The job market is overwhelmingly about selling oneself, as the yearly dust-ups over such issues as appropriate job-candidate dress and comportment reveal. (And for the record, I think the advice to "just be yourself! if they don't like the real you you're better off not working there!" is only slightly more stupid than the insistence that, if you don't wear a tie/heels and an anonymous, conservative suit, then you'll never in a million years get a job anywhere ever.) But this year, as my department is in the midst of its blitz of candidate visits, I've been thinking harder about what it means for an institution to try to sell itself to a candidate.
My first few years on the job, I was excited when we had job candidates to campus and I made an effort to meet all of them, but I was mostly interested in checking them out. I wanted a good colleague, teacher, and scholar (and possibly a friend), and though I understood myself to be performing a service for or fulfilling an obligation to my department, I didn't really think of myself as representing the department in any meaningful way: we needed bodies in the room at the candidate's talk and at dinner, and it was good for some of those bodies to belong to friendly junior faculty, but no one needed for me, specifically, to be there. I went mostly because it was fun to meet the candidates, to have a vote, and to get a fancy meal on the department's dime.
Now I'm older and busier and everything feels like work. I don't particularly want the fancy meal; I'd rather be at home in my pyjamas. I don't really need to meet the candidates; we have a talented roster, I trust my colleagues, and anyone we hire I'll wind up meeting soon enough. But I'm also on the verge of tenure, I expect to be here for a while, and somewhere along the line I decided that what I did, personally, kinda did matter. Though I still identify strongly with the job candidate, I get that she won't particularly identify with me: she'll see me as her senior (usually), and as a reflection of my department's character and personality (definitely).
So I'm rousing myself at 7.30 a.m. and driving to campus every day we have a candidate visiting, making time for each one's job talk and teaching demo and either lunch or dinner. I'm donning a suit (to communicate respect for the candidate and the general professionalism of the department), I'm asking encouraging questions, and I'm doing my damnedest, through my interactions with my colleagues, to show as well as tell our candidates that we're a happy and collegial place where friendships extend outside of the office. I want our candidates to see how intellectually engaged we are, and how interested in other people's work. I want for our students to perform well, and for Cha-Cha City to sound and look appealing, and for the campus, ideally, not to be covered in a sheet of ice.
And in fact I'm not sure why having the department come off well matters so very much to me. The job market is terrible, our list is deep, and though we don't always get our our first-choice candidate we've never had a search fail and have always wound up with someone wonderful.
But I guess I wish to extend the sort of kindness to our candidates that the department extended to me on my visit--and, more selfishly, I wish for the people whom we don't hire or who don't accept our offers (and perhaps, by extension, their colleagues and friends and advisors) to have a warm impression of our department. There's nothing bad about good press.