In the hope of eliciting information useful to those interested in securing a permanent philosophy position, I asked a philosopher from a recent hiring committee about the process. Some details, including the identity of the interviewee, Anonymous Philosopher (AP), have been withheld for privacy reasons.

DW: In addition to you, who was on the hiring committee?

AP: Another philosopher, the head of school, a senior colleague from our school, and a representative from human resources [HR].

DW: Did everyone on the committee have an equal say?

AP: Where there were disagreements, the philosophers’ views tended to be given more weight.

DW: How many applications were there?

AP: 80-something. And, out of those, at least 60 were from applicants who seemed to meet the criteria set out in the job description; they had PhDs, reasonable teaching experience and publications in recognised journals.

DW: How did the committee whittle down the applicant pool?

AP: Each of us read all the applications and independently selected applications that we thought were particularly good. Applications with at least one supporter on the committee were then considered by the whole committee. About 30 applications were considered in this way.

DW: Did members of the committee tend to agree about the merit of the applications?

AP: Mostly. One point of disagreement concerned very early-career applicants. For example, applicants who were just about to complete their PhDs at well-regarded institutions but who didn’t really have a track record of publication. The philosophers on the committee were less enthusiastic about these candidates than the non-philosophers. I think the philosophers were right in this regard; our lack of a tenure system makes hiring on promise riskier than it would be at an equivalent US institution.

DW: What helped get from the group of 30 to the longlist?

AP: We whittled the 30 down to 10 by general consensus. Getting into the group of 30, and then getting onto the longlist, effectively meant surviving two rounds of skimming. Applications that made it very clear how they met and exceeded the selection criteria, or that made a positive point of difference obvious, had more chance of making the longlist.

The most important considerations at that stage were number of good publications relative to time since completion of PhD, and evidence of teaching experience and effectiveness. But we also considered breadth of research interests. We are a small programme that is trying to teach and offer supervision across a wide range of areas of philosophy. So, applicants that only researched in one very narrow area were at a disadvantage relative to applicants with a broader range of research interests.

DW: What kinds of publications were you looking for?

AP: Papers in journals we recognised as being good. (But where a journal we didn’t recognise cropped up in multiple applications, we did look it up!)

DW: What about book reviews and encyclopedia entries?

AP: They counted, but not nearly as much as journal articles.

DW: What about other markers of prestige or excellence?

AP: Not really. For example, we didn’t take into account the prestige of the institution from which the applicant gained their PhD.

DW: How did you whittle down the long list [10] to the short list [3]?

AP:  We had extra information about the 10 on the longlist, since we had called in their letters of reference. Also, since we were down to 10 applications, it was possible to read the applications much more carefully.  We used the same criteria as earlier in the process. We were very interested in successful and appealing teachers. We looked at teaching evaluations, but we took them with a grain of salt. Summaries and complete sets of feedback were useful. We also looked at the letters for comments about the candidate’s teaching. And at this point, we read some of the applicants’ work, and thought about how they would complement the philosophers already on staff, both in terms of research and in terms of teaching.

We also read the cover letters carefully, looking for evidence of informed desire to work with us at our institution. Applicants showing a genuine informed interest in this specific position were more likely to make it to the short list. If the cover letter was pure boilerplate, then we took that as a sign that the applicant was not all that interested in this particular job. Given that all of the applicants on the long list seemed to be good philosophers, we wanted to be sure to interview people who would be likely to take the job if we offered it to them.

DW: Any tips for applications about how to conduct themselves during on-campus interviews?

AP: Be enthusiastic during the interview, both about your work and about the job. Have questions for the committee. Take up all of the allotted time (but not more than the allotted time). Show the philosophers on the panel that you will be a good person to talk philosophy with in the tea room.

DW: On to diversity now. How many women applied for the job?

AP: About 8 out of the 80-something, so about 10%. (This struck me as a surprisingly low percentage.) There was one woman on the longlist of 10, and none on the shortlist of 3.

DW: In your opinion, what role, if any, should (all kinds of) diversity play in hiring decisions?

AP: It didn’t play a role in this particular hiring process: all but one of the philosophers in our programme were female at that point, so we didn’t think we needed to make a special effort to hire women, and no members of other minority groups identified themselves as such in their applications. But in general, I do think considerations of diversity should play a role. There are lots of excellent candidates for every philosophy job, and because there are a bunch of different desiderata, there isn’t a single right way to rank those candidates. Under those conditions, and considering the current composition of the philosophical community, I think gender, ethnicity and other categories of diversity should be taken into account.

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