Naturally, everyone wants a lectern in ParagraphCity, but we have just a few openings for all the applicants we receive. When we interview, we listen between the lines constantly; what we want to know is usually available only obliquely. We could ask, “Will you be patient and clear when answering ‘Sorry I missed class Mrs. Applicant. Did you do anything important?’ for the fiftieth time?” or “Are you able to teach through it all when the tech goes down and only five students, none of whom have done the assigned reading, show up, late?” but anybody knows the answer to give to these.
However, when applicants for faculty positions ask questions, they tend to give us a glimpse of something we take for their genuine selves. Sometimes what we’re seeing is just some perfectly normal awkwardness or some perfectly polished act. But every search committee makes its assumptions from something. For us, one of these moments comes after several hours of being with the search committee; applicants have met some administrators and faculty and staff, toured the campus, demonstrated their ability to teach, eaten lunch with us, and answered a ton of questions. Then one of us asks, “So now it’s your turn. Do you have any questions for us?” Some responses leave disappointing impressions.
- “No, you’ve been very thorough. I think all my questions have been answered.” This turns out to be a fairly common response, and it’s sometimes the case that the candidate is just no longer interested in coming to Paragraph City, which is fine. The interview ought to be a two-way street. But what if the candidate actually does still want a job here; leaving the impression he doesn’t is not such a good thing. And some of us are thinking, “Really, there’s nothing you want to know about our student body, faculty relationships, teaching philosophies, faculty development programs, retention of students (and faculty), role of adjunct faculty, leadership opportunities, study abroad programs, developmental studies, collegial governance, grant opportunities, writing across the curriculum, committee work, summer sessions, academic advisement, club advisers, demographics of the faculty, or anything like that?”
- “Will administrators here back me up if one of the little bastards files a complaint against me?” OK, that example is a bit extreme, but even with polite wording, it’s not a good idea to suggest that you expect students to be complaining about you to the dean. Administrative support of faculty is an important topic, and a real hot potato at some colleges, but even with an oblique approach, how do you ask such a question without leaving a negative impression? And how do you get a truthful response, anyway? I would find out later, after the job is mine, especially if, bottom line, I’d probably take the job even if they told me administrative support of faculty is of the wet noodle variety.
- “How much assessment paperwork do faculty have to file?” You’re in the 21st century; isn’t the answer always going to be “a lot”? But this one you can approach from a positive angle. Mention your experience with assessment and then find a positive approach, like “How committed is the college to measuring your success?”
- “Are student evaluations pretty important?” A suspicious search committee is going to wonder just how badly your student evaluations suck, which may be followed up by a call to your former dean to inquire about your student evaluations. Maybe even RateMyProfessor (shudder). Accept it, student evaluations are important, and don’t ask.
- “What are the opportunities to move from faculty rank into administration?” Translation: I’ll put up with students for a while, but I will skedaddle out of the classroom and into an administrative office first chance I get. That’s bad. Nearly every faculty member thinks we already have too many administrators, and the focus of the search is hiring someone who teaches.
- “Does the college do a background check on applicants?” Or drug testing. This question makes us wonder just what you’re hiding.
- “Would you not call my references? They aren’t aware I’m looking for another position.” That may fly at a preliminary point in the search, but by the in-person interview you are either all in or all out, and this question puts you in the out-basket.
- “Is this a genuine position or is there an internal candidate?” Or, in other words, ‘Are you guys liars that violate Affirmative Action and fair hiring guidelines?
- “Do faculty have assistants for grading exams and papers?” Afterwards we will laugh and laugh at the thought. Can you say “community college”?
- “How many hours do faculty have to spend in their offices?” This is another case of a fair question asked in such a way as to raise our suspicions.
“Really, what are my chances of getting this job?”
“How well did I do on my teaching demonstration?”
“Do other people applying for this job have the same background I do?”
“Don’t you like me?”
Yes, you who apply for faculty positions all really want to know these things, but it just sounds pathetic to actually ask them. Hide your insecurities, the way the rest of us do.