27th 2011
Candidate dinners: skip the diaper talk, willya?

Posted under: jobs, unhappy endings, weirdness

Read it. Know it. Live it.

 Bardiac has a (mostly unintentionally) hilarious post about dinner with a job candidate in her department recently.  She writes: 

I went to dinner with some department folks and a candidate last night. The department folks included a married couple (TT), parents to two toddler types, an adjunct married to one of our TT folks, also parent to two toddler types. 

There was a LOT of discussion of nannies, pre-schools, and other toddleresque topics among the two married women. The married man talked about bourbon and his beloved porch drinking club. (He’s the type who babysits occasionally*, so he didn’t have much to add to the parenting discussion.) 

The candidate listened politely but didn’t seem to contribute. I don’t know if s/he is a parent or a partner (s/he didn’t contribute that information, and we sure don’t ask). 

.       .      .       .      .       .       

I tried to move the topic onto program stuff, but it didn’t really work, because the two married women really, really wanted to catch up on the latest pre-school news. I tried to get to know the candidate a bit, but there wasn’t much room, since it’s hard to move from diapering issues smoothly into pedagogy issues without an intermediate step that involves bringing the candidate in on the diapering issues. And I have little to say about diapering issues. I tried to move the topic onto things to do in the area, and the married man was just a tad snide at me (as he tends to be). 

.       .      .       .      .       .       

I left the restaurant and immediately wanted to check the other candidate meal lists to make sure I’m not eating with these folks again. Please, dog, no. 

More pressingly, Bardiac:  please save job candidates from having these people inflicted on them!  You fought the good fight, but to no avail.  Think of yourself beyond these job dinners–the only way you’ll recruit anyone who wants to have a conversation about something other than diapers and drinking clubs is to make sure they’re entertained by people in your department who will put on a better show!  

It’s nice that your colleagues wanted to catch up, but can’t they do that on their own dime and without getting up in everyone’s grill about diapers?  Jeezy-creezy, is it any wonder academics are stereotyped as socially inept?  Since we’re in the season when the few departments that are hiring are entertaining job candidates at lunches and dinners, let’s review our company manners, friends: 

  1. This is a business lunch or dinner.  While ideally everyone at the meal should feel comfortable, entertained, and well-cared for, it is a crucial moment in which you as a hiring department can draw the candidate out on topics that you didn’t get to discuss with them earlier, and it’s a chance for the candidate to learn about the social and community life of the department.  Everyone should understand that they are still “on,” and try to present the best, most interesting, most fascinating version of themselves possible.
  2. Steer clear of your personal life and personal topics unless asked.  Since hiring departments can’t and shouldn’t ask candidates about their personal lives, it’s best to steer clear of conversations involving one’s dating/romantic/family life unless specifically asked about it.  A candidate might volunteer that (for example) ze  has a child/ren and wants to hear about the local schools, or that ze is single and wants to hear about the local dating scene, or that ze is gay and do you know anything about the local gay community, in which case, answer hir questions and/or refer her to others in your department or at your university who might be happy to discuss it with her further.
  3. Inoffensive conversation prompts for academic interview dinners:  Have you traveled anywhere interesting recently for work or pleasure?  Have you visited this area before, or is this your first trip to Collegeville?  Tell me more about your undergraduate years–I always admired Ms. Chips’s work so much:  was she a good mentor to you?  Have you read any good books lately, either in your field or for pleasure?  Have you seen any of the new movies that are getting so much attention now that the Oscar nominations have been announced?  What is your take on that new article in Big Journal that everyone is talking about?  What do you see as important new trends in your subfield, and in the discipline at large?

No shoes, no shirts, no dice!

Always remember:  If a dinner companion doesn’t seem interested in the conversation, then it’s time to change topics.  It’s quite possible, of course, that a job candidate is hirself a crashing bore and hard to talk to, but ze still would probably prefer to have colleagues who have enough wit and sense to impress future job candidates! 

What did I leave out?  What other advice would you give?  What instructive (or disasterous) candiate dinners have you shared, friends, either as the job candidate or as a member of the interviewing department?  Tell me!  (Don’t miss the stories in the comments over at Bardiac’s place.)

*p.s.:  anyone who talks about “babysitting” his own children is a d-bag.  And by the way, what is a “porch drinking club,” and who over the age of 30 thinks that’s an appropriate conversation topic at a business dinner?


104 Responses to “Candidate dinners: skip the diaper talk, willya?”

  1. Perpetua on 27 Jan 2011 at 5:35 am #

    I’ll add this, since I feel like sometimes mommy-talk is singled out as inappropriate/boring conversation (which it totally can be! As in this example!) – don’t talk excessively about sports, either, or as H. notes anything the candidate seems bored by. Sports, like parenthood, is one of those topics that can make people unstoppable. Even in academic circles. But I think generally that the problem here was the exclusive nature of the talk (that it a) didn’t include the candidate and b) seems like it went on and on) that was the problem, rather than subject matter per se. I get what you’re saying about a dinner being a professional event, but man sometimes by the dinner the candidate just wants to eat hir food and be quiet a little bit. And the department people want a sense of the candidate as a person not just a job candidate. So it seems reasonable to me to talk about random things, less “you’re on an interview!” moments and more neutral things – politics (cautiously), the town, movies, food, travel, wheredidyougrowup, etc. I once went to a job dinner where the people spent most of the time talking to each other about stuff I didn’t really know about, but I was just relieved to be “off” and to have a moment to savor the expensive dinner they were paying for.

  2. Anonymous on 27 Jan 2011 at 6:13 am #

    Don’t spend the dinner flirting with the server.

  3. Freckles on 27 Jan 2011 at 6:27 am #

    I completely agree with your p.s. It’s not babysitting if it’s your own damn kids. This guy obviously has a Peter Pan complex. How darling.

    At a dinner last year, one of the SC committee members (whom I had just met) proceeded to get tipsy and use profanity. That was an awkward position for me to be in, for damn sure.

  4. Katherine on 27 Jan 2011 at 6:30 am #

    As Perpetua points out, the key is to provide opportunities for the candidate to feel included. This also means keeping the minutia of department politics to a minimum; dept. looks bad and it bores the candidate. I do remember a candidate dinner, where we did talk about sports, it was something we found we all had in common, but we discussed other topics too.

  5. jim on 27 Jan 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Why are there candidate dinners, anyway? Back when I was a candidate, I hated it. I’d been interviewed. I’d seen the place. I’d done my talk. I just wanted to get back to my room and relax. After the stress of the day, making small talk over a barely edible meal was very low on my list of priorities.

  6. Dr. Crazy on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Bardiac’s talked about the porch drinking club on her blog before…. apparently there’s an inner circle – men only, natch – at her institution that all get together and drink bourbon on the porch, making all the big decisions behind the scenes.

    When I was a candidate I found that the dinner gave me the best sense of whether the faculty got along and actually liked one another, which if you’re going to work somewhere for decades is a pretty important thing to learn. So the thing that I’d add to your list is that those who attend the dinner should appear to be enthusiastic to talk to the candidate and pleased to spend the evening with the candidate and each other. I always hated it when those taking me to dinner clearly didn’t want to be there and showed it. Not only was it rude, but also it made me feel like I should feel guilty for taking people’s time, which is a bizarre position in which to put somebody who’s interviewing with you.

  7. Feminist Avatar on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:09 am #

    How is it that in an industry where ‘networking’ is so important that people can’t make dinner conversation? It seems to me the rules are just that of normal polite dinner etiquette- a) try to ensure the new person is included through asking them appropriate questions, b) change the topic if not everybody is able to participate (which might mean if everybody is happy talking about diapers then fine) and c) try not to say inappropriate things or make assumptions about people’s backgrounds/ lives.

    A job situation should be even easier in some respects as you all share a discipline which presumably creates some shared interests. I would thought currently that the job market was something people could wax on about for hours- it’s certainly true at all the events I’ve been to recently!!

  8. Tenured Radical on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:11 am #

    1. Don’t spend the evening complaining about the institution. I once went to Big Interview years ago where I was set up with a bunch of folks at my rank, who never stopped complaining about how badly they were treated — perhaps the weirdest thing about that experience was their assumption that, because the job was so prestigious, I would obviously take it if it were offered.

    2. If at a graduate institution, and set up for dinner with the grad students who would be in your field, don’t take one back to the hotel for hanky-panky. True story about this I’ll tell you at the Berks, Historiann.

  9. ej on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:14 am #

    I so want to start a porch drinking club…but with friends, not colleagues, and wine, not bourbon. And absolutely no toddler talk!

    Are you in, Historiann?

  10. Dr. Koshary on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Somehow the idea of a porch drinking club for bourbon-soaked douchebags makes me think of Alton Brown, dressed up in his white planter’s suit with all the KFC facial hair. Except he’s entertaining.

  11. Emily on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:20 am #

    Perpetua–your comment caused an involuntary shudder. I was on a search committee for my dept as student rep, which meant going out to lunch with all the candidates. With one of them, we ended up spending the entire lunch talking about soccer–and I was the only American and the only woman at the table, surrounded by four guys from football-fanatic countries who are, in fact, on our dept intermural team. So I pretty much had nothing to say. (More to the point, the candidate resisted attempts to talk about his next project, and kept coming back to soccer. Yeah, that was a bad sign.) There were other, equally bad candidate lunches, but that one sticks in the mind.

    I’m the mom of a toddler, and I wouldn’t want to spend a whole meal talking about kid stuff–as either candidate or committee member. Too much work to do as committee member, and too much to learn about the department as candidate! And I’m someone who has no anxiety about talking about non-professional stuff in these contexts–I think it’s important to be able to do so, at least occasionally, if for no other reason than as a check that I’m not going to be openly reviled in my future place of employment for the fact that I do, occasionally, talk about my family. But there’s a time and a place, and certainly a quantity.

  12. Janice on 27 Jan 2011 at 7:43 am #

    Wow, that’s so incredibly rude, isn’t it? I can’t imagine being that self-absorbed at a dinner for a candidate. When I have been at such a dinner and someone else at the table has brought up a possibly exclusionary topic (such as children, health, pets and home maintenance), I try to answer quickly and the reroute the conversation back to something we can all appreciate.

    Yes, I have two kids, several pets, some hobbies and favourite vacation spots. So what? That’s not likely to be of interest to the candidate. Asking them about their interests, pointing out unusual elements of the region (I like to highlight a famous nearby look-out where some nationally admired landscapes were painted) and elaborating some broader elements of the institution’s traditions: these are more useful conversation starters.

    Always remember, the candidate dinner isn’t meant to entertain the interviewers. It’s a hopefully more relaxed and enjoyable part of the mutual assessment and information exchange! (And in this case, one should never discuss diapers at the dinner table.)

  13. squadratomagico on 27 Jan 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Yes, I’m shocked at the rudeness. I think Perpetua makes a good point, though, that it’s not so much that any particular topic should be forbidden, but that no one topic — and especially not one that the candidate is not contributing towards — should be dominating the entire meal.

    I had a very similar thing happen once, at a candidate meal, only this time it was the reverse: the candidate had just given birth within the past month, to her first child, and was so wowed by the miracle of it all that she was unable to be deterred from recounting the whole story, in detail, to several different groups of people at every meal. (After she left, there was a great deal of “She told you, too??” going on in the hallways.) At the dinner I had with her, myself and two other colleagues tried multiple strategies to turn the conversation elsewhere, but she was stubbornly undeterred. And it was a very monologic conversation, so to speak: no questions about childcare benefits, &c., just the details of her dilation and the placenta delivery!

    So, the advice cuts both ways: when you are out to dinner with potential future colleagues, who are asking a variety of questions about your background, training, and academic experiences, it is bad form to insist on a nitty-gritty account of intimate matters.

    On sports: I also recall once interviewing at a southern school famed for its basketball team. One lunch was dominated by my future colleagues loudly and delightedly (in that sports-fan way) dissecting some recent games. After finally noticing, over dessert, that I had contributed little, they asked if I liked basketball. I confessed that I really did not follow the sport. They then assured me that, if I were hired, I would *have to* become a fan of the home team and change my ways. ugh!

  14. Ruth on 27 Jan 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Our department has candidate dinners hosted in a faculty home. The faculty member gets reimbursed; the food is usually take-out but it is still cheaper than a nice restaurant, thereby allowing more people to attend. It’s usually not around a dining table but in the living room with plates in people’s laps, which means there’s walking around and mingling, and the candidate isn’t stuck in particular conversations. It seems to work well for us.

  15. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks, everyone. I thought you’d all have strong opinions about this!

    Perpetua has it right: the point is not to single out mommy-talk as wrong–as others of you have recounted, guy-talk (like the other conversation topic Bardiac mentions) is just as wrong if the job candidate isn’t included or interested in contributing to the conversation.

    I have a strong stomach, a medical spouse, and a scatalogical sense of humor, so I’m not automatically offended by discussions of diseases and bodily fluids and excreta at the dinner table. However, I would never assume that a stranger is comfortable with that kind of talk, so the diaper talk seems to me to take the exclusionary conversation to a whole new level of wrong.

  16. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 9:10 am #

    And, I want to hear Anonymous’s story about flirting with the server! (Was it a faculty member or a job candidate who did this?)

    Again, it takes the “no personal/romantic life” command to a whole new level of wrong.

  17. good enough cook on 27 Jan 2011 at 9:37 am #

    What Bardiac describes sounds really ghastly. Unfortunately, that kind of self-absorption and cluelessness is all too familiar to many of us in academia (as is clear in the comment thread)!

    It might help, though, if search committees gave some thought in advance to what the agenda is and made sure that all present at the dinner were on board with it. Campus interview meals can be a really bizarre gray area, that different people understand in different ways. Is the goal to give the candidate some relaxed (as much as possible) downtime to observe the social life of the department? To carry on the interview/job talk Q&A in a more informal manner? Sell the candidate on the area and the department? To give additional faculty members exposiure to the candidate? When the purpose of the meal hasn’t been articulated, it can devolve into a typical dinner party among faculty members (where perhaps excessive diaper/sports talk is the norm?) to which the candidate happened to be invited.

  18. Caroline on 27 Jan 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Boo! Double boo! How unprofessional. Sure, a “business dinner” will veer into non-work topics. That’s a good thing because you might be able to get a sense of the candidate’s personality. It is almost as if, at worst, they were trying to get the candidate to reveal whether or not he/she had a kid (or a spouse who needed hiring) and, at best, they were too self-absorbed to realize that the candidate should have been the one to do most of the talking.

    It almost makes me think there shouldn’t be candidate dinners. In the office world, it’s rare to take a job candidate out for dinner. Lunch, maybe, but it’s rare.

  19. koshem Bos on 27 Jan 2011 at 10:33 am #

    I would expect to find different departments and schools have different “traditions” for candidate dinner. We talk mainly about other interests the candidate has, roots if proper, where they grow up and listen to candidate college stories, etc. We also have a lunch where the main questions are courses the candidate would like to teach, previous teaching experience, whether there are interdisciplinary interests, etc.

    The hard hitting part is the candidate talk and the interviews of the candidate with interested faculty members.

  20. GayProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Goddess knows that I love my bourbon; however, even I have the good sense to know that talking endless about it at a business dinner would make anybody look like a lush. A porch drinking club sounds like it could easily convert to a local chapter of AA.

    If I were the candidate, the baby talk would have made it clear that this is not the department for me.

  21. Chris on 27 Jan 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Wow, just wow, does this ever bring back some lovely memories. I was a job candidate once and the dinner became a baby-talk dinner. I’m unmarried, single, no kids. I had nothing to say other than the occasional “oh my” or “gosh.” I didn’t get the job. The professional parts of the (pre-dinner) interview went very well, but the chair wrote to say they didn’t feel I’d be a good fit. Umm …

    I’ve got tons of stories like this, actually. At another dinner I was asked what my “hobbies” were. At the time, I was a grad. student. What went through my head was “hobbies, wtf are they talking about? How to cook creatively with Ramen noodles and a bag of peas?” Anyhow. I choked. Here’s the only thing I could think of: I was a pretty good pool player back then and played in some tournaments, so I said ‘I play tournament pool’. Right. Wrong answer. You could have heard a pin drop there for a moment. That is, until some woman at the end of the table paused and then bellowed ‘you mean in a salooooooon?’ I wanted to say ‘no, asshole, in a f***ng bar’, but I restrained myself. Yeah, didn’t get that job either. Shoulda’ said “antiquing, I love antiquing,” and then tried parroting some Antiques Roadshow BS about Jacob von Fuukopf and his beautifully ornate glass vases circa 1911. Damn. Woulda’, shoulda’ coulda’.

  22. Indyanna on 27 Jan 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Don’t be an inside candidate being interviewed “on campus” with the dinner scheduled on the evening of Valentine’s Day, at the one *real* restaurant in town, surrounded by candle-lit couples, organizing a response to an odd out-of-field question about grain prices in Medieval Venice. In my experience (N=1) this combination has a zero correlation with successful candidacy.

    I usually volunteer to pick up our candidates for the obligatory one or two breakfast slots. Nobody else wants to do it, you get to have an actual “slow-food” conversation, diapers never get into it somehow, and you’re viewed as an absolute oracle at deciding time.

  23. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    ze is single and wants to hear about the local dating scene

    AHAHAHAHAHAHH!!!!!!! AHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! AHAHAHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Just imagining some of my colleagues at a candidate dinner being asked this question.)

    A lot of these suggestions can be summarized as “don’t exclude the fucken candidate from the motherfucken conversation”.

    Some more specific ideas:

    (1) If you are at a table of five people, don’t initiate long-winded sidebar discussions with one other person at the table.

    (2) Don’t mumble incomprehensibly in your foreign accent.

    (3) Don’t make inside jokes about the department/institution.

  24. Flavia on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Don’t talk about politics. This may seem obvious, but academics tend to assume that all other academics are liberal — and moreover, exactly the same kind of liberal that they are. (Even if the candidate actually shares your politics, he or she could — should! — be taken aback by your blithe assumption that everyone in the world shares your views.)

  25. Anonymous on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Anonymous 6:13 here. I was the job candidate and went out to dinner with three young male faculty members who were all drooling over the server. As soon as she would come near the table, our conversation would be cut off abruptly so they could ask her if she was a student, what was her major, how long she worked at the restaurant, etc etc etc. So tacky. (Maybe she was another candidate?)

    But my most disturbing interview experience was a one-to-one dinner with the (male, elderly, married) chair, at a dark, romantic restaurant. I’m sure everyone else (including the chair) assumed we were on a date. I discovered later that he did this with all of the junior female candidates – in fact, we laughingly refer to it as “date night.” (Yes, I got the job).

    Compared to that, hey, bring on the poopy diaper and barfing dog stories!

  26. thefrogprincess on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Oh, Flavia’s point is critical. I’m definitely liberal, but that came after an entire childhood and early adulthood living in a very religiously and politically conservative area and adhering to those views. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve shuddered in academic settings, even when I agree with the point being made, at the blithe assumptions about what somebody’s politics must be. I’d say this is especially the case when it comes to religion. I’m still amazed that people just assume that we all believe religion is bs. This might be even more controversial and it’s definitely a product of my upbringing, but I’m still surprised by people who assume we all believe in evolution. These topics aren’t really of any consequence in most academic settings, and they really should just be off limits.

  27. squadratomagico on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    I’d agree with the religion and politics thing: there is vast scope for variance in these areas, and interviewers ought not to make assumptions. OTOH, I would argue that any person interviewing for a position in an institution of higher education ought to accept the theory of evolution. Adherence to any of the other, so-called “alternative theories” would indicate to me a catastrophic lack of critical acumen.

  28. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    This might be even more controversial and it’s definitely a product of my upbringing, but I’m still surprised by people who assume we all believe in evolution. These topics aren’t really of any consequence in most academic settings, and they really should just be off limits.

    Biological evolution is not something you “believe in”, any more than you “believe in” gravity or electromagnetism. And the topic of biological evolution is of tremendous consequence in the context of any of the biosciences or medical sciences. If I got the impression through conversation at a candidate dinner that a candidate doubted that biological evolution had actually occurred, I would be 100% absolutely opposed to the hiring of that candidate.

  29. rustonite on 27 Jan 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Any sense that inappropriate topics of conversation have increased as the job market has gotten increasingly desperate? I sense that, when it comes to my time for campus visits, I’ll be so glad to get one that I won’t care what they talk about at dinner. Dirty diapers? Rock on, whatever, just hire me.

  30. Perpetua on 27 Jan 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Your stories are making want to laugh and cry. Ok, so I won’t try to sleep with the server or tell the committee the hilarious story of the time my kiddo got rotavirus. (If you are not a parent and you do not know what rotavirus is, thank the childfree gods.)

  31. Anonymous on 27 Jan 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Rustonite: I totally agree with you, but be forewarned that there’s an utter disconnect between most academics and the reality of hiring. And if you make the mistake of tipping your hand, you’ll be toast. In this respect, it’s analogous to the corporate world where “compensation” and “benefits” are the absolute last topics raised — and note, the word is “compensation” not “pay” — during an interview. The assumption, obviously, is you are doing this for personal rewards first, pay, err, I mean compensation last. Same with academics, except even more so. They want to believe you WANT to be part of their department because it’s just such a wonderful, thriving, satisfying, professionally and intellectually enriching place to be and not because you, you know, need a job. Gasp.

  32. henry gondorff on 27 Jan 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    More advice: TAKE THE CANDIDATE OUT FOR A MEAL. For one interview, I came over in the morning, taught my unit, met the Dean. Then sat outside BY MYSELF, and ate my PB& J sandwich. Then met the President and I think one other person. Then drove home. Got the job the next day.

  33. notabattlechick on 27 Jan 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    had a lovely dinner last night – just me (the job candidate), a junior faculty member, and his wife. local restaurant, a truly remarkable meal, excellent and easy conversation. still nerve-wracking, to be sure, but all-in-all not a bad way to end a marathon day.

    don’t know if I’ll get the job – but I felt welcomed and like like a colleague, not a chore or obligation or hassle. that seems, to me, to be the key.

  34. The Rebel Lettriste on 27 Jan 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    I did not talk about poopy diapers on my recent job dinner. Nor about politics. Also, no one heard about my placenta.

    I do recall the worst interviews of my life, though.

    The dinner with the search committee that I was subtly nudged to help pay for? The chair wrote a check for herself and for me. Everyone else went dutch. Who takes the candidate out for a meal and expects her to pony up?

    The best was when the chair offered to drive me home. But “home” was a bit too out of the way for her on her errand-running, so she pulled over to the side of the highway, brightly said “thanks for coming!” and popped the locks on her car. I walked home a mile. It was mid-February.

    Needless to say, I did not get either of those jobs. And thank god.

  35. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    So far, The Rebel Lettriste wins both the first and second place WTFF!?!? prize.

  36. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    I’m with henry gondorff and the other folks who say take the candidate out (or somehow provide a hot meal, as Ruth suggested, which can be catered in someone’s house.) Making job candidates find their own meals is just unhospitable. Accomodations and meals are things that a job candidate should not have to worry about, no matter how dreary or dull the company at dinner. Since most job candidates are coming to visit your department from out of town, it’s the very least you can do.

    I once was (like Rebel Lettriste) kicked to the curb after a day-long interview. After a quick (and pointles) trip to the Provost’s office, where since it was 5 p. on a Friday afternoon the Provost herself didn’t seem to know who I was or why I was there, I was told thankewverramuch and instructed that the interview was over.

    I didn’t really want to spend any more time with that department, because the ending of the day was pretty much the way the whole day felt, but I was cheesed to be left in a hotel in a strange city without a car without dinner or even instructions to order room service. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t bad, so I found some carry-out food (and wine!) not too far away and spent my evening watching sweet, forbidden cable television. . .

  37. Indyanna on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    When the airport van dropped me off for the on-campus at a certain place, the search chair was waiting there at curbside. I had first met him in a convention hotel suite a few weeks before. He nodded me off to the side and asked if he could borrow $5 to tip the van driver, because he and his wife had gone to a movie that day and he forgot to get more cash. I later realized we were standing with steps of an ATM. Of course I coughed up. And got paid back. Got the job offer too.

  38. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Yes, it’s charming when people want to tip generously with YOUR money, isn’t it? Still, what else could you do: it’s only $5, and think about the poor van driver!

  39. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    I am gobsmacked that this kind of wacke shitte could even occur during a job interview visit. When we invite people, one of our department administrators puts together a schedule, makes hotel and meal reservations, and arranges for travel. How does this kind of shitte fall through the crackes? Even if we know before dinner we don’t like the candidate, we still go out for dinner and get shitfaced.

  40. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Some of this is due to the fact that a lot of humanities departments don’t have the kind of budget for entertainment I’m guessing you have, CPP. (Just guessing, I have no idea.) Some of this is due to inexperience, in that people who haven’t either been on a job interview or who haven’t interviewed other people for jobs in a long time don’t really know what’s required. (And it can happen that departments don’t hire people for years, and years. Sadly.)

    But as you said above, much of this is just due to lack of thoughtfulness and failures of imagination. If some folks would just imagine for 20 seconds how it might feel to be the job candidate instead of someone with a job already, they’d probably do a lot better in anticipating what needs to be said and done (or left UNsaid and UNdone) on interviews.

  41. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Yeah, we probably do have bigger budgets for this shitte in a medical school. Guidelines for our candidate dinners are five people total, $100 per person. (One time when I was a junior faculty we blew through that budget and way beyond on really awesome fucken wine. Fortunately, there was a tenured douchebagge at dinner who took the heat from our department business manager.)

  42. thefrogprincess on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Like I said, I knew it would be controversial, but I know quite a few smart historians who don’t believe in evolution. BSgirl had a post on this a few years ago and I mentioned my take on this then: if a candidate were to bring it up at a dinner apropos of nothing, I’d view it as a cause for concern. It’d be a sign that that belief is foremost in someone’s mind. But I still maintain that more people than you might think question evolution and would be offended by an assumption that we’re all agreed on this.

  43. Multanemo on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:44 pm #


  44. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    There’s no assumption that “we’re all agreed” on the fact of biological evolution. Rather, there’s a suportable conclusion that someone who doesn’t accept that fact is either ignorant or delusional. Someone who hasn’t studied any biology at all could perhaps be forgiven as merely ignorant, but anyone who has even a superficial understanding of the evidence can only be delusional.

  45. squadratomagico on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    I can top the $5 tip borrowing, easy: I was once interviewed at a school located about 1000 miles from my graduate institution, where I was then living. As was usual in those days, I fronted the money for my air ticket — I don’t recall the amount, but it was probably about 500 dollars or so. After my visit, I submitted my reimbursement forms and heard nothing back. I waited until a little after I heard the job had been filled, assuming that all the travel would be processed together… but still no check. After two months has passed, I called and was assured by the chair’s secretary that my check was coming soon. In the whirl of finishing my degree and interviewing elsewhere, I lost track of it for a while, but eventually called yet again, and yet again was assured I’d get a check.
    Fast forward to JUNE, when I called a third time, and now was informed that the state budget had been slashed, and that the endowment was weak, and so the university and department was in a really tight spot. Oh, I was furious! I reminded her that I was a poverty-stricken graduate student who had fronted the money for a ticket halfway across the country to visit her campus, at the invitation of her department, with the understanding that I would be reimbursed; that it was now over six months since the visit and that I absolutely expected to be paid pronto. I insisted on speaking to the chair, and when she transferred me I did my best to induce in him the burning shame he deserved. He told me he’d take care of it and, finally, the next month, he did.

  46. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Squadrato–that’s worthy of a mighty malediction!

  47. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I disagree that you topped anything. It’s easy to just be a low-grade douche and try to passively stiffe someone from across the country. It takes a real fucken sociopathic asshole to pull thatte kind of shitte right in your fucken face.

  48. squadratomagico on 27 Jan 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Sorry, I don’t consider taking advantage of a grad. student to the tune of hundreds of dollars to be “low-grade” douchery. That was a lot of money to me then, and I still wouldn’t consider it pocket change now. But whatever — maybe your circumstances are such that you can sneer.

  49. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    I wasn’t minimizing or sneering at the effect it had on you. I was talking about the psychology of the perpetrator.

  50. Historiann on 27 Jan 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    I think the passive aggression in Squadrato’s story makes it worse. No job candidate would ever be in a situation like hers with someone face-to-face. The point is that an interviewing department tried to take advantage not just a GUEST, but a poor graduate student who didn’t have a lot of walkin’ around money at the time! And they did it precisely because she wasn’t in a position to walk into the office and get up in their grills about it.

    Your comment reminds me of something, Squadrato–for some reason, there was a lot of buying of one’s own plane tickets and then waiting for reimbursement in the 1990s. Thank goodness that doesn’t seem to happen any more!

  51. Comrade PhysioProf on 27 Jan 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Yeah, that’s exactly the point I was trying inarticulately to make. It would take a real sociopath to do that kinde of thinge face-to-face, but just an ordinarily self-absorbed douchebagge could easily do it passively and still sleep at night. So yeah, Squadro and I were thinkeing of “topping” differently. I was thinkeing “rarity of personality defect” and Squadro was thinkeing “degree of moral defect”.

  52. Rose on 27 Jan 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Some of these tales are horrifying. My three suggestions for interviewers and interviewees alike are (1) don’t drink too much, (2) don’t talk about your kids for more than 10 minutes, (3) don’t talk about sports for more than 3-5 minutes. The two worst dinners I have attended as an interviewer were one where all interviewers except me got drunk (the lovely undrunk interviewee did get the job), and where the candidate talked nonstop about her children for at least a half hour (with one interviewer enthusiastically listening).

  53. ej on 27 Jan 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    After all these stories, it strikes me that we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe interview committees should be themselves, douchy and all, at dinners. At least that way the candidate would have all the information when they decide to take the job, and know what they are in for.

  54. wini on 27 Jan 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    For two years after college I worked at a non-profit doing shitte work. This included taking care of guests artists’ travel. I hated it, but maybe it should be required for all cash-strapped humanists and their departments.

    1. Always prepare a schedule
    2. Prepare the schedule with all the absolute must haves, then ask them about downtime needs (not always possible, I know)
    2a. In general, just give them a sense of control by letting them know what’s going on.
    2b. Be flexible.
    3. Get the car cleaned for 8 bucks, even if your job won’t pay, your fucking car will be cleaned.
    4. Get places early.
    5. Lunches are cheap, do a nice lunch, and a charming pizza place for dinner.
    6. Remember, you are *paying them* even if all you do is buy them pizza and a place to rest their head.
    7. Follow Miss Manner’s advice for weddings: Decide who you want/need at each event; look at your budget; and then pick a venue.

    I wasn’t a fan of 8: make the least senior person do the 4am airport run. I’m doing a speaker series on a shoe string this year, and we’re paying for taxicabs anytime before 8am.

  55. wini on 27 Jan 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Oh, and it once took my 13 months to get reimbursed by a SUNY. For 803.40.

  56. Indyanna on 27 Jan 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    I’m peeling back through layers of suppressed memory. One year I had a pretty good convention interview at a place and was then invited to submit syllabi. I did, didn’t hear anything, then heard they had hired someone who I knew from the town I lived in. Still didn’t hear anything, so I wrote a polite note to the search chair congratulating hir on the shrewd and excellent hire they had made and asked for my rejection letter so that I could “close the file” on the app. [A mildly snarky, lawyerly jibe on my part, I guess]. Still didn’t hear anything; still haven’t heard anything. This was in maybe 1992 or so. I guess I’m going to have to close the file anyway.

  57. sophylou on 27 Jan 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Got emailed for a flyout after a phone interview. Search chair wouldn’t tell me if they were going to pay for the flyout or not. I asked delicate question after question via email trying to ascertain whether they would pay for airfare, lodging, food. (“To whom will I send the receipts?” that kind of thing). After a day of back and forth (and me calling my graduate school’s placement director for advice– he was baffled too and told me I was just going to have to ask up front) they finally admitted that they would reimburse me for flight and one night in a hotel… and also for the car I would have to rent to drive myself the two-plus hours from the airport. Flew in, drove to town, slept; interviewed, drove to airport, flew home. Didn’t get the job. I was OK with that.

  58. Katrina on 27 Jan 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Re. candidates fronting the airfare: that is certainly still happening. I’ve always been reimbursed (eventually), but when the flight you pay for is transatlantic: that can be a bit of a sting when you’re a grad student!
    (I recall getting a phone call inviting for an interview and then realising that my credit card was already maxed out….bit of real scraping that time I recall…)

  59. Bardiac on 28 Jan 2011 at 6:59 am #

    Hi All,

    I’m horrified by the way worse horror stories!

    But I also wish to clarify two points. First, “nannies” are what faculty families tend to call the cadre of student babysitters around here. These aren’t live in caretakers, but students who sit for a couple hours here and there, in complicated shifts working around everyone’s classes and such.

    Second, with one exception, we don’t get reimbursed for meals with candidates. One person is designated “host” and that person picks up the candidate’s tab AND gets reimburse for that and his/her own meal. The rest of us pay our own way. Sucks to be us.

  60. June on 28 Jan 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Ah, so many memories here.

    I sympathize with the candidates that have had to endure such insular dinners. In my department, we’re very much attuned to preventing too much inside baseball, but occasionally a candidate is so quiet that we’ve ended up talking among ourselves no matter how much we’ve tried to draw the person out.

    We do have one faculty member who will tend to dominate any conversation he’s involved in if there’s no one there to rein him in, so we always make certain to have someone there who knows to do so.

    And then there was the candidate whom we all took an instant dislike to (a late-spring hire, she had come off okay in the phone interview but revealed herself to be suspect professionally and among the most narcissistic and unpleasant people you’d ever want to meet). Suffice it to say the meal with her was a barrel of laughs.

    One thing we’ve started doing in our last couple of hiring cycles is providing the candidate with a goody bag upon arrival at the hotel. We give them a big bottle of water, a couple of pieces of fruit, some granola, a couple of chocolates–you get the picture. We’ve gotten great feedback on this. Candidates feel a little more looked after from the get-go.

  61. Thomas on 28 Jan 2011 at 8:01 am #

    It’s not just departments that are bad about reimbursements. We had a candidate that submitted her paperwork for travel two years after the job interview. We had prodded her to get it in the spring and summer of the interview but no response.

    She was quite upset when the university’s accounting office refused to pay her for the travel.

  62. Historiann on 28 Jan 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Bardiac: thanks for the clarification. It seems like there’s a strategic flaw in the way your department entertains candidates. Since (unfortunately) it’s all on your dime, there’s little incentive NOT to make it a social gathering for your colleagues. I can understand why they talked about what they wanted to talk about, to some extent.

    It’s not fair to anyone–to you and your colleagues, or to the candidate–to have a forced-march “business” dinner that your uni isn’t even paying for.

  63. Ski holiday weekend! Talk amongst yourselves. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 28 Jan 2011 at 8:33 am #

    [...] for those of you stuck indoors at your computers or in front of classrooms, check out Bardiac’s response to yesterday’s post about entertaining candidates originally inspired by her post earlier [...]

  64. squadratomagico on 28 Jan 2011 at 9:08 am #

    @June: LOVE the idea of the goody bag! A great, inexpensive way to make a visit a little more comfortable for the candidate, thus creating good will all around.

  65. Janice on 28 Jan 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Bardiac, that’s how it works for costs/reimbursements with our candidate dinners, too. That’s also a reason why not everyone comes to every candidate meal (as well as the fact that these are often scheduled during someone’s teaching slot).

    June, we do the gift basket, too. It provides something for the first evening/morning when they’re likely to be hungry and thirsty. There aren’t any convenience stores near the hotel close to campus (although they do have a little snack shop at the front desk, but who’d make a candidate pay for that?) That comes out of our own department budget, though: it’s not university policy.

    Still, the whole question is moot, these days. There are retirements, sure, but no new hires. There’s been a small bit of money for some course-by-course adjuncting in one stream but that will functionally dry up next year when the only person qualified to teach in that stream is eligible for part-time faculty union protection. I’m sure the administration wants that as little as they want to hire new full-time faculty.

    “Excellence without Money” will soon become “Excellence without Faculty”, one way or the other.

  66. Perpetua on 28 Jan 2011 at 9:23 am #

    I also love the idea of a goody bag! Bottle of water + snacks = WIN. I have low blood sugar and find it awkward to request a place to find snacks during the forced march of interview day.

    I also think the idea of a fancy lunch paired with a more casual dinner is great idea. Most towns have a casual place that’s still good. This would save $$ and also in cases like Bardiac’s not put the faculty out for too much. (I would be extremely grumpy if expected to shell out for expensive meals on my own dime.)

    @sophielou – that’s ridiculous! And probably a blessing in disguise not to get that job, if that’s a place that would act coy about paying you back – or worse is catastrophically disorganized.

  67. Bardiac on 28 Jan 2011 at 10:01 am #

    I love the idea of a goody bag, too!

    We’re a pretty small town. The best restaurant in town probably sets you back about $20-25 before wine or drinks. Most aren’t nearly that expensive. And none are really formal in any way.

    But still, most of my experiences at these things involve lively, fun conversations. I was irritated by this one because it’s an anomoly in my experience here; and so I posted about my irritation.

  68. John S. on 28 Jan 2011 at 10:52 am #

    This thread is timed so well for me, since I just went out to dinner with a job candidate last night (and may be attending dinner with the two other candidates for this position as well). It’s actually been a while since I’ve done one of these and so I found myself doing a little debrief afterwards. Did I present myself well to the candidate (s/he is a very promising young scholar and we’d like hir to be impressed with us). Given that I knew about nothing on hir research topic, it was a bit hard to ask really intelligent questions that used hir interests as a jumping off point.

    And then I went through the other side: Did the candidate show the kind of engagement with my colleagues that we might want. (S/he asked no questions about our town, the university, department, student body, etc.) I also learned that you shouldn’t eat “family style”; it’s a little awkward for a business dinner.

    Mostly I was left with the sense that I am not sure exactly what these dinners are supposed to do. What constitutes “going well”?

    My own recruitment dinner here was a touch odd. We went to a nice steakhouse (which I enjoyed), largely because one of my colleagues says that s/he is suspicious of anyone who won’t eat steak. I also later learned that at least one member of the committee became convinced I was gay during dinner. I tried to be discreet and not mention my wife, but slipped at one point and referred to my “partner.” This was apparently seen as code; there was some surprise when I tried to secure adjuncting for her while I was negotiating after the offer was made.

  69. Homostorian Americanist on 28 Jan 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I have one story. At the first meal of my visit, the chair (who always referred to the department as “my department” and “my faculty”) got drunk and started talking trash about a colleague. A different colleague at the table then apologized to me – for the trash talk AND the drunkenness — when the chair visited the bathroom. Extremely awkward in all respects. The next day the chair told me about one colleague, whose wife lived elsewhere; he was thus “baching” it in the town, living near the campus in a home alone. The great advantage, she thought, was that she could schedule him at inconvenient times because he had no spouse and no children or at least lived as if that were so. I, of course, ACTUALLY had no spouse and no children. Smooth move…

    I will be dining with candidates for the next month, so I take all of this to heart…

  70. Western Dave on 28 Jan 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    As a graduate student, I sat on a Job Search committee and got to do the dinner rounds. A couple of observations from that:

    Don’t act like the job is yours. One candidate to Big 10 U had an awesome pedigree. Ivy degree, great first job, book accepted by prestigious press, and the other candidate had same advisor and was clearly less-favored. However, candidate A kept talking about what he would do when he got to Big 10, (except buy a house, it was clear he considered Big 10 nothing but a way-station until his Ivy job came through). It was a disastrous dinner b/c it was clear to everybody but him that he wasn’t getting the job.

    Two profs on the committee had the same discussion at every dinner about politics in which they gently and good naturedly argued politics in ways that made it clear they respected each other’s opinion. The first time I was surprised, the second time shocked, the third time amused. The reason? “We want the candidates to feel welcome no matter their viewpoint.” So they staged a little discussion.

    And one from the K-12 annals. We do a lunch w/ the department but not the chair. Many folks seem to turn-off at this moment. Since I teach at a girls’ school, we naturally talk about advising girls and such when one candidate let drop the following. “I love advising. The girls complain that the boys try to feel them up and I tell them to just enjoy it.” This candidate had nailed the teaching and interviews with school head and chair. She would have been tendered an offer that day, but we got to the head with that story before the sign-off (which took manufacturing an unscheduled detour to see something or other). We hired somebody else.

  71. Historiann on 28 Jan 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    EEeeewww. What kind of an idiot would say that about children and teenagers?

    Was there any possibility that she was feeling so much like a colleague that she was kidding?

  72. Frowner on 28 Jan 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    (I’m an admin at Large Midwestern U and have a great deal of experience reimbursing university guests. In the past, the university asked candidates to book their own flights because a lot of our bookings were handled by a travel agent paid per transaction; it saved money to ask the candidate to book a flight and then to reimburse them. Now, it’s easier to book the flight online with a university credit card and forward the materials to the candidate.

    On the down side, university financial policy in the age of immigrant panic and security culture is extremely cumbersome. At the moment, I’m trying to get several hundred dollars to a Canadian candidate who visited seven weeks ago. I’ve had to collect a copy of her passport, a vast array of bank information and two signed statements to the effect that she was in fact in the US to give a talk at Large Midwestern. And if she didn’t have dual citizenship, it would be even more convoluted!)

  73. JackDanielsBlack on 28 Jan 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    CPP, you can kiss Darwin’s ass if you want to, but you might want to take a look at epigenetics. LaMarck is looking a little better than he used to. Remember–scientific theories are never absolute, always subject to change based on new evidence. Darwin had some good insights–so did LaMarck. Please alter what you teach your gullible students accordingly!

    Truth forever!

  74. Historiann on 28 Jan 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Frowner: what a drag, and then to deal with the Security Theater of looking up the bee-hind of a dual-citizen of the other side of the Longest Unsecured Border in the World. (Her name wasn’t “Al Tikriti” or “Bin Laden,” was it?)

  75. Comrade PhysioProf on 28 Jan 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    CPP, you can kiss Darwin’s ass if you want to, but you might want to take a look at epigenetics.


  76. Susan on 28 Jan 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    I am totally stealing the goodie bag idea. We put our candidates up in a B&B which does have a stash of snacks (fruit, candy, etc), and I have bottles of water for when they are on campus. But I hadn’t thought of things for the day…

    We’re in the middle of hiring — two candidates last week, five more in the next two weeks — so I will be thinking about all this.

  77. Links for the Last of January: And note to Dr. Crazy and Historiann « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 29 Jan 2011 at 1:05 am #

    [...] stories on candidate dinners from Bardiac (check the comments!).  Also a great followup post by Historiann, who, incidentally, does not show our brilliant and witty comments on her site as [...]

  78. Chris on 29 Jan 2011 at 8:11 am #

    You folks should go easy on the candidates for not asking questions about the town. Unless the town is a major metropolitan area, or immediately proximate to one, asking questions can be a real mine field. If it’s a smallish, quiet town, any question one might ask about the goings on may result in a series of ‘no, we don’t have that here’ responses. From the candidate’s position, if they’re interested in the job, asking questions about the non-existent local theater scene or music etc., would be a very bad strategy because it would make them appear to be that ever popular “bad fit.”

    Honestly, I hate the whole dinner thing and feel it’s unnecessary. You’re hiring a colleague not a new friend. But academics and academic hiring seem to blur that distinction. I mean, what if you have a candidate who’s good at what they do, they’re not an asshole, 2 and 2 make 4 in their universe, they’re nice, collegial, competent, and all the rest, but they’re not all that into hanging out with you after work? Right. They don’t get the job usually. I just don’t really see what the point of the dinner is unless it’s to determine if so-and-so might become a buddy, which is simply not a relevant criteria for hiring. All pertinent job-related questions can be asked during interviews or sit-downs on campus. Dinner is just an extra-special kind of hazing ritual.

  79. The Rebel Lettriste on 29 Jan 2011 at 8:44 am #

    The best goody bag would include a little bottle of scotch. Or at least a split of cheap wine.

    At my most recent on campus interview, I was put up in the college “inn.” I got in, there was no one from the search committee to greet me, but then the front desk person said the most wonderful words. “The restaurant is here, and everything is comp’ed, so sit down and have dinner.” Doing so BY MYSELF was an incredible luxury.

  80. Andy on 29 Jan 2011 at 11:38 am #

    I agree completely with Chris. I was on the market for many years before getting my tenured job: it seems to me that the dinners are silly, and exist only because that’s “always the way it’s been done.” Pure institutional inertia. I think they are, in fact, a holdover from the days when hiring was done on the basis of old boy networks and other subjective criteria: take the candidate out for a steak, a cigar, and some scotch and make the real decision that way. In the numerous dinners I went to over the years I was exhausted from a full day of interviewing and small talk, probably still jet lagged, and then taken to a late dinner, given a glass of wine on an empty stomach and then it was time to see if I made a “mistake.” Why should one’s physical and mental stamina under these conditions be the de facto criteria for hiring? Will the person, once hired, ever be asked to “perform” under similar extreme conditions again? No. And I don’t believe in the idea that the dinner is also good for allowing the candidate to evaluate the department in an informal matter: the truth is, in the humanites job market it would be very rare that someone can be that picky and turn down a job because he/she did not like the way the department behaved at dinner. I think departments should pay for the candidates food over the whole trip, of course, but I think the fairer, more objective thing to do would be to simply evaluate the candidate based on “official” on-campus job search activities (job talk, interviews, etc.) and not on the supposed “performance” at meals. This wouldn’t be as “fun” or “exciting” for the department, but it would be a lot more humane for the candidates. And we do want to make the process more humane for the candidates, right? Again, I think Chris has it right: “Dinner is just an extra-special kind of hazing ritual.”

  81. Historiann on 29 Jan 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Chris and Andy–you’re writing from the perspective that the candidate’s dinner is only for departments to use (you believe unfairly) in evaluating candidates’ fitness for the posted job openings. In my experience–both as an interviewee and an interviewer–they’ve worked rather to give the job candidate a little more of an idea of the kind of town ze’d be moving to, a little of the local nightlife, etc. While I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed my dinners when I was the candidate, I appreciated the somewhat more relaxed atmosphere in which I could finally ask some questions and gulp down a hot meal while others talked about their lives and careers at Blahblah College or Major Uni.

    I see what you’re both saying, though–and the Rebel Lettriste, too. I agree that hiring decisions should be based on the candidates’ professional performance and not whether or not ze used the correct fork, etc. (And I’ve never heard anyone in searches I’ve been involved with bring information gleaned from a lunch or dinner with a candidate to sandbag someone’s candidacy, although I’ve heard people bring helpful, positive information learned over lunch or dinner with a candidate into a hiring meeting.) But, the fact remains that both hiring departments AND the candidates have only 12 hours or so in which to make a decision about an individual, and we all need to eat and drink at least three times a day.

    I guess when I’ve been the candidate, I’ve understood that the hiring department has invited me to town and they’re footing the bill, so it’s up to me to be a good guest in whatever setting they choose. That’s why I was so taken aback by Bardiac’s story about her colleagues in that instance being very poor hosts. And YMMV, but after a long day on a campus interview, I appreciate a glass of wine and a hot meal–it is, after all, the very least hosting departments can offer their job candidates. (At least, I was resentful when I had to go scrounge a tuna sandwich on my own after a job interview!)

  82. Chris on 29 Jan 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I don’t mean to come off as snarky, but I think you, Historian, and others come from the blessed echelon where options exist for job candidates. In fact, someone at either Bardiac or Quod She noted this fact: it seems each year there are a desired few applicants who have multiple interviews, multiple campus visits, and in the end, more than one offer to mull over. Lucky them. As for the rest of us, we’re like the dock workers in “On the Waterfront” scrumming for the few remaining medallions.

    In the two out of five years I spent applying that I did get a campus interview, said interview was my one and only shot. One was in a good city, the other was crappy. I didn’t care. I wanted a job and am the type who can make do wherever. Obviously, I lost out. Maybe they smelled the urgency on me. Who knows? But I sure could have done without the dinner part.

  83. Historiann on 29 Jan 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Chris, I only wish I had had “options!” I have said before that I feel fortunate to have finished my degree and to have found work when I did, but I never have had more than one job offer at a time.

    I’ve had exactly two academic job offers (4 years apart), and I had to take both of them. I did have more than one campus interview per interview season, though–but never more than 1 offer.

    Maybe I pissed them off over dinner, or ordered the wrong thing? (Kidding! Sorta.)

  84. John S. on 29 Jan 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    I can’t speak very well to dinners as a candidate: I’ve been on one and was fortunate enough to receive an offer. (Believe me, I am under no illusions that my “perfect” track record stems from anything more than luck.) But in my experience taking candidates out to lunch and dinner, I think that just dismissing meals as “hazing” misses quite a bit.

    I have found that the meals have provided excellent forums (fora?) to ask the candidate about his/her work in a more informal setting. I don’t want to know if s/he knows how to use the right fork (I sometimes get it wrong), but an interesting discussion about how s/he stumbled upon his/her research topic can be very valuable in finding out more about the candidate. Meals can also provide a more informal setting to find out about the candidate’s thoughts on teaching, students, etc.

    Some of this could be an artifact of my department size. We have more than 30 people, while our search committees usually contain 4 people from our department and 1 person outside. This means that the meals provide some of the only face time faculty have with a candidate.

    Usually, though, good “meals” have tended to confirm what people have generally seen elsewhere. The candidates best prepared for the interview have been most conscientious about asking each person at dinner about their research, teaching, etc., while those least prepared have seemed unengaged. I have been on a search (for another department) when a candidate was dinged for displaying no interest in anyone else’s work. I have also been at a lunch where a candidate flatly declared at the outset, “I am not going to answer any questions at lunch.” S/he did not get the offer.

  85. Historiann on 29 Jan 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    “I am not going to answer any questions at lunch.” S/he did not get the offer.

    No kidding! (Who acts like that?)

    Meals with candidates are a strange hybrid: they’re definitely part of the interview, although more informal than the other job interview elements. Yet they’re conducted as though they’re social occasions. I realize that this may seem hypocritical to some, but who at a social occasion would announce in advance “I’m not taking questions!”

    IOW, manners are manners, and they’re different for different occasions. But, it’s neither wise nor good manners for a guest to attempt to shut down the conversation like that.

  86. Western Dave on 29 Jan 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    @Historiann @2:34. No chance she was kidding. She had a British accent and it practically came across as “lay back and think of England.” I think one of us actually pretended to go deaf for a moment because I have a vague memory of her repeating herself.

    We did hire the woman who when I asked her what her favorite history book was, dodged by saying “well, it’s all about the primary documents isn’t it” and listed some things that sounded suspiciously like they were off her A-levels. But everybody else liked her and I was outvoted. It turns out she was an unmitigated disaster who had no idea what her colleagues were trying to teach and kept complaining we didn’t do enough European history. (We were, at the time, a model of how to do world history in the K-12 world).

    On the flip side, I’ve only ever heard of one other guy who was hired in our history department and he never showed up. And never bothered to call or write and say he wasn’t coming. Before my time, but still…. I think it takes the cake in terms of sheer dickitude.

  87. Feminist Avatar on 30 Jan 2011 at 4:18 am #

    I know at one job interview I went for, the people who went for a meal with the candidates were not the job committee, to ensure the meal had less riding on it. Now, you would have to be naive to think that if you behaved horribly that this wouldn’t get back to the committee, but it gave the dept and candidates a chance to get to know each other, without maintaining the pressure of an ‘interview’.

  88. Historiann on 30 Jan 2011 at 7:33 am #

    FA–that’s usually how it works in my department, but the search committee doesn’t have any special authority in the hires. They’re just the ones who do the initial screening and travel to the AHA for first-round interviews. Once people are invited to campus, all department members are equal and everyone has a vote. And since search committee members have had a chance to talk to the candidates already in-depth, I encourage non-committee members to sign up for the meals and other events so that they can feel comfortable when they have to make their decision and rank candidates.

  89. Chris on 30 Jan 2011 at 11:20 am #

    A disclaimer to start: were I to go back on the academic job market in search of a FT gig, I would be interested in the work of my colleagues. However, that said, I guess I’m going to be a voice of dissent again. Simply put, assuming the job candidate is sound, competent, professional, rational, pleasant, etc., why should their interest level in the work of their would-be colleagues be a criteria in their hiring?

    I’m not suggesting a candidate should blather on about their own work. That’s pompous and narcissistic. My question/objection has to do with all of these fuzzy, subjective criteria that go into the process of the interview and the decision to hire or not hire, much of which occurs at these dinners and other “informal” gatherings. I do understand trying to suss out whether the candidate is an asshole — it’s telling that in academia we have to do this, no? — but beyond that, I’m at a loss as to the relevance of the candidates interest level in your new book on English gardens.

    Granted, I don’t tend to hang out with academics much. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good at what I do. And there’s the rub, yes? I’ve learned the hard way that in the end, it doesn’t matter that I’m good at the job; what matters is whether I’m the “right kind” of person, whatever the f*** that is. And I’m sorry, but I think that’s utter crap.

    Now I should add, I do have a few very good, life-long friends who are academics, but our friendship is based on much more than our shared academic interests. And in the three cases I’m thinking of, we met and became friends in contexts far afield of academia and only learned that we’re in the same job later.

  90. Feminist Avatar on 30 Jan 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    @ Historiann- that sounds very equitable!! Hiring practices vary by institution here- as I am sure is true in the US- but a common feature here is that the candidates present their research (or teaching ideas or whatever they are told in advance) to the whole dept, before being interviewed by the committee. The dept then all have a group discussion about preferences, but the final decision is meant to be made by the committee. So, there is a bit less pressure at the meals in most cases…

  91. Andy on 30 Jan 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Well, I will agree that “hazing” is not quite the right word. I’ll try to be a little more precise.

    I think the responses to this post, in all their variety, tend to make my case. The purpose of the dinner is not clear in the minds of many faculty; or, to put it another way, faculty tend to see the purpose of the dinner quite differently. For Historiann, the dinner is a more laid-back chance for both parties to exchange information about the area, life at the school, etc. It is an element of hospitality and not a high-pressure event. But for John S. the dinner is pretty much a continuation of the interview: he says that the meals provide “excellent forums (fora?) to ask the candidate about his/her work in a more informal setting” and they “provide a more informal setting to find out about the candidate’s thoughts on teaching, students, etc.”; he notes that meals such as the dinner “provide some of the only face time faculty have with a candidate” because in a large department not all of the faculty will be able to make it to the several hours of interviewing activities that went on from 8am -5pm. John says that the dinner is a chance to ask the candidate about teaching and research in an informal setting, but that informality is irrelevant: any information gleaned is still going to be used in decision making (or could be, consciously or unconsciously). So essentially, from his perspective the dinner is a continuation of the interview process, not a social event (more or less). Both John’s and Historiann’s perspectives are valid and common among faculty. My problem with all this is what is the candidate supposed to do? Is the dinner a decidedly different event from the formal activities of the day? Or is it simply a continuation of the day’s interview, but with wine and food? If the candidate loosens up, gets chatty and personal, then faculty of the Historiann mindset will like that; however, faculty of John’s mindset might come away thinking they didn’t find out enough about the candidate’s teaching and research at the dinner. If the candidate takes the opposite approach, and pretty much stays on the clock and talks shop at dinner, well then faculty with John’s mindset will be pleased, but faculty of Historann’s mindset might find the candidate a bit boring and one-dimensional. See the problem? I prefer the idea that as much as possible, all candidates should be judged according to the same criteria at their campus visits, jump through the exact same hoops; the dinners just add too many complicating, subjective factors, relative to any benefits they may have. The minuses outweigh the plusses in my view.

    But then I can add in two more complicating factors. In their approaches to the dinner, John and Historiann are both acting in good faith, regardless of their expectations. But look at all the citations of poor faculty behavior in the responses to this post. If they are at all representative (and I can add plenty of my own, from both sides of the process and in my capacity as a placement officer), then we can add a third category of faculty mindset to the dinner: those faculty who don’t really care too much about the candidate one way or another but are really going out primarily in order to order the most expensive thing on the menu on the school’s dime and chat up their friends.

    And to top it off, we must remember that the candidate has been on and interviewing since, say 8 or 9 am. Don’t you think that by 5pm he/she should be allowed to call it a day, without the potential for yet more pseudo-interviewing going on over dinner from 7-10-ish pm? If a faculty member cannot make the events during the usual day or day and a half during a candidate’s visit, too bad. One of our recent students arrived on campus at noon on his first day of the visit, had interview events scheduled from 1-5, then dinner, then the next day his first meeting/interview began at 8 am and carried right through the whole day until 6 pm, when he was then taken to dinner. I think 13 hours or so of interview-related events (I’m including job talks, teaching demonstrations etc.—all the usual stuff) over two days is plenty of time to make a candidate work. Putting them through a dinner-cum-interview on top of all that just doesn’t make sense to me. I will grant that there are some folks, a small percentage of candidates, who would rather go to dinner with everyone at the end of a long day like that rather than be left ot their own devices, but the vast majority of candidates would much rather be taken back to a hotel room, told they can order whatever they like from room service, and not need to go to a dinner, a situation where they will not know whether it is best to chat about their hobbies, recent movies, etc., or to talk shop.

    Sorry this is so long—it’s an interesting discussion and thanks for starting it. (I also know there’s no danger of candidate dinners going away any time soon, so I probably won’t press this issue much more here.)

  92. John S. on 30 Jan 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Chris: your line of argument here is a little tautological. You’ve already assumed in a previous post that the main point of having these meals is to find out if someone would be a good buddy to hang out with, then seem mystified by faculty members who want to know about candidates’ intellectual interests more broadly (which, yes, does include a possible interest in would-be colleagues’ work). That’s because…in many places faculty *aren’t* looking for buddies on these dinners.

    The fact is, intellectual engagement with something beyond one’s own classes and research does matter. In my department, we have cross-field colloquia where faculty present (most prominently one on cross-cultural women’s and gender history). We also do some team teaching. And we do plenty of graduate advising, which involves faculty being familiar intellectually with each other as well as students. Someone who doesn’t even know what my book is about might not be the best person to work with on these endeavors.

    From a service perspective, we all vote on each others’ merits and promotions which involves familiarity with each others’ work–research and teaching. A commitment to faculty governance necessitates paying attention to each other.

    In my my experience, people don’t magically become more engaged with their colleagues intellectually after they are hired. If they show no interest in participating in an academic department *as an intellectual community* at the outside they’re not likely to grow in this respect later. Maybe that’s unfair, but life does often get in the way as people get older.

    I’m not pollyanna about all of this; working as a professor in a university department is a job, not simply living in some kind of Platonic ideal universe. But it’s a job that sometimes requires you to care about things like, say, someone’s book on English gardens from time to time.

  93. Susan on 30 Jan 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Well, this whole discussion makes me think about our dinner with a candidate tonight. We tend to take them one night (preferably the first night) to a casual place, and then a different group takes them to a somewhat fancier place. Given the local options, there are three “fancy” places, and the best of the casual places is closed on Sunday…

    I see the dinner as part of hospitality. Getting dinner on your own in an unfamiliar place (where there is no restaurant in the Campus Inn) can be pretty grim. My experience is that while we might ask some questions of the candidate at dinner, there’s also a lot of general conversation about teaching, research, etc.

    Meanwhile, reading this surfaced a couple of bad memories so I’d add to the DON’T list:
    – if you have the dinner in someone’s house, the host should meet the candidate beforehand, and should not apologize that ze could not come to the talk because they were getting the house ready.

    – do not spend the entire evening talking with your colleagues about some former student. DO try to include your guest…

  94. Historiann on 30 Jan 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Good luck with your candidates and your dinners, Susan. I’m sure you’re a commsumate host!

    I’ve only had one candidate dinner that was actively objectionable, I must say. I was taken to dinner at a pretty bad Chinese restaurant (there weren’t a lot of options in this small town in Maine, FWIW), by two faculty who kept checking their watches the whole time and an undergraduate student. The two faculty ate their dinners superfast and acted like I was keeping them from something very important, and the undergrad was the only one I remember really talking to me.

    Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get the job offer. That was their second failed search in a row for that position, so I don’t think it was ME.

  95. Chris on 30 Jan 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Andy nails it, I think.

    John: you’re not going to like my response. But just to preface it, my work is very inter-disciplinary (African American music, history, and lit.) and it’s probably why no one ever hired me, or so I have been told. Be that as it may. Here’s what you may not like. If called upon to evaluate someone’s work on a subject far afield of mine, unless there’s anything in it that reaches the legal definition of hate speech, my reaction is likely to be ‘an excellent consideration of a fascinating field of study, richly deserving of tenure/promotion/sabatical/kudos’. Why? Well, a whole host of reasons, but it may come down to the fact that I have no interest in fucking anyone over. I may not be into English gardens, but if someone is, hey, that’s awesome! And if this someone does their job and isn’t an asshole, even better. Actually, even if they are an asshole, again, I’m not going to be the one draw their or their friends’ ire or fuck up their life — this all assumes my critique could fuck them up, but I think you get my point. This all boils down to someone worked very hard to get where they are, to get their salary and health benefits, their 401k, and so on, and I assume they probably have a family depending on that. Someone at some point deemed their work valuable to the school/dept., the person was in the right place at the right time and won the lottery and got the job, and that’s cool. That’s the way this world works. I don’t have a dog in this fight, so it ain’t gonna’ be me who fucks that up for them. And similarly, if I had benefits and a retirement account riding on it all, I’d pray for the same consideration.

    (yes, I’d be a terrible person to have on a hiring committee, and I would probably beg and plead to not be on one, and I’d offer to clean toilets if need be to avoid that task)

  96. John S. on 30 Jan 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Chris: Well, you are correct in that it’s not a response I love, so I will probably leave off there after this post. But I can say that one can’t actually show such a strong aversion to service work–never wanting to be on a hiring committee, never wanting to serve on a tenure/promotion committee, never wanting to assess anyone else’s work unless its very close to yours–and be committed to doing one’s job at a university. All of those things are part of the job at a university.

    I mean, you’re right that when someone is evaluated for tenure “someone at some point deemed their work valuable to the school/dept”–but who do you think these “someones” are? They are (for the most part) faculty members who try very earnestly to assess the work of people outside their specialty to see if they are a good addition to the faculty in the department/division/school where they will work. They are people (for the most part) who realize that their critiques of job candidates or pre-tenure profs may have a detrimental impact not just on careers but lives as well. They nonetheless try hard to make a fair assessment.

    But again, the key is that, even according to your own logic, someone at some point, has to make a determination as to whether or not an individual will be an asset to the department/school, etc. And someone, a few years down the road, has to determine if they have actually been an asset to said institution. You can say “I don’t have a dog in this fight”–but if it’s your department, why yes, you *do* have a dog in the fight. Any faculty member who wants to have a say in who s/he works with has a dog in the fight. Would you rather it always be “someone else” who takes responsibility for such things?

    It’s all well and good to offer to clean toilets in order to avoid doing the important service work that makes the university run. But that’s not actually the job faculty are hired to do.

  97. Chris on 30 Jan 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    John, I never said I wouldn’t serve on those comittees. I simply said if it’s tenure/promotion, and the writing falls well short of hate speech, I’d say “great, give her tenure.” That would be my fair assessment, virtually every time — perhaps I have a low threshold. On another point, I think I wasn’t clear. In response to me, when you say that a faculty member who wants to have a say in who s/he works with has a dog in the fight, what I meant was I don’t care who I work with. ‘Tell the truth, but tell it slant’. Everyone has a slant, everyone has a set of quirks, everyone has their ways; one deals with whatever one has to deal with, ideally as courteously, patiently, kindly, professionally, and expediently as one can. And then we all go home.

    In the end, I feel my primary responsibility is to my students, after that it’s fulfilling whatever service roles are asked or required of me per the job description. And I’ll do that work gladly. But yes, if I have a say, please don’t put me on a hiring committee because I’m far too personally invested in addressing the inequities in the academic hiring process.

    What’s for dinner?

  98. Jonathan Dresner on 30 Jan 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to think of the mealtime portions of the visit as either part of the formal interview or being about “finding a buddy.” That said, I absolutely think the dinner portion of the visit is worthwhile because you’re looking for a colleague, someone who you will be sharing coffee and workspace with, making decisions with, facing administrators with. If this person can’t hold their own for an hour or two, are they going to be able to represent the department in committees, or with students outside of the classroom?

    Conversely, I’ve found the mealtime conversations to be quite illuminating as a candidate for getting a sense of the community, the real relationship between the department and institution (I always ask that question when I meet with deans, too, for another perspective), and whether the department faculty can maintain decent standards of collegiality and presentation.

    I’ve not run across a lot of ‘red flag’ moments (though I’ve definitely run into cases where the implicit class and family status assumptions were pretty thick) but I’ve still found it useful. Not a perfect guide, mind you, but a valuable dimension that you just don’t get from any of the other elements of the visit.

  99. Indyanna on 31 Jan 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    I think there’s real merit on both sides of the turn the thread has taken since Chris’s first post. The subject of the “town” is definitely a “real minefield” in any but the most sophisticated towns, if not there too. The subjectivity part of the hiring process sucks everywhere it comes in, which is to say everywhere. Hence the various comments about “fit” in this and recent posts.

    All that said, I can’t imagine that I would not have resented it on any campus visit I’ve ever made if I was just “turned loose” at 5 p.m. in a place where I didn’t know anybody and told that my next turn to perform for the job was the next morning sometime. On one visit I made some years back there was an airfare-dictated Saturday night stayover after all but the most ceremonial of farewells had been completed. I was kindly taken underwing by two members of a large department whose fields were very far away from that of the hire in question just because they didn’t want to leave me adrift in a huge university town. They took me where they were going, which turned out to be a standing departmental discussion group on a abstruse philosophical questions. (Which on a Saturday evening almost convinced me the department was a little top-heavy on the intellectual content). They made it clear that I was neither on trial nor expected to contribute to the discussion. Then to dinner, where it really did feel like three historians just gabbling away about doing history for what was probably something like three hours. It didn’t feel at all like I was being interviewed, and I can’t imagine I’d have rather been cruising the university strip wondering where to eat that night. That, and my madcap Saturday afternoon expedition with a real estate agent on a mandatory “house-hunting” tour were in some ways the high point of the trip. Maybe I should have bid on that cute bungalow near the duck pond?

  100. Z on 31 Jan 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    I love the idea of the goodie bag and I may start doing it on my own dime, as the department is too stingy to support that. I like the idea of a fancy lunch and a non fancy dinner, too … especially good for us since there are good music venues in town and some start early and are casual.
    Inexpensive dinner and then Out is something Young Faculty Members actually do here, so to do that would be to show them a bit of what their real life might be like if they came here. There could be a more formal lunch with the fulls and so on, and then out post talk with a younger crowd and whatever fulls also wanted to come.

    We couldn’t possibly not take people to meals, because of the driving. Unless they rent a car, and get a good map, they won’t be able to get anywhere.

    Also, only their meals are reimbursed, and that only up to a certain amount — lower than the actual cost of a restaurant meal. If I take them to dinner and pick up the tab, I will be reimbursed up to the cap for them, and I will cover the rest and take it off my taxes at the end of the year. I do not tell them the meal is not being fully reimbursed. If they were sent out to eat on their own, they would find out and it would also be rather cold to ask them to cover the remainder when they are being interviewed.

    I suppose some might prefer to stay in their rooms and call out for pizza. This would keep them within budget, too. But I guarantee that most candidates would actually like to go somewhere and see some of the town. They may not get other tenure track offers, but most will have the option of one year jobs elsewhere if they decide this is too dismal. The financial news here is bad and this is evident, so one wants to show them some of the pleasant things they might actually do. Also, I find the meals useful for answering questions they may have cropping up.

  101. Z on 31 Jan 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    P.S. My funniest job interview was here in LA. They had me come in on Saturday due to cheaper fares; the idea was tourism Sunday, interview Monday, fly out Monday evening. Sunday was a no brainer for entertainment since there were two music festivals happening that everyone would have gone to, anyway; we hung out and ran randomly into faculty and students from other departments, it was fine.

    The weird/funny part had been the night before, as I arrived after dinner but too early just to be placed in my hotel. The host’s wife was at a conference and they were new hires, too, didn’t know the town; he was also feeling awkward because for religious reasons he wasn’t in the drinking culture, so “let’s go get a drink” was awkward. He knew it was the thing to say, though, so he did.

    Host: Are you exhausted from the flight/wanting to just rest, or would you like to go downtown, get a drink, and I can fill you in on the department and so on? There’s an active nightlife here and you would be able to observe Saturday night in full swing. Of course, I don’t know how to do this, being who I am, but we could try it.

    Me, thinking, I’m deadly curious, wide awake, and not about to say no, I don’t want to hear about the department: Sure, let’s go. (No bar in hotel, btw).

    So we end up in the main student bar, nice place actually but too loud to hear ourselves speak. We had just been given our beers when my host said, gosh, you know it’s impossibly loud, there’s a diner around the corner that will be quieter, it’s a tacky place to go but it may be the only practical place to talk. I said, correct, let’s go, and we stood up.

    As I started toward the door, the host said, “Wait, don’t waste that beer! This is Louisiana, you can take it with you! We can stroll on the street and drink these, and then go into the diner for coffee!”

    So I picked up my beer and we went out onto the sidewalk. And I thought, my God. I am at a JOB INTERVIEW and what am I doing — standing ON THE STREET drinking BEER FROM THE BOTTLE.

  102. Chris on 01 Feb 2011 at 7:24 am #

    @Z: Yeah, you right!

  103. phillygal on 01 Feb 2011 at 4:06 pm #


    I’m on the market now, and two of my three on-campus interviews have required me to pay for my own airfare and then be reimbursed. So it’s not something from the 90s – lots of schools are still doing it. It stinks, especially because airfares for multiple campus visits – all within a few weeks of one another – add up, but when people want a job, they’ll do it.

    And as someone on the market, I appreciate everyone’s comments on the interview dinner, et al. Very helpful.

  104. annon on 09 Jan 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    “anyone who talks about “babysitting” his own children is a d-bag” – LOL

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