Friday, December 16, 2011

On applying for jobs

At this time of year, I often get contacted by potential job applicants. It is often quite difficult to gauge how interested I might be in their application, just by looking at their vita or trying to read one of their papers (and who has time to do more than that.) Arranging to meet with them is usually a big hassle for one or the other party, since they are seldom local.

What would help me would be if I saw them give a talk. For me a talk is much more informative than a paper and with much less effort. But how can that happen without the bother of traveling?

Simple: job applicants could simply videotape themselves giving their job talk, and post it on their web page.

Then I could simply download and watch their talk, and in 50 minutes I would have a good idea of their research, of how interested I am in it, and of how good they are at communicating. That would be great for me!

Why not?


  1. Great idea. The only downside I see is that it still is not interactive. Example: I recently had a job interview where I talked with everyone at a company. It went pretty well, except the actual programmers said to their managers afterward, "He doesn't seem to like programming in Java." I didn't say that, but I left that impression, because I'd shown some functional programming examples and talked about copy-paste Java code I'd seen lead to problems. Luckily I had another shot at addressing that impression, and they were satisfied with my response to their response. My point is, I had a full day with live people, and still there was a misunderstanding I was fortunately able to address. But if someone is just presenting on video, it's not very interactive. Wouldn't you like to ask questions of the speaker, hear their responses, and then ask follow-up questions?

    We'll have to work on AI agents that virtually represent our real selves, that can handle the back-and-forth on both sides of the discussion.

    Or how about a game show? Instead of "Who wants to be a millionaire?", which was of little use except in Slumdog Millionaire, we could have "Who wants a CS job?" I'm already wondering who will be my life-line when I get some tricky question exposing my so-so knowledge of complexity classes.

    [Got here via Lance Fortnow's tweet.]

  2. Why stop with a host-controlled game show? Using the GOP debates as a model, invite ten job candidates to campus, put them behind a microphone and let them question each other...

    CS Gladiator Survivors -- coming soon to a department near you.....

  3. Make the talk 20 minutes and you've got something. I can afford to spend an hour each on half a dozen candidates, but not on twenty. Or fifty.

  4. And to respond to Geoff: I would only want to use this as a filtering mechanism, along with the CV, letters, and papers, to decide who to invite to campus. No way would it replace the in-person interview, which typically lasts two full days in my department, for precisely the reasons you describe.

  5. Hiring is done by a committee, which looks at the applicants' materials and decides who to bring in. So why are you evaluating candidates on your own? Are you trying to determine whether you should encourage them to apply?

    The idea of having candidates include a link to a videotaped talk of theirs (as part of their application) is interesting, but for how many applicants would this make a difference? My guess is there would be a small handful of candidates whose talks would hurt them, and no candidates whose talk would help them.

  6. Well, anonymous, looking at applicants' material is done in a bottom-up fashion. It's not as simple as: committee members do all the work all together, and faculty who are not on the committee do nothing. That would be impossible given the number of applications; it just doesn't scale. So things happen in a more distributed fashion. Everyone pitches in a little bit.

    It seems to me that candidates are being helped by providing more information about themselves. When we try to picture the candidate, the more information we have, the easier it is to imagine how they would fit in the department and how they might contribute.

  7. I suggest Skype. It is interactive. I used it to interview applicants for two months and it worked great. I can ask questions in real time. BTW, I can also record the video session and other people can review it later.

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