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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Three Quick Meat Market Tips

The Faculty Recruitment Conference--bka the "Meat Market"--is a little less than three weeks away.  Of course, there's a ton of great info about it already on the web.  Nevertheless, I was a candidate recently (two years ago), and I thought I'd pass on a few quick things that either (1) proved invaluable or (2) I wish I'd known.   For whatever it's worth, I'd heard a lot of horror stories, but I actually found the experience--dare I say it--kinda fun.  Appointments committee members are nice and enthusiastic.  The process is exciting.  And you learn a lot.

1.  Get to know the hotel.  I know this is probably the single most common piece of advice, but it would be hard to overemphasize.  The Marriott really is sprawling and counter-intuitive.  It's like that movie Labyrinth, but way less cool (i.e., without the Muppets and David Bowie).  It really can take awhile to get from the top of one tower to the top of another.  It really is worth the time and effort to walk the route you'll take between your first few interviews.  (If memory serves, you can tell which tower your interviews are in by the second digit of each room number, which is unique for each tower).        

 2.  Master the interview modes.  Very roughly, appointment committees operate in three interview modes.  The first is pleasant, informal, non-substantive small-talk.  The second focuses on your actual/potential scholarship (or sometimes teaching or service).  The third is "what questions do you have for us?"  Most interviews cycle through all three modes.  

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something counter-intuitive:

your performance in modes one and three matter more than you'd think.  I'm not denying that the proverbial rubber meets the proverbial road in mode two: it's critically important to be able to discuss your field in an accessible, thoughtful way.  (As you may have read, it helps to come armed with one and five minute mini-job talks for anything you've written). 

But it's grueling on the other side of the table, and so it's worthwhile to let the conversation linger in mode one if that's where you're being guided.  There's a tendency for candidates to try to leap into mode two.  Resist the urge.  Show that you can be engaging even if the subject is the weather, or Mad Men, or high school.  Part of what committee members want to know is what it'll be like to bump into you in the faculty lounge, or have an office next door to yours.  

And mode three can be the deadly ninja.  Needless to say, you need a stable of stock questions that you can ask any school.  But one thing that I now think happens in mode three--but didn't know at the time--is that some schools in areas to which you don't have obvious ties expect you to ask about their city/state/region.  If you don't ask a question that demonstrates genuine curiosity about what it's actually like to live there, you run the risk of seeming disinterested.  And that's a killer.  In retrospect, the common thread among schools that didn't invite me for callbacks wasn't their rank or even how I felt I'd done in modes one and two, but rather whether I'd failed in this regard.   

3.  Roll with it.  Stuff happens.  You might be late, or lose your train of thought, or forget to pack your pants.  (I know the last one sounds far-fetched, but it happened to me during a callback.  I'd worn a ratty pair of "comfort" jeans on the plane and only discovered ten minutes before dinner with faculty members that I'd brought only my suit jacket.  I spent most of the meal trying to rationalize why it wouldn't be weird to ask whether anyone knew a good place near the restaurant to buy pants).  Try to hang in there.  Go easy on yourself.  Good random things happen, too: the unexpected offer, the promising new professional connection.  And the payoff is worth it: law teaching is a great job.          

Best of luck!   



Posted by David Horton on October 12, 2010 at 01:01 PM | Permalink


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I didn't know New England was a fantastic location. I'd rather live in San Diego or Hawaii or Miami. . .

Posted by: defender | Oct 13, 2010 10:42:32 PM

I'd like to add a few more random pieces of advice. If you have any back-to-back interviews, know the fastest route between the two interview rooms *using the stairs*. As others have mentioned, the elevators are too slow during AALS to depend upon them. Be prepared at 25 after the hour (or 55 after) to give your apologies and end the interview so you can run to your next one (and make sure you are wearing shoes you can run in!).

If you don't own a watch, buy one, because the rooms generally don't have clocks (many of them are converted hotel rooms). Make sure you can discretely look at it to keep track of the time.

Carry hand sanitizer and use frequently. Last thing you need is a cold when callbacks are starting. Bring a bottle of your preferred prescription pain killer and sore throat drops (sometimes the nearby Walgreens runs out). Your throat will hurt after talking so much.

My worst interview was immediately followed by my best interview (which was in an undesired 4:30pm time slot on Day 2). Try to not let the bad ones get you down--sometimes you just don't click with the interviewers.

Have a few reprints of previous articles (or print outs) in a folder. On more then one occasion they came in handy for me.

defender: I found that top 30 schools (plus UC-Irvine) were more likely to take the "defend yourself" approach compared to everyone else. The schools I interviewed with that were in the South spent more time talking about the virtues of their school & city, whereas the New England ones just assumed you want want to move to their fantastic location.

Posted by: 2dyearprof | Oct 13, 2010 9:59:06 PM

Defender--for whatever it's worth, in my experience, the schools that were most likely to grill candidates were those that have excellent reputations in the academy but for some reason aren't in the first two tiers in U.S. News. I thought perhaps they were trying to dispel the misconceptions of anyone foolish enough to think that their faculty isn't intellectually vibrant. And I never encountered anything that seemed mean-spirited. In fact, defending your work from an all-out assault can actually be kind of thrilling.

Posted by: David Horton | Oct 13, 2010 11:20:13 AM

Are there some particular schools that are notorious for the full court press? I've done 4 pre-aals interviews and haven't had anything like that. Is this something only top schools do? It seems rather bizarre to walk into a room and meet people for the first time, only to be berated by a bunch of people trying to impress each other. I guess it's just a hazing ritual. . .

Posted by: defender | Oct 12, 2010 10:07:30 PM

Real quick: I agree with James that the full court press happens. But I was really surprised by how little it happened. And I thought it was pretty much a test to see whether you could smile, nod, keep your cool, and then respond in some intelligible way.

Posted by: David Horton | Oct 12, 2010 8:46:31 PM

I'd add that there is a mode four: defend your work, nay, your very existence, against the committee's all-out intellectual assault on your inconsistent, unsupported, undertheorized, and normatively incoherent scholarship.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Oct 12, 2010 2:23:56 PM

Great advice...thank you! FYI, there is a post over on property prof with some similar interview advice:


Posted by: Anonolicious | Oct 12, 2010 2:10:20 PM

Thanks for the tips. The buildup to the meat market is miserable to put it mildly. Hopefully I will enjoy the experience and landing a job would be good too.

Posted by: Atticus | Oct 12, 2010 1:46:53 PM

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