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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Asking questions on the job market - Part 1: before the offer

Throughout the various rounds of the process someone will inevitably ask you: “do you have any questions for us?” You might think this is the time to sit back and relax, the grilling is over, just ask whatever you’ve been thinking about.  You would be wrong.  Again, to invoke the dating analogy I used before, questions are often as revealing as answers.  Someone who asks you only about work on a date, seems like a work-a-holic or not well rounded.  Someone who asks you about favorite 80s TV show theme songs (I actually did this on a first date and it culminated with us quietly singing the growing pains theme song and the offer for a second date), comes off quite differently.  I do not mean to suggest that these questions are meant only for self-presentation purposes, obviously they also serve an important purpose of getting you information you want about the school, but both purposes should always be kept in mind.

The “question period” is thus an important opportunity to further or hinder your candidacy.  In this post I will deal with questions up until the stage when one receives an offer. In the next post, I will discuss questions one should ask once an offer is extended (as one might expect, the dynamic changes tremendously).

At the FRC interview: Time is short here so you will often only be able to get in a question or two in. You should not ask question to which answers are readily available on the school’s web page, because it will make you look like someone who does not care about the school enough to find out about it.  So, for example I would not recommend asking "is con law taught in the first year?" To be sure this is something important for you to find out, especially if you teach con law, but this should be part of your advance prep work.

Here are some questions I used; sometimes these were questions that the people I asked could not answer, I don’t think that is detrimental, some reacted positively and told me they’d find out and follow-up:

(1) How often are workshops held at the law school, are they generalist or subject-specific?

(2) What are you looking for in a future colleague?

(3) I know you offer course X, Y, and Z, what is student demand like for those courses?

(4) I do a lot of interdisciplinary work.  I am curious whether there are established bridges with other departments or faculties, what are the “receptor sites” for my work throughout the university?


As an aside, I got the impression that people did radically different levels of prep for their FRC interviews. For me I compiled a one to two page dossier on each school, including what was taught in the first year, class size, the courses currently being taught in my substantive areas, the names of the faculty teaching in those areas (whose work I'd browse). I also would compile paragraphs on each of the members of the hiring committee I knew would be at the FRC, and if they wrote something even remotely in my area I would try and read it.  This, of course, took a lot of time and it is hard to say whether it paid off, but I'd be curious if others used different prep techniques.

At the small group call back interview: Here the questions you should ask should show that you are thinking seriously about how you will fit in on the faculty.  In addition to the first set of questions that I often repeated, here are some additional questions I asked at this stage:

(1) What kind of mentoring is done at the law school? Is it formal or informal? Is there a review mid-way through the tenure process?

(2) Are there particular groupings or axes of faculties along subject matter or methodological lines? Do these groupings interact a lot either through formal (e.g., workshop) or informal ways?

(3) Are there things about your student body that differentiate it from other schools in your peer group? What are the typical post-graduation positions students pursue? (NB: for a school that is sensitive about too few of its students doing clerkships, for example, this would be a more delicated question to ask.)

(4) Does the school have programs to help evaluate and improve one's teaching?

Notice that none of these questions pertain to salary, research budget, etc. I tend to think it better to wait until an offer is in hand before asking those kinds of questions, but I'd be curious what other readers think.

At the conversation with the dean or academic dean at the call back:  Again, this meant to be additive to the questions I alread asked.

(1) How much student interest is there in health law (or whatever your field) classes? Is there a certain number of curricular offerings that you think would make sense or would be sustainable?  How do you think I’d fit in to the current teaching team you have?

(2) The receptor sites question again, with an emphasis on resources and interests at other schools within the university should be asked here too…this also enables the dean to think ahead to how he or she might sell you if it materializes into an offer.

Usually the dean or academic dean will tell you a little bit about research leave and the like. If not, I think this is an appropriate point to ask about at this point.

To the hiring chair: This is usually the "exit interview"of the call back, when your day is over. If he or she does not volunteer it, you should try and get some sense from the chair of the law school’s timetable on making decisions.  This can be a crucial thing to know in terms of sequencing call backs and in terms of moving things along.

Posted by Glenn Cohen on April 15, 2008 at 09:58 AM | Permalink


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For question #3, you may be able to get the information from the students themselves when you meet with them during the callback. (At every school I visited for callbacks, I met with a small group of students). I used the "student meeting" to get a sense of the student body's job prospects, intellectual interests and general concerns about the school. In all instances, I found those meetings extremely helpful.

Posted by: Miriam Baer | Apr 17, 2008 6:51:54 AM

I'm curious about # 3, which seems like a perfectly sensible question. I, at least, would like to know at any particular school what sort of jobs the students are likely to get. Surely how one would approach a job where 75% of the students go on to big law and another 15% to other prestigious positions would be different from one where only the top 10% or less have those options. I don't mean that in the sense of being better than any school at all, but it seems like an important thing to know about a school. Could it really hurt you to ask about such things? (I'd like to think that anywhere this could hurt, if asked in a reasonable way, would be a place one wouldn't really like a job but maybe it's more common than I would have thought.)

Posted by: Matt | Apr 16, 2008 10:17:56 PM

One more general question that I've found (on both sides of the table) produces useful information is asking small groups to say both what they like best and like least about their law school. Even though interviewers still try to put their best foot forward, they are pretty honest with the like least question and it gets a perpsective you might not otherwise have.

Posted by: BRB | Apr 16, 2008 4:06:07 PM

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