Being in a tiny department of six means that you get a say in almost every major decision, which is a nice perk (this is can also be a giant pain, depending in the frequency of those decisions). So when a new line opened up everyone except the chair was put on the search committee. In February I was here on campus interviewing for my job, and this semester I got to help select the newest member of the department. It’s been quite a ride going from the nervous, unsure interviewee to the interviewer in less than a year. The process has been eye-opening, and perhaps it can provide some insight into the process for those about to go through it (at least for jobs at a mixed teaching/research school).
The first step was writing the job ad and associated interview documents, including phone and on-campus questions. I didn’t get much say in them because (a) the job request went to the Dean before I started (b) they used the same materials as for my search except swapped out the name of the position and the required courses. This made it particularly weird to be part of the search. Apparently it’s such a pain to get questions approved by HR that it’s not worth the effort to improve them. During this period we got a visit from the Dean, who told us in a PC way that we should be ‘open’ to diversity hires. I learned that my interview year a candidate was added to the phone interview list by HR (that candidate did not make it to the campus interviews).
Applications were ‘due’ on a Friday (i.e. “will be evaluated starting ..”). Files that came in by Sunday night were put in the same pile as all of the others – but any that came in Monday or after got a special dot for being ‘late’. We then got the dubious pleasure of reading all ~75 of the applications, identifying whether each candidate met the minimum requirements, and coming up with our individual top 7 lists. This is when I realized how cursorily readers look at materials for the first round or two. I read every Cover Letter and front page of the CV, but only skimmed the references and statements. Besides actual qualifications I noticed a few things that could change my opinion of a candidate (mostly by harming it).
- Research or teaching statements that were shorter than average (do you not have enough to say? Have you not thought about this stuff) or much longer than average (can’t you be concise?). Two pages for each seemed to be enough to get across sufficient information without going overboard.
- Research statements that focused exclusively (or majorly) on past work. We know what you did – it’s in your CV – but what you are going to do isn’t as apparent, and is equally if not more important to us. Lay out a research plan!
- Documentation that doesn’t specifically address qualifications laid out in the job ad. Just because you don’t like it/don’t want to teach the class doesn’t mean it’s going to go away. I would imagine this is particularly important for teaching focused schools.
- Misaddressed the cover letter (REALLY?).
We then set about finalizing our phone interview list, starting with the candidates that got the most votes, with little to no discussion. The final slots for the interviews came down a few ties, resulting in discussion of particular candidates and a re-vote. Our final list of ten was then passed on to the Dean and HR. Interestingly, at this point, the ‘top’ candidates hadn’t really been discussed – most of the discussion had been around the candidates that just barely or almost made it. Sadly our list didn’t include any woman. My top seven had included two women, as had the list one other faculty member. Those candidates were just not as strong from others’ perspective. I really do think the pool was dominated by well-qualified men, but it couldn’t have hurt to make the review process blind.
The phone interviews
I thought phone interviews were exhausting as the interviewee, but that’s nothing to interviewing 10 candidates in three days, up to four in a row back-to-back. A few candidates bombed the phone interviews for various reasons (see Acclimatrix’s post that includes how to nail a phone interview):
- One person kept apologizing and talking about how nervous they were. Everyone was very kind and considerate but that guy immediately lost credibility – noticeable nerves is one thing (many people sounded nervous on the phone), but this guy lost his shit. It was so awkward. Keep it together, people!
- Another person had obviously not done their homework. They didn’t understand what our department did, and pitched themselves for a completely different type of program. This person had been at the top of many of our lists but received no votes for the next round – it was obvious he wasn’t that into us. If he had been, he would’ve spent some time preparing.
- One candidate interviewed on a cell phone. The connection was terrible and we couldn’t understand what the candidate was saying. Clarity is critical during an interview and you certainly don’t need a handicap.
- Stressing international research and classes. International research (or even national research) is great at a big RI with lots of resources or at a private liberal arts college where parents are paying tuition. But students at small, regional state schools often are working their way through school and can’t afford to go abroad. The candidates that impressed us were convincingly interested in doing regional research.
- A few candidates gave long, rambling, never-ending answers to questions. There was a lot of eye-rolling around our table during some of them. When I was prepping for interviews I read that you should keep your answers to two minutes each. Maybe have a (silent) timer you set every time you start answering a question.
After the phone interviews we had to each decide our lists of top three choices for campus interviews. At this point there was a bit of political maneuvering… other faculty would stop by my office to see what I was thinking, and there were a lot of one-on-one discussions about candidates. This definitely felt a little awkward, but probably shouldn’t have been a surprise given what I’ve seen in other job interviews.
We then got together to vote on our top three. There was one candidate that got a vote from each of us, so that person was in without discussion. Half of the candidates (including many of our pre-interview top choices) didn’t get any votes at this stage and weren’t discussed further. We then had to spend quite a bit of time discussing which two additional candidates we were going to invite. We discusses the strengths and weakness of each candidate, referring to application material and phone interview notes as needed, and then re-voted (twice). There was also a bit of bargaining: “I don’t really like candidate B, but I’m fine with inviting him as long as we also invite candidate C, my top choice”. At this stage it was very important for a candidate to have a strong advocate – something that I wasn’t comfortable being as the only junior faculty member. Ultimately we ended up with a list we were all satisfied with (and no hard feelings – critical to avoid in a room of strong personalities).
continued in Part II