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Thursday, September 22, 2011

F.A.R.tube (?)

Complaints about the "FAR Forms," the one-page candidate bios distributed by the AALS to schools recruiting potential faculty members, have regularly found voice on this blog.  Common problems attributed to the FAR include its choice of subject areas, publication formats, its visual ugliness, and limits on search fields.  There are also good questions and suggestions about the FAR form in this fall's clearinghouse-of-questions post.

The whole AALS recruitment conference is a very expensive shindig -- both for schools paying for multiple hotel rooms for committee members and interview teams, and for candidates who don't live in town having to dodge work and get to DC.  I wish the AALS would think about a cheaper hotel, and then take some of those cost savings and sink them in to thinking about ways to improve the FAR form (and then hiring the computer club to make them work).  Some "tech"-ish improvements could include:

1. Video Resume (or mini-interview)

For instance, I'd like to see them build a "youtube" sort of database of candidates.  Everyone has a webcam, right?  So let's have the AALS compile a list of "standard" questions (the things candidates get asked in 90% of those introductory interviews).  Why do you want to teach? What would be your approach in the classroom? Tell us about your law school activities/scholarly agenda/etc.  I don't think it would be too hard to set rather strict time limits for responses.  If a committee is thinking about extending a DC interview, why not give them the chance to see the candidate, not just a bunch of words about them? 

Our committee in DC usually spends 25 minutes with each candidate, but to be honest, there are always a few candidates we meet and know within 5 minutes won't be a good fit with our faculty.  Why not let us try to gauge that before we waste a candidate's time (and our time) scheduling a DC interview?  In fact, if it were sufficiently robust, there might be schools that would use the FARtube in place of coming to DC.  It would certainly make it possible for schools that have spots open up in November, December, or January to take a look at candidates they might have neglected to meet in October.  Inviting a candidate back to campus sight-unseen can make for a long two days if there isn't a good fit, and organizing individual skype emails between 4-6 committee members and a candidate is kind of a pain.

2. Searchable Resume Distributions

I'd also like to see an easier way to search not just the FAR forms, but the PDF resumes themselves.  I can search on FAR forms using the fields, or I can search the whole "distributions." But to get to individual resumes, I have to click a particular candidate.  One of the nice things about getting the individualized "books" of resumes from Yale and Stanford and a bunch of other schools this year was that, when those were sent in the form of PDF documents, we could quickly search through all of the resumes for terms of interest (in our case, we're looking for a particular field).

3.    An "Expresso"-style Submission of Resumes

Frankly, 600 or so (800 or so some years) FAR forms is a lot to wade through, especially for schools that might be in locations many candidates simply have no interest in calling home.  We try to push candidates to tell us during an initial conversation (pre-conference) whether they are really willing to move to the midwest, leave California or NYC or wherever.  Most say sure, but some will always later develop strong geographic reasons to withdraw or even decline an offer.

So why not have a system where candidates submitting resumes/FAR forms click on the schools to which they want to submit their resumes?  Just like expresso, I would be able to click on everyone, if I so chose; also just like Expresso, if I wanted to be more selective, I could be more selective.  Schools could then get individualized boxes of "applicants," with those not really interested in their region or their kind of school taken out of the pack.  Candidates are sometimes told not to list a geographic restriction on their FAR form because it may be seen as a negative even by schools that meet that geographic restriction; but using an Expresso style system, candidates could have their preferences factored in, without it being obvious to schools what those preferences are.


Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on September 22, 2011 at 02:06 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink


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WL, when you only ended up with "one accepted offer" last year, what did you do? Your post suggests (thought it's not clear to me) that your committee went back and looked at the FAR forms again - is that correct? As a more general matter, I'm curious - for those of us who are not "best athlete" candidates with 20+ meat market interviews, is there a potential "round 2" later in the hiring cycle?

Posted by: Another Anon Candidate | Sep 26, 2011 7:23:49 AM

I'm a candidate, so I'm obviously looking at this from a different perspective. But...

The first proposal sounds like a terrible idea.

For doing a video submission, what would that accomplish? Some of these (like classroom approach) are notoriously vague questions which only really work where there is the give and take in conversation. Or is this really simply a matter of determining whether a candidate isn't a good fit because they don't meet the "5 minute" test, which as best as I can determine is simply a question of whether or not a candidate is acceptable pursuant to the committee's prejudices? Why not talk to a candidate's references, who have had a chance to know a candidate in a real life, as opposed to a ridiculously fraught 3/4/5 on one committee inquisition?

Searchable resumes are a fine idea, I suppose. But why not just improve the FAR? The fact that you can only list three publications is simply ridiculous - it seems like a significant percentage not only have written more than that, but have their scholarship as one of their primary selling points And not allowing for both citations and hyperlinks to publications is nonsensical. I can't imagine anyone thinks it makes sense for scholarship to be hard to find.

At first I reacted negatively to the Expresso idea, but on re-reading, it sounds like a good idea - just don't charge by the school like Expresso does for papers - the conference is pretty expensive as is.

Also, having the conference in a place that's cheaper and more centrally located in the country could be a good idea also (Chicago? Denver?). Surely there's a huge hotel near a major airport where this could be done for a fraction of a cost.

Posted by: AnonCandidate | Sep 23, 2011 1:51:13 PM

Considering that people are capable of rating a teacher's quality fairly effectively after only 6 seconds (!), 5 minutes would be plenty. See http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2006/05/the_sixsecond_teacher_evaluati.php

Posted by: Shadowlighter | Sep 23, 2011 12:30:59 PM

Wait, I have a job as a law professor. The system worked fine for me, and every year we hire people who are very similar to me (I think they are grand!) Why are you trying to tinker with this? Think of all the costs associated with change. Think of the time. Think of the people who didn't go to Harvard or Yale who will benefit from this. There's something very dangerous about your modest proposals.

Posted by: SKwow | Sep 23, 2011 11:53:59 AM

A few thoughts:

1. Last year, my (now former) school had 35 AALS interviews; only one resulted in an accepted offer. Lesson: the meat market isn't everything. (Though to be fair, some of the candidates who got jobs in the spring were also in the Register).

2. When you have a lot of vacancies, phone interviews do take up a lot of time. In my experience, committee members were willing to meet for an hour to an hour and a half a week. Even if every minute of those meetings was devoted to interviews we'd only be able to do 2 or 3 a week. And since we had to devote time to arranging logistics, voting on candidates, etc., realistically our average was more like one a week- not a big deal if you are hiring only one candidate, but a big deal if you have five or ten vacancies. Bottom line: phone interviews are not costless.

3. One advantage of the AALS form: it does tell you quickly what people have taught/will teach. This is important to schools looking for subject matter fit.

4. A couple of downsides: allows room for only two or three articles (so disfavors strong scholars), and doesn't allow much room for explanation re things like student evaluations. I wonder if these downsides cause the form to favor people who went to top schools merely by depriving candidates of other means of distinguishing themselves.

Posted by: WL | Sep 23, 2011 12:12:52 AM

re coordinating phone interviews, I served on a search committee that was able to schedule 10 30-minute screening interviews by phone with candidates with less than a week's notice. Candidates were generally more than willing to accommodate our scheduling needs (and for those that weren't, it offered a signal of how serious they truly were about the position).

While not every committee member was able to sit in on each call, we definitely had more than a quorum present for each interview. By running each interview as a conference call, some members were able to call in from home or the road, even if they weren't on campus.

So while there are certainly limitations to phone interviews, I shouldn't think that coordination is a significant one, especially if you are have a competent administrative assistant that can help with scheduling (and assuming that committee members are willing to generally block off 4-5 chunks of 2-3 hours over the course of a couple weeks to get 20-30 interviews done).

Just my $.02 for what it's worth...

Posted by: AnonProf | Sep 22, 2011 7:17:04 PM

Let me respond to a few of these thoughtful comments.

Dan, I do NOT think AALS has cornered the market on hiring. Absolutely true that many schools hire outside of the "market" -- in fact, when I was doing this a decade ago, most of my friends that got "top" jobs got them outside of the process. AALS persists in spite of this because for schools that want to hire nationally but don't get calls from influential judges/feeder professors, it's the most efficient available alternative to look at a wide group.

I thought about calling this post, "Would you run the FRC for $1.5 million?" Thinking of all the money candidates pay to register, committees pay to go, there seems to be a profit margin available for someone. For instance, hasn't Filler's Faculty Lounge hiring announcements combined with Lawsky's various open threads and aggregators effectively eliminated the need for a "Faculty Placement Bulletin"? AALS of course requires everyone in the conference to "buy" the bulletin, but it also offers the bulletin for sale on its own. I wonder how subscriptions for the freestanding bulletin have fared this past year or two. My guess is that if AALS reduced the $450ish FRC registration price for those willing to do without the placement bulletin by the same $150 a freestanding bulletin subscription costs, they would have a lot of takers for the $300 option.

For Glenn's comments on bias, I guess my answer is that for committees that will employ bias, having interviewed at DC doesn't do much (other than perhaps make a discrimination claim easier to win for a victim).

For the proponents of skype interviews as an alternative to Legally Blonde resumes, the problem is that setting those up takes time and doing them takes time. Even if it's just a single committee member doing the interview (something not all schools would be comfortable with), coordination takes time and getting all 20-30 screening interviews done would stretch out for weeks, as opposed to killing the task in 2 days in DC.

Sarah -- the full resumes include details of practice experience (in bullets). This year we're searching for a field that relatively few people have said they want or are willing to teach. We assume that the expressions of course preference are somewhat flexible and somewhat arbitrary and have looked for candidates with professional experience that suggests they could fill our need, even though they might not have expressed a desire to do so. (Of course we ask them if they would be open to the idea before trying to schedule an interview). The bottom line, though, is that if the AALS had 3600 pages of PDF resumes, why should I be limited to searching in 600 pages of FAR forms?

For the two questions about what one learns in 5 minutes that would lead to a "ding," let me first say that in retrospect "5-15 minutes" might have been more accurate (this is a blog post, after all). Next let me respond to the question with a question -- what can a committee learn in 25 minutes that they can't learn in 5 minutes? Overall, I tend to share the view that too much emphasis is put on the interview, for better or for worse, as opposed to the record and the writing. But I do know my colleagues, and since I teach at a school where teaching effectiveness is a priority, communication skills and interpersonal skills DO matter in hiring. To be sure, a person might end up being a great teacher even though they give a bad 5 minute impression -- but the danger is that a person who gives a bad 5 minute impression will also give a bad hour-long impression at a job talk. I don't want to take my colleagues away from scholarship and teaching prep for candidates I know they won't want to hire.

Posted by: Geoff | Sep 22, 2011 6:26:51 PM

Instead of the FARtube, why not just do 15-30 minute screening interviews by phone prior to (or perhaps even in lieu of) the AALS? That is a relatively low-cost way to screen out the candidates that don't last 5 minutes in D.C.

Posted by: AnonProf | Sep 22, 2011 5:39:10 PM

What would you be searching for on the searchable resumes that doesn't come up on the FAR form? (This is a real question--I'm trying to sort the problem out in my head.) I haven't ever seen the FAR database, but can't you search by, among other things, teaching areas? Is the problem that you want the search *results* to look different, or that you want the search *itself* to be different?

Posted by: Sarah L. | Sep 22, 2011 5:00:35 PM

In theory, a candidate could put up a password-protected website that provides the kind of video clips you describe, along with copies of publications, job talk draft, etc. Then the candidate could provide the access information on the FAR form.

For the prawfs reading, what would you think of a candidate who did that?

Posted by: anon | Sep 22, 2011 4:31:53 PM

Ditto on Anon's question. How is it possible that someone made it this far and can't behave themselves for 5 minutes?

Posted by: anon | Sep 22, 2011 4:24:59 PM

I'm curious: how do you know within five minutes that some candidates are not good fits? Is it something they say? That they aren't articulate?

Posted by: Anon | Sep 22, 2011 4:05:49 PM

I am a candidate on the market, currently a Teaching Fellow at a respected school. In my discussions with colleagues, advisors, references, and faculty I've met from other institutions, the collective response has been "don't worry, you'll place." Support for this response includes my scholarly record and potential as well as my interpersonal skills and presence in a room.

This positive feedback notwithstanding, my current number of interviews (both pre-AALS and at the FRC) is still in the single digits, and the conference is rapidly approaching. Many of my trusted advisors have said that this can be attributed to my JD-awarding institution (not a T14 school), despite the fact that I have another degree from a T14 school and various other credentials that qualify me to be on the market and, I hope, a valuable addition to a law faculty. I believe I am not unique in my experience.

The problem with the FAR system is that it fails to account for "whole package" candidates. At bottom, it seems to me that professors must be able to do three things: produce meaningful scholarship, teach, and contribute to the legal academic community (both within and beyond the hiring school). I recognize that some folks will disagree with me about this trio, and that the strength of that disagreement may be directly related to a school's rank. That having been said, I also think there is an increasing trend to place value on a candidate's ability to teach and interact with other human beings in a useful way. A paper record alone, and particularly the paper record generated by the FAR form, fails to account for this.

Now, if you are on the hiring committee at a school that cares solely, or mostly, about scholarship, then perhaps the FAR form works for you. Scholarly records can, and are, easily be reduced to a form. Pedigree of degree-awarding institutions similarly can be reduced.

However, if you are looking for "whole package" candidates, then the FAR form misses the boat. Perhaps more importantly, because of the value placed on the form's components, the FAR system probably leads you to overlook some qualified candidates. The fact is that you simply cannot tell from the FAR forms whether a candidate will be able to successfully perform 2 of the 3 responsibilities on the list. Likewise, I doubt you can discern this from the 5-minute phone call you have with candidates to schedule interviews. This contributes to the problem Geoffrey identified, namely, that you know in 5 minutes whether a candidate is a poor fit and you've wasted one of your precious interview slots that could have been filled with someone who would be a good fit.

All of this notwithstanding, I do not believe that FARtube would inherently solve the problem (despite the catchy name). A video does not simulate a conversation. The "common questions" yield slightly different responses for different schools, at least for well-prepared candidates. Videos can be edited and rehearsed. I could go on, but I'll stop with a latent fear about FARtube producing "Elle Woods" type faculty applications.

Searchable PDF resumes also fail to solve the "whole package" candidate problem, for many of the same reasons I've already stated.

Perhaps a preliminary Skype conversation would better address this issue. It's free, it only need involve one member of the hiring committee and the candidate, and it could be done in 10-15 minutes. Maybe the initial selection process would fall victim to the same pedigree-heavy value judgment that pervades the current system, but hiring committees could weed out candidates who are ill-prepared to perform responsibilities 2 and 3, and then move on to other candidates. Also, preliminary Skype conversations would not be restricted to 20-30 candidates out of a pool of 600. Schools could cast a wider initial net and narrow the field from there, based on a preliminary Skype evaluation of the "whole package" rather than just what comes through from a form.

Posted by: Prawf Hopeful | Sep 22, 2011 3:55:19 PM

Geoffrey, I think these are wonderful suggestions, but let me raise a concern (imagined or real): there may be something good about the "blind" created by the FAR form as opposed to FARtube in terms of the experience of a candidate's race, gender, disability, etc. I am thinking of the studies of orchestra auditions here.
It is true that those same biases will attach in DC as well during the AALS actual meeting, but it may be the fact that at this point you have given up a slot are sufficiently invested and have actually read the work which will act as a partial debiasing mechanism. Yes, even from the paper record one can read some of these things (esp gender) but many other things remain hidden. Of course, one's view on this depends a little on whether the kinds of things that might turn you off in a FARtube pre-interview count as "signal" or "noise," of which I have know strong priors...still a great idea and fodder for discussion....

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Sep 22, 2011 2:27:50 PM

Geoff, these are some *great* ideas.
I'm going to brainstorm with Lawsky about ways in which Prawfs might be able to make some of this happen.

Btw, has AALS "cornered" the market on the way hiring at law schools occurs? Could they strip schools of their accreditation if Expresso decided to jump in, and then schools just hired rookies outside the FAR process? I'm guessing AALS does not have that power b/c there are still back-channel hiring methods being used every now and then and I don't think they jeopardize the school's standing vis-a-vis AALS.

If so, then there is very little to stop this from happening right now. Way to conjure a cheaper mousetrap! (I should add that I don't think these options are things that should replace the meat market, but they are useful options to add to the menu.)

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 22, 2011 2:27:18 PM

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