Campus Visits

The season for campus visits has begun, so perhaps it’s useful to share strategies search committees can employ to make these as humane and fair for candidates as possible. Below are a few things that occur to me, but please add more in comments!

1. Be aware that departments establish performance conditions for candidates that can influence how well people do and what comfort they achieve. Avoiding establishing conditions likely to provoke stereotype threat or placing candidates in solo status is a good start to avoid undermining performance.

2. People, especially job candidates, need rest. And sometimes even solitude. So make sure that your candidates get a chance to breathe outside the performance setting. At the very least, offer some down time to candidates so they can have time to collect their wits if needed.

3. Make sure to introduce candidates to all of the people they encounter, giving their role/status in the introduction. Don’t make them guess if they’re conversing with a search committee member, graduate student, or rogue sociologist who just happened to stop by your department.

4. Ask candidates in advance if they have any needs you can address on the visit and mean it. Don’t assume all candidates are up for a walking tour of campus or will love the local pork barbeque.

5. Have someone moderate any job talks, taking effort to keep the Q & A civil, on track, and on point. Don’t let long-winded colleagues run away with the talk.

6. When someone in your department makes the misstep of asking whether a candidate has a spouse, children, or favored religion, shut that down so the candidate doesn’t have to answer.

7. Realize your body language and demeanor communicates much. Distracted or impatient or unpleasant body language can throw a candidate off stride and/or make her feel unwelcome. (Yes, interviewer who combed his hair and cleaned his fingernails throughout my interview, I’m talking to you now.)

8. Avoid in-jokes and stories. Sometimes these “remember that time we had so-and-so out for a talk…” tales make departments seem casual and collegial, but they can also leave candidates utterly out of any conversation or, worse, make her wonder if she’ll feature in some future tale.

9. Make logistics clear to candidates in advance wherever possible. E.g., how long should a job talk for your department be? Will faculty, graduate students, or undergraduates be the primary target/level for the talk? How soon after the visit should a candidate expect to hear from you?

10. Try never to interrupt the candidate when she’s speaking. [This may sometimes be reasonable, if the candidate is going on too long and the interview needs to cover a specified territory in a limited time.]

11. Be sure to tell all candidates your department’s and university’s policies on tenure, leave, benefits, etc. And, if you don’t know what these are, find out! I heard one story of a committee that interviewed a gay candidate and, when asked, had no idea about their institution’s policies on same sex couple benefits. They then sent the candidate to HR to find out for herself. Don’t do that!

12. Keep faculty disagreements in check and invisible to the candidate. So the discussion of the job ad didn’t go your way and you’d rather have a different AOS for the search. Don’t take that out on the candidate. Take it out on your colleagues and in private instead, since they’re presumably paid in part to put up with you.

13. Thank the candidate for the talk and for the visit more generally. This is a small gesture, but the wider sensibility is to avoid treating the candidate like a supplicant. Given the job market, candidates are likely to be acutely aware of their supplicant status, but each candidate is a potential colleague and should be treated as such.

14. Try to distinguish things that matter from things that don’t or shouldn’t. E.g., candidates who give you warm collegial fuzzies are not necessarily better than those who don’t. In fact, those warm collegial fuzzies may issue from the candidates who simply best replicate the existing work, demographics, or tone of your department – something deeply problematic where controlling for implicit bias is concerned.

15. Try, as best you can, to maintain an attitude and demeanor of being impressed. Candidates who have a clear sense that you are impressed by their work will likely perform better on account of that and you’ll thus be more likely to see the best of what they can offer. And, truly, the reality is that any candidate you have to campus is almost certainly impressive. By definition, he or she has risen to the top of your candidate pool. So don’t mistake needing to choose between candidates with behaving less impressed with some than others.

Those are what immediately come to mind for me. Others?

[If you have queries for Professor Manners, use the Contact tab.]

3 thoughts on “Campus Visits

  1. This is great advice, Prof Manners! I would suggest two more best practices, which I have observed in campus visits:

    16. If your department has a graduate program, then likely there will be a lunch or meet-and-greet with graduate students. If your department is a small liberal arts college, there might be a similar event for undergraduates. Make sure you share these tips with them, and remind them that they are representing the department at these events. Encourage students to take their role in interviewing and recruiting seriously.

    17. When a candidate gets her/his schedule or first arrives, it is nice if someone (the chair, the person who picks them up) talks them through the different events so they know what to expect. Is the dean meeting going to be more focused on the candidate’s research or more focused on the school? Are office visits with faculty going to more about the candidate’s research, the future colleague’s research, life in the department, other? The expectations vary wildly between departments.

    Remember this is a weird social performance for all involved, especially for grad students, undergrads and first time job candidates, who have never had to run this gauntlet before. It is a great idea to prepare people, so they are able to give the best information they can. And on the department’s end, you want the candidate whom you ultimately decide to hire to be excited about accepting your offer… so all of these pieces of advice also make good strategic sense.

  2. Meghan, these are good additions! Your first reminded me of a too-early breakfast I shared with an undergraduate on one visit. He was very endearing, but was bleary eyed and apparently at that early hour only able to talk about breakfast cereals, Fruit Loops, to be exact. He really loved Fruit Loops.

  3. Hear, hear!

    I would encourage hiring departments to considering finding a member of the faculty (someone who is not on the hiring committee) to help the candidate with any arrangements that might be required to ensure accessibility. Candidates who might need kosher meals, child care, or several breaks from interview stress in a dark, quiet room might not want to discuss these needs with the chair of the search committee.

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