Interview Catch-22?


In the latest installment in his APAblog advice series on applying for jobs in philosophy, Allen Wood (Indiana University Bloomington) takes up the job interview, writing about what he sees as a dilemma for applicants:

Much could be written about the current circumstances, in which many very talented and well-trained young philosophers are applying for jobs at places where the entire faculty are their intellectual inferiors. Envy and fear of being shown up may make them not want to hire you precisely because of the same high qualifications that forced them to interview you. They are usually nervous about interviewing you because they probably haven’t read your dossier and would not be competent to judge your work even if they had. If you show them you are aware of this, you are out. But if you try patiently to explain things to them in ways they can understand, they will think you are condescending and feel insulted. If they realize you are smarter than they are, they resent it. If they can convince themselves, much to their relief, that you aren’t, then they dismiss you as non-competitive.

I understand why Wood wrote this, but I can’t help but think that it contains a somewhat outdated picture of philosophy employment. Given how tight the job market has long been, and given the extraordinary role that luck plays in who gets which job, the fact of the matter is that there are truly excellent philosophers at all sorts of institutions. My bet would be that candidates are rarely in situations in which they “are applying for jobs at places where the entire faculty are their intellectual inferiors,” and more rarely still are they in a position to know this. Keeping this in mind might help applicants follow the rest of Wood’s advice, which is sensible:

To succeed in the interview, you need to make them feel that you are already a colleague, their equal, not a mere upstart graduate student; but also not their superior, even if (precocious genius that you are) you see yourself as the star from your big-name school and them as a bunch of middle-aged losers with dead-end careers. For don’t forget: you are there solely because you want to join their (no-name) department.

Others’ thoughts on the matter are welcome, as usual.

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