Following up on Alice’s excellent discussion-starter post on “negotiating the illegal questions on an academic job interview,” I’d like to offer a few thoughts from the departmental side of the equation. Anyone with more or different experiences should also chime in below.
First of all, search committees, and really anyone in the department who will interact with the candidate, should get correct and up-to-date information on university policies and relevant laws. Then nobody can pretend to be in the dark about which questions are off the table. I haven’t served on a search committee, but when we bring candidates through they interact with all members of the department and I have never gotten any information like this.
Second, I think we faculty members probably need to do a better job of acknowledging that things ) that are comfortable for us (beer tailgaters, for instance) might not be that way for all candidates. In my opinion, leaving alcohol out of the social plans (with the exception of being able to order EtOH at a restaurant) seems like an easy concession to make. Other things I’d exclude from candidate itineraries include extreme sports, pig roasts, quilting bees, ritual sacrifices, etc. (unless these things are directly related to the job description).
Third, it would be really great if the search chair made the effort to schedule time for the candidate to meet with university human resources. In an HR office, the candidate can ask about maternity leave, spousal hires, childcare, schools, etc. with confidence that it won’t affect the hiring decision. For departmental folks, knowing that the candidate will get those questions answered by HR, should remove any self-imposed pressure for a “friendly” leading question “because they are gearing up to be helpful.” As a job candidate, I never had a chance to meet with HR, and partly as a result I’m still unclear what our maternity leave policy is like at MU.
Fourth (and this may sound a little contrary to the above), if the candidate doesn’t get a chance to meet with HR, someone in the department (preferably untenured and not on the search committee and therefore less threatening) should speak up about their experiences in the community and with the university. Since our candidates at MU don’t meet with HR, I’ve made it a point to meet with candidates and talked about MU’s support for untenured faculty through mentoring programs, spousal hires, etc. I’ve also mentioned that I have a daughter and said that I’ve been very pleased with the department’s family friendliness in scheduling classes, etc. By keeping the conversation focused on my experiences, I hope I’m able to answer some unspoken questions.
Fifth, go ahead and volunteer information about the community, just don’t do it in a way that necessitates information sharing by the candidate or makes them feel like they are being singled out for that information. When I was in grad school and prospective students would come around, I’d always make sure to tell them about the bike lanes and recreational opportunities around town, the wonderful cooperative grocery, the dog friendly community, etc. Someplace in that spiel though, I’d also mention how hard it was for significant others to find decent jobs. I’d just phrase as either “The one thing I wish people had told me before I came was” or “Something I always make sure to tell people is…” And then I’d move on.
Finally, I know everyone wants to meet the candidates and show them the facilities etc., but for the candidate’s sake, it would be helpful to schedule a few breaks in the interview schedule. Ideally these breaks should either allow the candidate to go back to the hotel and decompress or give the candidate an empty office to check email, stretch, review their notes, etc. When I interviewed at MU, I had to explicitly ask for breast-feeding breaks of course (Minnow was 4 weeks old and along for the trip), but I can imagine lots of other reasons that candidates might need a little bit of downtime two or three times per day. Even at the interviews when I wasn’t bf’ing, I still found the five minutes in a communal bathroom breaks inadequate for reviewing my notes on the faculty I was about to meet. It would have been lovely if I’d had 15 minutes here and there so that I didn’t have to sit on a toilet and do that.
So those are my suggestions of changes I’d like to see to the interview process. Would these suggestions make a difference? What else would help you feel more comfortable?