with their amazing set-ups, etc. Shit, I thought of all the ways in which their college looked like heaven, and I stuttered out, after this protracted pause, "But... but it's Carleton College." Seriously, their pleasant faces did that turning-off thing, that admins do so well, where they retain the smile but they've left the meeting already.

And then, I did something that turned the admin's faces to this weird angry stone, and I mentioned, among other things, since now I'm babbling like an eager braying donkey, that they were ranked fifth in the US News And World Report. HOLY crap, they acted like I'd pointed out -- FUCK, man, I pointed out the truth and they acted like I took a shit in their office.

You'd think I had pointed out how ungodly wealthy, lucky and privileged they were, or something.

Fuck. I'm going to go beat myself with my copy of Nietzsche's collected works.

Anonymous said...

I produced a "witty quip" concerning the fish sticker on a car in the parking lot after the job talk. Surprise! It was my host's car and yes, he was offended. Awkward drive to the dinner followed. My partner calls these my Larry David moments.

Anonymous said...

3:38 - Wait--was it a Phish sticker, or a Jesus fish sticker? Not that it matters, since both are obviously lame. I'm just curious.

Anonymous said...

3:38: Is that 'Phish' the band, or are we talking about one of those Jesus fish? I don't know which is worse.

Anonymous said...

One time the entire SC got drunk during dinner at an on-campus, but I didn't join them because the entire time I was worried it was some kind of fucked-up test. (It wasn't; they were just drunks.)

I was actually was offered that job but ended up not being able to take it for reasons that had nothing to do with the little symposium.

Anonymous said...

A true Larry David moment would probably involve shitting in an office for realz.

Anonymous said...

On 2:44's love note to 2:27: I think we have a ménage à trois.

Signed, Professor Mediocre--who encourages certain commentators on this thread to please not apply to positions that are so far beneath them. And thanks in advance for that, and best of luck on becoming the next Nussbaum or van Fraassen.

wv: killapro

Anonymous said...

When I left a suite interview I noticed that my fly had was down. My boxer shorts were likely gaping. I sat with my foot on my knee part of the time. They probably saw my dick.

Yes, we did.

Anonymous said...

If we interview any Leiterrific hot shots and they're playing dumb, we'll just assume they're taking your advice. We will then kick their arrogant, condescending asses to the curb.

And if they're play too smart you'll do the same.

It's the non-threatening third-tier suck-ups that are of interest to people like you. I know because I went to a non-PGR school. The shoulder chips cut deep.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure this counts as a fuck-up per se, but:

A few years ago I was interviewing with a very mediocre school located in a very small Midwestern town. One of the interviewers asked understandably how I'd feel about living in that town, given my current very urban location. I tried to assuage his fears by describing just how violent my neighborhood was and letting the committee know that I'd enjoy the serenity of a small town. I think I may have overdone it. After I'd described the muggings, stabbings, and drive-by shootings in my neighborhood, you could've heard a pin drop.

Anonymous said...

"And if they're play too smart you'll do the same."

"hoist with his own petard" said the Bard.

zombie said...

I had an interview with Rutgers (Camden, not the good one) a few years back. At one point, the chair asked me what some of my other interests in philosophy are. I had actually been thinking about this question during the bus ride to the interview, and had what I thought was a really interesting (but somewhat esoteric) area of research. He actually snickered a scoffish little snicker when I answered and asked me what I thought was philosophically interesting about it. (As in, What on earth could possibly be philosophically interesting about that?)

So much for that.

I now have three pubs in good journals (and a fourth forthcoming), conference presentations, and invited talks in this esoteric little interest of mine. And it was part of what landed me my TT job. Suck on that, Camden.

But I guess I blew that interview.

xavi said...

3:49, 3:50, whoa.

And to think, the two of you will never meet. Knowingly, anyway.

Anonymous said...

[Long-time listener. First-time caller.]

During an on-campus interview, I made an unquestionably dorky philosophy joke that was profoundly misinterpreted as a homophobic remark. It. Was. Terrible.

At dinner with a small department, one of the professors was telling a story about an emeritus professor--an eccentric Berkeley scholar--who wouldn't let his two rather large dogs out of sight and went so far as to bring them along to his seminars.

I couldn't let it go: "A Berkeley scholar who wouldn't let his dogs out of his sight? I think we know what that means!"

While I'd intended to convey that the emeritus professor was an idealist worried that his dogs would pop out of existence, another member took my remark to be implying something or other about his sexual orientation. Understandably, he quickly mumbled, while visibly annoyed, something to the effect of "None of your damn business..."

Needless to say, I was mortified. I did not get the job.

Anonymous said...

I think you pronounced "Berkeley" wrong.

wv: tomatop

Anonymous said...

4:07 -- 2:27 here. Believe me, we are just as capable of detecting suck ups (regardless of their "pedigree") as we are "too-cool-for-school" hot shots (regardless of whether they are playing dumb or lording their brilliance over us). Both types will promptly be shown the door. Believe it or not, even "mediocrities" like us are looking for the best all-things-considered candidates for our shitty little positions. Sometimes these folks are "top-tier" schools, sometimes "third-tier" schools. They are always well-balanced. What they are NOT are sniveling sycophants or poseurs. We may not be R1 but we can smell bullshit a mile away.

Professor Lightweight
Shit State University

Anonymous said...

"We haven't had our eye on your shitty third rate school for the last 10 years."

This is *precisely* why we ask the question. Though I suppose it would be more honest of us to simply say to candidates: "Now is the time allotted for you to show you've done the least little bit of research on our shitty third rate school."

You see, we who teach at shitty third rate schools sometimes love our jobs. Amazing, but true. At my shitty third rate school, we get some excellent undergrads, some of whom have gone off to get graduate degrees from top programs (and a couple of whom are now TT at other universities, albeit shitty third rate ones). Sure, we have a fair amount of shitty students, but they are no shittier than the undergrads I had to teach at my Big Name PhD Program. (At least here I don't have to teach Intro courses to scholarship athletes who don't give a damn about academics.)

No, we don't publish quite as often as faculty at First Rate Schools, but this is often due to our higher teaching loads (I teach 4/4, plus summer) and service requirements (all the same committee work, a third of the faculty to do it compared to where I earned my PhD); this is not due to our inherent lack of ability. (Seriously, check out where some of the faculty at such third rate shitty schools did their PhD work; many of us attended Top Programs and worked with Big Names. Sure, some try to leave, but others find these shitty little jobs quite fulfilling.)

So yeah, you want a job at my shitty little school, you do some fucking work learning something about my school and what makes us special. Do we have a vibrant interdisciplinary program in the humanities? Do we house an undergraduate journal in the humanities? How might your research work well with not just our program, but other programs at the university?

Petty little tyrants? Hardly. Or at least, no more so than any other academics (which I suppose isn't saying much). And I hate to break the news to you, but there are far, far, far more jobs like mine than jobs like the ones your advisors have. Go back through your own academic history; I'm willing to bet that more than a few of your colleagues - not to mention professors - earned a BA at a shitty little school like mine.

We teach. And often, we do it well. And we're damn proud of it.

zombie said...

"another member took my remark to be implying something or other about his sexual orientation."

I don't get how that can be interpreted as having anything to do with sexual orientation.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful thread. Please, I need more of these. The guy whose dick got seen by the interviewers is the best one. The 'just plain' person is second best. I welcome attempts to supplant the current leaders.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:38 -- Co-sign

thanatos said...

Believe me, we are just as capable of detecting suck ups (regardless of their "pedigree") as we are "too-cool-for-school" hot shots (regardless of whether they are playing dumb or lording their brilliance over us).

Wow! I apologize profusely for grossly underestimating your awesome ability to detect all character flaws!

You seem like a lot of fun. I'd really love to take you, the Bad Skype Lighting No Soup for You guy, and the Wrong Fork Fascist out to dinner. Hm, I wonder what I should wear.

Prof. Lightweight said...

6:38 - *HIGH FIVE*

4/4 loads of the world unite, baby! WOO-HOO!!!!!!

Awesome. That post absolutely made my night. Thank you!

Professor Leightweight

Anonymous said...

@Zombie, 6:43PM: I can totally see how this could be construed as carrying homosexual innuendoes. The problem is that any attempt to explain that to you might be construed as homophobic as well (perhaps more, since stereotypes will need to be made explicit)...

And to Anon 7:00PM: I agree - this thread is awesome...

Prof. Lightweight said...

Thanatos (are you into death metal, or Freud, or what?) --

I really don't understand why you'd place me in the same category as those people. If you were on an SC and had reasonable grounds to suspect that a candidate was condescending to you, or trying to manipulate you (say, by deliberately sucking up, or deliberately misrepresenting him/herself to you, etc), wouldn't you consider this legitimate grounds for rejecting (or at least strongly favoring the rejection of) that candidate? Do you really think this sort of consideration is comparable to rejecting a candidate for choosing the wrong fork at dinner, or because the lighting in his/her skype interview is poor?

I realize I'm a mediocrity who teaches at a shitty school, but even with my lackluster credentials I can still recognize a crappy comparison.

Love and kisses,

Prof. Lightweight

Anonymous said...

I'm absent-minded. Very, very absent-minded, to the point of sometimes not dressing myself properly. I think you know where this is going, but it's worse than you think.

I was giving my teaching presentation at a terrific SLAC in a great location, and the students all seemed rather amused by me. This, clearly, was a good sign. I carried on, walking around quite energetically, enjoying myself quite a bit, until I noticed out of the corner of my eye something flapping about in front of me... My belt. Which was completely undone. As was the entire front of my trousers. Ooops. Oh yes--the course I was teaching was on whether one had a duty to procreate. So, without thinking, as I hid behind the podium to dress myself I quipped "Well, you can guess what my views on this are!"

I think it's a testament to my now-colleagues' collective sense of humor that I got the job!

Anonymous said...


This comment may be a bit late, but your reply proves the point made by the person you are replying to. Most philosophers (and most academics, I might add) are decidedly left of center in their politics, and range from those who are religious liberals to those who are completely contemptuous of religion. I have never experienced anything as bad as what Anon 1:40 describes (being expected to smile and nod when somebody says that the Iraq war is worse than the Holocaust)and even I am a bit shocked that such a thing occurred at an interview. There is, however, lesser stuff that grates on me all the time, especially at social events. The mentality is, "Well, of course, all virtuous and right-thinking people believe X about some political or religious issue. How could it possibly be any other way?"

Anonymous said...

Wait, whoa 7:19,

who is "Bad Skype Lighting No Soup for You guy"? (I'm just really hoping my friendly suggestions for setting up a skype interview -- 9:50 on a previous thread --were in no way interpreted as a "miss manners" guide for how one "must" skype in order to deserve a job, or some nonsense like that. In fact, my suggestions were based on having seen other committee members react badly to features of skype interviews I thought went perfectly fine.)

And do we really have to watch this thread degenerate as well? Come on people, just relax. This is meant to be helpful to job seekers. Surely we all realize that most newly-minted PhDs (whether from PGR-ranked or not) are not arrogant cutthroats looking down through their noses. (For christssake we all know know how tough the market is and that pretty much any job is a good thing.) And similarly most faculty at non-R1 are not bitter, resentful, petty tyrants. Chill. Out.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's awesome, 8:17! I actually have two similar stories, though they're not as great as yours:

I accidentally shot a snot-rocket out of my nose during an interview with a dean. The booger was sitting on my lapel for the last 10 minutes of the conversation and I couldn't tell whether she noticed or not. It was absolutely mortifying... but I was offered the job.

I had a friend who got really excited during her teaching demo and farted very loudly. Fortunately for her no one noticed (or at least they pretended not to). She got that job.

Moral? Er, don't sweat the small stuff, I guess.

Anonymous said...

8:21 -- No, I agree. I was just taking issue with the idea that philosophers have "homogeneous" religious and political views.

Anonymous said...

Dear "shitty state university" people and "mediocrities,"

I'm a "Leiterrific" candidate who wants a job at your SSU, who doesn't think there is anything mediocre about being an awesome teacher at a SSU, and who thinks anybody who has managed to build a career in philosophy must be doing something very right.

Is there anything I can do that won't seem arrogant, or brown-nosing, or bullshitty? I'm serious. I just want a job, not a an ego battle. I'd rather have the job at Yale, and there's no way I can credibly claim otherwise. But I'll count my blessings just like you did if I get a job at your SSU. Any advice for me?

I know that blog threads bring out the worst in people, but these threads can make it seem like there's nothing I can do that won't be perceived as some kind of slight because I think I'm oh so awesome and you're oh so mediocre.

Anonymous said...


How does your claim that the "vast majority" of philosophers are atheists and agnostics speak _against_ the contention that philosophers are religiously 'homogeneous'?

Anonymous said...

A question: I have heard a story which i think may be apocryphal, but maybe someone here can confirm it, which would make me very happy.

A particularly clueless yet somehow evidently stellar job candidate has to be more or less escorted to all his interviews to ensure that he goes. Somehow, even with a faculty member babysitter, he manages to light the curtains in his hotel room on fire. And the whole hotel has to be evacuated, etc.

I know the APA hotel has been evacuated during the conference before, but was it really a job candidate lighting his own curtains on fire?

Prof. Lightweight said...

Dear 9:26 --

Every program is different, and I can only speak for my own (although we're not doing a search this year), but there's a lot you can do.

First, and foremost, be honest. Don't misrepresent youreself. Please don't try to "play dumb" in order to avoid "intimidating us." Do not brown-nose. If you are affable and outgoing by nature, be affable and outgoing; if you are more reserved, be reserved -- but try to avoid coming across as cold, diffident, aloof, etc. Be polite and friendly. Smile a lot.

Let your research and teaching speak for themselves. If you have a top-notch dossier, you can afford to be humble and down-to-earth. Apart from being obnoxious in and of itself, arrogance also bespeaks insecurity.

Your authenticity will shine through, and the excellence of your application will do the rest. If you have a winning personality, so much the better. We already know you're awesome; what we really want to know is if we can want to have you (or can at least tolerate you) as a colleague.

I hope this helps. Bottom line: just be real. Just be yourself and let your work speak for itself!

Professor Lightweight :)

Anonymous said...

I think 2:23/8:39 just mixed up homogeneous/heterogenous. Substitute the latter for the former and his/her argument makes sense.

Anonymous said...


It sounds like you're actually NOT at a shitty 3rd rate institution. Such an institution would be one that truly doesn't have much at all special about the school and doesn't usually churn out the successful students you refer to.

Anonymous said...

"Is there anything I can do that won't seem arrogant, or brown-nosing, or bullshitty?"


1. Convey to us how great you are at teaching. Show us you have spent some time thinking about how to operate in the classroom. Think about you can help enrich the general education program at our school. Much of what you teach may be general education courses. You will have non-majors in your classes.
2. Don't come in and assume that our department is broken and needs fixing. It's great that things were done a certain way at your last program. We aren't your last program, and we aren't hiring you to save us from ourselves. In other words, recognize that you have something to offer us, of course, but that you also need time to learn how things work at our school. Remember, you may be a hot shit in your program, but once we hire you, you're like a freshman all over again. Cute and interesting, but in many ways helpless. :) Our department secretary will do her best to help you navigate everything, because you have the first clue how many things work.
3. Back to teaching: be sure you can explain how your focused research can translate to the classroom. Also, be able to explain your research to non-specialists (including the administrators who will be interviewing you on campus, who likely will not have advanced degrees in philosophy). This one is tough, because we know that the audience you are addressing in your publications is not the audience you will be speaking to every day of your teaching career. Be able to quickly, but easily, move us from your focused research to your general education teaching.
4. Ask questions. Show an interest in learning more about the program. But do this after you've looked us up. Show love. We have a webpage, and it may really suck, but you can get some information from it. Learn what you can, and ask about what you can't find. I cannot stress this point enough: We know you are applying to as many jobs as you can. We know that you want *a job*, and chances are ours is not the top of your list. However, we are not just *a job*; that is, we don't exist to give you a place to land if you don't get hired at Yale. It's tough to remember this as a job candidate, I know. But if we ask to interview you, put in some work to learn what you can about us. You know, we did read your application. We're trying to learn about you. We asked for the materials that we thought we most needed, and if we want to learn more, we will ask to interview you. Show us the same respect.

David said...

To 12:54 at the regional tech school:

I'm guessing Michigan, whose rhetoric program has at points been in the top 10 in it's areas. I would expect you to know the only grad degree offered by the department, and I think it's generous that the only grad degree in the department does not draw lines that would exclude participation from any of the department's faculty.

That's just me.

-DBeard from Duluth

Anonymous said...

I've interviewed at several Catholic schools and, among the questions I've blown (but could not have gotten right, really): One very conservative Catholic interviewer asked me "do you believe that abortion should be outlawed, and, if so, on what do you base your belief and how would you teach that to core students?" The correct answer, I knew, would involve a confession of belief in the truth of thomistic metaphysics. I just couldn't do it. I bullshitted about how English law was indebted to Christianity. Fail. verification word: "ensad"

Well-placed Prof said...

I understand thinking that arrogance rules out a candidate (though I don't hold arrogance against anyone really smart), but I just don't understand holding "brown-nosing" or "sucking up" against a candidate. The candidate really wants your job and wants you to like him/her. Maybe the candidate is proceeding a bit clumsily, so that desire is nakedly evident. So what? Why should that rule him/her out?
In particular, let me make a bold empirical conjecture: there's no way that you're picking up on anything meaningful when you think someone's brown-nosing or sucking up.

Thanatos said...


1. By the Skype guy, I meant to be generically labeling the Community College panel in a previous thread who actually asserted that they would disqualify candidates for bad lighting in a Skype interview.

2. I actually did mean to equate the "shitty state u" guy with those other people, but just the fact that he strenuously objects to the comparison makes me take it back (and feel kind of ashamed now).

3. I really do regret posting that comment at all, because I completely agree that this is an awesome thread and now I've contributed to soiling it.

I'll be returning to Hades now.

Anonymous said...

"I know the APA hotel has been evacuated during the conference before, but was it really a job candidate lighting his own curtains on fire?"

I remember this one, but never found out the cause. It was such a sorry sight: 2 a.m., freezing cold, and philosophers in pajamas everywhere. Even sorrier: desperate candidates taking using the opportunity to further chat up their interviewers. Fuzzy slippers really nail an interview.

I've always fantasized that the cause was attempted self-immolation in protest against the slaughterhouse that is the eastern APA.

Prof. Lightweight said...

Well-placed prof:

To be clear, I think that certain forms of especially gratuitous "brown-nosing" and "sucking up" are just insincere, inauthentic, and dishonest. I think that insincerity and dishonesty should be factors that count against a candidate, yes. If a candidate is just clumsy or nervous or what have you, this will be obvious nine times out of ten. That's not dishonesty; that's just nerves. And no, I don't believe people should be disqualified for being clumsy or nervous.

Professor Lightweight

Prof. LW said...

By the way, I also *understand* why really smart people tend to be arrogant, but I don't think it's *okay* for them to be arrogant *because* they're really smart.

Several of the most brilliant and prestigious people I have ever met in our profession are cold, self-absorbed, egomaniacal snobs. They have beautiful minds but ugly souls. The few exceptions, who are truly the most impressive philosophers I know, temper their brilliance with humility, kindness, magnanimity, empathy...

zombie said...

This doesn't constitute fucking up an interview (or maybe it does), but is offered as a cautionary anecdote. Last year, I had an interview at APA. (I don't think I aced it, and I don't think I was the right person for that job, but the interview was OK.) At the smoker, I had a nice chat with the SC, and then the dept chair showed up, and proceeded to "informally" interview me with the kind of questions that I find tough: what courses outside your specialty would you contribute to our department? I was not in interview mode. I was caught off-guard. (It was a very specific search with a very specific AOS, and although I had done my homework on the school, I wasn't ready to be interviewed all over again at the smoker. He was clearly not impressed with my blabbering answers.

So, don't go to the department table at the smoker thinking you're only being judged on your social skills.

Anonymous said...

"Is there anything I can do that won't seem arrogant, or brown-nosing, or bullshitty?"

As a recentish Leiterrific hire at a 4-4 school, some advice from my own experience:

The first thing to recognize is that in this economy, you are not the only candidate this school will interview who has a pedigree, pubs, teaching awards, etc. You may be a better caliber of candidate than the committee normally thinks they have a shot at (but maybe not -- it's not like the market has ever been great), but you're not getting a job competing against the chair who was hired 30 years ago, but against a lot of people just like you.

So, don't play dumb. You're going to come across as condescending, and you're going to come across as dumber than the nice Leiterrific ABD who is also trying for this position. My colleagues have said they wanted someone "hungry"; not the next research superstar, but someone who will do good work while contributing a lot to teaching.

(Also, do your best not to think of your future colleagues as shitty. I realize that the typical mode of thought on the market is "the market is a perfect arbiter of talent, unless it's me and I'm unemployed, in which case it's a lottery" but there are lots of good philosophers who aren't stars, in departments that aren't cushy 1-1 loads with perks. Including people who do things like put together phylo wikis, etc.)

Some other thoughts:
a) The question "what made you want to apply here?" always feels like a gotcha (I kept wanting to answer "you did notice that there's a recession on and no one can be picky, right?"), but in my experience it's meant honestly. Have something to say that's honest and conveys your enthusiasm. Even a minimum wage shop clerk knows not to say "I'll do this job until something better comes along!" (even if it's true.)

b) You need to have more than the stock I-teach-intro-using-a-mix-of-contemporary-and-classic-sources line when it comes to questions about teaching. They want to see whether you enjoy it; they're hoping you have a lot of breadth because you might not just be the epistemology guy, but the history guy and phil mind guy. I think showing that you're interested and engaging is more important here than any specifics, though it will help if you've had a lot of experience.

c) Collegiality is more important here because there's just no place for a brilliant arrogant person who can't interact with others.

Prof. LW said...

Very well said, 7:38. I agree with all of it. Belated kudos also to 10:21. Both of you guys are spot on.

Prof. LW

Anonymous said...

About ten years ago, I was on the job market and I was doing well, I had a bunch of interviews. The night of the 27th I did not sleep well--I was awake at least every hour. Then on the 28th I had several interviews. By late afternoon I was exhausted. I walked into an interview and was caught off guard to know several people in the room, new faculty and graduate students at the school. I hadn't been prepared to see people I considered "peers" and I just couldn't hold it together.

I kept laughing during the interview.

I still can't quite believe it happened, given that it was an interview with a good school. I really would have loved a job at that school!! It is almost beyond my comprehension that I could not keep it together, given what the stakes were.
I had some interviews that year with schools that would not have been good fits for me, that I would have been scared to go to. But I really would have liked a job at that school.

Something else went wrong in the interview too. One of the search committee members kept repeating a question to me because he didn't like my answer. That did not help the situation.

That evening at the smoker, I saw two of the people I knew who had been at the interview. I said, "I messed up that interview pretty badly, huh?" They said, "Yeah, that did NOT go well."

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:38:

Well said. Extremely well said. I urge others to read this post twice over and pay attention.

Thanatos: don't leave us. (and I appreciate the reply. It's good to know you were speaking about the community college panel and not the suggestions about skyping. My hope was to be helpful in making them.)

Finally, I'm so curious to know what the 'well-placed' in "Well-Place Prof" means. Pure curiosity. (Although, I confess, it sort of rubbed me the wrong way initially. Then I smacked my head against the wall a few times to remind myself that this is just a blog thread and how ugly things get when people start getting irritated at the slightest, most innocuous details of another's post.)

doris said...

I would urge all those hiring to assiduously avoid holding "brown-nosing" against candidates. The interview process, inevitably, creates heavy pressure for candidates to attempt flattery (a pressure that is not ameliorated by the comments on this and other blogs which suggest -- intentionally or not -- that some hiring faculty require it).

For reasons in this vicinity, I'm not a huge fan of "why do want to work here?" questions -- if you're averse to the appearance of "brown-nosing," don't ask. My own answer to this question was "besides the job market being a disaster?" -- but I was not a skilled interviewee.

My advice to job seekers is to do the research, find some things to like about the places interviewing, and remember that a little flattery almost never hurts -- pride be damned, you can't buy groceries with it.

My advice to hiring faculty is to remember how scary and sickening being a philosophy job seeker is, and be nice. (If you could work to abolish convention interviews, that would be good, too.)

Btw, the unzipped fly thing is more common than you might think -- I know of several stories. Be vigilant! :)

My own worst interview story, besides numerous instances of faculty falling asleep during convention interviews, and a faculty member lying down on the bed during a hotel room interview, is the case of someone accidentally spitting in my face while "interviewing" me at the "smoker" -- far too blatantly to successfully ignore. Awkward moment.

Good luck to all job candidates.


Anonymous said...

9:26: Is there anything I can do that won't seem arrogant, or brown-nosing, or bullshitty? I'd rather have the job at Yale . . . . But I'll count my blessings just like you did if I get a job at your SSU.

First things first: I've only served on one search committee (at a struggling state university in an undesirable region), but I've seen some very talented applicants from great departments and who didn't give a bad impression at all in any of the respects you mention. You don't face an impossible task here.

My advice: I suggest that you be prepared to draw on your experiences teaching and studying in a school like the one you're applying to (and your experiences working with the sort of students we have). Maybe you taught summer school (to a very different student population) one year, or taught at a very different institution on the side one year. Or maybe you volunteered to run a philosophy recruitment event or something at a nearby community college, or you mentored one of the community college's students.

If you have no experience with students like mine (most of whom are in the midst of a year-long sequence of remedial courses in reading, writing, and math), then don't pretend as if you do (and don't assume that whatever stereotypes you have in your head about such schools and their students and faculty are correct), of course. But then also keep in mind that there are aspects of our job that you haven't been preparing yourself for, whereas another student might have put a lot of effort into learning how to teach the sort of students we have. That candidate might face bigger challenges than you in other respects, so the search committee isn't looking only at any one thing.

Professor LW said...

Professor Doris,

I just want to make this abundantly clear, as I fear I have been misunderstood:

There is a huge difference, in my book, between "brown-nosing" and saying nice things. There is even a difference between "brown-nosing" and flattery. I would define the former as gratuitous, over-the-top, sycophantic, obviously insincere flattery.

I agree--no one should be sandbagged for engaging in a little flattery since, as you and 'well-placed pfof' both intimate, the pressure of the situation tends to provoke it almost unconsciously. It is also true that some programs expect it.

My original critique of "brown-nosing" was raised in response to the person who suggested that SSUs such as mine only hire brown-nosers. In fact, we actively discourage brown-nosing, playing dumb, and ostentatious displays of intellectual superiority. That was the point.

Hopefully this will clarify the matter once and for all. I second your entreaty not to hold innocent flattery against candidates.

Professor LW

BunnyHugger said...

Hi David,

Well, it was supposed to be my most embarrassingly incompetent interview story. I never left my pants open during an interview, so I had to tell one about metaphorically leaving my pants opens. Probably to be more explicit I should have concluded with:

Moral: I used to be pretty bad at interviews.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm the poster at 9:26 who asked

"Is there anything I can do that won't seem arrogant, or brown-nosing, or bullshitty? I'd rather have the job at Yale . . . . But I'll count my blessings just like you did if I get a job at your SSU."

Thanks so much to everyone for the helpful advice. So far the SSUs haven't been calling me for interviews, but there are a lot still out there. Fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

So ...

I interviewed at a pretty well-known school that does a lot of feminism/critical race theory stuff (both good and interesting things, but not what I do.)

When asked to explain an early modern syllabus I said that I would read Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Berkeley. The committee was shocked and horrified! There was a lot of unhappy faces ... we played "guess why we're mad" for a few minutes ... I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong (this is a pretty standard early modern syllabus!) ... finally at the end of the interview when I was leaving the room one of the professors suggested (with a smile and almost kindly) that I was a secret racist because of my preference for studying only while male thinkers in my early modern class ... I wasn't sure what to say so I thanked him for his concern.

But it isn't my fault that the 17th-18th century in europe was a racist and sexist time, it really was ... I don't think that that is a good thing, but that is how things were ... anyway, I didn't get a call-back.

Sergio Tenenbaum said...

I was a somewhat clumsy and sartorially clueless kind of job candidate. Excepting for a couple of Bar-Mitzvahs and weddings, I had never worn a tie before the APA. This wasn’t really a problem for the APA itself; my wife was coming along for the conference, and she made sure that my tie was properly tied before each interview I had. This was an excellent plan, but had a minor hitch. It is somewhat awkward and expensive to bring spouses along for campus interviews. So I headed to my first campus interview (Northwestern) completely on my own. My wife, not quite trusting of my abilities, sent along a detailed diagram “How to tie a tie”. It was a thing of beauty; I had never before fully realized that my wife could have easily been a graphic designer or even an IKEA booklet writer. However, I immediately noticed a fatal flaw in the diagram: she had drawn a floating decontextualized tie. That’s right; there was no hint of what was the correct placement of the tie; in particular, there was no answer to the age-old question: should it go under or over the collar? However, I didn’t feel worried in the least; a quick glance in the mirror convinced me that the answer had to be: “over the collar”. Yet, as I stepped out of my hotel, my curiosity was drawn to all those people who seemed to have been persuaded otherwise. The epistemology of peer disagreement being what it is, it didn’t take me long to have my former confident beliefs shaken and I started taking every opportunity that I was alone to push a little bit more of the tie under the collar. As the interview day went by, the tie progressively approximated the platonic ideal for tie placement, but, I must admit, at no point could one say that I was elegantly dressed. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. But I fucked up that interview in so many other ways that it was best to forgive my wife for that awful mistake. We are still happily married.

Anonymous said...

11:41: Did they give you any suggestions as to what you should have included? Because I'm curious.

Prof. LW said...

Good luck, 9:26/11:33!!!!

Best of luck to all the candidates!

Professor LW

taking the piss said...

Are you joking, 11:41? Elisabeth of Bohemia? Margaret Cavendish? Anne Conway? Mary Astell? Darmaris Masham? And what about Catharine Trotter Cockburn??? You spew out your list of philosophers without even a single nod to these household names! And "Spinoga"? Who the hell is Spinoga??

Anonymous said...

I had an on-campus interview at a good school, but it turned out the faculty were mostly drunks...that was fine with me, since I am too. But everything went wrong at the meals. At the dinner after my talk, the department got into an argument about an internal rift between analytic and continental philosophy. Everyone got drunk, and the most powerful person in the department spilled his red wine on the table. The next night, I went to dinner at a place where the food was really bad, and the waitress spilled the entire entree on the person informally interviewing me. They say these sorts of negative experiences can't work against you, but I didn't get the job.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks that all of these stories show that the very process of holding multiple interviews to whittle down applicants is completely insane? I mean, *everyone* has a bad day. Why should a person who otherwise has a stellar CV and who is by all other accounts (i.e. letter-writers and second-hand reports) a good person and colleague be denied a job because (gasp!) they had a bad interview?

Shouldn't hiring decisions be made on...I dunno...*good*, reliable evidence, as opposed to how someone performs in a one-shot 30 minute span (which we all know *anyone* can mess up)? Has everyone lost their minds? Don't we, as well-educated people, know that a single sample is a rather awful way to collect evidence?

Mr. Zero said...

It's too late for this to help you, Sergio, but perhaps it will help someone else: Youtube is an invaluable resource for learning how to tie ties. Don't look at instructional diagrams; look at instructional videos.

Anonymous said...


Nope, no suggestions were forthcoming. I actually might have made the situation worse during the "guess why we are mad" portion of the interview because I couldn't find what they were looking for so I suggested taking out Locke (maybe I had given too many names for one semester) or adding Hobbes or Rousseau ... maybe even adding John Stuart Mill or Kant ... yeah, totally didn't get what they wanted. If they had just said so, then we could have had an honest talk about this. But ah well.


Anonymous said...

11:41, that's pretty appalling. Can you please tell us which school it is, so I know never to apply there (or send my kids there)? Thank you.

Prof. Kate said...

Hah! Dec.12, 3:15, let me... you know what? I'll put my counterbalance to the Carleton Coll story up in the Successes thread. The difference is notable.

Anonymous said...

SO long as we're giving advice: hiring departments-- please do not say to candidates, especially to female candidates (who ime hear this more often than male candidates, and for whom the sexism of the profession gives the remark a different tone) "this is a good place to raise a family". Maybe it is. Maybe the woman to whom you are speaking intends to raise children. Maybe she doesn't. Either way, such borderline legal remarks put the candidate in an impossible position and her familial situation and reproductive choices are not professionally relevant. She doesn't know your intentions, there is no good response to such a remark (save 'that's great' followed by radical change in topic). I know many who say such things think they are friendly remarks that will highlight a good features of their town. But it's inappropriate. Please don't do it.
-Recently tenured woman

untenured said...

Recently tenured woman, I strongly disagree.
My situation: I have a job, but I've never been on a hiring committee. I had quite a lot of interviews but only one fly-back.
So the thing is, I *wanted* to know things relevant to raising a family. Maybe not the bland "great place to raise a family", but things like whether there were good public schools in the neighborhoods faculty were most apt to live, whether there are parks and playgrounds, and so on. But I didn't want to ask those things. So I was grateful when a dean filled me in. It wasn't awkward at all. I responded, "Oh, do you have kids?" But I could have said, "And what about vegetarian restaurants?", or "do you use the little airport or drive X miles to the big one?", or whatever.

Obviously, you're right that my reproductive choices are not professionally relevant, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know the answers! (My taste in movies isn't professionally relevant but I was happy to hear there was an arts theater a block from campus.)

If nobody tells candidates about things that could be very relevant to their lives, then we have to be ignorant or else put ourselves in potentially uncomfortable situations by asking. So I say: do tell.

Anonymous said...

I've had lots of people tell me these things in interviews (not relevant, since I don't plan to have children; but I had nothing against it.)

Oh -- and I'm a man.

Anonymous said...

Another female applicant (and one who never plans on having kids) that doesn't think it's offensive to hear comments like, "This is a great place to raise kids" (and, in fact, I welcome such comments). It WOULD be offensive if I was asked about my plans for kids, but simply informing about something they take to be a good feature of their school isn't offensive.

zombie said...

Yeah, I have to throw in with the side in favor of knowing about how family-friendly a place is. I don't think it's sexist. Fathers care about the schools their kids go to, and whether there are parks and bike trails too.

It is really more about the age of the candidate -- if you're in the "could have kids" age range, it is assumed to be a potential concern. A school that tells you something like that is making an effort to sell themselves to you.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:41

I'm an early-modern scholar on the market and that is absolutely outrageous. Schools like that become jokes.

Anonymous said...

I farted once in an interview (by accident). It was in a suite. It was one of those very silent but incredibly deadly farts. It was so bad that two of the SC members made facial expressions that made them each look very ill. No one said anything about it. I'm not even sure they knew that it was me. But, my god, did I fucking stink up that suite. So embarrassing. I was giving the crux of my dissertation spiel right as the real stink set in. Never got an on-campus.

Anonymous said...

zombie-- a school that says that may be trying to sell themselves. Or it's someone who has views about who will be a "good fit" which have nothing to do with one's philosophical abilities. Or both (people's motives not always being entirely clear to themselves)
I have never seen man who evinces no interest in raising children remarked on for that reason in the hiring process; I have been in multiple department hiring discussions (in multiple departments) where someone has remarked on a woman's having children or not as somehow relevant for whether she would/would not be likely to take a job if offered/stay if she came. That's not cool. And even if the person who says such things is shut down by his/her colleagues, it's still out there. Not cool.
That's why I phrased my initial plea as one to hiring departments-- if you're concerned with equity, don't put the department in a situation where such information is on the table, and don't put women candidates in situations where --if they are wise-- they'll wonder whether perceptions about their reproductive choices are factoring into a hiring decision.
There's plenty of time after an offer to ask questions (from the candidate's side) or to send the candidate photos and pamphlets about every school and playground in town.
-Recently Tenured Woman

RexII said...

I agree with Recently Tenured Woman. Raising the issue of children in the interview seems likely to have a greater negative impact on women candidates than men.

Zombie's desire to learn how family-friendly a place is is certainly reasonable. But I think there are other and better ways for candidates to get this information and for hiring schools to provide it.

Anyway, I'm not sure there's any reason to raise the issue, for either side, before fly outs.

zombie said...

"Anyway, I'm not sure there's any reason to raise the issue, for either side, before fly outs."

Agreed. But it certainly could come up during fly-outs.

And I suppose it might come up more often for women than men (and for sexist reasons). Men might feel more at liberty to ask about the family-friendly aspects of the location than women (since women will understandably have reason to wonder if it might be held against them that they are of childbearing age). SCs should know that it is illegal to ask a woman if she has or plans to have children, so I suppose some might use the "family-friendly" conversation as a back door way to get that information.

I just don't think it is necessarily objectionable to describe a place as family-friendly. During my last fly-out, for the job I currently have, the location was sold to me in numerous ways, including the quality of the public schools, the affordability of housing, the abundance of outdoor recreation, etc.

Anonymous said...

"SCs should know that it is illegal to ask a woman if she has or plans to have children, so I suppose some might use the "family-friendly" conversation as a back door way to get that information. "

Yes, and any woman of sense knows that. And doesn't know whether the person she's speaking to is doing that. So departments should raise it. I'm of the view that they shouldn't even do it on fly-backs. For just the reasons I mentioned.

untenured said...

I also agree that it's not the kind of thing that should (or is likely to) come up in a convention interview. As Zombie said, remarks about family-related stuff are attempts to sell the school to the candidate, which isn't usually happening in a convention interview.

I don't think Recently Tenured Woman (which sounds to some of us like the name of a superhero, by the way!) was worried that interviewers are trying in a sneaky way to get info they aren't allowed to ask about. That might happen, but if it does the sleazy interviewer is not going to read a Phil Smoker comment and take the advice offered here! The problem is that even when innocently mentioned it can make things awkward for the candidate to get into a discussion about family plans.

And I agree, and I also agree with RexII that this is more likely to make things awkward for a woman than for a man. But I think it's also more likely to be interesting and important information for a woman than for a man.
So my view is that the potential for awkwardness is small and is distinctly outweighed by the potential usefulness.

Anonymous said...

Dear Untenured. I assume you were baiting for this question: why would information about a location's family friendliness be more interesting and important for a woman than a man?

untenured said...

Hm, no, I wasn't "baiting" for anything. And I can't tell if that's a serious question. I guess I'll answer on the assumption that it is.

Women in general tend to be more concerned with family issues, especially child-raising.

But I feel like I'm missing some subtext.

Owen McLeod said...

Hi Jeremy. Just plain hilarious! I don't recall why you didn't get the offer here, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with you poking fun at the title of my paper. (Not that this is what you were suggesting. I'm just plain sayin'.) Point is: I'm glad to know you found a spot at a good place. Best wishes and happy holidays. --Owen McLeod

Anonymous said...

Untenured. 9:47 here. Sorry, I didn't mean to impart malicious intentions to you. I see now what assumptions you were working with in making the claim that women find such information more interesting or important. I'm not sure those assumptions are true (or obvious), at least in the field of philosophy. But I guess that's an empirical question we could investigate.

Anonymous said...

I am an unmarried, childless female job candidate and I *dread* being told/asked anything having to do with families/partners/spouses. And I do think the gender of the job candidate matters - not because women are more concerned with child rearing, but because of the sorts of implicit biases possible SC might have toward women. As I see it, I'm in a double bind: if I let on that I am not interested in having kinds, I risk seeming cold, or worse- "incomplete" (as I was once called by a fellow philosopher). If I show interest in having children, potential employers might worry about my dedication to my job - will she take family leave as soon as we hire her? These are not the same set of concerns men have to worry about when asked similar questions. Bottom line: if you are interested in the quality of the public schools, go on-line.

Anonymous said...

2:22pm yup.
fwiw, when it happens (and it probably will) the only remotely effective technique I've found is: change. the. topic. If it's a "this is a great town for families/public schools/etc" say "that's terrific" (in the most matter of fact voice you can muster) and then start talking about something else-- " I noticed that (big tree/lovely restaurant/funny looking guy on the corner)--what's the deal with that?" If they ask you directly, "do you have family plans?" Or the ever so popular, "I know I shouldn't ask this, but" followed by patently illegal question about reproductive plans/ spousal-partner situation etc, smile, look them right in the eye, say, "I can easily imagine settling down here permanently" (or as close to that as honesty will permit), and then change the topic. as above.
It is, as you point out, a no win.

Anonymous said...

I was once, as a graduate student, at a candidate dinner where four illegal questions were directly asked of a candidate. This continued even after it was pointed out *explicitly* that such questions were illegal.

The questioner merely said, "Oh, I'm not trying to pressure them or anything, I'm just genuinely curious." This stuff happens, and it's horribly unfair.

untenured said...

9:47/10:41, fair enough -- I'm not sure the assumption is true, either. But it's been true *in my experience*. Which I guess is all of the empirical evidence that anyone has given in this thread.

I think it's disingenuous for 2:22 to tell me to just "go on-line". There are lots of things that become much clearer when you get them from someone who has lived in the area, and I'm pretty sure everyone knows that. And, frankly, saying that's the "bottom line" is rudely dismissive of the concern I raised.

Anonymous said...

3:33-- ?!? re: "I'm just genuinely curious" either we know at least one person in common, or there's some 'how to try and get away with obnoxious illegal lines of inquiry' training sessions running at the APA. probably at the smoker.

Zarathustra said...

In 2010, I interviewed with CS Fullerton. The position came with a 4-4 teaching load, but I totally would have taken it. In fact, after striking out miserably during campus visits, I was a breath away from quitting philosophy altogether. If they'd offered me the job, there's no doubt in my mind that I would have accepted, and gladly.

Anyway, the fuckup was this: having earned both my degrees in the NYC metro area, I guess I appeared to be a flight risk. Almost every single interview with a non Leiteriffic school (and some with Leiteriffic schools) included some form of the question, "But are you really willing to leave NYC and come to X?" The frank answer, in every case, was, "Have you tried living in a cardboard box on the corner of 123rd St. and Broadway? I know this guy who does it. He doesn't seem too happy." Since that wasn't something I could actually say, I tried giving school-specific answers that were simultaneously 1) true and 2) flattering. For CS Fullerton I didn't prepare such an answer because -- let's be serious -- despite the high teaching load, it's got to be one of the most plum jobs in the country (fantastic faculty, very collegial, interesting students, lovely climate -- everything).

Well, they seem to have thought the question needed asking anyway. I was so surprised by it that I fumbled around for what seemed like an eternity, then responded by talking up the nice weather of SoCal. They gave me that look your mother sometimes used when she detected your lie about stealing from the cookie jar, so I felt like I had to go on. And here's the fuckup: I told them that there were lots of great researchers at nearby schools, and that I'd be excited to get to know them.

Which of course is true.

But not something anyone would want to hear.

As you might imagine, I didn't get a flyout.

(I should note that I don't blame them and that if any of them read this post, I hope they will forgive me.)

RexII said...

RTW suggests, correctly in my view, that you ought to simply change the topic when asked the children question. Sadly, I suspect some members of SC's will read something into this effort to change the question. This is why I think SC's should simply not ask.

Untenured -- your claim about who has a greater interest in the family-friendly issue seemed obvious enough to me. Clearly, there is a sense in which men are just as interested in the family-friendly issue as women. Just as clearly, there seems to be a sense in which women have a very different interest than men.

For one thing, women have to actually have the baby. Also, there are a host of assumptions in our culture about e.g. the proper division of child care responsibilities, the appropriateness of women working when they have small children, and so on, that men simply do not have to deal with.

That said, I wouldn't be too hard on 2:22. I agree that merely going on-line won't suffice, but I think this was just a short-hand way of suggesting that you need to do your own homework. There are plenty of ways to get the info you want without going through the department.

Furthermore, the hiring department has an interest in telling what you want to hear. In my experience (fwiw), SC's are carefully presenting themselves to candidates, even at the initial interview stage. I'm not talking about blatant deception. Btu you'll be asking people who are raising families in X if they think it is a good idea to raise a family in X.

stentor said...

RexII, plainly SCs should not be asking anyone about their reproductive plans -- it's illegal, for one thing.
But I guess I have a very different perspective from yours. (I'm a man, by the way -- you don't say, but 'Rex' sounds masculine.) Of course the SC wooing the candidate is going to want to make the place sound attractive, but they could still convey very specific information, the kind that's just straightforwardly factual and could be very useful. Maybe there are two day care places right in the university neighborhood and one of them is partly subsidized for jr. faculty. Maybe the elementary school is considered the best in the city but the middle school is dodgy. Maybe there are many playgrounds but mostly in need of repair. There's a children's museum. And so on. Sure, I could research these things on-line. Information I get from people who, as you note, are actually raising kids there is a good supplement to more objective information.

By the way, tenured, I hope you aren't offended by any of the comments -- this is just disagreement among reasonable people, and indeed reasonable people who seem to share most values. Please don't read more tone into them than is there.

Anonymous said...

not tone, stentor, but naivete about the situation women are in when it comes to this sort of situation. There isn't such a thing as simply conveying information on this topic, to a woman in the process of interviewing for a philosophy job. That's wishful thinking. It doesn't matter how you in particular might mean it when you talk about nice schools and playgrounds in repair. A reasonable woman ought to wonder whether she is in a situation where the apparent offering of information is a fishing expedition, and whether her perceived reproductive choices will factor in a hiring situation. And she ought to have those worries precisely because of the sorts of experiences that, for instance, I and anonymous 3:33 have had.
There's a really simple solution-- don't bring any of this up. There is time later. You really can call a candidate after the job offer and tell her all about the playgrounds if you'd like. I find the resistance to this simple solution somewhat disturbing-- I can see no justification for it.

stentor said...

Oh, that was a typo. It was untenured I thought might be over-interpreting tone.

But Tenured, I do think a "reasonable woman" can take care of herself in these situations. She may wonder whether she's being surreptitiously evaluated without letting her wonder get in the way of gaining genuine information. And yes, more information can be conveyed if and when she gets a job offer, but just like tons of other information that a dean, a chair, and some potential colleagues and students will pass along at the fly-out, it's useful to get it in person. There's nothing "disturbing" about this.

RexII said...

"I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe .... and am not contained between my hat and boots.... In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less/and the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.... I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Ha! Sorry, couldn't resist.


I think there are three ways to understand your differences in perspective. All are worth discussing.

1. One difference is suggested by your suggestion (?) that we may not share a gender. As I said, multitudes. But I do believe that men have much less at stake when the children issue comes up than do women. Here I think I share Anon 6:49's view. For that matter, it may be that men can benefit from raising the issue in ways that women may not. Well, I don't want to go too far down that path. But I do think women have much more to lose here, and this is one difference in perspective worth noting.

(Aside: c'mon Anon folks! The history of phil is loaded w/ good Noms de guerre. Does anyone recall the book RexII inhabits?)

2. You suggest that a lot of true and helpful facts can be gained from the children discussion. I will agree, at least for some facts. Still, I think you have to take many of these fact claims with a grain of salt. This is, I think, difference of perspective two. You seem to be much more trusting than I am. Perhaps I've simply seen more ... less savory activity on the market than you.

In any case, assuming no unsavory behavior now, I think that even if you learn many helpful true facts, you will not learn all of them from the children discussion. You will learn the facts that make the position seem more attractive, and you will not learn those facts that make it seem less attractive. So, when used carefully as a supplement, as you suggest, I think there is something that can be learned from the childhood discussion. But I think you still receive a careful presentation of only some of the relevant true and helpful facts. I still think a lot more useful information can be gleaned from other sources.

3. Here I think is the biggest difference in perspective between us. Let's suppose we agree on the value of the facts we can obtain from the children discussion. (So ignore 2 above.) I think we disagree about whether the value of these facts outweighs the dangers the children discussion presents to women candidates. In my view, you underestimate these dangers. From your perspective, I suppose, I seem to overestimate these dangers. Here again I think I agree with Anon 6:49. This is, in my view, the biggest difference between us.

I agree that these are reasonable disagreements. Thoughtful people of manifest good will end up on different sides of these questions. So be it. I do not aim to win the internet, even for today. Neither do I aim to make anyone cry "uncle!" I wish only to present, as clearly as I can, my reasons for holding that SC's should not raise the children issue.

Anonymous said...

Stentor-- why is it so important to you not to wait until after the job offer to convey child-rearing information?

Anonymous said...

I once served on a search committee where one of my colleagues asked an applicant, flat out, "what are your plans for marriage and children?" When I told her she couldn't ask such a question, she replied to me, "that's ok, I'm a woman, so it's not sexist." The applicant, wisely, refused to answer.

Anonymous said...

7:57-- fwiw, one of the worst offenders I've known on this particular score is also a woman. I have theories about the source & nature of that particular woman's sexism, but it is extra galling to see a woman behaving that way.

Anonymous said...

RTW, 7:7 here again:

I'm a man, so I cannot at all speak to this from experience. But some of my female colleagues - in my own as well as at other departments/universities - have complained that some of the worst sexist comments have come from other, specifically older, female faculty.

They have told me that some of it is certainly generational, which I suppose could explain some of it. Some have also suggested that there's a new stereotype forming: The Well-Meaning Woman. As has been explained to me, this woman is older, and almost always white, and takes it upon herself to "speak the truth," which often translates to "I'll say what's on my mind, which others are too afraid to say."

I don't know if this is worthy of a separate post, but I wonder if others have experienced this. Honestly, I simply don't know, and hope I have not re-opened a can of worms regarding sexism.

Anonymous said...

Last year I only had one interview. I didn't get an on-campus, but I thought I had a really good interview. Because it was the only one, it was easy to put all my energies into researching the school and remember stuff at the interview.

This year so far I have four APA interviews. Obviously that is great. But I am worried that I will not be able to remember the details of every school, and worse, that I will screw up and say something about the school I'm interviewing with that is false because I got schools confused. Anyone have any advice? Has anyone ever had this problem?

Anonymous said...

9:58, I was in your position a couple of years ago. I made myself a little notecard for each interview with a short list of salient facts about the school. I then put them in chronological order in my jacket pocket, and before each interview, took a look at the relevant card to remind myself. It worked really well.

Anonymous said...

Re. the "this is a great place to raise a family" issue:
If a candidate cares about this, surely s/he can find out information on schools, etc. in the area without a SC member volunteering information about family-friendliness. The problem with any SC member introducing the topic of raising a family is that it either leads to an awkward shut-down of the conversation topic when the candidate says "that's great to hear" or invites the candidate to share details about his/her personal life (that should be but often isn't) irrelevant to the hiring process. When the shut-down happens, the assumption is that the candidate has no family and this is also irrelevant personal information. The same would apply, obviously, to volunteering information about local churches, but the family question is worse because the assumption is binary (either the candidate has/plans to have or does not have/has no plans to have a family).

stentor said...


1. Of course, it's very likely that some of our perspective differences are due to gender. (On the other hand, two women have commented with similar views to mine, so maybe not.)

2. Right, I definitely agree that candidates should keep in mind the likely bias of those who are providing them with information -- but (as I think you agree) that will be true of all sources. The information can still be very useful.

3. I think you're exactly right.

rtw: it isn't "important to me". You made a false assumption. I have never been on a search committee in my life.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:58: on tips for keeping schools straight. I had 10 first round interviews at the APA. I made a sheet for each school, listing out details such as course-load, requested AOCs, whether they had grad students, other associated MA or doctoral programs, interviewers names and other faculty, interesting details about the school or program, and several "do you have any other questions" questions. I studied each one before each interview. This worked very well (except for one time when I asked a question about a program from the wrong school . . . yikes). Anyway, I think this is a reasonable solution to the wonderful problem of multiple interviews.

Anonymous said...

The problem with any SC member introducing the topic of raising a family is that it either leads to an awkward shut-down of the conversation topic when the candidate says "that's great to hear" or invites the candidate to share details about his/her personal life (that should be but often isn't) irrelevant to the hiring process.

I haven't found this to be true. I've always managed to carry on the conversation in a non-committal way. Except when one guy asked me point-blank whether I was going to have children. Even then I might have pulled it off ok except that I was dumfounded that anyone would ask. (And I'm really surprised that some people think women ask this sort of compromising question as much as men -- I believe you, but it surprises me that a woman could be so clueless about how problematic the question is.)

This has been illuminating. I think the way these kinds of verbal exchanges (at interviews, not here on a blog) work out is so sensitive to tiny differences in context and personality. I would never have thought it was a big deal to be told that there are excellent schools in X-town, and apparently some others think it's just blatantly improper.

(I am a childless woman, FYI. I wasn't going to say, but I do feel that I understand the other comments better when I know just a little about the author.)

Anonymous said...

I once got the "this is a great place to raise kids" sales pitch at dinner during a flyout, and it made me awfully anxious. The place in question was the place where I was raised, so I had rather a lot of first-hand experience that confirmed the verdict about this place given in every ranking of places to raise kids I've ever seen. (It was an awful place to raise kids.)

So I really didn't know what was going on. Did she know I grew up there? Was she making a joke? Was she fishing for something? I was too stunned even to artfully change the subject or even acknowledge her claim, so her remark was met with complete and utter silence. (And that, of course, was a big fuckup on my part.)

In any case, I'm now persuaded that 6:49 and some others are right: this sales pitch is fine, but it should follow, not precede, the offer. You can make the candidate feel he or she is wanted in other ways, and perhaps you can provide information in a way that isn't potentially unsettling, too. For example, you could type up a list of links to useful information about the place, including information about schools and other things for children. (Or maybe your school already has a website with links to such information.)

Anonymous said...

7:57- : yes, older, but not so much-- 2nd wave 50-60ish [I know a number philosophy women now in their 70s/80s & each one has been aghast when I've told them of this] Form of sexism? Concern troll-now live and in person.
I also know some amazing women in that generation of philosophers, but ime, this particular form of sexism --insofar as I've seen it exhibited by women-- has always been exhibited by a woman of that generation. ymmv.
For clarification: it's not been my experience that most people who do this are women--in numbers, ime, most are men (but #s of women in philosophy...) It's that one of the worst offenders I know is a woman (and she's not the only female offender I know when it comes to this)

Stentor: okay, fair enough, then imagine yourself on a search committee-- given that such remarks can and sometimes do function as pernicious fishing expeditions, are apt to put women in awkward positions for that reason, given that it isn't any of the SC damn business what are a woman's reproductive, child-rearing, and romantic choices (the last of which is also always implicated when the 'family friendly' territory gets opened), and given that there are phone lines and skype and chat and photos all of which can facilitate the exchange of information *after a job offer*-- what possible good enough reason could there be for bringing these issues up during the hiring process?

Anonymous said...

The last remark (addressed first to 7:57) was from me, RTW (apologies for forgetting to sign).

Anonymous said...

Are such questions questions actually illegal (they are certainly inappropriate so I'm not suggesting that it's okay to ask the question)?

I know that it's illegal to make hiring decisions on the basis of someone's answer to these questions, but is the asking of the question actually legally prohibited?

Just Curious

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,

I'm asking this question here because it seems apropos of the subject:

I'm in my fourth year as a TT assistant professor. I've never liked my job (4/4 load, crappy school, crappy location, etc.) and have been on the market every single year since 2008. I like to think my research is pretty solid for a person with such a heavy load (I have published several articles and a couple books). I manage to present at a couple conferences every year. Yet so far this year I've only had one first-round interview. (I only had one last year as well. Both of the interviews were fine, in my estimation--that is, I don't think I fucked them up.)

Any thoughts on what I could be doing wrong? Could it have something to do with the fact that I did not graduate from a ranked program? Is it possible that I am being seen as "long in the tooth"? (If so, that would be truly disappointing, as I'm only in my early 30s!)

Anonymous said...

Just Curious: YES. The questions are illegal.

stentor said...

given that there are phone lines and skype and chat and photos all of which can facilitate the exchange of information *after a job offer*-- what possible good enough reason could there be for bringing these issues up during the hiring process?

I'm mystified by this question. The reason is the same as the reason for bringing up all kinds of other things at a fly-back. Why meet with some students? Why talk to younger faculty about the collegiality of the department? Why tell the candidate about the tenure process, opportunities for paid leave (heaven forbid anyone should mention parental leave!), public transportation in the city... Why give the candidate any information at all? You can always do those things if and when you get an offer!

Of course you can, but (in my very limited experience) it's very helpful to have some items that are very often of special interest laid out in person, during the fly-back.

I think the problem here is essentially what RexII said, namely, that the dangers of mentioning anything to do with family issues seem much smaller to me than they do to you. (I hadn't thought of the sexual preference side of 'family friendly', by the way -- I can imagine that really setting of alarm bells if I were gay.)

Lionel Hutz said...

Just Curious (and RTW);

I don't think the questions are prohibited by federal law. There may be state laws that prohibit such questions, and the college or university may have a policy forbidding them.

I'll be happy to be corrected about this if someone can cite a law. But I'm afraid this is just a popular misconception.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the questions are prohibited by federal law.... I'll be happy to be corrected about this if someone can cite a law. But I'm afraid this is just a popular misconception.

There are lots of web sites, including HR web sites, that claim these questions are actually illegal.

Here's a non-legally-binding letter from someone at the federal EEOC that says that it's not technically illegal (at the federal level) to ask such questions, but it is illegal to make any hiring decisions on the basis of the answers to those questions, and that investigators are likely to assume that the questions were asked because the answers were being used to make hiring decisions. That seems less plausible in the context of a day-long, on-campus interview process than in a typical job interview.

Still, after reading the discussion on this thread, I'm now on the side of those who think interviewers should avoid such comments and questions.

Here's a follow-up question: For those who would be uncomfortable being told, in person, that the areas "has great schools" or "is a great place to raise a family," how would you feel about receiving this information in an email after the interview or after the offer? What if it were prefaced by 'I don't know whether any of these things are important to you, and I don't expect you to comment on them, but I'm sharing them in case they would positively influence your decision to join our faculty'?

Lionel H. said...

I saw some of those web sites, but none of them (or anyway none of the first few) cites a law. So I'm skeptical. And the EEOC letter seems pretty decisive: it isn't illegal per se to ask those questions, though it is illegal to use the answers in a discriminatory way.

Anonymous said...


I doubt it has anything to do with your program. If they were going to hold that against you, they would not have interviewed you to begin with.

Not knowing anything about the interviews, I'd say you lost it there. The crappy thing is, you may not have done anything wrong. It simply may have been that others did it better.

Anonymous said...

stentor-- yes, that's right. But that's exactly why I framed the question to you as I did --asking what could be a good enough reason to do this, in light of the problems that raising such issues necessarily brings with them.
And yes, the tacit implications about sexual orientation are there too. I advise my lgbtq students to be prepared to, guess what, change. the. topic. (And yeah, to the earlier anon- that's read as meaning something, but once this stuff is on the table there's no better alternative as far as I can see) -RTW

Anonymous said...

to the query about what about after the interview-- I think the earlier proposal, that involves offering a long list of resources only some of which are related to child rearing (proportionally not more than others) would be fine. It would be particularly nice if any such list made no assumptions whatsoever about the candidate: e.g. child rearing resources, local singles dance clubs & outdoors clubs, and a list of gay bars in town. If it's going to be child/family friendly focused, imho it's best to wait until after the offer. After the offer, offer whatever; then at least she knows the hiring decision won't be made on that basis. -RTW

Anonymous said...

Whatever the law is, we know that many candidates will be rejected just because they plan to remain childless. Others will be rejected just because they are insufficiently enthusiastic about gardening. The root problem comes from the fact that philosophy departments don't belong to anybody. You'll be working with, not working for, the people on your hiring committee. So, hiring committees are essentially choosing their coworkers. It's as if you're working in an office and you get to choose your cubicle-mates. No way are you going to just dispassionately pick the best person for the job. To solve the problem, you'd have to appoint an external hiring committee. EEOC rules aren't going to put a dent in the problem. If you don't want irrelevant factors to be involved in hiring decisions, don't let the workers choose their cubicle-mates.

RexII said...

Whatever the law is, we know that many candidates will be rejected just because they plan to remain childless. Others will be rejected just because they are insufficiently enthusiastic about gardening.

I suppose so. But there is a deep connection in our culture between women and child-rearing, and no such connection between women and gardening. And women have long been associated with "domestic" (particular, emotional, nurturing) forms of thought and judgment, as opposed to the male "public" forms (universal, rational, rights-based). It is these broader cultural expectations, enforced in all sorts of ways, that threatens to undermine women candidates.

Hiring departments are hiring a philosopher and academic colleague. This should be the subject of interviews.

RexII said...

I'm mystified by this question. The reason is the same as the reason for bringing up all kinds of other things at a fly-back. Why meet with some students? .... Why give the candidate any information at all? You can always do those things if and when you get an offer!

I don't really see a mystery here, so is this your way of saying you disagree?

Anyway, as I just said to some Anon, there are deep cultural expectations for women that are tied to the children issue. This is not so for many of the other issues you mention.

Given the possible danger (even if you think the danger is slight) why not err on the side of caution?

I suppose the answer is that you think the information is best gotten from the horse's mouth. In response to one of my posts about possible subtle biases in reporting of true and helpful facts, you said:

but (as I think you agree) that will be true of all sources.

But I don't agree to this at all. There are many independent state and federal sources of information available to people thinking of moving to an area. We also have online access to local newspapers, school district websites, and so on. Some of these sources will be biased, but there are many ways to triangulate and thus assess this information.

So, for me, the possible danger (even if it is slight, which I honestly doubt) is outweighed by the fact that the relevant information can be gotten elsewhere and later.

Mr. Zero said...

I saw some of those web sites, but none of them (or anyway none of the first few) cites a law. So I'm skeptical. And the EEOC letter seems pretty decisive: it isn't illegal per se to ask those questions, though it is illegal to use the answers in a discriminatory way.

Yeah. And if the search committee asks questions soliciting information that it would be illegal for them to use and the decision were challenged, then "the fact that the employer made such inquiries will be evidence that the employer unlawfully used [the information] as a factor in the selection decision."

Sounds like a technically legal but still bad idea.

stentor said...

I don't really see a mystery here, so is this your way of saying you disagree?

No. The mystery is how anyone could fail to see what the reasons are.

Anyway, as I just said to some Anon, there are deep cultural expectations for women that are tied to the children issue. This is not so for many of the other issues you mention.

I'm still really puzzled by this exchange. I thought the idea was that there are no reasons at all for giving candidates information about family-friendliness of the area, or no reason to give them this information at an on-campus interview rather than waiting until the job was offered. To me it's really obvious that there are reasons. The fact that there are also some reasons against giving this particular kind of information that do not apply to other kinds of information is a separate point.

Given the possible danger (even if you think the danger is slight) why not err on the side of caution?

For the same reason we very often do not err on the side of caution when the danger is slight. Namely, because the danger is slight. (Why drive just for the sake of convenience when a bus would be safer, even if you think that the danger is slight?)

I'm quite certain I am missing your point. Please excuse my density.

wv: blarna. I've always been blessed with the gift of gab!

Anonymous said...

The APA has a published list of regulations regarding interviews conducted by member departments (whether at conferences, on campus, or anywhere else). One of the things they expressly prohibit is any questions about family.

RexII said...

I thought the idea was that there are no reasons at all for giving candidates information about family-friendliness of the area, or no reason to give them this information at an on-campus interview rather than waiting until the job was offered.... To me it's really obvious that there are reasons.

Oh! Really? I never said there was no reason at all to give this information. Neither, I think, did RTW. Why would anyone say that? You may have read RTW's question too quickly. She asked for a reason that was "good enough." I took her to mean that the reasons you have are not good enough, given the danger the children discussion presents. This doesn't mean there are no reasons for SC's to relay the information. It means these admittedly good reasons for telling are overridden by other, even better reasons for not telling.

I was not calling this information "true and relevant" to be funny. The information you're talking about is clearly information most candidates will want to have. In fact, I do not think anyone on this thread has denied this. As I understand it, the whole debate here is over how this information should get to the candidate and when.

I think SC's should not raise the issue at the APA interview or at the on-campus stage. But this is an "all-things-considered" judgment, and does not require denying that the information that SC's could provide might be useful.

I think this is what most of your critics have been saying to you. I do not think any of your critics deny the relevance of the information we're discussing.

On the last point: I think there is a decent chance that raising the children issue in interviews can seriously harm a female candidate's prospects. Do you think there is a slight chance of causing serious harm? If so, why take the risk, given that the issue does not need to be raised? Or do you mean there is a slight chance of causing a minor harm? I can't tell from the bus/car example. Anyway, I think it makes a difference. Also, we aren't talking about your choices about what risks to assume, but about decisions other people are making that can harm you.

I think a more apt analogy might be something like this: the SC is driving a woman candidate across town. SC can let her wear a seatbelt, or can prevent her from wearing it. SC always lets men wear seatbelts, b/c the children issue does not threaten them when raised.

SC prevents her from wearing seatbelt. SC says "I haven't been in an accident in years. What's she complaining about? I have only slightly increased her chance of getting hurt. I know it's just as easy to let her wear the seatbelt as not, but I don't see why this is relevant."

stentor said...


I took her to mean that the reasons you have are not good enough, given the danger the children discussion presents. This doesn't mean there are no reasons for SC's to relay the information. It means these admittedly good reasons for telling are overridden by other, even better reasons for not telling.

But she asked, what reasons could be good enough? And if you already know what the reasons are but do not think they are good enough, that is a very strange question.
If you already knew which ladder I thought was long enough to reach the top shelf, but you didn’t think it was long enough, it would make sense for you to say that you didn’t think it was long enough. It would make no sense for you to ask, “What possible long enough ladder could there be to reach the top shelf?” You already know what I think is the answer to this question.

On the last point: I think there is a decent chance that raising the children issue in interviews can seriously harm a female candidate's prospects. Do you think there is a slight chance of causing serious harm? If so, why take the risk, given that the issue does not need to be raised?

I don’t know what counts as “serious harm”. But in any case I have already answered this question. I honestly thought I had misunderstood the question, because the answer seems to me to be so obvious. I don’t think there’s any point in my repeating the answer. I am willing to say more if you will tell me what you think is wrong with the answer I already gave.

Your seatbelt analogy seems to me very bizarre. You just said, in the very same comment, that you aren’t denying that there are good reasons to want the information in question. Now you say that a good analogy is to something that presents some danger and that there is no reason whatsoever to do. This point of disanalogy is really glaring. Here is a second really glaring point of disanalogy: your SC is preventing a woman from doing something. In the actual case, the woman is not being prevented from doing anything by a real SC. She is being given information. These two features are very important. I am pretty sure you can see their importance. So why do you think this is a good analogy?

Anonymous said...

I'm rather late to this, but it seems worth pointing out that comments like "this is a good place to raise kids" might be made for lots of different reasons, and so the idea that there's some argument for or against saying such things seems silly.

I'm taking for granted here that's it's wrong to ask job candidates about their family life/plans.

What's being overlooked in the pissing-match/debate above is the fact that in many cases the department sees that the candidate is, as it were, interviewing the school (esp at the on-campus), too. And so they (some of them at least) want to make a good impression and represent what's good about the school, community, and so forth. "This is a good place to raise kids," might be just as innocent and well-intentioned as, "There's a great arts center downtown."

Don't be neurotic and don't assume that such comments are attempts to pry. If someone says, "This is a nice place to raise kids," say: "Oh, do you have kids?" Then that person gets to say yes and talk about his or her kids. Or if that person doesn't, the ball is at least back in his or her court, but you've shown interest in that person, not given anything away, and not (I assume) responded in a way that is defensive. (Tone, body language, etc., matters of course.)

Yeah, sure, people can say things like this for stupid reasons, too. But you just have to be ready to deal with it gracefully, and all this chatter about whether it should or shouldn't be said won't help you field the comment when and if it comes up.

I suppose if someone asks the verboten question, "Do you have/plan on having kids?" etc., then you can also try to deflect--again, gracefully. And the right answer will depend on you. It might be, "Well, I'd rather not get into it, but I do have a question about..." or "I'm not sure," or "Do you have kids?" get the idea. So, in the spirit of the fuckup theme, you have to be prepared for the interviewers to fuck up, too.

Anonymous said...

RexII--12:09 here. I shouldn't have mentioned gardening. It distracts from my point. Sorry about that. Here's my point:

Suppose the members of a hiring committee really want to work with someone who plans to have children. Which would you prefer:

(1) Members of the hiring committee ask candidates whether they plan to have children. Candidate Y says yes. So they hire candidate Y.

(2) Members of the hiring committee, wary of violating EEOC rules, refrain from asking candidates whether they plan to have children. But candidate Z sort of seems like she might be the kind of person who plans to have children. So they hire candidate Z.

Me, I don't see why (2) is preferable to (1). And my thought is that EEOC-style rules are only going to have the effect of creating scenario (2). You're not going to create an improved situation (in which irrelevant factors are truly set aside) unless you have external hiring committees. Short of that, I don't see much point in rules that require hiring committees to pretend that they aren't basing their decision in part on your lifestyle choices.

Anonymous said...

Regarding changing the subject when asked inappropriate questions:

Instead of trying to subtly change the topic of conversation, why not address the inappropriateness of the question explicitly? E.g.

'I'm sorry, but that question's illegal.'


'I'm assuming you want to keep this interview on the up-and-up. It's my understanding that the question you just asked is illegal.'

FWIW, I've had a few fly-outs, and I've found faculty were very careful regarding asking only questions which are 'in bounds'. On my last fly-out, it was almost a running joke. Possible questions were broached and then openly recognized as being off-limits. I never got the sense this was a backdoor way of broaching an off-limits topic; rather, just ordinary people openly coping with legal and/or HR parameters.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to feel self-conscious after reading these comments about inappropriate family-related questions. Maybe I just don't look like the 'married with kids' kind of guy. Looking back on previous fly-outs, nobody's ever said, 'This is a great place to raise a family'. Rather, what I've gotten is: 'XXX magazine says this block is one of the best in the country for strip clubs.'

While I appreciated the chair's concern for my sex life, truth be told, I was not expecting that. I wasn't offended per se. It was just a little awkward 'cause I couldn't tell if he was trying to elicit something. How do you subtly change the topic from that? "Yeah man, right on; and I hear the restaurants here are great, too..."

RexII said...


Apparently we're having a pissing match and not a conversation. Who knew?! Seriously, I've had many vigorous conversations with people I like very much. Smokers, I don't know Stentor, but I don't have anything against him. I'm thinking about what he's saying and offering counter-considerations based on my understanding of the issues involved. I think he's doing the same thing. I'll probably stop soon, but only because I have Christmas shopping to do!

Anyway, Stentor, I think people found your reasons weak, in light of what you and they were saying on the thread, and wanted to know if you had other reasons, or if you could bolster the reasons you do have. You say you don't have other reasons, and don't feel a need to bolster the ones you have. Ok. There may have also been a note of surprise or impatience in the question, at what appears to others to be not denseness but intransigence.

Is it a serious harm for a philosophy PhD to be ruled out of a job search for irrelevant reasons? I guess we don’t need to settle the meaning of “serious.” Some people get many job interviews, but most do not. I know that I did not want to waste any of my opportunities, or to have any sundered by others for irrelevant reasons. I would feel injured by anyone who undermined me in a job search through the introduction of irrelevant considerations.

The seatbelt wrinkles your shirt. It’s also uncomfortable. (I worry that you're not really trying to understand the analogy, in light of what's been said in the thread, but I'll try again.) Those are reasons for not wearing a seatbelt. I think everyone is familiar with them. These are just reasons that are overridden by all of the reasons for wearing a seatbelt.

Someone might respond, "Wrinkles? Comfort? Trivial reasons at best." True. But many feel the same way about the child-care information as given by the SC, because the information can be gotten without the help of the SC. It's as if you're standing by a water fountain, and I offer you a glass of water. You need water. Now you don't have to bend over to get it, or risk having it splash onto your shirt. I have good reason to offer you a glass of water, but I’m not really doing you a big favor when I do so.

You need the child-care information. When the SC relays it to you, instead of letting you find it yourself, you don’t have to bend over to get it. The SC has reason to relay the information. The information is something nearly everyone wants to have, and the SC does some good in relaying it. But, when it does this, the SC also opens the door to irrelevant and possibly harmful considerations.

(Would it help if I rephrased my claims in terms of “good” vs. "sufficient” reasons? I'm not sure why we disconnect over the difference b/w "without good reason at all" and "without good reason all-things-considered". The first has to do with the nature of individual considerations appealed to in some deliberative moment. The second has to do with the judgment made after consideration of particular reasons for and against.)

I think the "preventing" issue is a red herring, a difference that makes no difference in this case. You've asserted it makes a difference, but without explaining why you think so. We could list hundreds of differences between my analogy and a job interview. This does not mean that I think the “preventing” issue is never relevant. I just don’t think it is here. At least, you have not yet given me a good reason for thinking I'm wrong. I think what matters in this case is that the SC puts the woman at risk without good reason all-things-considered, (i.e., without sufficient reason?).

But, if the difference matters in this case, perhaps this will help. The SC is not merely providing the woman with information. The SC is also preventing the woman from keeping irrelevant and possibly harmful considerations out of her interview.

stentor said...

10:20, completely agree. (Except I don't think I would have used the term 'neurotic'!)

2:49, isn't that one of those "I like to think I would just say..." ideas? In other words, I don't think I'd have the guts to tell the SC member to his face that his question was illegal.

3:14, know you were being ironic, but yeah, immediately ask about the restaurants. Or if you're feeling in the right mood, say, "Oh, cool, what about museums?" (Or am I now guilty of wishful thinking -- maybe I wouldn't even have the guts to say that?)

RexII said...

Hello 12:09,

I see your point. But I think SC's should try hard to bracket this sort of consideration:

[[the members of a hiring committee really want to work with someone who plans to have children]]

I really don't think it is relevant to the question of whether someone would be a good philosopher, teacher, or academic colleague.

10:20: I think this is great:

"If someone says, "This is a nice place to raise kids," say: "Oh, do you have kids?" Then that person gets to say yes and talk about his or her kids."

But I think this can open the door to more invasive questions. And I don't agree that it is neurotic to worry about intentions in these situation, even if some people raise the issue only for innocent reasons.

Anonymous said...

"Don't be neurotic and don't assume that such comments are attempts to pry"

Also, the advice to ask about the questioner's children seems to me ill placed for a reason noted be Rex; the natural conversational next move after someone talks about their own children is to inquiry after yours. If they are prying, you've just taken the bait rather than deflected the question; if they're not prying, it'll still seem much stranger to try and deflect the issue at that point.

Anonymous said...

I just don't get how upset some people are over the comment that a particular area is a good place to raise kids. Raising kids is something most people do and if I were planning to have kids, that would be important information for me. Simply being told that, of course, is a very different matter than being asked if one plans to have/has kids--I would take offense if I were asked that. The volunteering of information, however, does not obligate the recipient of the information to divulge any information about him/herself, so that's very different.

I think Anonymous 10:20 hits the nail on the head: if I heard that from a SC member, I would assume he/she was trying to sell me on the school, no more and no less. Certainly I would find that a lot less awkward than being told that a street nearby is known for its strip clubs! SCs tell candidates a lot of information, much of it in an effort to sell candidates on their school (and certainly when I was a candidate on flyouts, I was evaluating the school in addition to trying to impress them). So, the more information volunteered, the better; once offers are made, candidates may not have as much time to properly evaluate offers as they might hope, so having more information earlier is better, as far as I am concerned (and, if it matters, I'm a woman and I never plan to have kids).

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's a twist on the "family friendly information." I don't like getting this info because I happen to be a male late 30-something year old who has neither wife nor children (and has no plans to do so). I think I was actually hired the last time (VAP) because the SC learned I had no family at my age and thought I was gay, and thus would add to the diversity of the department. The fact that, obviously, gay couples do raise families doesn't bear on the fact that people still make inferences concerning the sexuality of a single childless man of a certain age. Even though the issue might have worked to my advantage, I could easily imagine the opposite (at a Catholic school, for example). For example, in the case of a woman, the inference might be that if she no plans for a family she is a "certain kind of feminist". The topic of raising families can be very uncomfortable for any number of other reasons too (infertility, etc.) and simply should not be raised at all. Why make candidates feel uncomfortable?

Anonymous said...

This was a really interesting thread until it got hijacked by this "raising kids" debate. Now, this is an important debate and I'm sure your posts are constructive with regard to it. But my god, ask for that to become a thread of its own.

Anonymous said...

"Don't be neurotic and don't assume that such comments are attempts to pry"

Ok, I made the original comment above. Point (in the link) taken. But my point was just that it doesn't make sense to assume that every offering of such information ("this is a nice place to raise a family") is motivated by some kind of hidden agenda. (That's compatible with the point that someone might unintentionally be falling prey to all kinds of implicit biases/sexism in offering such advice, in their effort to offer useful information.)

Anonymous said...

My first job interview was a phone interview scheduled for the day after my dissertation defense. It was a late posted visiting position at a school I really would have loved to spend a year at. I was obviously ecstatic about this and felt charmed since it was also the first job I had ever applied for.

The problem was that I had been so focused on the defense that I really hadn't been able to think about much else. So when they asked me what my dream intro philosophy course would look like I was flummoxed. I couldn't even fumble out an answer, I had to admit that I hadn't thought about it because... I just hadn't. Even when they politely coached me through what a reasonable answer might include I had nothing to say. I was so naive about the whole interview process that even when handed a bone I just stared blankly at it.

Not only that but it took me a few weeks to figure out that-- no matter how well I could discuss my research-- not having any idea how I would introduce my discipline to freshman reflected badly on me as a potential hire for a teaching position. So instead of getting to spend a year in a superb department I got to spend the next year suffering through the job market like a normal (uncharmed) recent grad.

Anonymous said...

What not to do? Consulting memory of the other day:
1. Take notes during the interview with a $500 Mont Blanc pen.
2. Have shaved two weeks ago, but not since; ditto for brushing teeth, substituting two years for two weeks.
3. Dress like a male fashion model doing an impression of a member of a ska band, complete with hat.

In short, yes, appearances do matter to some degree, insofar as they reveal habits, self-image and self-management. These three did get cut, and only one of them was female. These were not the only reasons why they were cut, but the appearances reinforced concerns about teaching, research and collegiality inspired by other indicators. It appears that some need less advice about "how to deal with brutal interviewing" (something we do not practice) and more on basic presentation skills.