I've enjoyed all of the insights shared by everyone participating in this discussion. Thanks to all, and especially to Geoff for beginning the conversation. Here are some random observations from time spent on both sides of the table:
Geoff, et al.,
What I write below is directed mainly toward the interviewers' perspective, it also speaks to candidates' preparation. If the interviewers are good, they are trying to discern just how suitable a candidate is, and suitability covers a multitude of sins, including affability. So, the candidate should try to see the world from the other side of the interview table--and prepare for possible questions from this vantage point.
Something that we odd folks try to tease out is the suitability of candidates for positions in institutions such as Bucknell, etc. We all know that we (usually) cannot hire deviant candidates without the approval of our neoclassical brethren, so, we try to do as well as we can. Hopefully, we find someone who is legitimately a heterodox economist, but one who comes across as "reasonable" from our brethren's' perspective. This can be tough. We also know that many who are looking for a job--any job!--will tailor their vitae to accommodate whatever institution they apply to. It's cheap to do this, and cheap to apply. (Ah, for olden times when we actually had to type stuff on the Remington portable.) So, how to frame questions to ferret out the riff from the raff. (Or is that the wheat from the chaff?!)
When I was at Sac State, I plowed through (literally) thousands of applications and interviewed hundreds of candidates over the years. For one position, we would get over 300 applications. No kidding. (Sacramento is in a fairly good geographic area, and, at one time the department did have a pretty good reputation among the state universities.) Once we got down to the 20-25 to interview, I found the two questions below to be most instructive:
1) What do you know (understand) of (a) the university, and (b) the department? At a minimum, the candidate should have done a reasonable search to find a home that was compatible with the candidate's interests. Follow-up questions can (possibly) gain more information as to suitability. At UMKC, students would come in with a list of 50-75 schools they were going to apply to, seeking advice. Well, maybe 12 were suitable for a UMKC graduate. So, "scratch Michigan, scratch Penn, scratch etc." They hadn't done their homework.
2) If you had your druthers, what are the 3 (1, 4, 5) institutions you'd druther work at? This is a questions I was asked by Illinois Tech folks back in 1970. This is a very good school--"the M.I.T. of the midwest"--and it was a plum job. (Yes, I was offered the position, but declined. The day of my interview, a student was murdered at the El stop near campus. That took me aback!) The question threw me. At the time, I wanted a good liberal arts college, preferably in the northeast. I started ticking them off--Swarthmore, Bowdoin, etc. THEN, my brain kicked in. The last one I mentioned was "Illinois Institute of Technology." (Fortunately for me, they were moving in a liberal arts direction to complement their historic technical program, so....) The point is this: if the first school specified is "Harvard," forget it. This is a dead giveaway that they don't really know the institution to which they've applied, their ambitions lie in different directions, and they (probably) won't be good associates. Hence, for applicants, if they are asked a question that even remotely hints at the above, they should be able to respond intelligently. "Just why are you interested in this institution."
Last, I strongly suspect that every institution will ask a question pertaining to the teaching of principles. Mainly, "what do you seek to accomplish?" If the answer is "get them to understand the WSJ", or "become good citizens," or "vote intelligently," they should be committed to some level of Dante's Hell. (I suspect that a goodly percentage of certified economists--that is, nincompoops--voted for Trump when they should have been able to pick apart his economic fallacies, contradictions. [Of course, they should have been able to do much the same for Clinton, but that may step on the toes of too many on this list!]) Candidates should be ready to come up with good, "reasonable" answers, remembering that many of the interviewers will not be of a heterodox persuasion. As most candidates will have taught a principles course or two, they may well want to examine what they've done and think hard about what their "perfect" course would entail. (As a personal confession, I was never satisfied with the introductory macro course I taught for decades. I revised this every 2-3 years, but never "got it right." In large measure, I think this is because I was never sure what I really wanted to accomplish, and could not do at that level what should be done to truly educate students into an economics program that, among other things, required them to beware of what they'd be exposed to down the road. In the words of Joan Robinson,"The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists."
Good luck in all this. It's a most worthwhile endeavor, and I congratulate Geoff for his work in this project. I do know that when he made his appearance in Kansas City years ago, addressing issues such as these, students were most appreciative of his insights.
From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Jim Peach <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, August 22, 2017 10:00:32 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Share tips for grad students on how to interview
I agree with Steve Pressman on the importance of that first question (“tell me about yourself”). I would add that this should be answered in only a couple of minutes –no matter how interesting the candidate’s life may have been. Very frequently, our next question of job candidates is: “Why do you want a jo at this university (NMSU)”? Replying something like “I need a job” is not enough. The candidate should be able to explain why they are attracted to this particular job. While this question usually comes towards the end of the interview, it is important. The question to the candidate is: What questions do you have about us and /or our institution? All candidates should have some questions ready and, of course, forget the ones that have already been answered. Finally, I will comment that we do our absolute best to treat all candidates alike and never to ask personal questions (e.g., are you married, do you have kids, etc.). I doubt that this response contains much that you don’t already know. I do think it is a great idea to provide candidates with some information and training.
Regents Professor and
Faculty Athletics Representative to the NCAA
Department of Economics, Applied Statistics, and International Business
New Mexico State University
P. O. Box 30001/MSC 3CQ
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88003
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Hi Geoff, Just a quick response. Believe it or not, the most frequently asked first question at an interview is "tell me about yourself". students REALLY need to be well prepared to answer this. Second, I will be running a summer school and the ASE World Congress next June (more than likely in Fort Collins). Both will be relatively cheap to attend (especially for grad students) and there will be some scholarships provided by the ASE. As part of summer school, I will be talking about job hunting and also developing a research agenda and publishing.
Best wishes, Steve
From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Geoff Schneider <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, August 21, 2017 5:46 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [AFEEMAIL] Share tips for grad students on how to interview
I am working with a variety of heterodox associations to provide resources for graduate students and younger faculty. Specifically, I am compiling advice on how people on the job market should prepare for (1) a short ASSA or Skype interview and (2) a full day on-campus interview.
Please send your advice to me, [log in to unmask]
edu, and I will compile and share. This will also be shared at an URPE session at the Southern Economics Association meetings in November in Tampa, in case you plan on attending.
Some possible issues include:
What questions should job candidates anticipate?
How should they frame their research and teaching?
How does their approach to an interview need to change depending on the context (R1, teaching oriented university, mainstream department, pluralistic department, heterodox department)?
What should be emphasized? Avoided?
Thank you for your assistance with this initiative.
Note to those on the job market: There is an online workshop on constructing a teaching philosophy and portfolio available at http://urpe.org/?page=
member_activities&side=online_. You must be an URPE member to access the material. teaching_workshops&sub=online_ teaching_workshops