I am hereby answering the question of the hour/day/year: how should you address search committee members in an interview?
You know of course that I am continually railing against job candidates acting like grad students. And addressing search committee members as “Dr.” or “Professor” XXX runs the clear risk of making you sound like a graduate student.
However, at the same time, at a preliminary conference interview, launching directly into a first name basis is a bit awkward, and may feel presumptuous.
I have given this issue a lot of thought, and revised my thinking over time. Initially, I believed that all job candidates should refer to search committee members by their first names exclusively, to avoid the ‘stink of grad student.’
However, upon further reflection, I am concerned that this could backfire by appearing, as I say above, presumptuous and premature.
My current thinking is this (and I’d appreciate hearing other viewpoints, particularly from current search committee members): If you have been in touch by email with any of the search committee members, and they have signed their emails with first name only, that is an invitation to use the first name. Use it.
For search committee members you’re meeting for the first time, when directly addressing someone on a search committee, at the stage of a preliminary conference or skype or phone interview, use “Dr. XXX.” When REFERRING to another faculty member in such an interview, refer to them by their first and last names only (“I would look forward to collaborating with Margaret Allan on a course on globalization”).
[UPDATE 1/13/13: Pursuant to the exchange below with “Stephanie” in the comment stream, I am revising this advice. New advice is: In general, use first names. “Dr.” is generally despised by humanities scholars, and “Professor” makes you sound too much like a graduate student. However, BE SMART! Be alert and attentive to social cues. Read the landscape. There are always regional and institutional distinctions that should be attended to, that make any blanket rule problematic. Use your social skills to intuit the best course of action, but when in doubt, use first names. You’re a colleague; act like it.]
Then, when and if you arrive for a campus visit, directly address faculty members you meet as well as search committee members by their first names. Continue to refer to other faculty members not present by their first and last names.
Deans should be referred to and addressed as “Dean XXX,” until you are invited to do otherwise.
When you use the “Dr. XXX” mode I describe above, it is also important HOW you say it. Academics routinely use “Dr.” or “Prof.” for one another as a term of professional courtesy, and it communicates courtesy without signifying any status subordination on the part of the speaker. It is important that you grasp that, and internalize it, as well. You can say “Dr. XXX” and sound like a graduate student supplicant, and you can say “Dr. XXXX” and sound like a legitimate future colleague…it depends on how you say it. Attend to the other issues of tone and body language that I address in many blog posts here, particularly the Six Ways You’re Acting Like a Grad Student post, and channel your dignified and professorial inner professor when speaking.