Transcript for Academic Hiring Rituals: Law School Hiring

Chapter One: Introduction

Thank you for joining us for our inaugural season of Hiring Rituals, a new long-form informational podcast about hiring in anthropology.

In it, we offer an ethnographic lens how anthropologists with higher degrees get hired internationally or in other units beyond traditional disciplinary departments.

We want to illuminate what goes on behind the scenes when institutions and departments are making hiring decisions. Every country and institution has different hiring rituals. As an example: in some countries, committees are composed entirely of external reviewers from other institutions; in other countries, department members decide job seekers’ fate. One goal of this podcast is to discuss such mechanisms, as well as the historical and structural conditions that shape hiring committees’ work.

Another goal of the Hiring Rituals mini-series is to help applicants as they navigate a most challenging job market. Currently, basic information on how hiring at particular institutions works, is circulated informally, disadvantaging applicants who aren’t in the appropriate networks. Moreover, wealthier, private institutions in the US are increasingly providing extensive academic job market information sessions that institutions with fewer resources have trouble replicating to the same extent. We hope to make information about hiring more widely available for recent PhDs and even for people looking to change jobs a bit later in their career.

Hiring Rituals is supported by the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) at the American Anthropological Association.

Chapter Two: The Job Ad

Anna:   We asked our contributors how their departments get approved to do a job search and what goes into writing the job advertisement.

Riaz:     In law schools, the there’s really two kinds of hiring, there’s like a sort of need based hiring where they’re trying to fulfill curricular need. And then there’s just sort of reputational, what shall we call that, you know, climbing, hiring, that goes that gets done to try to bring in higher impact, you know, faculty, and that can be at even the junior level.

Riaz:     The idea of needs comes from the faculty at large, probably input from the dean. And then there’s usually a subcommittee in the law school environment that then crafts the actual language of the ad. And that’s something that, you know, applicants would need to be aware of that. Sometimes it’s just a very small subset of the faculty that have crafted the final, the ultimate ad. And, you know, one of the quirks about that is they’ll say things like…the way that they request, the way that they list, credential needs, like JD, or PhD or equivalent, can be very kind of slippery. And I’ve seen that as well, that, you know, one of the things they’re trying to do is hold open the door for like, foreign LLMs, for example, which don’t fit into those categories. So it’s something to be aware of, when they say JD, or PhD or equivalent. It’s very rare that law schools would hire someone with just a PhD anymore. And probably, you know, your listeners will already know that, that used to happen a lot, particularly in economics, there was a time when law and economics was like moving faster than its institutional reproduction could keep up with. And so the influx of funding for new lines, allowed them to hire basically, econ PhDs into law schools a lot more. Now, it seems to be you need both. And that goes for other fields as well. 

Anya:   So in my experience, actually, most faculty have had very little input into how the job ads are constructed. And I suspect, you’re gonna hear me say this a lot. I suspect, this differs school by school, and even dean by dean at any particular school. But in my experience, it’s basically the dean and maybe with the advice of a couple of vice deans who decide what the topic area is that they’re interested in hiring for, and how the ad should be written. That said, I think often there’s kind of really obvious things like, you know, if you’re, if the two people who teach property leave, then you need somebody who teaches property. And so everybody kind of knows that the ad will include property, because, you know, law schools, there’s just certain classes that always have to be taught, and you need to have, you know, a bench of people who can teach them. But in terms of other stuff on top of that, I’ve been on the hiring committee a number of times, but I’ve never had any input into how that is written itself.

Riaz:     There’s this phrase that gets used in law that I was sort of surprised by At the time now, nothing surprises me. It was it was best available athlete. And I had I had a top 10 Law School call me to say, can you come in for an interview? And I said, Sure, sure. By the way, can you tell me what what need you’re hiring for, because that would allow me to prepare. This was an Ivy League law school, and they told me, oh, we’re looking for basically the best available athlete. And so what they’re saying there is, we want what we think is going to we don’t have basically, we don’t care about need at this point, we need something that’s going to boost our and keep our impact at a high level down the line. And you can kind of see those in the ads, because of some, some will say nothing about subject matter expertise, and others will be very specific about some subject matter expertise.

Gwen:  One piece of advice that I would give to people just off the cuff is don’t reject yourself. Like even though the application might not seem like they’re asking for you, Jolene Jolene Smith, to apply, even though it looks like they might have like this very specific idea. If you’re applying for a job, like the ones that my department puts out, they might not. We think we know what we want, but you might just be that awesome missing piece that we never knew was there. So just apply. If you feel like you might want to be in the place. Don’t, don’t, don’t reject yourself.

Chapter Three: The FAR Form

Anna:   There are two components of the application: 1. something called the FAR form, and 2. something called the job talk paper. Some comments on the FAR form first…

Riaz:     There’s nothing more distinctive about this process than that single form. And it actually serves as a kind of, I don’t know if the word is clearing house or like, you know, central node. The sort of, because, you know, FAR is listing the, it stands for Faculty Appointments Registry. You know, its submission deadlines are like in early August and early September. And this is setting people up for a conference that takes place in October every year usually in DC, colloquially called the meat market…

Anya:   Because in law, traditionally, it’s the school that reaches out to the applicant, after the applicant puts out a kind of, you know, a general, “here I am” on the form.

Anya:   I did not realize going in how meaningful this very annoying and kind of antiseptic looking form was. So just word to the wise, those of you who are applying for law school jobs, get advice on how you should be filling out your FAR form, what classes you should say you want to teach, etc., stuff like that is rarely dispositive. But it often is something that, you know, put it…think of the person who’s looking through the FAR form register, there’s maybe 500 documents in there that you’re supposed to look through there. So it’s going fast. And you need, you often need a little training to know what it is that’s going to catch the eye.

Riaz:     The form is a one sheet that basically, you know, or maybe two sheets, summarizes, you know, a person’s entire professional, you know, worth in life. But a couple of things. One is that in recent years, they’ve moved to ask for CV be attached to it. Whereas when I, when I first did it, there was no place to attach a CV. And sometimes they would say, if you want to, you can email, you know, try to get that emailed over separately, but that’s one thing. And I think now, there’s also a space to attach your job market paper, which is a definite must have in terms of material. So those three things the far form the CV and just the the mark, job market, job, talk paper, are really what formed the core of the application, you might be thinking to yourself, or your listeners might be thinking, what about letters of recommendation? This is my favorite part about the law market, that’s different from all from all, pretty much all the other academic markets, there are no letters of recommendation. They asked for a list of contacts, that would be you know, prospective referees. I believe this also is related to law, corporate law, billing practices, that they understand that, you know, judges, lawyers, legal academics are thinking of their time as a commodity itself, and therefore respectful of that, I suppose, they will only bother them if you make a sort of, what is it called long short list or short, long list and then a short list.

Riaz:     Here’s one thing that is sort of counterintuitive, and I still think is not a positive thing. But and yet this is maybe a part of the realpolitik of it. Someone once told me, and I think they were right, that even if you’re geographically limited, if you can afford to do the FAR and leave yourself geographically unlimited in the in the FAR form, or however else you wanted to do your do a job search. Because part of the way that the Moneyball hegemonic way that law school hiring works is that they want to know that you’re attractive to, or at least potentially attractive to the market in law…in candidates, and not just a good candidate for their school. And someone told me that, and I was like, I first of all, at the time didn’t, I was more like a sort of advanced graduate student, and I didn’t want to have to leave California. And I think I, at that point, had a child on the way. And it was…I was not looking forward to having to move but they told me this. And, you know, every time almost every time I’ve used the FAR and kept it geographically unlimited, I’ve gotten just a pretty wide array of of successful hits, compared to a direct application to this school, who has said, we welcome applicants through our in-house HR, if you wish to do that. Whatever, whatever this person, you know, knew and told me has borne out to be relatively true that just the performance of being on a national market makes it seem like you’re more serious, I suppose. So that’s sort of a weird, but probably true insight.

Chapter Four: The Job Talk Paper

Anna:   In addition to the FAR form, the initial application will include a formulaic writing sample known as the job talk paper.

Riaz:     Your dissertation doesn’t actually have to be what puts you ahead in the legal job market. And that, I wish kind of I kind of wish that I knew that better at the time because I thought well, then no one’s going to actually be able to see past this big thing I’ve just finished doing, when in fact, all they wanted was a talk paper.

Gwen: But that’s another thing to think about is how to write towards these departments in your, in your job, talk paper. For a law school, you would want to have what looks like the most standard issue,  most cookie cutter, general,  law review paper ever to cut a cookie. Like that’s, that’s what you need. It’s just, that is the currency. And so, I don’t know that that tailoring advice for you know, the other aspects of the application are as useful with respect to the paper itself, because really, all that the paper is doing for a search committee in law school is saying, Hey, I can publish things in top ranked general law reviews. Like, that’s it, you don’t have to be brilliant, you have to be marketable.

Riaz:     Anthropology has a certain competence to be able to tackle certain areas of legal knowledge, legal doctrine. And if you were doing it very strategically, as an anthropologist, you would say, “Okay, what are those points of overlap? And can I get a course paper turned into an article on that?” Because again, it’s going to come back to “what’s your job talk paper about?” And that’s actually, you know, that’s that’s, there’s a lot to be said about that. I mean, you could have done a whole…you could have done a whole dissertation project that, you know, might be an award-winning book. But based on a single course paper you did in your second year of coursework, that incorporated some doctrinal elements, pitching that instead of your dissertation as your talk paper. And the faculty listening to you is going to be like, “Oh, you know, that’s the best talk paper, we heard this round, because it had some human element that the others didn’t. And that’s a PhD in anthropology, she must be really good at that stuff, even though that’s actually you know, that might be a marginal part of your work.

Chapter Five: Determining the Long List

Anna:   What is the process through which these initial applications are assessed?

Deepa:  This year, I think there were above 380 names in the faculty appointments register, the far, which is the centralized clearing house of law school, teaching candidates, right? That’s a significant reduction. You know, as little as 10 years ago, there were about 1000 entries in the first bar distribution. So after the chair of my committee, who has been an excellent chair, both in terms of organization and thoughtfulness. After the chair of my committee took an initial look at that 380 something odd set of names, he narrowed it down to about 170, who might plausibly fit the three areas that we were hiring for. From that 170, we were given a CV or research agenda, a job market paper and a FAR form for each candidate. And in about two and a half weeks, we had to do an initial score of candidates on a one to five kind of Likert scale, so that that could be compiled, in order to determine who might be a sub subgroup for us to discuss in order to decide who we would invite for a screening interview. All of this occurs within about two and half weeks, right? It is just a monumental amount of work that leads to less than ideal situations.

Anya:   So basically, everybody is charged with looking at the FAR forms themselves to begin with, without…you know, it’s not like there’s one person who picks the likely candidates or something like that.  Everybody kind of looks, although we tend to have some sort of search parameter. And again, you know, like, if we’re looking for a property teacher, I mean, I keep using property as an example, just because I started with it. But if we’re looking for somebody in a particular field, we’ll be doing, you know, that’s what we’ll look for. But if we’re not, if we have a more open search, which, occasionally we’re able to, then that means really just everybody’s kind of reading through as much as they can of the FAR form. And then there’s basically like, sometimes we’ll have a joint document, or sometimes people will just send around their lists of people who they think are worth pursuing a little further, often with just very short comments, you know, not dispositions, but like a sentence, or just a few words, like, “this is what they do, here’s what they’re, you know, main recommender is. You know, here’s their really impressive publication.” And not like it’s categorized or anything, but just kind of as I’m reading through, I’m like, “Oh, this jumps out at me. This person looks really interesting. Here’s the thing that we lack, you know, we don’t have anyone on the faculty who does this, but it seems to fit with what we’d like. So there’s kind of like a barrage of lists, and in our situations, often quite informal. So some people send those around, other people don’t, or they just send it to the chair of the committee. And then we’ll meet and have a really long meeting where we basically try to hash it out. Because there will often be overlaps, right? Like, because we’re at the same school, we’ll, we’ll come up with some list where more than one person on the committee is really interested in a particular person. So those people kind of end up in the pile unless you can make a really good argument for why this person who I really like, you know, but everybody else overlooked, actually should be in the pile too. And that process with us is really quite informal. So there’s just a lot of discussion and people kind of talking about their preferences. And out of that, a list emerges that there’s some consensus on. And I guess, you know, if that list seems too big, if it’s more people than we can reasonably interview in a screening interview, then we kind of do it again and and whittle it down, basically in that same way, until we come up with a realistic list. And then we start, you know, calling people for screening interviews.

Riaz:     So basically, law school, these these subcommittees will get a stack of fire farms from the first they call them distributions, let’s say in the hundreds, they will then pour through these usually quickly, because there seems to be a frenzy around each of the distributions. So, what they do is they basically call what they consider to be the best 15 or 20. And then they say, Are you going to Washington, DC in October and most people, when they get the first call, have every reason to say, well, by that point, you have no reason to be going to DC but your answer should always be yes. Because if you’re not, then that, you know, betrays something about what you know what you’ve heard and not heard so far. So you say, yes, I am going and they say, okay, great you are, you know, our administrative assistant will be emailing you to set up a time to meet in DC, that’s the conventional use of the FAR and the so called meat market, DC conference. That will be based on things like you know, people’s readings of basically professional expertise and competence, especially in law if there’s a big move towards looking for people who have worked some work in some fashion in that area. So if they’re hiring for torts, and this is going to be different at different tier of tiers of schools, but um, you know, is there some bonafide experiential, what do you call it feather in this person’s cap? Did they work for a firm doing either, I mean, most likely, the the, the greater points will go to somebody who was like a defense attorney. You know, in in corporate, for corporate organizations from things like workers, workers comp type of injuries, you know, suits. But either way, being able to show some sort of bonafides in terms of practice those things jump out, of course, educational pedigree, and so forth. So that’s just my way of saying it’s fairly two dimensional, fairly rote, still somewhat mysterious, because you get a fair amount of variance between people and people’s assessment. But there there also does seem to be like a sort of, what’s that called, you know, a sort of model, you know, group that gets picked.

Chapter Six: The Screening Interview

Anna:   What happens if you’re selected for a screening interview?

Anya:   So we have…two interview processes and I think most most academic disciplines do where you have the kind of screening interview and then if you’re lucky, you have a callback.

Anya:   Sure. So for the screening interview, which, again, traditionally took place in, at the so-called “meat market” in DC. But now we’re doing it online and who knows what will happen in the future. That’s a place where you want to impress the committee with what you’ve done, how versatile you are, I think, and what you plan to do. So in terms of preparation, I think you really want to be able to talk about your research and your research interests really succinctly, you know. And so being able to be super crisp, really clear, not insistent, not aggressive, but just very motivated and clear about what you have to offer and what your thinking is. And if I can just add for those of us with somewhat non-traditional backgrounds, by which I mean people who are…have other degrees than a JD, especially if they’re not in economics, or a history degree, or political science or something. So like me with anthropology, people I know, with literature or philosophy degrees…I think it’s really important to be able to tell a coherent story about yourself. How your different educations combine to make you someone who has more to offer than you with just one of those educations. And, and by telling a story, you know, I don’t mean you should make stuff up. But I do mean, you should try to figure out a way to articulate how it is that it all hangs together for you, and where you think it’s going to take you. I often tell friends who are in this position that they should have a friend write something up about them? I mean, not really, maybe if you have a good enough friend to do that. But you should think about it as though it’s a friend of yours, who really likes you, who admires your work, but isn’t super intimate, doesn’t know all of the back and forth and the indecisions and the regrets and the incoherences that you feel. But just kind of sees, sees the outside, how would they describe what makes sense to them about you?

Beth:    After I went to law school, I did a federal clerkship, and I went on the job market for law schools. And at one of my interviews, one of the law professors started asking me about the cases that I’d worked on with the judge I clerked for. And I finally realized partway through the questioning, which involved in me telling him the, you know, the facts of the case. And then the legal question that was at issue, what was the doctrine that applied to that? And then he looked at me as if it was a big trick question, and asked: “So what did you advise your judge to do?” And it was clear to me that he thought that because I had an anthro degree, I wouldn’t know the right answer to that, right, that I would come out of the, you know, out the blue sky with some odd answer that came from anthro. But of course, I knew that given the rules of the game and the language, there was only, you know, one particular direction I could take that answer. And I realized at that moment, that the PhD was almost a minus to him, that it was almost something that took away from my law brain. And so that I had an extra, I had an extra job to do. And that job was to prove that I still had my law brain, and then I could become in Llewellyn’s words “a mere machine” if I needed to. I can do the machine thing; I happen to think because of anthropology, I have something more to offer you.

Riaz:     But in my experience, the conversation I had with like, Cornell, comparing it to the conversation I had with, let’s say, random, fourth-tier law school, they went very differently, you know, it’s like, the upper tier law school is gonna go straight into it when you come and sit down, and they’re gonna go: “So tell us what your job talk is about?” And that actually took me aback and bothered me because it was like, you know, I was, at the time, one of your listeners, I was the guy who was like, “Gee, if I knew someone I could have asked this to, ahead of time, and they would have just told me: ‘Prepare to give your, a mini- version of your talk right now.'” Then I, you know, I would be having a good conversation right now. But instead, I had to, like, piece it together, what they were even going to ask me, and then taking that experience, and then going to meet, I think it was the same year maybe with a fourth tier law school the next day, or something totally different. It was like, “So tell us about your vision for the future of legal education.” And this was in the days when things were changing a lot. It was a lot about, you know, practice readiness, about access, like I said, and that I had thought about a lot. And, you know, in some ways, that was the same stuff that motivated me to get into this line of research on the back end. So that’s huge variance. So that question, I would say to your listeners: pay close attention to where a school that calls you maybe sits in the hierarchy and see if you can get a handle on what their priorities might be. Because I believe the case is still true that at the top of the law school, sort of pecking order, pyramid, whatever. It’s still about, you know, basically scholarly impact primarily. And then, you know, artificially separating the world into top and bottom, northern and southern hemisphere. I would say the southern would be more about: “Can you deliver this very specific content, clearly and effectively to the students.” 

Chapter Seven: Determining the Short List

Anna:   After the screening interviews, it is time to decide who gets on the short list.

Anya:   When everybody goes down to the meat market or some delegation of us goes down to the meat market, basically, they come back with a report on all of the candidates they’ve talked to that kind of isn’t a strict ranking, but is kind of like these people really shined. And we think we have a chance at them, you know. These people are also interesting, but kind of less perfect for us, etc. With the Zoom situation now, we’ll often do a cluster of interviews, say we’ll do you know, five interviews this week, and then we’ll try to meet early next week. And everybody who is able to participate in the interview gives their assessment, and we kind of again, talk it out. Most often, what happens is that there’s a certain consensus that forms around the candidates who, who are who are plausible for callbacks, and that’ll always be more people than then we actually can call back. But at least we have an idea of, you know, who the who most of us agree with would be good callbacks. Sometimes we’ll take a vote, or we’ll kind of numerically rank candidates, like rank people from one to five, you know, and, and we’ll set up…all of our Excel skills are extremely primitive, but we’ll set up some sort of sheet you know, where everybody can rank. And then to kind of try to get a sense, a numerical sense of that consensus, but it’s, it’s never very strict. You know, even when you’ve got your sheet somebody can say, “Wait, I feel like we’re really undervaluing this guy who we talked to, and everybody seemed excited about him. But then, you know, we kind of forgot about him in our excitement about this other person,” which was totally happens. I mean, there’s, there’s so much, it’s not exactly arbitrariness, but it’s definitely not a science. It’s not a mathematical process and your feelings about your candidates change, as you see other candidates and also as you talk to each other about the candidates, because somebody will say, “Well, yeah, that answer was really clever. But he was totally unable to respond to my objection to his position. I mean, he should at least be able to think around that, right?” And so, you know, you and then you think, “Oh, yeah, that’s true, I didn’t really notice that because I wasn’t focused on that.” So we influence each other a lot as we go along as well. And somehow, out of that mess, we emerge with a list of people we want to call back. And one way that law schools, I think, in general, are different from, at least what I understand social science departments to do is that often, even despite the resource constraints, you can call more people back than you can in like an anthropology department. So even when we were flying people, you know, we’d often have, oh, geez, you know, 8-9 callbacks. Where I think for anthropology often it’s three is the standard, I think. So you have a little, you know, you don’t have to be as committed. And then with zoom, you know, the inevitable inflation of zoom, you can have even more people. It varies vastly by school, by candidate, you know, by the appointments committee and how together they are. Sometimes you might get a call back, you know, within that week. Sometimes you might get a call back weeks later. […] So I think, you know, the key advice I guess I’d give in terms of the waiting process is don’t assume it’s about you. But also, you know, you should, you should be in touch with or you should feel free to be in touch with the chair of the committee. And in fact, again, just to be strategic, with lower ranked schools or schools in out of the way places where part of the issue is getting the people you make offers to to accept your offers, showing interest, and making it clear that you know, you’re honestly very interested in the place can actually mean a lot.

Chapter Eight: The Campus Visit

Anna:   Finalists are then invited for a campus visit. But what does that entail, exactly?

Deepa: For entry level, or junior lateral faculty visit, the usual format is three to four small group meetings where you the candidate will meet in a small room, like a classroom with groups of faculty that may or may not also include students but usually doesn’t. It will include usually one dedicated interaction with law students, sometimes this involves a pair of students kind of taking you on a tour of the building. Sometimes it’s another small group meeting with a selection of students, I, it will involve a separate meeting with the dean, usually at the end of the day. And the two kinds of nodes of the visit are the job talk itself, which is invariably given over the course of the lunch hour, and a dinner usually only one, often the night before your visit rather than the evening after your visit. But it could be either way.

Anya:   So the callbacks at our school, I think are pretty typical. Basically, you have like a round robin, where you’re led around to people’s offices, and you talk to people in small groups for like, half an hour, 45 minutes, something like that. And that actually looks a lot like the screening interview because it’s just a few people and so, you know, you’re going to be repeating yourself a lot, because it’s a lot of the same questions. But the difference is that a lot of them will have, you know, read your paper, looked at your stuff, and so there’ll be asking, often fairly substantive questions, they’re also going to be asking, at least at our school, at that point, they’ll be asking more about, I don’t know, your teaching interests, your other interests, how you know, how you see yourself as a faculty member. It can be really broad ranging, there’s a lot of stuff to talk about. And then kind of the centerpiece of the day is your job talk. And that’s where you present. Totally depends on the school, how much time you get. I was a fellow at the University of Chicago, and they told people to talk for 15 minutes. At Buffalo, they tell people to talk for 30 or 35. That’s a really different talk. So be sure you talk to the appointments chair about what is expected. And then, you know, in some sense, I think the really key part for us, at least at my school, is the question and answer part afterwards. So maybe half of the people there will have actually read your paper, people will come, they’ll listen to your spiel and then they will pepper you with questions, sometimes based on their reading of the paper, sometimes based on just what you said. And I think for us, the way that people respond to questions makes a huge difference. And that’s true for the in-office, small group interviews, as well. So, I can just say about me, and I think a lot of my colleagues kind of what we value in responses, which I think may not always be obvious from the candidate side, is we like to see people be really flexible and agile in their thinking.

Riaz:     I did have people, a few senior colleagues mentors telling me in the beginning, like, okay, there’s gonna be there’s some throwaway questions that everybody asks, and that includes, what kind of support do you offer junior faculty in the way of professional developments like that is probably the single most common question candidates ask in, as early as DC, the DC interview, and then almost by habit that repeated at the campus visit as well. And that’s fine. It’s almost like if you don’t actually do that ritual to use that word, you look foolish. But if you do use it, it’s just understood that this is a throwaway. There’s things like that, you know, if it hasn’t been already addressed, at that point, you would say, “So what exactly are your teaching needs?” And then, you know, be able to quickly say, “Well, that’s, that’s perfect, because that’s something that fascinates me. And I’ve written a paper about that.” Those are more rote… the thing that impressed me the most or that always seemed to impress the people I was surrounded by in these situations, the most was when a candidate had looked deeper into longer term and bigger picture things going on at the institution. And to put a specific name on it, if there is a strategic plan, look, look at the strategic plan of the university, and or the law school or business school itself. Most schools have one, somewhere findable. And, you know, we’re just in this, this speaks to the state of higher education right now generally about, you know, all this, you know, MBA-style thinking, strategic management, shifting sources of funding of funding, for institutional funding, and so forth.

Deepa: I think the other thing that I will say that tends to stand out a lot is the way in which candidates interact with students, whether that is during a walk around of the building, or during a open house hour that they’re invited to have with students. The best candidates make a point of kind of doing a mini survey of students to find out what their concerns are and what they enjoy most. And to find points of connection with the students, because even though law students are not in law school for as long as, say doctoral students are in PhD programs, they’re very involved while they’re there. And student feedback is, at almost every school I can think of, very seriously taken by the hiring committee.

Chapter Nine: The Decision

Anna:   After the campus visits, how are candidates assessed? How are decisions made on who gets the offer?

Anya:   After each person’s callback, we have what we call a debriefing poll, where we invite faculty to give comments. It’s totally unstructured. You know, it’s just like– that’s not true. It’s not totally unstructured. It’s largely unstructured. It’s basically like, Did you see the talk? Did you talk to them in a small group? Do you think that they are hireable? Because for us, there’s kind of two stages, there is appointability, like in principle, could this person be appointed? And the really important thing is, you know, should we appoint them, should we move forward with them? And that’s where there’s just a big blank and you can write whatever you want on the appointments committee collects these forms from everybody and basically comes up with a sense of the faculty’s preferences, how people responded. And it’s honestly, at that point, it’s a little bit easier in a sense, because there’s often several people who just generally people do not think are right for us for various reasons. And there’s often a lot of consensus on that. So, and I say this really from, from the appointments committee perspective, you can take some people off, you know, just kind of relieve them, sadly, to say, okay, we don’t have an infinite universe here, we don’t even have a super large universe, we can handle this number of people. And then basically, we compile and evaluate those debriefing sheets for the candidates who have seen plausibly pointable. Often, this will also include phone calls, or whatever, in person conversations with various colleagues. For instance, if there’s somebody in a similar area of specialty, or somebody who you think would have a particular angle or expertise on this person’s qualifications, so just to you know, this isn’t a real life example. But like, if you’re somebody with like a quantitative social science background, then the head of the appointments committee will very likely reach out to, you know, the main other person who has a quantitative social science background on the committee to say, like, what do you think, is this reliable? You know, how does it play in your field? Again, we’re very interdisciplinary, so that makes sense for us. And then the appointments committee, basically using that, and using our evaluations of the candidates, we come up with a list of people to, basically to present to the faculty. So that’s a nice way of saying that, we decide if there are people who are sufficiently nonviable, that we won’t present them to the faculty as an option. So once we’ve come up with that list of people to present, we will have a full faculty meeting, which is often very difficult to schedule. So that’s, you know, getting back to the temporality of it, it’s like sometimes offers don’t go out, because we couldn’t manage to get people together until, you know, a week and a half later. But at that full faculty meeting, we will present the candidates who, you know, we think are presentable. And what that involves, is basically talking a little bit about their work and their background, about the recommendations and their publications, and giving a general sense of what the faculty feedback was both pro and con, kind of this is what people are really appreciated about the person, this is that hesitancy that people expressed. And then we have a debate, not a debate, we have a discussion that lasts usually for hours and hours and hours, with people talking about the relative both individual merits and relative merits. And we have I think this is not typical, but we have a two stage voting process where we first vote on appointability. So like, in principle, is this person of the I don’t know of a caliber and quality that that they can realistically be appointed here. And then we vote on basically ranking like, this is our first choice, this is our second choice. And because we’ve got some election law specialists on the faculty, we have an extremely complicated, you know, modified condorcet, like rank choice thing going on, which at least gives us the feeling that it’s all very rational. Whether or not it actually is but I think we definitely, I definitely feel better about it. So we tried the point of doing that is basically to try to capture consensus candidates. So who are the people who’s the most people would be satisfied with and, yeah, and that’s basically it, you know, then then the offers start going out as far as we have offers to make.I would say, the, the thing that we pay the most attention to is the publications, the research, the written work…how, how good they are, how interesting they are, how much they seem to indicate that a person is gonna keep, keep going in a really interesting direction. That’s super important. And being able to talk about those things is also super important, of course. But there are other things as well, that that we value, you know, we end up valuing that I’ve just noticed kind of different people bring up different things. So teaching evaluations and other indications of kind of relationships with students. I would say for us they’re not going to be something that gets you hired or, or knocks you off, but they’re certainly of plus it’s certainly something that we consider. I think the reason…one reason that I think the teaching evaluations are a little less important for us than the research is because in general, we feel like teaching is something that you can learn and that many people are much worse at the beginning then they become. […] We definitely also look at recommendation letters. And this is a place where I think the kind of clubbiness and insiderness of of law really comes through because we know you know, among amongst us, kind of there will be people who know a lot of the recommenders personally not just a scholars and so there’s definitely a hierarchy is too clear but like we have a stance like if this person writes your recommendation that must be really, really meaningful. Whereas this person is like, okay, yeah, that’s, that’s fine. So again, like recommendations are not something that are gonna hurt you, but they can definitely help you depending on who they’re from and how detailed and enthusiastic they are, like how much it feels like that person is really investing in the applicant.

Anya:   So I think in terms of your own mental health, the best advice came from somebody at my law school talking about talking about the hiring process, which is, I think she called it the rule of 30. Or the rule of thirds, probably where she said in the hiring process, 1/3 of the outcome is about you. 1/3 of the outcome is about the needs of the school, and 1/3 is a total arbitrary black hole. have mass where nobody knows what’s going on and things, you know, people get lost, things get overlooked. Random, other, you know, meteors hit and priorities change. And I think her point was, you know, be as you get as good as you can be, but really don’t overestimate the role of you in the process.

Deepa: For the most part, after you done a callback interview, there’s some debate as to whether or not it’s appropriate or necessary to send thank-you emails to the folks that you visit, I think reasonable minds can disagree on that point. But after if you’re sending emails, and you send whatever you’re going to send, it is likely that you will not hear from the committee. Unless I think one of three things happens. One, obviously, you don’t get the offer, you will be informed of that, too, you get the offer, in which case, in every one of my experiences, the dean will call you rather than the chair of the hiring committee, or three before either of those can happen. It’s possible that if some or more of one or more of the committee members or the faculty at large, has raised a question or a concern or a need for clarification about some part of your candidacy. And there is someone on the committee who is sufficiently interested in having you get an offer who’s invested in you as a candidate, then it’s quite possible that either that committee member or the chair will reach out to you for some clarification. So one law school I interviewed at, they were going through deliberations on a couple of other candidates and the chair called to ask, would I really come, partly given geographic considerations, you know, and I think what that meant I did end up getting that offer. What it meant was that the chair was very interested in me as a candidate, but somebody else was a little bit concerned that I might not go to that location. And so the chair wanted to know whether I was genuinely open to considering them before kind of going to bat for me in committee hearings.

Chapter Ten: Negotiating the Job Offer

Anna:   If you receive an offer, what is possible to negotiate?

Anya:   That is a really hard question, because it totally depends on the school. And to some extent, it depends on the school because, you know, some deans are harder negotiators than others, etc. But to some extent, it’s just a resource question like, you know, state schools on a tight leash. And so there’s really only so much you can do like when I was…when I got my offer, a friend of mine again, I was a fellow at the University of Chicago which is a very well resourced school and a friend of mine mentioned…a friend of mine there, I mentioned that they have a program that basically, you know, subsidizes your mortgage to some extent and helps you move to Hyde Park, which is a fairly expensive area of Chicago. So that was something she advised me to negotiate for. And the dean basically laughed, “No, no, we do not…like where do you think we would possibly have money for that?” Plus, you know, Buffalo is is not as expensive as Hyde Park. But I think, you know, so I don’t have a great answer for that, because I think it’s going to really depend on the school. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In other words, I don’t really think people in general are offended by attempts to negotiate, it’s just that it really depends on what they can offer. And I guess the other thing I’ll say is that, to the extent that you are able to secure more than one offer – which again, amazing, congratulations, just party right now on that – certainly puts you in a better negotiating position, right? Because whatever they can give you they at least know that it’ll make a difference in your willingness to come or not.

Deepa: Um So I mean, the unhelpful answer is it varies from I think I, my understanding based on conversations with peers and mentors, and also reading a lot of things online, my understanding and expectation going into the negotiation process was that I could make one big ask whether or not I got it was a different issue. But I could, I could try to make one big ask and subsequent smaller things were kind of up for grabs. So for some people, the big ask might be a sizable startup, right? If you are doing research that requires capital outlay at the beginning, you know, in the sciences, you’re setting up a lab in qualitative social sciences, you might need to go do an extended bit of field work, before you can really make progress on your current or future project. You know, you might ask for a large pot of money early on. It could be spousal consideration, you know, whether that is the chance for your spouse or partner to interview for tenure track position, or to get some kind of contract position. I know faculty at Alabama who have asked the dean to help them get their children into the university run daycare, which is exceptionally difficult to get into (I speak from personal experience), or to facilitate non academic job search processes for partners or spouses, you know, so you get one big ask I think. At public institutions, that ask is unlikely to be salary, because there are usually statutory limits on what a dean can offer, if there are public institution dean, right. Private institutions, that would be different. But after making this one big ask, you can probably also include smaller requests. So it might be that you have a preferred course package, and you would like to be guaranteed at least two of your favorite four courses before you go up for mid tenure, you know, pre tenure review, it might be that you only have a certain number of new course preps, before you go out for tenure. It might be that you are guaranteed at least one term of pre tenure course release so that you can do some research or writing or something like that, those I would qualify as relatively smaller asks that are not displaced by the request for a bigger thing.

Anna:   Thanks for listening to this episode of Hiring Rituals. ‘Til next time….

Production Staff

This podcast was created by Elisabetta Carosi (sound editor); Jennifer Curtis (editor); Anna Eisenstein (production assistant and narrator); Owen Kohl (assistant editor); and Ilana Gershon (producer).

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