What Not to Do

Search committees need to stop being rude to job candidates, writes Afshan Jafar.

November 7, 2011

Since it is the season of job interviews, there have naturally been a lot of blog posts, including my own, offering advice for job candidates and graduate students. With all the focus on candidates, it’s easy to forget that the job interview is a two-way street. The candidate is there to gauge the suitability of the match just as much as the search committee (though it is easy to forget this fact given the terrible job market). But while the candidate is poring through advice, reading blogs, doing mock interviews and shopping for new clothes, many search committees aren’t putting in the same amount of effort to impress the candidate. So, to all the searching departments who will be hosting candidates over the next few months, this one's for you. Here is a list of things you want to do and don’t want to do, if you are serious about wooing your top candidates.

DO NOT put up your candidate in an old gigantic, abandoned mansion built circa 1800, complete with spooky portraits, a lock on the outside (which you proceed to use to lock the candidate in), and with not a single other (living) soul around, not even a receptionist or a housekeeper. Just the candidate. All by him or herself in a house that rattles, shakes, groans, creaks and the wind howls so loudly through the old windows that the candidate needs to use cotton balls as earplugs to  sleep -- once he or she gets over the overwhelming fear of having been locked inside the Bates Motel. 

DO offer to take your candidate out to dinner or a snack even if they arrive at 9 or 10 at night. Should you overlook this detail and the candidate has to ask to grab something to eat, DO NOT take him or her to a grocery store and then disappear when it’s time to check out. You pay for the candidate’s meals. And if the candidate will be reimbursed later for this impromptu grocery visit, make sure to say so.
DO NOT have a candidate sit through your department meeting.
DO arrange for somebody to meet your candidate at the point of arrival. Whether the candidate is flying in to an airport or driving straight to your department, you should know when they are coming and arrange for somebody to be there to greet them. Arriving alone, and then sitting around and waiting for people to get out of class just makes a candidate feel that they’re not important. As does not providing them with driving directions and parking instructions, or not putting them up in a hotel when they’ve driven three hours to your institution.  
DO NOT make a visibly pregnant candidate go to meeting after meeting without giving her frequent bathroom breaks. Similarly, if your candidate informs you that she has a newborn baby at home, and is currently nursing, please ask and arrange for accommodations for her to nurse or pump at set intervals. Even if  candidates are neither pregnant nor nursing, it is still a good idea to ask them if they would like to take a break or use the restroom, since you probably have no idea when they were asked that question last, if at all!    
DO have an itinerary for the visit, and fill in any big gaps in between meetings. Although one or two breaks during the day are a welcome reprieve, it is awkward to tell a candidate to keep going back to the hotel room or wander around on campus throughout the day simply because you didn’t schedule the meetings closer together. Again it makes the candidate feel unimportant, and it is a waste of time. A visit that only has enough activities for one day should not be scheduled over two and half days. If it must be scheduled for a longer-than-necessary period, make sure that somebody accompanies the candidate on the campus tour, or takes him or her out for coffee to a local place.
DO NOT use the candidate’s job talk to voice your personal disdain for the topic or to chastise the candidate for not having done the research project that you wanted to do. At the very least, feign interest. Ask relevant questions. And do not use this opportunity to remind everyone in the room of how brilliant you are and what complex questions you can come up with. This is a job talk, not an academic hoedown.

DO teach the students who will be involved with the job search the proper etiquette. If you know that certain students will behave arrogantly towards a job candidate, do not send them to lunch with the candidate, or make sure that there are other students who will counteract this student’s tendencies. Above all, impress upon your students that just because a candidate has applied to an institution that they attend doesn’t mean that they hold “rank” over the candidate and there is no reason to behave as if they do. After all, one of these candidates will become the students’ professor if hired.
DO NOT bombard the candidate with questions during meals. This is not your opportunity to ask every single question that you didn’t get to ask during the job talk or the phone interview. Candidates have very long and busy days packed with interviews, job talks, teaching demonstrations -- they need to eat! Some conversation is necessary and welcome during meals, but you also need to give the candidate an opportunity to eat in between questions. While we’re on the subject of food, DO arrange, if possible, for more than one person to accompany the candidate to dinner. This way you can avoid sending the candidate to dinner alone with a person who can’t hold their liquor. You’d be surprised to find out exactly how awkward it is to have a total stranger crying on your shoulder -- and using your napkin to wipe their tears -- after one glass of wine too many.

The above recommendations are not based on imaginary events. I or someone I know have experienced the situations that prompted each item on this list. Yet, it feels like I am just scratching the surface here with this initial set of recommendations. I am sure there are many more experiences out there, perhaps more outlandish than these. I invite you all out there to have your say. Go on. You kept it all under your breath when you were at the interview or you yelled at a loved one over the phone about your outrageous experience. It’s time to remind everyone that there are rules to this game of courtship, and both parties need to play by them.


Afshan Jafar is assistant professor of sociology at Connecticut College.


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