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I understand why Wood wrote this, but I can’t help but think that it contains a somewhat outdated picture of philosophy employment.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.

(Reminder: the new comments policy requires either a social media login or a login using a working, accurate email address. Avoid handles with “anonymous,” “anon,” and the like in them.)

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Kareem Khalifa
5 years ago

First, I agree wholeheartedly with Justin’s criticism of the first quoted passage. Let me add another suggestion: it is, in my opinion, not useful for philosophers in general and job-seeking philosophers in particular to conceptualize other philosophers as “intellectual inferiors”. I don’t recommend avoiding this way of thinking because it is mean-spirited (though it is), but because I’ve never found it to be a good way to learn from others. Some senior colleagues may publish less than you, but often, they have “wily veteran tricks” when it comes to teaching, your home institution, or the profession. Other times, as outsiders to your field, they can highlight different connections and directions for your research, even if they couldn’t develop those ideas in ways that would yield a publication. You’re not going to be receptive these opportunities if you view them as intellectual inferiors.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Kareem Khalifa
5 years ago

It is also good to consider the culture and setting of each institution and/or department. Here are two questions, for example, that may be “yes” for your graduating institution/department but “no” for the interviewing institution/department: Does this institution/department favor academic ambition and prestige over most other goods and values? Does this institution/department actively promote the skill of oral argumentation? Those institutions/departments that answer “yes” to these questions may appear to be full of brighter, shinier people than those institutions/departments that answer “no,” but these questions have little to do with brightness or academic skill. Some institutions/departments do actively disfavor those candidates who seem to have too much of this or that quality, but not because they think those candidates are brighter than they are–they may think those candidates are just more likely to try to score cheap punches in faculty meetings or do badly by their teaching and service duties in order to go to yet another conference. Showing that you are not that person is yet another skill that can help you if you interview in such places, imho.Report

Catherine Kemp
Catherine Kemp
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
5 years ago

Another factor here is the hiring department’s judgment about the candidate’s fit with the institution–searches are still expensive in terms of time and money, and most departments try to hire people who will stay for a while and be reasonably happy. Hiring someone who’d rather be anywhere else doesn’t work out well for anyone.Report

CW
CW
5 years ago

Good grief.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
5 years ago

In general, going about ranking others as your intellectual inferior or superior is no way to live your life. If we take seriously the Socratic account of “human wisdom,” none of us should be terribly satisfied with our own knowledge of important matters.

But it’s also true that academics can be very status conscious and insecure in ways that produce just the dynamic that Wood is describing. Thus, though it is better framed without the language of intellectual inferiority, it is a very real phenomenon that some candidates will face. Report

babygirl
babygirl
5 years ago

This is too bizarre. I honestly don’t see the dilemma. If you are that person who sees the people interviewing you as “intellectual inferiors”, then yeah, that might come across in the interview and cause problems. If you do work that you can’t explain well to a group of philosophy professors without coming across like a jerk, yes, that’s also a problem. But surely we can explain our work without being condescending about it? I’ve never felt even the remotest hint of this dilemma in any interview I’ve had. Also, it’s fairly uncharitable to your interviewers to assume that they are so insecure as to be anxiously comparing your intelligence to their own at every moment.

But the rest of his advice is (as Justin says) sensible. But this is because I would think most graduate students interviewing suffer from a lack of confidence, rather than some weird superiority complex. Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

The excerpts seem to indicate that my time will not be well-spent reading this piece, so I’ll just ask those who have read it: are any data presented by the author to support (or even quantify) the “many…” and “often…” claims?Report

Perplexed Marketeer
Perplexed Marketeer
5 years ago

If the point Wood makes is about philosophical skill and knowledge, then it is indeed a bit absurd to give the advice he does. But consider this: in today’s job market, in order even to get an interview, many candidates have to have impressive ACCOMPLISHMENTS–multiple publications, preferably in prestigious journals, an excellent teaching record, stellar letters of recommendation. The threshold of what merits getting an interview rises every year. This is my fourth year on the job market and I have kept up with the data coming out of each year’s results. The first year I was on the market, the average TT hire had one publication, the second year it was two, the third year it was more than two. I have a feeling that this year we will see it rise to five or six–maybe even books under contract. When we get away from the intellectual inferiority issue, which is highly controversial, and focus instead on the accomplishment inferiority issue, Wood’s advice may very well be sound. Suppose the interviewers got their jobs prior to 2008 when the economy collapsed or even four years ago, when the threshold for interviews was lower. They have probably already received or are coming up for tenure. They may have accumulated quite a set of accomplishments by then–five years is a fairly manageable time period for getting some good research done. Now, they are interviewing a candidate who has accumulated a similar set of accomplishments, but during one or two years out of graduate school, with no stability in employment. I could see interviewers feeling very threatened by someone so committed to his or her work. Give this person five years to work toward tenure, at the pace he or she has established within the first few years of their career–it’s not that unreasonable to expect that he or she will produce a body of work that is likely to overshadow anyone else’s work in the department. And yet … clearly this is what these search committees look for in candidates, since the data just represent the decisions made these committees every year. In other words, it very much is a Catch-22, when the search committees seek out the most accomplished (read highly and prestigiously published) applicants and are then potentially threatened by how impressive the accomplishments are. Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

While I certainly don’t agree with the extremely strong terms that Wood uses to describe this phenomenon, I would caution everyone against a kind of moralistic denial that this phenomenon exists. We don’t need to use the silly language of inferiority and superiority–which pragmatically implies all kinds of awful and nasty attitudes–in order to warn students from “top” institutions about the ordinary human propensity for envy and resentment.

However, I would push back on the following point: if an average faculty member at a low-prestige institution literally cannot understand your work, that is not their fault, it is yours (and, by proxy, your home institution’s). If “elite” institutions are really producing philosophers whose work is only comprehensible to people at other elite institutions, this is not a sign that they are doing good philosophy, it is a sign that they are doing bad philosophy. We are all (rightly) worried about hyper-specialization and excessively technical writing, and if I were a faculty member at a non-elite institution who was literally unable to understand someone’s work, I would very likely be justified in recommending that we reject their application.Report

Alo
Alo
5 years ago

Define intellectual ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’.Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
5 years ago

I took the tongue to be firmly planted in the cheek.

Also: a “tight” labour market is one in which there are more jobs than candidates. The philosophy job market is actually *slack*.Report

ck
ck
5 years ago

This is a pretty depressing contribution from Dr. Wood. APA, as a professional institution, should be more carefully vetting these kinds of professional materials they are (we are) publishing on their (our) site. This sort of thing would never fly in other professional contexts (on professional association websites, though of course people say all kinds of nasty things in the bar at the conference). Perpetuating this sort of elitism just doesn’t make sense. I’ve never met Dr. Wood, but I’d bet he is a nice guy, and was just trying to score a few laughs here (the style of the rest of the piece is similarly ‘witty’ for lack of a better term): that attempt unfortunately fails here, though perhaps he did win a few laughs from a few other philosophers reading it who are steeped in the sort of elitism here described (and will no doubt rise to his defense in further replies below).

A broader problem here is that on the whole academics are not often well-trained to be professionals and are often exceedingly unprofessional. (Another example of this, albeit one that I recognize will be controvresial, is the academic tendency to assign the mgmt position of dept. head to faculty members who make terrible managers rather than just hiring professional managers.) In general, philosophers are no exception to the lack of professionalism in academia. We need a professional organization that pushes us to more professionalism rather than reproduces this sort of insulting elitism. (Imagine someone from ‘no-name institution’ reading this as a paying member of APA and how they might react.) APA can do better. They should re-run a different series next year, retire this sereis, and solicit someone whose style is less needlessly inflammatory.

The problem is exemplified in the final paragraph: “Careful preparation, practice, and innate talent for interviewing are perhaps necessary conditions for an interview that impresses people, but it always seems to me to be mostly a matter of dumb luck.” This is fine as a personal editorial from Dr. Wood, but it is highly problematic coming from APA. If the best our professional society can do when it comes to advice on interviewing is “it’s dumb luck, kids” then we need to ask what our professional society is doing for us. APA has been doing a great job these last few years. Keep it up APA. Find a different contributor for next year and delete these pieces.Report

babygirl
babygirl
Reply to  ck
5 years ago

After reading this entire piece with grad sockpuppet’s comment in mind, it seems to me it is meant less seriously than I had originally thought. He seems to be saying, a necessary supposition for succeeding at an interview is that you are smarter than your interviewers (since this gives you the necessary confidence) but it is also necessary to assume that you are not as smart as your interviewers (since this will allow you to address them with the appropriate respect and instill in you appropriate fear) … I’m not sure I agree that this is the best way to think about it (can’t we be confident without assuming we are smarter than everyone?), but I don’t think the piece is elitist in the way you describe. Report

Kate Abramson
Kate Abramson
5 years ago

I agree with Justin. And while I think “Joe” above has a fair point that everyone should of course operate in life with awareness of ordinary human propensities to envy, resentment (and resentiment), those propensities, in my experience, have very little to do with “elite” and “non-elite” — they have (again, just ime) rather primarily to do with how comfortable a person is in their own shoes/skin, and a million different factors can affect that. Alternate interview advice: be clear, answer the questions posed to you (unless they are illegal or otherwise entirely inappropriate), treat the people with whom you are interacting with decency.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

I have moved around some between different depts and never seen anything like the situation Woods describes. Report

CW
CW
5 years ago

I’ve read Wood’s post in full now, and I get why people think the elitist talk isn’t serious. The bit about how the decisions he makes on his own are consistently better seems potentially self-mocking, or at least humbly self-deprecating, to me. But I guess I don’t see the point of the piece. Is it satire? Wood seems scornful of the whole enterprise. I’m not saying he’s wrong, or all wrong, but it does make for a bit of an odd advice column.Report

Lisa Rivera
Lisa Rivera
5 years ago

I am one of Allen Wood’s former students and so have enjoyed (and often been rendered helpless with laughter) Allen’s absurdist, sharp, insightful, and revealing dissertation comments and emails about human psychology, politics, academia, and history of philosophy.

I’ve wished he would write a blog because Allen might be one of the funniest people alive–in philosophy or out of it–and so many of his greatest riffs are scattered among various people’s emails and I have no doubt they are gems. Sadly, this thread makes me wonder if certain segments of the philosophy community are ready for Allen. But you don’t know what you are missing.

This is tongue in cheek. What he’s ridiculing is simply people’s fear of being shown up, their tendency to be pompous, insular and insecure and how they then project all of their issues onto other people–who–when job candidates–are often unsuspecting because they sometimes don’t imagine that those who have privilege and status could be so petty. This is a widespread problem throughout academia–and perhaps all fields where knowledge and competency are someone’s stock in trade.

I ruined it by explaining it. But someone had to!
Report

Jen Morton
Jen Morton
Reply to  Lisa Rivera
5 years ago

Couldn’t agree more! Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

I find this post of Wood’s to be wildly inaccurate about what it is like to be interviewed for a job in philosophy. Many friends of Wood on the internet say that he intends this piece as satire—as willfully exaggeration—of genuinely problematic aspects of philosophy. Perhaps that was his intention. I don’t know. But if it is intended as satire then I think that should have been made much clearer. The venue and previous posts would naturally suggest that we are not being offered satire. But if it is intended just as accurate depiction of what job interviews, and the profs who do the interviewing, are like then I think it wildly inaccurate. That is not to deny that there are problems in the profession in the direction that Wood mentions. But he wildly exaggerates such problems and focuses only on negative aspects of interviews when I think the truth is that many find that, for all the awfulness of being on the market, the actual interview is often a good moment. According to most that I have talked to, the interview is found to be a moment when philosophers who are genuinely interested in your work ask you what you think and really want to hear what you have to say. It is a moment when you are listened to and it matters if you can explain and defend your views.

The job market sucks. There are many talented job seekers and not enough jobs for all of them. But in my experience in hiring at the 3 different departments I have worked at, and from what I have gathered from talking to others, Wood’s depiction of what goes on during interviews is excessively gloomy. He takes a bad situation and paints it as even worse than it is.Report

Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

Maybe there’s something to the old canard that people who are into political correctness don’t have a very well-developed sense of humour.Report

Simon Evnine
Simon Evnine
5 years ago

I’ve no doubt the piece is intended to be funny (at least in parts), but it is hard to understand it as satire. Who, or what, is being ridiculed? Whose absurdities mocked by exaggeration? Is it the sense of entitlement of job seekers from elite institutions? Is it the provincial and dense members of non-elite departments? Perhaps some job seekers from elite institutions do have an inflated sense of their worth. But even if so, is an allegedly helpful blog post on the new APA blog devoted to helping job seekers really the place to puncture their egos? And why make the post about what, I imagine, is a small percentage of such candidates?Perhaps some members of non-elite departments are provincial and dense and insecure. But again, how many? And was this the place to mock them? Some lines may be funny, but overall, I think the piece misfired.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

Allen Wood’s piece about philosophy job interviews is clearly meant as comedy, dark comedy. It made me laugh out loud. It is comedy that does what all good comedy does — poke fun so that we can perhaps see ourselves just a little more clearly than we did before. And it is even more effective for not having been expected: the element of surprise is essential to comedy, after all.

Those who are more critical, I’d really like to hear what kind of advice you would give a job candidate, and interviewers, for that matter, about interviewing, other than (1) prepare a spiel about your dissertation and (2) be relaxed and just talk philosophy, and (3) be prepared for questions about how you’d teach a set of courses or even your dream course. (Note that Wood does cover those three.) The best interviews, after all, end up feeling more like philosophical conversations than anything else, and that’s true from the point of view of both candidate and interviewer. So, let’s assume agreement about that. What advice would you give about how to have a good philosophical conversation? Would it have been OK to say “Just try to relax and have a good philosophical conversation”?
Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

I think many will not see his piece as intended as comedy. And I think the risks of being taken to be non-comedic are significant enough here that he ought not to have allowed things to be so unclear even if that cost him in terms of his ability to be humorous. But none of this matters to me as much as the general acknowledgement that Wood exaggerated the problems that exist and does not offer an accurate picture of the profession. Since this seems to be allowed on all hands I am content–at least as long as that message reaches grad students who might otherwise have been reasonably aghast and despondent at the picture painted of the profession on the APA’s official blog offering advice and information to grad students.Report

Becko
Becko
5 years ago

In full disclosure, like Lisa, I am one of Wood’s former graduate students. His remarks are comic, but not intended to be humorous, if, what one thinks of humorous is being funny. It’s not remotely funny that the job market in academia as a whole is what it is. Nor is it remotely funny that the job market is what it is in philosophy. Nor is it funny that the criteria that are used to hire people (an AOS/AOC system that tracks very little) is radically are obscure to folks who are applying and don’t track what they do. Nor is it funny that that the job effort is devoted to proving that you are a philosopher devoted to the intellect rather than teaching. Nor is it funny that even if you get an R1 or SLAC job (which are supposed to be the best kind of jobs), the expectation is that, at the very least, teaching is less important than your scholarship, if not simply a waste. None of this is even remotely funny. Laugh or cry. I choose, with Allen, to laugh. But not because it’s funny.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
Reply to  Becko
5 years ago

note: The ‘Lisa’ to whom Becko refers is Lisa Rivera (see comment above). Though my name (like many women of my generation) is also Lisa, I was not a student of Allen’s. I have, however, had the good fortune to interact with him at conferences and workshops. Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

One early herald: “Departments very often choose the wrong candidate. I should admit at this point that I don’t have a very good record of convincing my colleagues to hire the people I want them to hire. Naturally, these decisions, while still painfully fallible, seem to me consistently better when I am in sole charge of making them.”

The quietus: “Careful preparation, practice, and innate talent for interviewing are perhaps necessary conditions for an interview that impresses people, but it always seems to me to be mostly a matter of dumb luck.”

Context is something if not everything in satire: one does not expect a sooth-saying Louis (C.K.) in an ex cathedra Lewis (D.K.) forum.Report

ck
ck
5 years ago

If satire, fine, but it’s not very good satire. If one had to be his grad student to get it, and those who get it need to include that anecdote when explaining it all to the rest of us that it’s satire, then it’s obviously not very good satire. Read Swift for good satire, not the APA blog. This is not a critique of Allen Wood, who makes his living as a good philosopher but is not (yet?) a memorable satirist.

More to the point, shouldn’t professional advice on job market strategy on the APA blog not be satirical? Shouldn’t it be actually useful advice? (And if one believes that there is no useful advice to be given here, isn’t the inference that there should be no column, rather than an attempted satirization?)Report

Becko
Becko
Reply to  ck
5 years ago

I included the information that I am his student because I thought leaving it out would be disingenuous given that I was offering a charitable interpretation of his blog post. That is why I used the common phrase ‘full disclosure’ to indicate that my point of view is partial. I was trying to be honest, not condescending.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
Reply to  ck
5 years ago

I don’t think it is satire. It is ironic. There is a difference. And an important one.Report

Becko
Becko
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

Fair point, Lisa. You are right.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

My point above: the context was ironic; the content was satire.Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
Reply to  ck
5 years ago

It’s really not that hard to detect. And I’m not one of his students.Report

NN
NN
Reply to  ck
5 years ago

I’ve never met this guy in my life and I detected the humorous tone of his column very easily. I’m a little taken aback, frankly, by the sheer number of people who either didn’t realize they were reading a tongue-in-cheek text or, now that they’ve had the matter pointed out to them, are outraged that the APA allowed someone to have fun on its website.Report

Pendaran Roberts
Pendaran Roberts
5 years ago

I find the the advice series by Allen Wood disturbing, completely useless for people actually looking for advice, and very unprofessional. I blame the APA. The organisation should be trying to give some real advice based on statistics and the input of serious people. This is especially true now with the job market in philosophy being probably the worst its ever been. Again, I repeat that I find the series totally unacceptable. Report

SCM
SCM
5 years ago

I’m also a former student of Allen and have very fond memories of his ability to turn a phrase, and sometimes even wring it by the neck. I would not wish him to be a State Department diplomat, but he is one of the best people in the profession to have giving you unvarnished advice.

But I don’t think that explains why I’m puzzled by people getting into a huff about this piece. It’s not meant to be funny, satirical, or ironic, exactly. It’s very clearly sardonic, grim, and wry. Why? Because, IHHO, interviewing candidates is an irrational, unpleasant, and harmful practice *that should be understood as such* by those poor unfortunates about to experience it if it is not to cause them even more anxiety than it otherwise will. And so the painful absurdity of the practice is played up, made vivid by some rhetorical exaggeration. Why the exaggeration? Because grad students about to go out on the market very often have a very deeply entrenched idea that the process tracks merit, that it reveals something about how good they are relative to their peers, that screwing up an interview means they’re bad at philosophy, that not getting a flyback means the committee did not appreciate their work, that getting a flyback means that the committee did appreciate their work, and so on. These illusions are damaging and sometimes they need more than a few anodyne remarks to be dissipated.

Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

I agree with this interpretation of the piece, and I actually find the grim, if ironic tone of his advice posts, along with their honesty about his process of evaluating candidates, to be very useful. But I don’t see how that interpretation bears on the issue addressed in Justin’s original post. Yes, it is grimly ironic that changes in competitiveness of the market mean that the people selecting current candidates faced a much less competitive (though often still quite competitive) job market, and so may have had less in the way of established teaching/research accomplishments that what they – often quite reasonably, given their pool of candidates – are demanding of the candidates they evaluate.

But why does that mean he was being ironic in describing that dynamic in using the terms of the “intellectual inferiority” of many search committees relative to highly qualified candidates? Surely the object of his ironic derision is the job market and the resulting pathologies of search committees, not the job candidates who are subject to this process. Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Read it this way: “You may think, as a candidate, and – who knows? – perhaps with some justification, that you are the intellectual superior of the people interviewing you, but whatever the case there, it’s still a very bad idea to come across as thinking of yourself as anything other than their equal peer and colleague.”

Some graduate students are *very deeply* committed to their own brilliance, and expect the rest of the discipline to appreciate that immediately. These people very often get into bad situations in the job market in consequence. Now, some may prefer to advise these students to be a little bit more modest in their self-evaluation and a little bit more generous in their evaluation of people at non-prestigious institutions. No doubt that very wise advice gets communicated a great deal. But it’s hard for that strategy to always be completely effective, in large part because a candidate’s enthusiasm and energy on the market very often depends on a robust self-confidence. So we send our graduate students into a very dizzying and disconcerting emotional rollercoaster ride about how good they are and how good their work is.

Another strategy for advising students committed to their own brilliance is to grant them their premise, and point out that it would still not warrant coming across as haughty in an interview. “Because … and this may sound crazy but the whole job market thing is crazy anyway … you’re not going to do well in an interview if you come across as an arrogant prick.” Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
5 years ago

However Wood’s piece was *meant* it is put *billed* as “advice.” In my opinion, it fails at that. And why is it a good idea to put out something like this under the heading of “advice” on an official APA blog?

Are there any people who are currently on the job market who find that Wood’s advice in this piece (I haven’t read the preceding installments) is useful?Report

Pendaran Roberts
Pendaran Roberts
Reply to  Michael Kremer
5 years ago

Yes, and that’s part of the problem. It’s called ‘advice’ but is at best bad satire. It’s not that I think interviews are a good practice (they are completely useless at determining merit); it is that the piece fails to provide any useful advice (or at least any advice of substance). Report

NN
NN
Reply to  Michael Kremer
5 years ago

“Try to balance a healthy dose of self-confidence with some humility, however hard that may seem.”

“The process is capricious and arbitrary and your interview success doesn’t reflect your worth as a philosopher.”

“Interviews can be very awkward for everyone involved. If you can pretend you’re not anxious and expertly steer the conversation toward your strengths, do it. Be aware that interviewers may develop a pet obsession with some aspect of your research that they either don’t like or think relates to their own work and pester you about it, so prepare a strategy for dealing with out-of-left-field tangents and objections.”

“Ultimately, it’s a crap shoot. I don’t know how I got my job because I suck at interviewing. Interviews are a terrible idea in both design and execution.”

This is essentially what the column conveys. How does it not qualify as advice? It is pretty clearly that, even if you don’t agree with it.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

Wood has said a bit more over at the APA Blog. He writes:

Keep in mind (what I said in the first post) that these are my opinions only, and that others will surely disagree. It may be that adopting the attitude and expectation described by David Sobel would be helpful for people going into interviews, and they might even (on rare occasions) experience interviews that are as goody-goody as he describes. But I think it likely that a person who goes into these interviews with that attitude is apt to be quickly disillusioned. I have had many years of experience participating in these interviews and what I said is what I believe most of them are like. If my account seems like a satire then I think most APA interviews are themselves satires of what those who favor them might hope them to be. Keep in mind that I recommend that departments abandon the practice.Report

Lisa Rivera
Lisa Rivera
5 years ago

Wood covers key basics-get as much help as you can from your advisor and placement officer, learn as much as you can about the department you are interviewing with, practice your spiel, prepare to be interrupted. But instead of only saying ‘you can’t entirely control how an interview goes because it can be shaped by interviewers’ ego needs and random whims,’ ‘don’t blame yourself if it goes badly,’ and ‘try to sound confident without seeming arrogant’ Wood illustrates some of the pitfalls that make those truisms solid advice. E.g., he provides an extreme exaggeration of the slanted views people have about one another in the fraught interpersonal situation candidates face in interviews.

We can give standard advice about the job market and leave the candidate with the sense that there is a reliable path to success. Or we can tell job candidates that there are are variety of conditions completely outside their control that make success largely arbitrary. Perhaps some job candidates enjoy their interviews, succeed wildly, and are happy because they did all the right things. But if you aren’t one of those people, you may need an alternative outlook than a standard how-to-succeed. The standard advice mode sets us up to believe there’s some amazing and perfect way to perform–and it’s all on you to perform this way. Perhaps it is healthier to recognize the element of chance.

Wood compares a job interview to waiting to be attacked by a shark as in the film ‘Open Water.’ I think we are safe in assuming he doesn’t mean *exactly* what he says here.

To reveal absurd possibilities in a situation doesn’t commit anyone to denying a situation is serious. Some very terrible things are also absurd. (For example, the novel Catch 22 shows that war is both absurd and horrific.). Acknowledging the absurd and arbitrary elements of the job market–and the random motives that can drive interviewers’ behavior–can counter some of the psychic damage such situations have.

Open acknowledgement of absurd and arbitrary aspects of our profession is a (partial, imperfect) defense against internalizing certain kinds of mistreatment. How do you avoid buying into the idea that the job market reliably tracks your philosophical merit–or worse–your potential and worth as a human being? If a candidate wants an explanation for the awful way a job interview made her feel that doesn’t entail she is awful, Wood’s column is as good as any. Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
5 years ago

Perhaps y’all should think of this as an invitation to contribute job market posts of your own? It would be great to have a ton of posts, and to actually see the differences in people’s attitudes and experiences.Report

Jhanley
Jhanley
5 years ago

My god, you philosophers are almost as humorless as us political scientists. This is surely a serious crisis in the academy that should be addressed by somebody somewhere writing something we can all have a serious discussian about.Report