Tuesday, April 01, 2008
The Meat Market Is Like...The Meat Market
Perhaps inspired by one of my favorite Magnetic Fields Songs (or another one suggested by the comments), I thought that this is the best way to introduce this series of posts on the job market. Many of my friends would laugh when I told them that I was going on "the meat market," but in truth it really is a lot like that other meat market, dating, especially internet dating.
First, you post a profile online where lots of people will size you up. Once they have decided they like your profile, after a brief email or telephone chat, they invite you for a short first date. Now, this is forward as (at least my) first dates go, given that they are inviting you into their hotel room, and there are multiple people participating (or at least watching!). Sometimes there will be a fair amount of small talk involved, sometimes they’ll cut right to the chase.
If you wow them here, they ask their friends who might know you about whether you are what they are looking for (they may already have). If you’ve kept them wanting more, they’ll invite you home to meet the family, be it in Charlottesville or Cambridge. There, you will meet be welcoming older sisters, insecure younger brothers, and crazy uncles aplenty.
Eventually you will meet the paterfamilias, the hiring chair and the dean, who will tell you how long it will take them to evaluate whether you are fit to marry into the family. If you are lucky, there will be a proposal; something shiny and expensive may be offered to entice you. After evaluating your offers you will decide whether or not to walk down the aisle (with the possibility of divorce and re-marriage, i.e., the lateral market, always in the background).
Now beyond providing entertainment, this comparison is meant to be instructive in that there are a number of things that will get you into trouble in the dating market will also get you into trouble here.
First, tell the truth. I’d rather describe myself as 6’0 rather than 5’9 (and a half, well, on a good day), but absent platform shoes people will soon find out the exageration and I will lose credibility. The same is true here. All readers are smart (and ethical) enough to avoid any actual misrepresentations, but it is the more subtle ones and accidental misunderstandings that are the problem, especially as the process evolves. So, a hiring chair calls and gets you off guard to ask you how you are doing on the market, and you mention that you are still under consideration at Ridgemont U, which she mistakenly takes to mean you’ve been voted out of committee and are waiting for a faculty vote. Further conversation suggests this misunderstanding without the hiring chair saying anything that directly states it. It does not matter that you never said what she thought you said. If you don't nip it in the bud, the misunderstanding will circulate potentially back to the hiring chair at Ridgemont U. You cannot let that happen. If you don’t catch the error fast enough don’t worry, there are plenty of times I corrected or added something by email after a conversation. Just try to correct as quick as possible.
Second, don’t give out your number too easily. Or, to put it more precisely, don’t give out the number you are likely to answer without thinking. We are not talking about giving the fake phone number some of my, er, acquaintances, have on hand for the person at the bar that does not appeal to them but demands their number. What I did do, though, was to only give out my office number to hiring chairs. This gave me a little more control, though it meant frequent calls in to my voicemail while traveling to job talks. If you want everyone to call the same number, make sure you get into the habit of letting every number you don’t recognize go to voice mail. Especially at the beginning of the FRC process when you might be getting a lot of phone calls let it go to voice mail. That will give you 24 hours breathing room, especially on your office number, to decide what to say. I would not take more than 24 hours though, or you'll seem rude.
Continuing the theme, learn how to say “no” politely but without substance. While “it’s not you, it’s me” might be the old standby line, you actually want to say “no” with as little content as possible. It might be tempting to blame something on geography or your significant other's needs, but the word might circulate around that you are not interested in city X, and some committees might read into that further; that because their city or town shares some characteristics or a state with city X, they may also count you out. Perhaps this was cowardly or declasse of me, but at least as to "no’s" to the FRC meeting, I would respond to voice-mails from hiring chairs by emails. The content was almost always the same. “Dear Prof. X, Thank you very much for the offer to interview with you at the AALS conference. I very much appeciate School Y's interest, but, unfortunately, I will not be able to meet with your committee at the conference. When turning down actual job talk offers I’d call the hiring chairs at a time I was not likely to catch them in person, and leave a voice mail thanking them for the offer to visit, but suggesting “I just think there are better opportunities elsewhere.” This is nice, and polite, as it ought to be. The goal is to be short on semantic content, like Chomsky’s “colorless green ideas sleep beautifully." For turning down actual offers I’d call the deans, and leave voicemails if they were not there. Be prepared for people to ask you who you are still considering, and depending on your comfort level or strategic considerations, you can tell them, or instead just offer to let them know once you finish your process).
Finally, one piece of advice my old friend Samantha gave me in my late teens, the first rule of dating is that “interested is interesting.” People seem to think more of you, your intelligence, etc, when they are telling you about them and you look interested. In every FRC interview, job talk visit, and offer conversation with the dean, people will at some point tell you something about the school that you already know or does not seem relevant. Try not to look bored. I’ll talk more about good questions to ask at different stages of the process below, but remember you want to always make the people you are talking about feel that you care about their school, and are interested in what they tell you, whether it be a comment on your paper or a discussion of how great a sports town place X is (when you really care about opera).
Oh, and because inquiring Prawfsblaw readers want to know, while I've ended up very happily partnered on the job front, I am still very much on the market in terms of dating. Therefore, perhaps you ought to consider all this better job market advice than dating advice?
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I suspect that the large majority of job applicants would consider these extremely enviable problems to have!
Posted by: matt | Apr 1, 2008 12:43:07 PM
Point well taken Matt. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the job market experience I did, and much of it was driven by the kindness of a number of colleagues supporting me and, of course, "mazel." I do hope, though, that there will be enough in these posts that is of interest/use to everyone.
Posted by: Glenn Cohen | Apr 1, 2008 12:50:23 PM
Isn't the Magnetic Fields song you want not "Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin," to which you linked, but rather "A Pretty Girl Is Like . . .", given that it ends with something like "A pretty girl is like a pretty girl"? This dramatically affects the whole post.
Posted by: Edward Swaine | Apr 1, 2008 2:02:09 PM
Whatever happened to the Legal Theory Blog's annual wrapup of the meat market?
Posted by: Anon | Apr 2, 2008 10:25:34 AM
I can't help but echo Matt's thought. I recently chaired the appointments committee at one of those schools ranked even below the bottom of Glenn's bi-modal distribution. (Come to think of it, a couple of Prawfsblawg editors work at schools in that category, and are fine people for all that.) A post on "how to say no gracefully to all those law schools pursuing you that you're not interested in" fits right in with those New York Times features on "how to select your $10 million second home in the Hamptons." The folks that article is directed at may be the ones the Times thinks of as its target audience, but they're not me.
Posted by: Jon | Apr 2, 2008 2:14:06 PM
Thanks Jon. The last thing I want to do is offend, so I've made some edits to the original post to remove some things that, on re-reading, might be taken the wrong way (as well as to incorporate a good musical suggestion from another commentaor).
As someone who did recently act as a hiring chair, it would be great to get your input on the specific point you mentioned. Were there candidates you eliminated from consideration because you thought they were unlikely to be interested in your school? If a candidate really was interested in the school for reasons that were not obvious from their FAR form (e.g., their family lives there) was there a good way of signalling that to you on the front end? Perhaps in a cover letter to a package, or did you tend to gloss over those? Anything you could contribute on these issues to help others going on the market who might be in this situation would be really useful.
Posted by: Glenn Cohen | Apr 2, 2008 2:29:10 PM
As a big Magnetic Fields fan who has also been chair of my school's hiring committee, this thread speaks to me. Might I also suggest two other M.F. songs that have captured my feelings about the process at various points?
(1) "I Don't Believe You" (Opening lines: "So you quote love unquote me/ Well, stranger things have come to be/ But let's agree to disagree/ 'Cause I don't believe you. . . ."
(2) And for the (small minority) of really badly-behaving folks in the bunch, check out "Yeah! Oh Yeah" (also from "69 Love Songs").
Posted by: Joseph Slater | Apr 2, 2008 2:53:57 PM
For my part, Glenn, I eliminated folks from consideration when it seemed really really obvious that we wouldn't get them (basically, folks who were plainly headed for what Brian Leiter calls a super-elite school rather than us). Beyond that, though, I called all of our top candidates to suggest an interview; I figured that if they were willing to invest the half-hour in us, we were willing to invest the half-hour in them. Some people said no, and that was fine. The AALS hiring process is a pretty strange one, driven by individual schools' needs, and (setting aside the folks at the very top of the market) you never know who other schools will find appealing and who they won't. Finally, if somebody was particularly interested in my school, the best way to convey that was to get in touch with me (email was fine) and say so.
Posted by: Jon | Apr 3, 2008 3:28:39 PM
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