A Compelling Plot

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2 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    Interesting question. I think it depends on whether you are interviewing an entry-level or a lateral.

    If you’re interviewing a lateral, that person has developed a proven record of scholarship. They have written a lot. Most people who write a lot will have some themes to their writing, whether they recognize it or not: Over time they will gravitate to certain problems or certain approaches. All of their work may not fit the framework, but some of it will. So you expect a lateral to have an answer to the question.

    On the other hand, an entry-level candidate is probably too early in his or her career to have a real sense of the real answer. They can make something up to seem like they have a theme, but they often won’t yet have one.

  2. Adam Benforado says:

    Orin, I think you’re right that the usefulness of the question may turn on whether it is directed at an entry-level candidate or a lateral. And it’s interesting to consider whether an entry-level person coming in with two or three pieces can really be expected to have a “theme.” In most cases, I have my doubts.

    I guess what I’m really concerned about is that I have a sense that it hurts a candidate in the job market to have broad interests and have tried different things in life.

    Take two candidates who are identical in every way (they both graduated from top schools, have two articles placed in good journals on criminal procedure, and have worked three years in the DA’s office). However, imagine that, in addition, candidate one has a master’s degree in international relations or has worked in a corporate law firm doing securities regulation or has written a screenplay that was made into a well-received independent film.

    My sense is that although these things can make a candidate “stand out,” they often end up hurting a person when it comes to being offered a position because faculties are attracted to consistent narratives. They see the “unused/extra” degree and the time spent on the screenplay as warning signs of lack of seriousness. (This, of course, ties into Dave’s recent blogging on the potential benefits of pursuing a PhD).