Recommendations for Interviewing Job Candidates

Photographs of a Brown University community member sharing their experience with racial microaggressions and microaffirmations.
http://www.brown.edu/race
https://flic.kr/p/oPUPYg

I teach a PhD Job Market course on a biennial schedule, and we always talk about ways to combat gender and race microaggressions during interviewing. Over the past year or so, it has also come up in my family development course when we discuss the motherhood penalty, and in talks I gave to the Fisher Women in Business organization at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business. Given this, I decided to write an email to my colleagues and graduate students when we were interviewing for a new faculty colleague last year. I think there are recommendations in here for everyone. Check it out and follow this advice! I would love to hear your additional recommendations in the comments.

Dear colleagues and students,

As we bring our faculty candidates to our campus, we aim to set the tone that we are a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive community. In my role as the diversity representative on the our search, I want to offer some guidance to highlight our community and avoid challenges that can occur in an employee selection process.

First, a list of legal and illegal questions:

TOPIC LEGAL  QUESTIONS DISCRIMINATORY QUESTIONS
Family Status Do you have any responsibilities that conflict with the job attendance or travel requirements?
*If this question is asked, it must be asked of all applicants.
Are you married?

What is your spouse’s name? What is your maiden name?

Do you have any children or plans to have them?

What are you childcare arrangements?

What is your spouse’s job?

Pregnancy Status None. Are you pregnant? When are you due?
Race None. What is your race?
Religion None. What is your religion?

What religious holidays do you observe?

Sex/Gender Identity None. Are you male or female?
Age None. How old are you?

What is your birthdate?

Sexual Identity None Are you gay?
Citizenship or Nationality Can you show proof of your eligibility to work in the United States? Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you born?

What is your “native tongue”?

Disability Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodation?

Show the applicant the position description so he or she can give an informed answer.

Are you disabled?

What is the nature or severity of your disability?

What is your condition?

Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?

Military What type of training or education did you receive in the military? If you’ve been in the military, were you honorably discharged?
Source: Advance, University of Michigan, Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring http://sitemaker.umich.edu/advance/files/HandbookforFacultySearchesandHiring.pdf.

Note that these questions can also come much more informally. For example, in talking about my own children, maybe I ask “do you have children?” That would be illegal. Or, in talking about how Columbus is a great city for your partner to also find a job, I inquire as to whether they have a partner, or even worse, I assume that they are married and in a different-gender relationship, and I ask them about their husband (if they identify as a woman). This question would be illegal. Rarely are questions asked as directly as those listed in the table above. Often times, it is in casual conversation at a meal, or on a campus tour, that these illegal questions come up. If you accidentally ask an illegal question, and you realize it before they answer, you can say “oops, never mind, you do not need to answer that” and then change the subject. It is easy to slip up when chatting, so just be cognizant. If you hear someone else ask an illegal question, you can again say “oops, never mind, you do not need to answer that” and talk to the person about why the question was not appropriate later.

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On Campus Interview Questions

photo credit: Attacking Difficult Questions via photopin (license)

Burning questions
photo credit: Attacking Difficult Questions via photopin (license)

Job market season is here! If you haven’t already checked out the Ultimate Job Market Guide or my syllabus for the PhD Job Market Course, now is the time to do it. On that topic, I thought you might all like to see a list of questions I would ask on a campus interview. These questions are geared towards a research intensive university, but could be used for all kinds of institutions.

I have divided the questions up into sections, but you might want to ask multiple people some of the questions to get a sense of how much consensus there is around topics. Also, don’t forget, for everyone (including graduate students, faculty, and administrators) you meet – do your homework!!

Finally, you might not understand why to ask some of these questions. If you have questions about this list, ask your advisor or other trusted mentor about the question. Hopefully, they will explain some of the nuances and motivations behind it.

For interdisciplinary departments
1. Where do you see someone in this position publishing?

Department Chair questions/Questions about the department
2. How does departmental governance work? Is there an executive committee?
3. What sort of things are brought to the faculty for consideration? For example, in a faculty meeting.
4. How often does the faculty meet?

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Hair Flipping and Hiring

For many years now, basically since I was in charge of my own hair, I have had long hair. Before that (circa 1984) my mom always told her friend Sandy who cut my hair to leave it no longer than shoulder length; I have three sisters and my mom did not want to mess with that much hair. I longed for long flowing locks, preferably straight and blond. Thus, ever since I have been in charge of my own hair, I have had long, wavy/straight hair, though I have not gotten around to the blond. I never thought much about my long hair, at least in terms of my career, until I went on the job market.

photo credit: rachel a. k. via photopin cc

photo credit: rachel a. k. via photopin cc

In 2004-2005, I went on the market for the first time. I was also pregnant that year, and I am not one of those women who can hide a pregnancy. I had my son in May, so at the time of my interviews in January and February, I was pretty pregnant. I ended up going on four on-campus interviews, but did not receive any of the tenure-track offers. What happened I wondered? One university in particular stood out to me. The department chair had told me several times – “you are clearly our first choice”. The chair could not have been more complimentary to me, as were others in the department. But when the chair called to tell me I didn’t get the job, the chair said the faculty vote split between me and another candidate, so they hired no one.

The next year at my annual conference, I saw the chair, whom I had really liked. I asked “what happened?” The chair proceeded to tell me about the faculty meeting where the decision was made. The chair said, in all seriousness, that one of the faculty had said “she flipped her hair too much during her job talk”, and basically implied that I was “flighty”. I do not remember if the chair used the exact word “flighty”, but basically the chair implied that several faculty members thought that I was ditzy. Reeling, I expressed shock, and the chair followed-up with “Well, I just said ‘she’s pregnant’, you need to cut her a break.”

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Do Your Homework

My final year of graduate school, I went on the academic job market. I received four invitations for on-campus interviews [aka flyouts], and I attended each.  Unfortunately, I did not receive a job offer from any of these universities. The following year, the first year of my postdoc at Cornell University, I applied for only two jobs, received a campus interview for one of the jobs (Ohio State), and I landed the job. Very little changed on my CV in terms of publication and presentations between those two years. I had the postdoc and had finished my dissertation the second year, and the first year I was pregnant, so those things could have made a difference in why I got the job offer my second year and I did not my first. But, one significant thing did change over that time – my behavior and preparation – and I believe that is why I got the job the second time around.

photo credit: John-Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: John-Morgan via photopin cc

The first time I was on the job market, I read over the CVs of people in the department prior to the interview, and I had a generic list of questions that I asked individuals I met with based on their rank. For instance, I asked assistant professors about their experiences on the tenure track, I asked department chairs about their vision of the department, etc. I felt pretty confident going into these interviews – they wanted me! Yet, just because you are a department’s first choice (I was told this by one of the departments) does not mean you are going to get the job. Our job when we are interviewing you is to flatter you and sell ourselves and our location. We are going to make you feel special. However, we are evaluating you from the time you step off of the plane.

As I was preparing for my interview at Ohio State, a colleague of mine who had recently moved from a small liberal arts college to Cornell gave me this advice. Do your homework. Read the scholarly publications of everyone that you are meeting with. Really get to know what they work on, and show genuine interest. When you meet with them, engage in some small talk, but then ask them about their research. Share your thoughts on their research, and show how it connects to your own research.  He shared with me how he had meetings with faculty members, and they would say “Ithaca is a great place to live” and he would respond with “that is great, but actually, I read your paper, and I was really fascinated by XX, and I wanted to ask you about YY.”

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The Ultimate Job Market Guide

Going on the job market is stressful and confusing. I have been working on a new course here at OSU called The PhD Job Market – the syllabus draft can be seen here. It is going up through the levels in terms of approvals; it should be offered in Spring 2014. But with all of the recent controversy about W and the rescinded job offer (see Inside Higher Ed, Slate, and the original post), I decided to post my suggested Job Market reading list here.  Check it out – and let me know if you have any suggestions.

photo credit: Jillian Corinne via photopin cc

photo credit: Jillian Corinne via photopin cc

Books referred to below:

  • The Academic Job Search Handbook (AJSH), 4th Edition by Julia Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong
  • “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia (SW) by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius

I also include presentations from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity library.  You need to join NCFDD to access these resources. It is free to join if you are at a place with an institutional membership.  Go to: https://facultydiversity.site-ym.com/general/register_member_type.asp and chose “Institutional Sub Account Membership”.

Reflect on what you really want for a future career

Academic jobs; Jobs at different kinds of institutions; Postdocs

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