There has been a fair bit of discussion lately about the practice of APA interviews. A growing body of empirical work suggests that implicit biases play a large role in interviews, especially shorter interviews in unusual social situations. Some take this as sufficient grounds to endorse eliminating this part of the search process, while others are unconvinced.
But there is a practice that goes on frequently at the APA that is vastly worse in all relevant respects: the practice of informal follow-up interviews at the giant reception (aka “smoker”). Both New APPS and Leiter Reports recently linked to a post on What Is It Like To Be A Woman In Philosophy? about one specific dimension of this practice.
The point of this post is to be a bit more systematic.
- In a structured interview, there are steps one can take that help cut down on the effects of implicit bias. It is hard to see how any of this could be done at the reception.
- The APA reception is in an enormous loud room full of people, so all sorts of folks will have a hard time functioning there: pregnant folks, sick folks, shy folks, those with even the slightest bit of social anxiety, anyone with any sort of hearing problem, etc. So people will differ wildly in how good they are at having a fun and interesting conversation in such a context - an ability that has nothing at all to do with how good they are at philosophy. Whether the conversation is fun and interesting, however, will influence hiring decisions, and it shouldn't.
- The presence of alcohol is one of the more distressing aspects of current practice. Without wishing to exaggerate how much alcohol is consumed, we simply observe that at the APA reception, each attendee is issued two drink tickets. Moreover, many attendees have eaten dinner at a restaurant beforehand, and many of them will have had drinks there. This is already too much alcohol for purposes of driving, and we know that emotional responses are magnified even with just a little consumption of alcohol, especially after a long and tiring day. A sizable proportion of "interviewers" are thus impaired with respect to cool and dispassionate evaluations, whether or not they are "drunk" by the standards of a social gathering.
- Actually, when one thinks about it: does it make sense to have consumed any alcohol before a meeting in which one interviews a candidate for a job? Bracket for a moment the reports of bad behavior by some individuals, up to and including sexual harassment and irritability about having to cope with candidates. Most professionals do not offend in these ways, though it is documented that some do. Bracketing such extremes of bad conduct, the very presence of alcohol is both disrespectful of the candidate and careless of one's own evaluative procedure.
- Despite the fact that not all hiring departments welcome additional conversation at the reception, there is a widespread feeling that it is obligatory that for candidates to go to the reception and to stop by tables of departments that interviewed them. (See comments under the previous discussion linked above.) All manner of stress is induced at the thought of this part of the process and there is no easy way to sort out when a drop-by conversation is welcome and when it isn’t. Of course some will be very good at reading social cues, at casually saying “hi” and determining whether a department wants you to stop by. But others will not. And again, this skill has nothing to do with being a good philosopher.
So, considering all these issues, we make a plea: Don’t use the reception as a venue for any sort of interview. But it is not enough to simply refrain from asking people to come by your table. As long as hiring committes say nothing, some will come to tables to chat and others will feel pressure to do so just to keep up. So hiring departments should adopt a policy that they will not talk to candidates at the reception, and inform all candidates of this policy in interviews. (And, we hasten to add, if you want to hold a second round of interviews, please do so. But schedule it in a professional setting.)
Ideally, we would like to see the APA endorse this as they earlier did the ban on interviewing in hotel rooms, but for now we propose it as a voluntary “best practice.”
Your New APPS bloggers: Mark, Helen, John, Berit, Eric, Mohan, Jeff, Dennis, and Catarina.