Transcript for Academic Hiring Rituals: UK 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 on 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 accessible 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. 

This second episode of hiring rituals focuses on the hiring of anthropologists in the United Kingdom. We turned to colleagues whom we believe share rich insights about how to land a job in the UK. And their tips definitely extend to those of us seeking stable academic work in other contexts.

Melissa: There’s often the pretense that higher education means the same thing everywhere. It does not, even within the Anglophone world, and I think that’s the first thing that applicants have to be aware of. 

Ruth: And the longer I’m in the UK, the more different I feel it is as is what happens with anthropologists when you go to the field. At first you think, “Oh, I’ve got it sorted. And then the longer you’re there, the more nuances and subtleties and contradictions that you come across.”

Melissa: I regard the US academic hiring process is much more kind of fantasy based—I will bluntly put it that way—both in terms of what they ask you for in terms of materials and how interviewing works there, because I’ve interviewed there, too. It’s all about constructing this sort of image of yourself. In the UK, it’s really much more businesslike. And this happens in interviewing too, which we can talk about, you know: Who are you? What have you done? Alright, bye. What have you done? Where have you done it? Thank you very much.

Ruth: And keep but also keep in mind that many anthropologists in the UK work in non- anthropology departments. Now the Institute of Education has a lot of anthropologists who work in it, people who work with who do Anthropology of youth have children of education and things and, and there are geography departments and policy, public policy departments, and area studies departments hire lots of anthropologists. So, the point is that you have to do your research. And one way to find out is the Royal Anthropological Institute has a directory. So if you look at the directory, and you know, and you can find out, you know, who works on you know, Medical Anthropology of Cambodia, like you, and you find the three people in the UK who are doing that and find out wow, none of them teaching anthropology departments, let’s look into this, where are they teaching? You know, maybe, maybe by contacting them, you know, that can, you know, be a way to start my networking or just look in or just keep looking for job adverts.

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.

Melissa: First, what happens is a hiring committee is convened. I think that’s pretty common everywhere. And the hiring committee will sometimes consult with the department, not every time, but will usually, especially if it’s for a permanent job, consult with the department over what our hiring priorities are, if we’ve been given a line to hire. And there will be some debate over what flavor of anthropologists we’d like if we’re looking for a particular flavor or if it’s going to be wide open. And then the hiring committee goes away with the advice from the department, writes some language about the type of person we would like, and then that goes to our vacancies unit who then adds some standard language, often with the addition of standard language that we put with all of our advertisements for this department. So we have our standard, we have our specific language that is agreed with the hiring committee that gets attached to here’s what a great department we are a source of language, and then that, then that gets added to with the legal stuff from vacancies, and it is then advertised.

Cris Shore: The decision around hiring is about well, what are the areas that we really need to attend to: Where are we weak? Where are we short of staff? Where do we need it? Where do we need more input? And sometimes you can be ambitious and say, well, we’ve lost somebody, but this is an ideal opportunity to open up, you know, we, we really need to develop more in the area of visual anthropology, or you know, we need to have more on medical anthropology because we don’t have anyone teaching that. Sometimes it’s you know, in the case of the last two hires, I even have the job advert here in front of me, I think I wrote it. And it was very general. There’s all the blurb about the department. But there’s also there’s a whole series of things about main duties and the person’s spec. And it’s… Yeah, the core things we just say, you’re expected to participate fully in teaching, departmental service administration, it specific outlines what the normal teaching load is four or five, you know, modules per year, as well as MA and research student supervision. I think this one says the position arises from, these were three year fixed term appointments, so, “The position arises from the continued success of colleagues in the department in obtaining prestigious external research grant funding, no particular regional specialisms are required…”

Toby: We don’t have most apart from a few relatively privileged universities, we don’t necessarily have lines. In the same way. If you want a new job, you need to make a business case. And a business case means well, where’s the money going to come from, and the money comes from increased student numbers or research funds. So we have grown in Edinburgh. Because our student numbers have increased, we’ve had a number of master’s degrees of grant. And also we’ve got lots of research grants that enable us to get buy out and back of the buyout, you can get you buy someone in. And we have tried to reduce the number of short term hires. So you got a two year research grant, and we tried to reduce the number of short-term hires to replace the two year buy-outs, by instead of moving to permanent jobs. If someone gets a job, you’d assume that someone else will get a grant after that, therefore we’ll get a permanent position. But that means you’ve got to make a business case. And you often got to make a business case because of the pressure of need for the next year. You need someone to teach a particular course, or even if it’s not a particular course, and it’s often not a particular course you just need dissertation supervision, and so on.

Ruth: England, and Britain being, you know, an island in some ways, it’s quite insular. And it hasn’t, in many ways, it has not quite caught up to a global outlook. And often job ads are only placed in, kind of tried and true, very local places. So, the Guardian newspaper is one of the most important places for job site job advertisements, and the university itself. So this university, University College London, UCL has about 40,000 students, it’s huge and about 10,000, you know, teaching research staff. So it has a very large, you know, HR department and so there are constantly job adverts placed in the UCL site. So, and, and there’s another site, I think called Jobs AC UK. So, occasionally I have intervened when there’s been job ads, it’s because I, you know, because of who I am, my positionality, and so forth, I think it’s important to be as diverse as possible when we are advertising for jobs and not just hire, you know, the students of people we know. And so, I have strongly encouraged recommended sometimes insisted that we also put adverts in AAA, for example, and other places in Europe. And, but it doesn’t always happen. So, it’s really important for anyone who in the US who would be interested in potentially working in the UK, to regularly check the job adverts in the various universities and JobsUK and the Guardian site, because sometimes jobs come up at the last minute, and there’s a very short turnaround, maybe just a month or two.

Cris: And the usual factor is, so in the UK, probably like the United States, you know, the fall is the time when the new semester starts, the new year begins, and most departments and most universities don’t know how much money they’ve got until, you know, until the students have actually enrolled, pay their tuition fees, and so, so let’s say in the UK, that will happen in late September, probably mid to late September, few weeks after that, you’ll know there’s often an attrition rate students come or they don’t come. So, by usually, you know that it’s with the budget process—there’s a whole calendar linked to the budget cycle, and when the budget cycle is confirmed that this is that these are the numbers of students you’ve got, this is the amount of income you’ve got at the moment—then you can make your case and you say, right, and we desperately need someone so it’s quite likely that what will happen is a job advert in a typical British university anthropology department will probably go out roundabout November, late October, mid-November. And at that point, you know, there’s the thinking is, “Well, okay. We’re not really going to get everything out, done and dusted, before the before Christmas kicks in. So, it’s usually tailored to I mean, there are two periods. I think when most job ads and hiring take place, you know, one is that period in the new year. Let’s say the end of January, middle of January, when term two or semester two begins, things are kicking off, people around then you can organize the panels and the interview committees and so on. That might be, you know, mid to late January, or alternatively, you know, in the period after Easter, after April, similar kind of process there.

Chapter Three: The Application

Anna: And once you find a job you want to apply for, what is actually involved in the application? And what makes a candidate’s initial application sink or swim?

Toby: Well we’ve been trying very hard to reduce the initial material that’s presented, because we realized the burdens on our applicants can be incredibly heavy. So often, what we asked for is a cover letter and a CV. Now, for bureaucratic reasons, when you go into the portal, often, you have to start answering all the human resource questions. And people often spend a great deal of time on those, and I would say they are important, but it’s the cover letter in the CV that is really, really crucial. If you’re not asked to submit a writing sample, please don’t submit a writing sample, because they won’t be read. And effectively, they will annoy the committee or the equivalent to the committee because you’d be cluttering up their inbox with extra bits of paper that they have to click through. And the crucial thing really is the cover letter. And in Britain, historically, we’ve had shorter cover letters, I would say, than American cover letters and the CV and they’re the things that in the first sift people would definitely look for and look for.

Toby: So there are two key things I think the first is to look at the job criteria, the essential criteria and make sure you spell out your answers in your cover letter. A) Because that makes the life of the much easier. You know, they will have a spreadsheet if you think about it as a bureaucratic process, they will have a spreadsheet with criteria one, criteria two, criteria three. And they will have to say meet criteria, doesn’t meet criteria. And if you have in your cover letter, you can just say in a couple of sentences, I meet criteria one, I meet criteria two, you’re going get through the first round, the first sift. The other thing to do, and we recognize that applicants are putting in lots of applications, necessarily, is to try and give a sense of why Edinburgh? Have a look at the website say I’d like to work there because or wherever you’re applying—Andrews Manchester, UCL, SOAS—I’d like to work there, and I think I’m a good fit for whatever reason. But you will often get for one job, you will get 150 applications. And I think it’s really important that you bear that in mind. Because and that’s why the cover letter is so important. And matching the criteria is so important. Because they’ll have a couple of weeks maximum to go through all these applications, see if you can make it as easy as you possibly can for them, that’s really, really important. It will also be digital, it’s not like, it’s not paper, so think about how it sets out on the page and all those types of things. I would say that is as important as anything else: making sure the information about yourself and why you meet the criteria is presented clearly on the paper as early as possible, is probably more important than the internal discussions because there’s serendipity to them. We get as everywhere does a lot of highly more than qualified applicants, so it’s very difficult to say, why this person, not that person. So, I mean, what the good take home from that is, is just because you applied last time it didn’t get through doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply next time. And just because you’ve applied for 10 jobs, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the 11th job, because serendipity can work in your favor, as much as much as against you.

Mette High: Some of it depends, of course, on the post that you’re applying for. So right now, I’m in the process of setting up an artist in residence scheme at the Center. And so the application process for that position will differ very much from like, we also have a postdoctoral research fellowship scheme at the Center. For the postdoc fellowship scheme, we ask for a cover letter, and a cover letter so important, I would really encourage people to think carefully about their cover letter, and I think my best advice to applicants is to is to just actually be honest and be open and honest, be yourself. Don’t go for like a super formal tone. If I can get a sense of you as a human being because I’m looking for qualities. I’m looking for the qualities of being a team player being collaborative and your research efforts and being innovative, being daring, thinking a little bit outside the box. I’m very interested in your ideas. What are your insights, what is your work about? More than because kind of like a formal listing of I’ve done this, I’ve done that. That’s what the CV for me is for, you know, I go to the CV, and I can see a very clear this of what you have done, but the cover letter is an opportunity to really show me who you are as a three dimensional human being. And to support that effort, I would also encourage people to think about creative material. If there’s anything that you have done if you’ve participated in the creation of an exhibition, or film, or podcast, or like, whatever it might be, even if it is also things like photos that can help illustrate your work, included, add links, I will check those links, right. I mean, for me, I’m super excited when I get cover letters in front of me. Because it’s like, it’s like a human being and all I can do to get to know you, is what you offer me is what is on, in that cover letter. So I would invite people to be creative in their cover letters. We also ask for a writing sample. The writing sample is because we are a research center. It is about research. And we want to get again, like a sense of what is it you’re working on? What kinds of questions are you asking in your research? How do you ask those questions? Why do you ask those questions? What kinds of conversations are you interested in partaking in? And why those? Right and like, is this whole?

Chapter Four: Determining the Long List

Anna: We also asked them what the process of assessing applications looks like from the inside…

Ruth: So, you know, so people will read them, and everybody brings something else to the table. And you know, it’s like, “Oh, this one’s this is really interesting to me, I wish we had some of this.” But nobody, none of my colleagues might be interested in that or think that it’s important. So, you know, I’ll get voted out. So after this, everybody has read all of them, we all come up with a ranking, say our top, maybe our top – you know different times that works differently—but say we come up with our top 20 or 30. And then we meet and we talk about them, and we winnow it down to a long list of perhaps 15, sometimes 12, sometimes 10, sometimes, you know, depends, but we do try to reach a consensus. And sometimes it’s, you know, sometimes almost everyone has the same people, and which is really interesting; sometimes, you know, there’s massive differences. So, and then once we have agreed on the long list, everyone goes back and reads the applications much more carefully. And we will read their articles, we’ll read their publications. And then based on, and then we come up with a new ranking. And everybody comes up with their own ranking and then we meet again and come up with our new ranking and we try to agree on a shortlist. The shortlist might be three and it might be six. It really depends. I remember once we I think had two jobs going at the same time and we had eight or nine people on the shortlist. And then once there’s a shortlist, we send out requests for reference letters. We don’t do that until that point. And everyone goes back and reads even more of the people’s work to kind of prepare themselves. And then we invite the shortlisted candidates for what used to be on campus interviews.

Toby: When I first arrived, it was essentially the entire department will be involved in the longlisting and shortlisting process. As we’ve got bigger, that’s no longer been possible. So now there’s an opt-in process. If you want to be involved in reading the applications, you can be involved, but not everyone is. Particularly as we’ve had more and more jobs, it’s been more and more time consuming, to become involved. So I would say the initial shift sift of say the equivalent of a permanent lectureship would probably involve about 50% of the department looking at the initial paperwork, and then there’d be an interview committee which is a much smaller subset of that, but it’s the initial sift, it’s safe to say definitely a departmental decision, from all grades from new hires to senior professors.

Cris: But the way it’s always worked in Britain, when I’ve been involved in that is, that we’ll, we will go through, we’ll put all the, we will invite all of the members of the department to read through the job applications. It’s a big task, because you know, we typically get 130 of them. And we asked people just, you know, weed out the ones that are no-hopers because you get some people who just what’s the word kind of industrial scale applications, they don’t even bother to—sometimes I’ve read applications where it’s like, you know, I’ve always wanted to work at the University of Durham. This is replying to Goldsmith’s, it’s, you might at least could at least, have read through your thing. That’s just sloppy and lazy. And so you know, people will go through, you know, mark out your favorites. We try to come up with a long list, maybe, you know, 20. And then we try to, you know, then we’ll try and nominate a group, a small, a small group, because it’s too much work, you know, I mean, everyone is uber busy. And so, you know, if I was head of department, I would get maybe four or five other people to read through the, say, the 20 that we long listed. To come up with a shortlist, in ideal, of no more than about six or seven.

Chapter Five: Compiling the Short List

Anna: So how do you actually decide who gets on the short list?

Cris: Getting to down to that shortlist that will involve that tricky kind of balancing act between the profile of the person, the repertoire of skills, the teaching experience, you know, can they hit the ground running, would they be able to cover this course, how much mentoring are they gonna need, whether they’re people who, you know, have shown they’ve got promise as researchers, because we are always under the threat or under the the spotlight of research, assessment exercises. But then we also want people who are good, you know, got good sort of pastoral skills, good person skills. It’s a big ask, because he basically wants somebody who, who’s got everything, you know, who publishes, who’s a brilliant teacher, who’s got great communication, interpersonal person skills, and you know, who cares about the subject and is offering something that we want, or something new. And that you don’t necessarily get doesn’t always come across from a CV or a letter of application. But that’s, it certainly helps if you’ve got a good letter of application and a good CV.

Toby: You get to the shortlist on the reading essentially. So normally at that point, we will ask for, say two, typically two articles, or two chapters from a PhD, we often say in the job advert, it’s 8-10,000, or something like that. Sometimes people take that very, very literally and cut off at 10,000, and it makes it difficult to read. So don’t worry too much about the specific length, what people are looking for is kind of article chapter length things. And it’s the quality of that writing and that research as evidenced in there that is that is the crucial thing. And one important thing to bear in mind there is sometimes people think, “Oh, I must put forward the piece in the most prestigious outlet that I published in whether it’s you know, POLAR, or American Anthropologist, or Comparative Studies.” Don’t worry about where it’s coming out, because we can see the type of places you’ve published in your CV, we want to read your best piece, whether it’s a PhD chapter that hasn’t come out, or whether it’s an article in a book, or you know, a chapter in a book. It’s s the quality of the piece. And I really want to stress this, that it’s the quality of the piece that we’re reading. That’s important. We can look at the types of places you are publishing elsewhere. When they’re reading your piece, they’re not assessing all the criteria, they’re assessing one of the criteria, maybe two of the criteria, usually phrased in terms of ability to produce world leading internationally leading quality research. So that’s what they’re looking at, at that point. They can assess the other things, ability to teach commitment, diverse pedagogical methods, good citizenship, they assess those other bits best of your CV in the interview process. What they’re looking at in the in the reading of the of the of your work is the quality of your academic research credentials.

Anna: We kept hearing, too, about something called the REF…..

Melissa: I need to tell you about the REF. You will hear this from other UK academics as well, that has bearing on this. And this is really important, especially for anyone, applicants anywhere in this country or elsewhere to know about the REF is the research excellence framework. Imagine if you will, that your entire department goes up for tenure every five years. That’s a bit what it’s like. The research outputs of the entire department are scrutinized by independent panels, every kind of really five to seven years is a typical REF cycle. And you are given a grade. And that grade will affect everything from the funding your university in your department gets, to your place and ranking systems, and in really extreme cases, it may affect things like hiring, redundancy, you name it. So I won’t hesitate to call it a distorting effect on how we hire. Because if you come if you apply at the beginning of a REF cycle, which is now, so if you’re, we just finished a ref cycle if you don’t have that many publications, but you have a few in the pipeline, now is your chance, jump in. But if you are applying at a UK University at the end of a REF cycle, so like three, four years from now, you need four top quality publications or you won’t make the shortlist and that’s just how it works.

Toby: One important thing about the REF, that people particularly from outside the UK, might not be aware of, is the importance of what they call impact. It probably can be important now, it will make a difference. And because it’s part of the department’s REF submission, it has to submit some case studies of where your academic research has been taken up, and had an impact in the world outside academia. And that can be across a full range of different things. Sometimes it’s policy and practice. Sometimes it’s public debate. You need to show that somehow, something has changed outside of academia as a result of your work. And within Edinburgh, it’s been films, it’s been human life, documentation techniques, it’s been design of lighting, and so on. But if you can say, I’m really interested in public engagement, I’m really interested in getting out there beyond and I do this research that other people are interested in, eyes will begin to light up. And increasingly, you will also see that not so much as a essential criteria in job adverts but as a desirable criteria ability, interest in public engagement and impact or knowledge exchange, and it’s called various different things. Impact is a technical thing to do with REF. But if you think about it in public engagement and knowledge exchange, you’re basically in the right the right place. British universities are very interested in public engagement and knowledge exchange more broadly, in terms of if something has to have changed, there hasn’t been an impact. So it’s not simply that I have 1000 Twitter followers, or I published an article in The New York Times, you know, what happened as a result of that? But that doesn’t have to be, you know there’s myths around it, that there has to be, there was a policy change, and therefore 10,000 less people died as a result of malnutrition. Is that not a mechanical linear sense of what it means. It can be contributing to public debate around a particular issue? A colleague of ours in Edinburgh has made a kind of a wonderful film about Gaelic language speaking fishermen on the west coast of Scotland, contributing to debates about conservation and language preservation. And to say something in particular change beyond a discussion beyond public debate you can do, but that that is seen as having immense value.

Chapter Six: Job Talk and Interview

Anna: Let’s say you are selected for an interview… What does that entail, exactly?

Melissa: American listeners to this podcast will, if they’ve gone through a US interviewing process, will immediately be struck by how different it is. Here is what it consists of. To start with, it’s one day. It’s one day you are you come to the university in question, you will give a presentation usually, not always, usually to the whole department about your, your research, your teaching, your plans for the future. There has been a time lapse of whatever amount depending on how many candidates there are. You will then have an interview with the hiring committee. The End! No tours of the neighborhood, no sample classes taught to students, no excruciating dinner where you have to still perform for the hiring committee while eating your lasagna or whatever. None of that just presentation. Interview. Goodbye.

Toby: One thing to bear in mind is most of our posts, most of our job hires, will involve a job talk to the department and to PhD students and undergraduates. Undergraduates are invited but they very rarely come. Really important that you pay close attention to what you’ve been asked to do, because they’re not always a classic job talk, here’s my research. Sometimes people are asked to give a talk as if they are giving a talk to postgraduate students: to give a lecture for 20 minutes. The audience won’t necessarily be paid postgraduate students, they will be lecturers probably, but again, that’s to test one of the criteria that’s to have a look at what your teaching style is like, and are you a good communicator, and so on. So, pay particular attention, because often we get people reading that think, “Oh, what they really want is a job talk,” and giving a job talk and it’s pitched entirely wrong. I would advise though, because sometimes not all our colleagues have paid attention to the, to the instructions to repeat the instructions at the beginning of your talk. Yeah, “I have been asked to do X, Y, and Zed. And this is what I’m going to do.” But don’t think you’re necessarily giving a research style job talk when you’re asked to present to the department. So that’s normally on day one. On day two, you will have an interview. And the panel will be made up of the head of the department, probably two other people from the department, an external member, and the head of school or head schools representative. And it’s actually, the recommendations from the job talk will feed into the interview panel, but it’s the interview panel that makes the final decision. Because the interview panel had all the information, they’ve look at your CV, they’ve got your references, they know what the job talk was like, they’ve read the your academic work. So they’re the only ones really in the process who know everything. And they’re the ones who make the final decision. It’s normally chaired by someone from often from outside the school even so, social anthropology sits within a school of social and political science. And then we sit next level up is arts, humanities and social science and it’s about 15 schools atthe next level up. So it’s chaired by someone from outside a senior academic. There will be the Head of School, a head of schools reckon there plus head of department from anthropology and two others and is normally selected to ensure diversity in all sorts of ways, at all sorts of levels. What happens on the whole, is the outside person is famous to chair. They will follow the moves and the advice and the other people. They’re there to ask critical questions to say, “If this person was in classics, I would think this,” just to make sure that we’re not kind of going down a route, down a line to make us step back and reflect on what we’re doing. The Head of School similarly, although is more closely involved and may have a particular agenda, usually, depending on who they are really emphasizing, teaching, perhaps, or really emphasizing is this an important research output and particular times in the cycle and the research excellence framework will be important, but not as important as people think. There’ll be a recommendation or there’ll be a sense from the department from the presentation the day before. Sometimes that will rule people out, but often it will be, “I would like you to ask some questions about this, or I would like you to ask some questions about that, because we didn’t feel we got a sense of that from the from the job talk the day before.” Very rarely will they say, “This person is our favorite and this person, we want to discount.” Sometimes that happens. But it is rare for the interview, to completely turn on that head, that on its head, but to say everything is still to play for very much in the interview after the job talk. So people should definitely not feel, “I messed up the job so I might as well walk away and give up on the interview,” for two reasons: A) because people feel they mess up the job talk, and they haven’t; for everyone else it looked great. And that’s really very common. I know it’s common for jobs I’ve interviewed for, I’ve felt I’ve messed them up entirely. And people have said, you know, it wasn’t a complete mess. But B) you can rescue it, you can rescue it the next day, you can rescue it in the interview, because the interview has sovereignty in this process.

Melissa: If we had a candidate who was going to be, say, interviewing for either teaching only post or teaching and research post, and we give them, you know, as often, we’ll give them a little rubric for their presentation, please talk about these things in your presentation. And if we say we want to know what you’re interested in teaching at sub honors, and what you’re teaching at honors, and they don’t know the difference, that’s a problem. And if they haven’t looked at our offerings, and they think that they’re going to propose a whole new module for some honors, oh, no, they’re not. Because that’s, that’s a, but that will be different, again, at different universities, I need to stress that, but they but it’s all just part of doing your homework anyway, for anywhere, really.

Ruth: British well-educated people are socialized from very young, especially if they’re from the upper middle classes and upper classes, how to present themselves in such situations. And one of the key things is never to ramble. And always to answer a question directly. And there’s an if you’re asked a question, and you’re not really sure what they mean by it, it’s always fine to say, “You know, I’m a little, I don’t quite understand the question, would you mind clarifying it?” So that’s fine to do that if you’re asked a question that is unclear to you are you err, you have to buy a couple of seconds of time to formulate your answer. Now, when British people answer questions, they usually answer in trinities. Now it might be because this is a theocracy, and the queen is the head of the Church of England and trinities are important in Christianity. But it’s amazing how often this happens. So the answer will be, well, there’s three aspects to this first, A second, B, and, and third, C. And then, and, you know, so very, so the answer should be short and pithy and to the point. But obviously, you know, this is you are the world expert in whatever they’re asking about. And so, you would love to go on and on and on. But, but you have to restrain yourself, because if you don’t, everyone will start rolling their eyes, and you’ll be rambling, and other people won’t get to ask their questions. So the way around this is to say, “Well, there’s three aspects to this, there’s, you know, first, the ethnographic, blah, blah, blah, second, the theoretical, blah, blah, blah, and third, the comparative blah, blah, blah. And I would be happy to elaborate on any of them if you would like.” So you throw it back to the questioner to the committee. And the committee then is impressed by how potentially complex this is, and, and impressed by the knowledge on the topic, because they see oh, you know, you’ve named these three different, really interesting things, and you have a lot more to say. So if there’s time, we’ll get back to that. So that is, you know, the British that is deconstructing the way Brits answer questions like this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Americans just start rambling and thinking everything they have to say is so interesting and so important. And they and the other thing about Brits is they’re too polite to interrupt. So people will start looking at their watches and rolling their eyes and making eye contact with each other on the committee, and people just know that, okay, this person doesn’t have a chance they can’t follow instructions. They’re not taking the time limit into consideration, and they were told that the interview will only be 45 minutes. So it’s always important to answer in a very brief, pithy way, but leave it open for further probing. We had one candidate, I remember, who passed out handout sheets for the committee for his interview. And he responded to the question with very lengthy answers, and nobody interrupted him. And when the time was up, we hadn’t even made it through half the questions, and he never stood a chance. So to the committee, what did it mean? It meant that he couldn’t follow instructions, he was displaying a kind of arrogance and disregard for our format, which we had explained to him. He hadn’t properly done his homework to realize our instructions, you know, and that we’re serious about it. So, you know, so long years of being in many, many, many of these committees has shown me that, you know, these things that are seemingly trivial and minor are anything but.

Melissa: People will talk about things like how they comported themselves right that really is important here. Did they did they project—now this is really critical for especially for American academics—did they protect confidence but not overconfidence? The American style of presenting yourself as the greatest thing ever to walk through the doors of this department does not go down well here. I have seen that sink candidates. If they come in saying you know, “I’m going to apply for you know, for six figure grants and I’m gonna write 10 books and I’m going to you know change the face of anthropology and you know, aren’t you glad I’m here?” will not fly in most and most hiring committees I have sat on here, both in Scotland and in England it is it is considered very slick, very car salesman like and often with a guilty glance in my direction, colleagues will say, “That was too American.” And, like, they’ll use that for candidates who aren’t American, but who act American. So, so they want to see confidence, but not too much of it. And they want to see that the person the candidate has kind of thought about this department. And in particular, for candidates who are coming to the UK from elsewhere, there needs to be some indication that they know really like anything about the UK system, nevermind the Scottish system, which is which is different from England, but there needs to be some indication that they know what, or that they have a sense that at least that it’s different here, that it isn’t just walking into yet another Anglophone institution, and they’re all the same, because they aren’t.

Cris: Don’t blurt out, it’s okay to stop and think before you answer a question. Don’t be scared to say, “That’s a great question. I wish I could answer it well; I’ll get back to you on that next week.” You know, make a joke about it. But you don’t have to waffle and bullshit when you don’t have an answer. It’s okay.

Chapter Seven: The Decision

Anna: After you’ve had candidates give the job talk and interview with you, tell us about the deliberations.

Cris: And at the end of the day, and it’s usually it’s, it’s a long and exhausting day, because you’ve got, you know, three hours of presentations in the morning and three hours of kind of interviews in the afternoon, what will happen is that the, the hiring panel, which is this, these five people, will then have to sit down and say, right, let’s rank the candidates. And at certain point, they will invite the person designated to represent the department to come and say, who is the department’s, you know, what’s the ranking of the department? So we’ll weigh that up. And that will be taken into consideration. It’s not determinate. But no, it’s up for the panel who interviewed the candidates will make the decision. And that’s where you’ll have a you know, be you know, it can go on for hours, you know, like, a long time of, I wouldn’t say wrangling, but just, yeah, that sound so I thought so-and-so was stronger person? No, but they really flushed. The, their answer to that question was hopeless, you know, I’m worried about that, or, yeah, but the way that they, you know, picked up and came back on you, and, you know, and so all the things about how well did they perform? What do you think they? Did they? Did they really address the questions well? Is their research, you know, are they what they claim to be? What’s the view of the department? Are we in sync with that? Or if not, why not? And there’s a general question, I think, I always when we always usually draw up criteria, so you have tick, tick, tick, you know, research excellence, you know, teaching the pastoral understanding of the context, understanding of the department, and I always do I have a little box, it’s always for, I just put it fit, degree of fit, you know, it, will this person fit in the program, fit in the department, and, you know, are they could fit? And that’s, yeah, that’s that’s could be, an area that, you know, can be you can’t quantify it, but you just have a, you know, kind of feel for that. But that’s just one of, say, five or six criteria. And then a good chair will say, “Right, okay, let’s go through and try to eliminate the bottom three.” You know, so we’ll do it that way, and that’s sort of how you end up with a kind of a consensus, because that’s what you want to do.

Toby: So one of the key questions you’re getting in a British, and it actually often comes down to this question in practice: what does good citizenship mean to you? And that is, what does collegiality mean to you? And that’s also the crucial the crucial divide there between people. And I think increasingly in British universities, research is really really important. But so is you want to be a full member, the department who teaches and does the bureaucratic work, that is the important part of academic life, whether we like it or not, because if you’re not doing it, someone else is doing it, and recognizes that it’s about sort of mucking together. So that that can be the the crucial divide. If you get a sense, often what counts people out, and this people find this confusing, “I don’t understand it. I’ve got two books from University of California Press and they didn’t hire me.” It’s because in the interview, all they did was talk about how amazing their research is. You have got to give a sense as well, that teaching is important and you love teaching. And you got to give a sense that you recognize that there’s grunge work involved in academic life. We want to contribute beyond just your own research, you want to have interesting discussions with people to work on kinship. If you’re a political anthropologist, the head of school will often be looking at, “Is this person narrowly confined to anthropology? Do they want to have conversations with the political scientists and the sociologists and the social workers and the historians and the lawyers and so on?” So thinking about how you can indicate that is important. And then the final thing that it often comes down to is why Edinburgh? And it’s often a question, Why, why Edinburgh? And that’s really the simple ways of doing that. And you’d be amazed by how often people haven’t done it. Look at the webpage. See who’s there. See what type of work they’re doing. They think oh, I want to come to Edinburgh. But yeah, again, going back to yeah, we all like to be flattered. I want to go to Edinburgh because I want to work with Maya Mayblin because her work is so amazing. Or Lotte Hoek, or Lotte Seagal, because I really love their work, or there’s a really great program in this or so just giving a sense that you’ve thought about? Why the university, why the Department, but also why the city? Why you want to live in this particular place? You know, we’re on the north, we’re on the edge of the North Sea. This isn’t in Southern California. So what attracts you? It’s a beautiful, wonderful place to live, but there are no palm trees outside my window.

Toby: But it is that kind of you’re aware that other another day, another moment it could have gone it could have gone the other way. So we normally have a decision, we will decide and we will rank them if we think they are hireable—first choice, second choice third choice—because sometimes for whatever reason, it can’t first choice can’t take it, or they have another job offer or they want to come subject to a special hire, for example, and British universities don’t do spousal hires, which I think is really important to bear in mind because the parliament is not being unwelcoming, they’re just not allowed to do them. So you do sometimes move down the list. The usually at that point, we’ll have the references, but if we don’t, it will be subject to references.

So usually, you would hear within the next 24 hours, but not always. And don’t be disappointed. If you haven’t heard if you haven’t heard, it’s usually because someone hasn’t accepted yet. So it probably implies that you’re still on the list. Or it might mean that we’re still negotiating the pay with the school administrator. You might hear early if you had been deemed not appointable. For what however, that’s classified. Because you’re not on the list anymore for potential for potential hires.

Chapter Eight: Negotiating the Job Offer

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

Ruth: If you are fortunate enough to be offered a job, there is very little wiggle room to negotiate. Unlike in the US where, you know, it’s considered very, very common to negotiate salary and all kinds of benefits not only in the UK is it considered poor taste, but there is very little room for it. They’re just you know, the head of department doesn’t have anything to offer there everything is because it’s all salary ranks and things are all preset from above. We don’t have any say in it. Yes, there, you know, there’s limited, you know, you can there’s different bands, there’s, you know, this band or that band, and so you might be able to negotiate to be the top of the band that that you were hired or something like that, but… And one place that there has that I have seen some room to negotiate is in differing starting. So if, for example, you have a research grant, that goes for another year, and the job is meant to start in September, often you’d be, you know, they want you to do research, they want you to publish, so it’s good for them and good for you. You might be able to start, you know, a year later, so that, you know, that has definitely been known to happen.

Toby: Very little in comparison to American universities. Spousal hire is essentially out of the window. Pay is set by the grade. So if it was advertised at that grade, within that within a particular scale, they can’t jump up to the next scale. They also usually expect an answer more quickly than they would in the in the US. So you give an offer; normally, they will want a response within a week, within a couple of weeks, if it goes on beyond that, people begin to get a bit uncomfortable, partly because they have to start doing their planning.

Ruth: We have had cases with, I can think of one American who was offered a post who just kept putting it off and putting it off and giving us all kinds of excuses and didn’t come for the year, which, which really made things very difficult, because we had already offer, you know, advertised the courses he was supposed to be teaching, and we had no one to teach that. And then in the end, he never showed up, he never came. And what he told us was very different than, you know, from what he told other people. So, you know, the problem with that is, Americans often have developed a very bad reputation. And especially at sort of mid-level jobs, or senior jobs. Sometimes Americans haven’t even been taken seriously as candidates, because people have been burned so many times, and we have been burned many times when we’ve made offers to Americans, and, who end up not coming. And because it takes so it’s so much energy on our part, to go through the whole process. And often, you know, let’s say it’s somebody who we think we offer it at an associate level, but we want it as a full professorship level. And it means that our head of department has to spend a long time it’s all kinds of social capital, or whatever with the dean to try to get it and make deals and negotiate. And then the person turns around and doesn’t show up, because, oh, what do you know, the only reason they applied was to prove that they had an offer to, to get a promotion at their home university. And in the US, this happens, you know, regularly, but that that is like unknown here. But now, it’s known because more and more British departments have been, you know, screwed over by Americans who’ve done that and played that game here. So Americans often have are not taken as seriously. Whereas, but that generally is for people who already have jobs. If you’re at the very beginning, it won’t be assumed that, you know, that you are playing this kind of game.

Anna: In the end, one clear way to improve your lot on the UK job market appears to be networking.

Ruth: Now if someone is interested in getting a job in the UK, you have to be very, very resourceful. More so than if you were based here. So for example, every large department has weekly research seminars. Usually, you know, a social anthropology department will have maybe one seminar a week, my department because it’s so big and diverse. We have five per week. So, let’s say you want a job in medical anthropology. So you’d look and see which departments have medical anthropology faculty, and which ones have medical anthropology seminars. And find and have a look at the titles and speakers of the talks over the last year. To find out who convenes these seminars, write to them, tell them you’d be pleased to present your recent work if there happens to be a slot. And believe me, lots of times people are like, desperate to get people to talk. So you know, it’s not conce—it’s not seen as being too pushing it, it could be, you know, you could be doing someone a favor. And, but keep in mind that these are often set up at least a semester in advance. Now, we always had, you know, just a pittance for bringing people in, we could usually bring in one outside, not outside meaning non-UK person a year, because it was too expensive. But now since so much is online, it makes no difference. So that really works to the benefit of international people. Also, another way to be able to snag a teaching, a seminar, lecture slot is find out what conferences and workshops are, are things that you might be interested in going to. So you know, there might be a conference in Amsterdam, and London is, you know, a 40 minute flight from Amsterdam, or you can take a train, you know, so you could say I’m going to be in, you know, in Europe, in the month of in this month, next year and while I’m there, I would love to meet people in your department and, and, and present my work and you know, but you have to do this ahead of time. So going to conferences, networking, try to publish, you know, in UK journals that RAI, Social Anthropology. Yu can what we used to call cold calling these days, it’s all on the internet, contact people whose work you admire, whose work you engage with, send them your work, and, you know, develop relations with them, you know, offer to read their work.

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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