November 17, 2004
So You Want to be a Law Professor: Part V
Posted by Gordon Smith

If you made it through the meatmarket, you are now on the road to various law schools for callback interviews. Until we have Match Day, callback interviews will be the norm for law school hiring. These can vary a lot from school to school, but here are some thoughts.

The anatomy of a callback is pretty simple: office sessions, a job talk, meals, and a tour of the school/city. The law schools you visit will want to impress you with whatever they have to offer (great facilities, great colleagues, nice location, high prestige, etc.). At the same time, they are checking you out, so don't let your guard down. This is, above all, an interview.

The office sessions can be grueling. Here at Wisconsin, we try to mix it up, offering visits with the Dean, with students, and with faculty. Some of the sessions are one-on-one, while the others are one-on-many. In my view, these sessions are the hardest part of every callback interview. The problems are manifold: (1) you are talking about the same things over and over again, so you need to consciously keep your energy level up; (2) people are coming at you with all sorts of agendas, evaluating whether you fit within one group or another at the law school or deciding whether you are capable of teaching this or that class; (3) the sessions require fairly close interaction with many people having different interview styles, thus testing your interpersonal skills in a more demanding fashion than any other part of the job-hunting process; and (4) the sessions are usually relatively short (a half hour is pretty typical), so they may not offer a chance for in-depth discussion of your work or their work.

My big tip for office sessions: make intellectual and personal connections. This is your big opportunity to show the faculty how you can enhance their lives. Be interested in their work, while realizing that this interview is about you. That is, be willing to speak about your work, but look for opportunities to find common interests with the faculty.

At most schools, the job talk is an important feature of the callback. This portion of the interview usually lasts an hour or an hour and a half, and you should expect lots of questions, which will provide you will insight about the quality and character of the faculty. The job talk may be the only opportunity that some faculty members have to see you, and the good news is that you control the topic, about which you should know more than anyone in the room. Most candidates do not have many options for a job talk, so go with whatever you have and make the best of it.

Several things are happening during the job talk. Your hosts are wondering whether you are the sort of person who should be placed in front of students. Dynamic teachers have an obvious advantage here. In addition, the factulty is also trying to get a sense for you research agenda, and your job talk will position you as to subject matter and research trajectory. Finally, people want to see how you respond to questions. They sometimes are looking for substance (does she know her topic?) and sometimes for process (can she reason through a difficult issue on her feet?). The best preparation is simply lots of preparation -- know your topic!

The meals -- here we customarily have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with candidates -- are usually more relaxed, depending on who is attending. All of the usual rules about business meals apply. Be prepared for lots of friendly banter, even if some of it is very purposeful. Among other things, your hosts are trying to assess whether you would be a good colleague, someone they might like to hang around with.

The standard real estate tour is for you, and in many instances, your hosts will simply turn you over to a real estate agent. We decided this year to do "City Tours" instead of real estate tours, and members of the faculty take the lead in displaying Madison.

This last part of the callback raises an important point: this process is not just for the schools, but for you. Once you get your offer, you many need substantial information before making a decision. The callback interview is one important opportunity to gather than information. You will pick up clues about faculty collegiality, school resources, current challenges confronting the school, and so forth.

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