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Monday, November 23, 2015

The "Do You Have Any Questions?" Question

Legal academic job interviewers frequently end with "So, do you have any questions for us?" I understand where the question comes from. We've been inquiring into all manner of a candidate's job history and scholarly work for the prior 20 minutes or so and we want to: (1) recognize that hiring is a two-way street and show that we care about the candidate's interests and concerns, (2) perhaps see how the candidate handles the DYHAQ question and what it might reveal about the nature and extent of the candidate's interest in the position, and (3) signal that the interview is coming to a close.

Still, I'm not a big fan of the DYHAQ question. It often has an artificial quality about it. For one thing, candidates have frequently had several prior opportunities to ask questions. Often, candidates have to struggle to ask a variation of the same question or select from a repertoire of pre-conceived questions. Meanwhile, candidates really do have a ton of questions, but the questions may be perceived as inappropriate--or at least risky--to ask until an offer has been made. For example, what is the salary? What are the issues that divide the faculty? How easy or hard is it to get tenure? Can my spouse get a job here? Candidates may find polite ways of asking questions like these, but they're not risk-free relative to blander questions. Sometimes something will come up in the course of the interview or a prior interview and you'll be able to ask a genuine, non-prearranged, more-or-less spontaneous question. But that's unusual and takes some skill.

As an alternative, interviewers could simply say, "I see we're just about out of time. Please feel free to call or email any of us if you should have any questions." Were I an interviewee, I'd have no problem with that. In fact, I think some of the best interviews are ones where the conversation is so organic that you're rushing to discuss topics you really care about and have no time for needless formalities like the DYHAQ question. At a minimum, if some interviewers stopped asking the question, then it will not feel so artificial on the occasions when it is asked.

If you have suggestions for how to handle the question or the dynamic, I encourage you to post them in the comments. One question I would sometimes ask is: What do faculty generally do for lunch? I'm genuinely interested in this question. It can say a lot about faculty interaction. It also gives interviewers flexibility in their response: they can focus on the nature of faculty camaraderie or they can talk about more practical issues like the school's locale and/or cafeteria. It may also reveal interesting facets of student life or student-faculty interaction--aspects of a school you might not otherwise observe during a short visit.

Posted by Adam Kolber on November 23, 2015 at 11:20 AM | Permalink

Comments

Makes sense to me, Alex! Thanks.

Posted by: Adam Kolber | Nov 28, 2015 3:55:16 AM

when i was a candidate i found it productive to ask my DYHAQ question about the students (something vague like "tell me about your students"). the answers tended to reveal a lot about both the students & faculty members' attitudes toward them. i think the signal it sends is a good one too.

Posted by: alex roberts | Nov 28, 2015 1:06:27 AM

Very interesting about economics! One wonders how these norms start and take hold. Asking about lunch does suggest that you're a person who'd like to engage with colleagues over lunch. That could be a selling point. And overt salesmanship in reply to the DYHAQ question could be disadvantageous. But I'm certainly open to the idea that there are a bunch of good ways to handle the question.

Posted by: Adam Kolber | Nov 25, 2015 11:57:56 AM

Two reactions:

Someone in a different field (economics) once told me that for them the standard expected response to DYHAQ is "No." Candidates going on the market are told this is the norm, and eyebrows are raised if anyone actually prolongs the interview by asking a question.

On the other hand, I've also received advice (in law) that one should use the DYHAQ as another opportunity to sell one's candidacy. Viewed in that lens, the lunch question fills the time but it doesn't really advance one's cause.

Posted by: anon | Nov 24, 2015 7:18:58 PM

The problem, of course, is that no one is going to answer honestly about whether people are in the building or whether people go for lunch. Or, at best, they will exaggerate the number of people doing either.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 23, 2015 7:29:06 PM

I don't like the DYHAQ question, either. But I dislike it for a somewhat different reason than Orin. Like Orin says, answering interview questions is a performance. But the DYHAQ question does not tell a candidate the performance is over. Or, rather, it SEEMS to tell the candidate the performance is over, but it is really not. The performance (and evaluation of the performance) is very much still continuing. It is precisely because the DYHAQ question is so misleading and trapping for the unwary that it is a bad question.

Posted by: TJ | Nov 23, 2015 4:15:26 PM

I think that during an FRC interview, there is some benefit to asking a question people will remember easily, and on callbacks there is some advantage to asking a question or two about the city or town or neighborhood where the law school is. The first is just self defense: interviewers will be struggling to to remember you and may make a note of the color of your socks or some verbal tick to jog their memories; an odd or interesting question is usually a more reliable memory jogger than a fashion choice. The second creates the impression that you are thinking seriously about what it would be like to live there and, if you are, may generate some useful information.

Posted by: Jessica Litman | Nov 23, 2015 4:15:24 PM

I think the best outcome of the DYHAQ question is to keep the friendly chatter going as much as possible--so any vanilla, open-ended question would do. Personally, I like the faculty culture question. We all have an answer to that, and most likely a big part of that answer is feel-good and positive. I worry that more narrow questions might lead the faculty to make assumptions (fairly or not) regarding the candidate, and why the candidate is asking them. Of course, if everyone starts asking the faculty culture question, like the research question, it will become cliche.

Posted by: Margaret Ryznar | Nov 23, 2015 2:20:36 PM

Orin -- thanks for the reminder that blog posts never go away. =-) I continue to think that, so long as the DYHAQ is going to be asked, it makes sense for candidates to have something besides "do you support junior faculty?" and the "what do folks do for lunch, usually?" question seems like a good start, as does the "are the faculty generally in the building, or do lots of people work from home on non-teaching days?" question.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 23, 2015 1:35:41 PM

A similar thread from 2008: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2008/11/a-quick-questio.html

I agree that the DYHAQ question is usually a bad question. Answering interview questions is a kind of performance, and DYHAQ basically tells the candidate that the performance is over. Candidates who are trying to impress the committee with the precious minutes they have usually would rather it continue.

As for the best questions, I agree that the faculty culture ones are the best. Adam's suggestion of "what do people do for lunch" is good, as are questions asking whether the faculty tends to work from home a lot or tends to stay on campus more when nothing specific is scheduled. (Back in 2008, in the thread linked to above. I suggested going with the standard faculty research support question, but I now agree with Bridget's suggestion in that thread that it has become too much of a cliche by now. It's part of the problem with blogs, I guess; candidates can read these threads and be armed with canned answers in a way that they couldn't before around 2003.)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 23, 2015 1:29:05 PM

Couldn't agree more. The question is a death knell, because it signals that the paper/agenda aren't interesting enough to fill half an hour of conversation.

Posted by: anon | Nov 23, 2015 1:16:56 PM

I hated "DYHAQ" as a candidate and, from the other side of the table, dislike it when we ask it of interviewees.

During a 1.5 day visit, the candidate will have had numerous conversations with members of the law school community, and "conversations" typically encompass back and forth exchanges, in which persons make comments and also ask questions. Whatever questions I had during my visits were addressed naturally around the lunch table, while being shuffled between interviews, while chatting on the phone with the recruiting chair, and so on.

Whenever I heard "DYHAQ," it came across as at best a half-hearted attempt to be polite or, at worst, a sign that that the person had not reviewed my materials and was using DYHAQ to fill conversation time.

Posted by: andy | Nov 23, 2015 12:52:43 PM

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