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“So, do you have any questions for us?”

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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19 Responses

  1. TJ says:

    On both sides of the table, I have never understood the point of this question, except as a trap for the unsophisticated. I can’t imagine that a candidate would actually ask Dave’s question, since it sends a huge potentially negative signal (i.e. that one is a budding Paul Campos). All the useful questions (e.g. why should I take you over Competitor School X) are considered impolitic in some way or another.

    I should make clear that I think Dave’s question is perfectly useful. Just as asking about why one should take School Y over School X would be useful. It just isn’t smart to ask it.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    I think the point of the question is to ask if they have any questions!

    I’m surprised you’d see my Q as a negative signal: I’d think it means that the candidate is plugged in. But maybe you are right: I’m no longer sufficiently risk-averse.

  3. Jobber says:

    I think when you are on the hiring side, it’s easy to imagine and appreciate bold questions such as yours, Dave. If spoken in the write tone, they really can impress and make a candidate memorable compared to those who say the internet pretty much covered it all. On the other hand, a bit of nervousness in the voice, or especially jitters that come across as haughtiness, can doom a question such as the one your suggest. In the candidate’s shoes, it’s always more tempting to try an ingenuous, “Tell me about your library’s faculty research services. I hear they’re heavenly. Is that the case?”

  4. TJ says:

    Dave, this has been previously hashed out, but the point of the question is clearly not to find out if the candidate has questions. We know they have questions, and we know what the questions are: (1) “Are you going to hire me?”, and (2) “What can I say to make you hire me?”. But we are not looking for those questions, and we would dock points if anyone was honest (and naive) enough to ask them.

  5. I asked “What is your idea of a good colleague?”

    This mostly didn’t do much but avoid an awkwardness, but on occasion produced some revealing replies, and not always in a good way. The worst was the interviewer who shot a venomous look at his co-interviewer and said, “Someone who doesn’t talk in faculty meetings.”

  6. Diane says:

    As someone who has been involved in a lot of hiring over the past 20 years (but, importantly, not of faculty), I find this question very useful for weeding out the folks who have no particular interest in my institution. If you can’t do some basic research and come up with some thoughtful questions about the nature of the work we do, then you are not likely to contribute thoughtfully to the institution once you’re here. On the other side of the hiring table, you should be prepared to take your internet research to the next level. “I know you started the Smith-Jones Center for Justice last year. How is that working out — how have faculty been involved, how have you integrated student learning into the Center’s mission?”

    Or, “I see you made some changes to your first year curriculum. What’s been the response from students and faculty? Is this part of a larger plan for curricular change?”

    I would not want to waste my time with a candidate who has no appreciation for or understanding of the specific institution I represent.

  7. I’ve always thought, “What types of faculty workshops do you have?” is a good question. It shows scholarly interest, it’s not on the web, it lets the interviewers talk about their school, and the answer might actually make a difference for the candidate.

  8. Dave Hoffman says:

    Michael R: Yes, we get that question a bunch, and I agree it’s not bad. Though for many schools, it’s mostly knowable if you look at the webpage with enough care.

    Michael F and Diane: Great questions — I love the idea of what’s a good colleague, though it doesn’t signal (cf. diane) much particular interest.

    TJ: I just disagree. Look, at every moment interviews are a two-sided process. It’s not just “will you hire me,” but “we’re thinking about entering into a relationship that might last 40 years – - is this a mutually good idea?” Candidates who get that and ask thoughtful questions help themselves, and they help us decide too.

  9. Ryan Calo says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for initiating this useful thread. Legend has it that Van Halen’s many-page tour rider contained a prohibition on brown M&Ms, on the theory that a venue or production company that got this little detail right would not let the band down on important, technical requirements around sound, lighting, or safety.

    I’d be curious as to everyone’s thoughts on what the brown M&M questions are for law faculty. What seemingly arbitrary question could a candidate ask that got at the cultural or other aspects of a school that a candidate might (or should) care about?

    By the way, I would not ask any of them personally because I prefer a more straightforward approach and because people on hiring committees read this blog! I’m really just curious as to the kinds of values and signals candidates ought be looking for as we navigate the process.

    Thank you,

    Ryan

  10. Mark McKenna says:

    Personally, I’d agree with Dave that bolder questions are good. The problem is that appointments committees could vary significantly on that, so there could be a high risk involved. I think TJ is right for some schools – some schools clearly *are* asking that question to see if you’re sufficiently part of the club to know the right questions to ask, or they seeing if you know some of their institution’s code words (and yes, lots of schools have code words). So candidates need to try to thread the needle here – asking questions that actually have a chance of generating useful information without asking the “wrong” question.

    For my money, I’d want to know what the school sees as its 5 year goals, and what it thinks are its biggest challenges. You’re likely to get a lot of fluff answers to these questions. But that is actually real information – if the school can’t articulate it’s goals or challenges (or won’t disclose them), that tells you a lot.

  11. David Fagundes says:

    I was told by a close advisor who had recently dominated the teaching market this pearl of wisdom: “There is one and only one appropriate question to ask. It’s some variation of ‘What is life like a junior faculty member like at your school,’ with particular attention to support for scholarship.”

    In light of the advice, I did this and think it was basically decent as a no-risk, low-reward strategy. It’s always un-fun to be on the committee and have to field questions that more or less require you to criticize your school (one person told me that their question was “What does the faculty fight about most?” and another candidate asked “What’s the worst thing about your school?”–legit questions, but awkward and tricky enough to create an unpleasant vibe just as the interview’s ending).

  12. Duder says:

    As an actual candidate, who is a bit older than most candidates (and thus has been on your side of the interviewing table in my own career quite a bit), it’s pretty clear you would NOT ask bold questions, and the comments on this thread make clear why. Going into an interview, we have no idea whether or not a particular grouping of faculty members may find a particular question offensive or a turnoff. As this thread makes clear, there’s considerable dissension over whether “risky” questions are appropriate or not. Moreover, all it takes is one faculty member who finds a particular question distasteful to nix us.

    Given all these factors, plus the fact that it’s clear that asking a certain question won’t get you the job but can definitely lose you the job, there’s just very little upside to this and lots of downside.

    My 2 cents.

  13. Orin Kerr says:

    When I was on the appointments committee at my school, the “Do you have any questions for us” question mostly was asked to fill up temporary periods of awkward silence. It fills up time, and during the stock question (“how is your research support?”) and stock answer (“It’s great – like everyone else’s”), the members of the committee have a minute or two to come up with more questions.

  14. Dave Glazier says:

    This chain creates the impression that law school hiring is entirely a one-way street, with the schools being in total control. But the reality is that many good candidates will end up with multiple options, and so some hiring committees (and I know in the two years I served on ours this was true) are sincerely interested in doing some selling of their schools as well as screening candidates. The committee does their colleagues at home no favors if they bring back candidates who aren’t really interested in accepting a position there.

    While it would be naive to think that the opportunity to ask a question is risk-free, it is also a mistake to assume that hiring committees are wholly uninterested in having the opportunity to help the candidate learn more about the school. I thus think a question that shows some familiarity with the individual school (i.e., NOT a canned one like tell me about your faculty workshops) and gives the committee a chance to do a little salesmanship is ideal.

  15. Mike Madison says:

    Ryan’s recollection re: Van Halen is correct. It was no legend; the band really did use the “no brown M&Ms” clause as a “did-they-read-the-details” detector. See the account at Snopes.com.

    Law faculty culture is something that can be difficult to learn about by reading a school’s website, and it’s something that can be difficult to learn about by asking vague or general questions about research support. So I’d solicit examples of things. What kinds of faculty gatherings (not workshops) take place where colleagues talk about their work (as well as other things)? (At some law schools, there is a regular lunch table or faculty lounge conversation among whoever happens to be available, for example.) Has a colleague helped you with a piece of research or writing via a “hallway conversation” or “drop in an open door” conversation? (I once co-authored a paper with a colleague after we happened to sit next to one another at a faculty meeting and started off with the usual “what are you working on?”). What kinds of formal scholarly events take place for faculty during the summer? (At some schools, there are lots of people around and lots of things going on; at some schools, people scatter or stay home.) Not all law schools are parts of research universities, but for schools that are: Can you describe examples of collaboration (scholarly or service-related) among law faculty and faculty at other units of the university?

    One might imagine a counterpart set of “can you describe a few examples” with respect to faculty/student engagement.

    I suspect that these questions and others in the same vein are basically risk-free from the candidate’s standpoint, but potentially (modestly) rewarding. If I were a committee member, I’d take any of these as interesting, non-threatening, and non-naive questions. If I were a candidate, I would listen carefully to the answers, particularly if different committee members take the questions seriously and try to give concrete answers. Nonverbal responses might be telling. And if multiple committee members speak, it would be useful to listen for multiple versions of the same or complementary information, and for inconsistencies in content, perspective, and/or tone.

  16. Beeper says:

    Well, it’s better than the question lateral candidates often get at office intereviews: “Why do you want to come to our school?” The honest answer usually is, “I don’t know if I want to come to your school yet. Your committee called me and asked if I was interested in being considered, and I said I was, but I made no further commitment. So I have some preliminary interest, but it’s YOUR job to persuade ME that I should take an offer if I get one. Whether or not I am actually interested depends on (a) if I actually get an offer (or course); (b) what the terms of the offer are; and (c) what impressions I get of the school from this visit and asking around. But this honest response wouldn’t convey enthusiasm, and faculties hate to get turned down by laterals. So laterals have to pretend that they definitely extremely interested in the school, i.e., they have to lie. So, if you have a lateral candidate coming in, don’t bother with this question.

  17. Rachlinski says:

    “do you have any questions for us?” can usually be translated as the equivalent of “we are now done interviewing you and want to say something polite.” And yet, everything in an interview is best viewed as an opportunity. A good question is specific to the school, asking for more information about some center the school advertises, or some aspect of the school that it is proud of may be a good use of this opportunity. Generic questions (e.g., “how is the research support for untenured faculty”; “is your school looking in any particular areas this year”) constitutes a serviceable polite way of ending the interview, if you can’t think of anything else.

  18. dave hoffman says:

    Good point, jeff.

    I see Brian Leiter doesn’t like my question. So, if you are interviewing with chicago, I wouldn’t ask it! (Topics also to avoid with Brian: empirical legal studies; misranked faculties according to citation counts; the Volokh Conspiracy.)

  19. Brad Smith says:

    “What do you like about most about [your school]?” or “what do you think is best about [your school]” True, it doesn’t convey much research by the candidate, but I have found that using that over the years – long before I went to law school, has always yielded helpful information (even if that is a long pause). It’s a nicer way of asking “why should I come here” and it touches on the 40 year question – from the candidate’s point of view. It provides great opportunity for follow-up questions that can be more substantive. And most people like talking about things that that enjoy.

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