A new trend I’ve noticed is that you write a recommendation for a PhD student, and then the school calls you with a list of questions to answer. They go down the list of questions mechanically and you just answer them out loud. Presumably the nice faculty member on the other side of the phone takes notes on what you say, probably including the most significant phrases.
I also have a weird hiring experience to share. When I was interviewing for academic positions, prospective employers would phone people from my department and ask questions as to what my personality is like and whether I’m a nice person.
That was a big department and they called a couple of people I’d had no interactions with. Those kind colleagues did all they could to sell me to the prospective employers pretty much sight unseen.
It was very weird to be approached by strangers who’d say, “I’m sorry, are you Clarissa? I was interviewed about you today. I said you had a great personality. I don’t know you, but I’m guessing your personality is good.”
Then, I’d start trying to prove to the kind stranger that I did, in fact, have a great personality.
So the lesson of the story is: make sure that everybody at your current department is aware of you and can say something positive about your personality.