Archive for the 'interviewing' category

Wrong and Stupid

Jan 13 2012 Published by under career issues, interviewing

A reader wonders:

Consider this hypothetical situation: two individuals (married, but with different last names) apply for the same job but do not disclose their relationship. The search committee determines that the two individuals are in fact a couple, based on similar research interests and shared academic histories.  One of the members of the academic couple is the #1 person on the short list in terms of grants, publications, and teaching experience.  However, based at least in part on this person's personal situation (e.g., we can't hire two people, we'll never get them both, we don't want them both, etc.) the committee decides not to invite one or both of them for an on-campus interview.
Is this considered discrimination? If so, what law(s) are being violated?

In the case described, the search committee/department doesn't have to invite the second member of the couple to interview, but they should invite the first one; the one identified as the 'top candidate'. There are two reasons why a department should not use a concern about a "2-body" situation to eliminate the top candidate:

1. It is wrong. Imagine putting in the job advertisement that candidates who are otherwise highly qualified for the job will be disqualified if they are married or otherwise significantly involved with any other applicant or even with anyone else in their field. If you are going to ask (just ask) for a second position, don't even apply because your application will be tossed no matter how good you are. Also, it would be best if applicants did not plan to have babies, health problems, or aged parents, and preference will be given to those who closely resemble faculty hired before 1990.

I will leave it to others to discuss legal issues, but this is an inappropriate (to say the least) criterion to use to reject a candidate who would otherwise have been invited for an interview. Probably the couple is hoping for 2 positions (and hence both applied for the job), but this is irrelevant to the early stage of the search.

The 'best' candidate should be interviewed, and, if this person is still the 'best' candidate, they should be offered the job. If there really is only one position and no possibility of a second, this person can decline or accept the offer, depending on their options and priorities.

2. It is stupid. Yes, of course I know that searches are time-consuming and expensive and it is in the interest of an institution to select a candidate who is likely to accept the position, but (even ignoring the ethical issues) there are so many variables involved in this process, there is no point in second-guessing what someone will do if given a job offer.

I have seen searches in which there was concern about the 2-body problem of a top candidate who ended up accepting the job anyway (even though there was only 1 position), and I have seen cases in which it seemed impossible at first for there to be a second position created, but then one was, and the department got their top choice candidate and a second person who ended up excelling as a faculty member. In all of these cases, it would have been unethical and unwise for the department to eliminate these candidates from consideration owing to their marital status (specifically, being married to another PhD in the same field).

Hiring committees and administrators should be advised by their institutions about what is appropriate and not appropriate to use as criteria in a search. There are ways to circumvent these 'rules' -- you can find a flaw in any applicant and say that that is the reason why they should not be interviewed or given a job offer -- but if the real reason is concern about their being a member of an academic couple, that is wrong.



67 responses so far

Professors Behaving Badly

Jul 01 2011 Published by under interviewing

If you have an entertaining, disturbing, or otherwise interesting story to tell about an interview for a faculty position, please head over to FSP and leave a comment describing your experience. I apologize in advance for intermittent comment moderation in the near future, but I will get to all comments when I can (or you can leave a comment here).

One response so far

Failed Search

Mar 29 2011 Published by under faculty, interviewing

A longtime reader recently asked an excellent, interesting, and perplexing question:

Why do some faculty searches fail?

A failed search is one in which candidates were interviewed but no one was hired.

Given the large pool of highly qualified applicants for every faculty position, you'd think that searches would never fail. It should always be possible to hire someone good; and not only that, but someone who wants and needs the job. Yet searches do fail, and, although certainly less common than successful searches, failed searches are not so rare.

Economic issues may be involved, but these are typically resolved at an earlier phase of a search. For example, an anticipated search might be canceled after the application stage but before the interview stage, owing to budgetary issues. In some cases, however, a search might be canceled after the interviews. In my academic youth, this happened to me with one position for which I interviewed. After the interview, I got a call saying that the position was "on hold" owing to budgetary issues.

So, economics can play a role, perhaps even more so today, but I'd be surprised if most failed searches are owing to lean budgets. I would expect economic concerns to squelch a search before candidates are brought to campus to interview. Every failed search with which I have been directly involved as a faculty member has failed owing to non-economic reasons.

What are some of these reasons? Here are a few, and I hope readers will add to this list from their own experiences:

1 - All the candidates looked great on paper, but  in person, they were all jerks and/or lacking in creativity, communication skills, and/or ideas for future research. Being a jerk has not traditionally disqualified some faculty from being hired, but encountering a series of unpleasant and uninspiring interviewees definitely decreases a department's enthusiasm for hiring any one of them, especially if they all turn out to have no ideas beyond their awesome doctoral research (e.g., interviewees who say: "I plan to keep on getting more data just like these and see what falls out.").

It's unusual for every candidate interviewed to be deemed unacceptable to hire, but it happens.

As I've described in the FSP blog, I have been surprised over the years by the degree to which some interviewees are willing to be rude, patronizing, and disingenuous to faculty, students, and staff. One minor example from the FSP archives: A candidate for a faculty position, during a meeting between the candidate and the faculty (and only faculty), singled me out to wish me luck with finishing my thesis. That's nice, but, as a tenured professor, I didn't appreciate his kind wishes. This incident was one of several ways in which this candidate demonstrated that he was "out of touch" and unlikely to be a dynamic or desirable colleague. Also, his interview talks were boring.

That search failed, but only temporarily. The search was redone the following year, with great success. This is typical of many failed searches -- the position is filled during a do-over search process.

2 - The top choices accepted other offers, and none of the remaining candidates were deemed hireable. This situation arises if:

(a) The top candidate or candidates have what they consider a better offer or offers, owing to considerations of salary, start-up, geographic preferences etc.; or

(b) The timing of offers is uncoordinated, such that the top candidates have to make decisions about other offers before the university in question is able to put together an offer.

I've also heard of candidates turning down offers because they knew they weren't the #1 choice. I personally think that is a mistake, as there is commonly no real difference among the top candidates, and the ranking of #1 vs. #2 or #4 may come down to details about research specialty. If you take the job, being #2 or #4 in the search doesn't mean your colleagues will forever think of you as second- or fourth-rate, especially since they probably never thought that about you to begin with (although there are exceptions).

Most of the failed searches with which I have been involved had elements of explanations #1 and/or #2, but there are other possibilities:

3 - The department was impressed with all or most of the interviewees, but the Dean would only allow offers to be made (successively) to the top n candidates, with n < number of interviewees the department considered hireable. This happens, although I suspect it is more rare than the other explanations (correct me if I am wrong). Most academics -- including Deans -- know that every single interviewee might be an excellent hire, and, as noted above, ranking them is only done because it has to be done. The one who ended up ranked 4th or 7th or whatever might be a great hire, so why not keep making offers until one is accepted? If the search is terminated after the first or second offer is turned down, it's possible that there are reasons not known to the faculty, but it could mean that an administrator is being short-sighted and focusing only on the ranking (i.e., giving the ranking more significance than it warrants).

A failed search is a tragic thing for all concerned, and represents a lot of time and money. If a department is lucky, it gets to re-do a failed search, perhaps with success the next time because the applicant pool is different, the search is taken in a new direction, or a different search committee is formed to make initial decisions about interviewees.

Some universities have the luxury of being in continuous search mode, rather than conducting episodic searches when a position is open and the powers-that-be permit the search. A few times, I have been invited to give a talk at another university, only to realize during my visit that the department was in crypto-recruiting mode and had brought me in to ask me if I'd consider moving from my current university. In that mode, searches never really "fail", they just keep going until the department finds a good match. That works for some searches, but of course it limits the searches to people who are already known to the faculty, and may not give the searching department a very broad view of the possibilities. I think an open search is better for getting a large and diverse applicant pool, even if this type of search could ultimately fail.

So, faculty readers, have you been involved in a failed search? Why did the search fail? Was it re-done at a later date? With your responses, perhaps we can compile A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Failed Searches.

33 responses so far

Dressing the Part

Nov 16 2010 Published by under interviewing

A frequent question from readers is:

What should I wear to my interview for a faculty position?

I touched on this topic earlier this year at FSP as part of a series on Interviewing, and I advised interviewees to:

  • dress according to the norms of your field (ideally, if there have been any interviews of faculty candidates in your grad school department while you have been a student, you have been alert to such issues);
  • do not wear shoes that maim you;
  • wear something comfortable and don't worry about it too much; other aspects of the interview are much more important.

Given that this sage advice has done nothing to stem the flow of e-mails asking me for fashion advice, a situation that is quite bizarre to those who know me in real life, I thought it would be useful if my readers could help provide research specialty-specific advice about typical interview attire and, if possible, what the range of acceptable professional dress is in each field.

For example, in your field (please specify field), is it common for an interviewee to wear a suit or its equivalent for women, or would that be considered unusual? If an interviewee wore jeans (albeit nice ones) and a shirt (but not a T-shirt), would that be within the realm of reasonable, or would it be considered unprofessional? Are the norms different for men and women? That is, can men dress more casually than women, or vice versa?

In addition to specifying field, it would might be be useful to specify country/region, but this is optional unless you think it is relevant to your field.

Readers should keep in mind that sartorial advice can be useful, especially if systematic trends emerge from multiple advice-givers, but it can also be flawed.


1. When I was a graduate student, a visiting female professor told me that I was never going to get anywhere with my career, no matter how good I was at Science and no matter how much I published, if I didn't wear make-up and do something a bit more stylish with my hair. I ignored her advice and, as far as I can tell, my career has not suffered. I am content with how I look and dress, and am glad I did not change because someone (who turned out to be a very unhappy person) gave me random advice, however well meaning.

2. A few years ago, I wrote about how I once asked a male colleague for advice about what to wear to a professional/social event associated with the European university where I was spending my sabbatical. He told me to wear what I typically wear to the office; that is what he was going to do. So I did, and so did he, and he fit right in with all the other men, and I was the only woman not wearing elegant evening attire. That was actually OK with me, as I was comfortable in my black jeans and black top, but it also felt strange. I was the only female professor in the group, so was the "norm" for attire in that setting related to profession (in which case I was dressed appropriately as a professor) or was it related to gender (in which case I was much more causally dressed compared to all the other women)? I don't know, but I decided that being a professor was the relevant variable.

With those cautions in mind, I hope that we can nevertheless collectively come up with some information that will at least soothe the anxieties of some interviewees.

What are the interviewees wearing in your department this Interview Season?

52 responses so far