July 09, 2005
Job Talking
Posted by Christine Hurt

Orin Kerr and Dan Solove are giving great advice at PrawfsBlawg on the sine qua non of the AALS meat market:  the job talk.  Orin invited comments (there are some great ones) and trackbacks, so here is my contribution to the dialogue.

Big Picture Stuff.  First, a job talk is not a job talk is not a job talk.  Schools have different perspectives on both the meaning and the importance of it.  I had interviews with schools in all USNWR tiers, and call backs in the 2nd and 3rd, so I feel as if I saw a spectrum of school cultures.  I felt that at some schools, the job talk was see what kind of an intellectual I was:  how my mind worked, how well I could point/counterpoint with my colleagues, and what sort of things interested me.  At other schools, I felt the job talk was a teaching audition: how well could I hold an audience's attention, how well could I explain complex material to people who were intelligent, yet ignorant of the underlying topic, how well could I organize my thoughts, and how comfortable was I in front of an audience fielding questions?  And, within a faculty, there will be differences of opinion on whether the job talk is a scholarly audition or a teaching audition.  You should think of it as both.

Because of this, faculty at some schools will feel that it is their obligation to ask questions.  They have been asked to judge this moot court round, and they have to put you through your paces.  As others have commented on, some people will have a genuine question, and others will be asking questions either to impress their superiors or to air their particular viewpoints.  Some may just be playing devil's advocate or throwing you a softball.  Just as in moot court, welcome all questions and look like you are tickled pink that a particular question is asked.

However, at other schools, you may not get any questions.  The faculty may think you did a great job, but may have a different sense of what their role there is.  Don't assume that you bombed if there are no questions.  (I got offers at schools with no questions.)

Small Picture Stuff.  If you are practicing law now, and the only public speaking you do is once or twice a year at a ten-minute hearing or leaving phone messages, try to remember public speaking tips.  Don't be distracting.  Don't fiddle with your pen or your water bottle.  Don't rattle the change in your pockets.  Get out from behind the podium.  Walk around.  Be animated.  Remember the law professors you liked, and try to remember what they did in class.  Don't talk too fast.  Definitely practice in front of live people.

Don't read.  Don't take your paper with you to the podium.  Take notes or an outline, but don't take your paper. 

Think about what kind of technology you want.  I have seen PowerPoint job talks and overhead job talks and just standing there job talks.  Do what makes you feel comfortable.  If you've never done PowerPoint before, this may be a bad time.  Find out ahead of time what the technology situation is.  In 2003, I did not use PowerPoint for my job talk, but I did have a one-page outline that I handed out.  This way, in case questioning interrupts the flow of your outline, your audience will know that you were going somewhere.  I've even seen candidates with fairly technical or specialized topics have a handout with an outline and a glossary, which is helpful.  It's also a physical memento to help your audience remember you.

Middle Picture Stuff.  This will sound stupid, but have a conclusion.  I did not realize until after my first job talk that I had no solution to the problem that I painstakingly had reasoned out.  My thesis was that no one thought there was a problem, but see how there is a problem, and see how everything could hit the fan if things continue.  But no solution.  The paper had been accepted, but not yet edited, and my conclusion was "see how bad this problem is?"  Have a solution. 

Be able to state your thesis in two sentences.  (This helps if you have a conclusion.)  Someone will say to you in a morning interview:  "I can't be at your job talk because I have class then.  What is your talk about?"  Be able to succinctly characterize your talk for them.

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to a question posed in the comments at PrawfsBlawg along the lines of whether your job talk should be from a published work or a WIP.  I would suggest the WIP, all things being equal.  People can read your other paper, so this will familiarize them with both works.  Also, it gives the sense that you are continuing your scholarly pursuit and are, in fact, in the middle of something right then.  Also, it gives you more wiggle room during your job talk to say things like "that is a really great angle that I have not thought of before.  I am going to have to think about that and see if I can work that into the paper."

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