I don't want to give the impression that we're all horrid to our candidates. In fact, I was so irritated at how horrid that dinner was in part because I don't generally have that sort of experience.
Here's something that happened the next day: When there's an hour or so, especially before the lunch or something, we often have a meet and greet in the lunch room for the candidate. We get campus snacks and coffee, someone hangs out with them, and people come chat. I went in to chat the next day. Other than me, there were Y, and Z in the room, along with the chair and the candidate. (Y and Z have worked really, really hard on a program that should give us some great opportunities to improve our first year comp teaching.) They were chatting about our students or something when I walked in, and a moment after me, X walked in.
And at a lull, X graciously asked if Y and Z had told the candidate about the cool program they are working on. Y beamed. Z smiled and thanked X for the kind words, and then they talked about the program and their hopes. And we talked about the benefits to our comp teaching. And the candidate shared some good stuff from his/her comp experience, and Z dovetailed that into how this program works. It was hopeful and positive, but not BS or unrealistic.
So, we really do some things nicely.
We also make sure to plan a lunch with pre-tenured faculty folks. We all know it's a make or break thing. We all know (or have been) candidates who've had such a lunch and been honestly told that the place is hell and they shouldn't accept a job offer.
But we also know that our pre-tenured folks are treated pretty decently here and it shows in their general happiness. They don't get stomped on in meetings or treated unfairly. Their schedules aren't the worst we can give them, nor are we abusive. Sure, we're not a perfect place, but we mostly treat each other with respect and decency. And we know that our pre-tenure folks can talk about their experiences with performance reviews, mentoring, students, committee work, finding housing and such, and that what they have to say will help a candidate make a good decision about accepting a job offer if we make it.
We also make sure the candidates get down-time before the teaching or job talk stuff. And they get a couple hours before dinner so they can relax a bit. But they do have to be fed. And we're aware that candidates might be concerned that we're pretty small town and so might not have places to eat, and we want to show them that we do, indeed, have some places to eat.
Here's what we're up against (that a candidate is likely to notice quickly): We're a pretty small town in a cold winter climate. Having someone visit during snowy season is tough. It's not easy to get here from just about anywhere. We're not an R1, and we all teach composition most of the time. We have low pay compared to our "peer institutions." Our faculty and student body is overwhelmingly white, and it shouldn't be (because our high schools, for example, have a LOT more diversity).
Here's what we have to offer: a job. A department that treats people pretty decently. Decent benefits. A community where housing's not too expensive, and there's more to do than you might think at first sight. We have a good number of folks who are committed to serving the diverse community better than we do now. We're better than a lot of places at welcoming and caring for families and glbtq folks. We're big enough as a department, school, and community that you're likely to find people to be friends with, even if you don't hang out with everyone.
Part of our interviewing process should be to let the candidate know that we recognize what we're up against, but that we also have things going for us, and that for a lot of people, we're a good department to be part of.