So, to all of those who are braving the Marriott today: welcome to the first step of a profession that can be personally satisfying, enriching, and challenging. I thought I would capture a few thoughts about faculty hiring.
First, it is quite true that faculty hiring has become a bit of a pro-am conflagration, where many of the candidates that appear in the market show up with numerous significant publications and significant teaching experience to add to their already impressive credentials. This is neither a bad thing nor a good thing, but rather a point in time where the hiring market has been unable to absorb many of those candidates in prior years into permanent tenure track position. (We are all hoping for a turn around). The outcome is that there are far more VAPS, Fellows, and other non-traditional academic positions that have been filled over the years, where people sit in waiting for a tenure track position. I would not be honest if I did not admit that they have a significant advantage over people who are coming out of law practice. The presence of mentors on the host institution’s faculty, daily advice about the meat market and how to approach it, as well as time to think about how to make the best impression in a thirty minute screen are just advantages in an already competitive market.
However, even the best placed people blow it from time to time. I recall overhearing from the hallway in the Marriott (the interview room I was going in left the room door cracked) someone in front of me say to the interview team “How do you handle teaching students who are significantly less intellectually equipped than you?” I remember thinking — that was your one question. I don’t know what happened in that person’s case, but I can’t imagine they got the call back. No one (and I mean NO ONE) wants to hear from someone on the outside that their students are less than adequate. Sure we might talk about how they disappoint us in various ways. But we never want to hear an outsider (much less someone we are interviewing to join our community) start that relationship by criticizing a major component of who we are. Inferring that the students you propose to work with are anything other than thoughtful, astute and prepared to wow everyone they come into contact with comes off as arrogant and uninformed — after all, you probably haven’t even met a student from that school yet.
Second, personality matters way more than you think in these processes. If you are someone that the faculty thinks it would like to have around on a daily basis, have big ideas about your area of expertise (whether its property, torts, or legal writing) and seem to be a serious, productive, and positive person, you are in the conversation. The fact that you made it in the room signals that something on your CV made the committee think that there is something about this person that they would like to find out more about. The best you can do is be yourself and play to your strengths. I remember talking with someone who has become a good friend since I started teaching who had interviewed me at the Marriott several years ago. That evening we ended up in a social setting and had a great conversation. Since that time that person has told me that the person at the bar is someone they would have loved to get to know — the one that showed up in the room — the super serious, trying too hard candidate, not so much. On this side, I completely see what he meant.
My last piece of advice relates to after the meat market. Whether you land the job you want, a fellowship or just return to practice, find someone on the inside (preferably on your faculty that you are working with) to be a mentor. Everyone can learn something from someone else. It doesn’t matter if you are a Ph.D. that is several years older, the people in your new institution offer insights into the process and the views of faculty governance that you don’t have access to.
In short — Have fun. Good luck. Be you (unless you are someone that is imminently unlikable — then be someone else).