Monday, October 03, 2005


Tips for Faculty Job Candidates

‘Tis the season for faculty job seekers to make their rounds, so it seems appropriate to share a few pieces of advice from this side of the desk. Keep in mind, I’m writing from a community college perspective; the rules for research universities are almost certainly different. These suggestions are for instructor or assistant professor positions – tomorrow, I’ll do an entry on administrative positions.

- If you’re applying for a teaching position at a community college, don’t spend the entire cover letter describing your dissertation. We care that it’s done, but we don’t care that much about the content. If you spend the entire letter describing your research, we’ll assume that you don’t really want to work at a cc, and move to the next applicant.

- Think about the order of items on your c.v. Savvy applicants at this level place teaching experience before publications. To detail your publications lovingly while offering a perfunctory list of courses taught tells us where your heart is.

- Especially in your cover letter, find ways to portray yourself as a good colleague. Did you pick up the administrative tasks nobody else wanted? Have you done committee work? Have you picked up night classes and intro courses? Do you play well with others?

- If your graduate program is Ivy or otherwise super-prestigious, you have to convince us that you actually want to work here. Have you adjuncted at a cc before? Have you worked with non-traditional students before? Have you worked with students whose college skills lack polish?

Grad school trains people to think of the market as some sort of linear meritocracy, with a vague notion of an old-boy network or system of connections operating on the margins. It’s just not true. It’s not the NFL draft, with lower-level institutions getting the draft picks that the top schools passed over. What we want, and what R1’s want, are different. I don’t want the second-best researcher; I want the best teacher. Apply accordingly.

Last year we had a faculty search in which we got ridiculously strong applications from ridiculously prestigious institutions, and we promptly relegated many of those applications to the recycling bin. From the letters, it was abundantly clear that we were little more than a port in a storm, and that the applicants would deign to work here only until something they really wanted came along. No, thanks. I want people who want to work here. That may seem cold, but if you think about it from the employer’s perspective, it makes perfect sense.

Finally, keep in mind that the market, such as it is, is glutted, irrational, and largely random. It’s not just about you. Don’t let despair become self-doubt.

Good luck out there!

DD, I was with you right until the end. I would suggest that it's just the opposite: self-doubt leads to despair. Such has been my experience out there, anyway. :-)
Here's some more advice--many institutions have different tiers of academic jobs--e.g. tenure track jobs in which research is the primary consideration, and fixed-term jobs focused on teaching. If you get rejected from a job on the tenure-track, don't use the same letter to apply for the fixed-term teaching position (and, especially, don't use the same letter a THIRD time, only laced with sarcastic innuendo to the effect that you realise that the search must be rigged in some way, since you have not been short-listed before).

Also, moving from category A from category B in such a situation is almost impossible. Don't view category B as a "foot in the door." It's not. (I don't pretend that this is fair, it isn't)
And feeling torn might be normal. Just as liking different kinds of jobs. My ideal job is one where I am expected to keep up in my field and have time during the academic year to do some research with an expectation of *some* publication. It's also a job where my teaching and colegiality are the most important criteria for tenure. The two are not generally found at the same place, although I turned down a one-year position at one that seemed to be that way.

It's a tough call. And if you think taking a CC job is 'settling,' you probably won't be happy. But if you think of it as a valid choice, where you will be giving up (or making difficult) active scholarly participation for the most part in exchange for quicker tenure and a focus on teaching and on providing a solid education to people who might otherwise not have the opportunity, it's a great gig. And with many CCs now carrying satellite campuses of 4-years on their sites, there are increasing opportunities to teach an occasional upper division class, I hear.

I think there are plenty of people who get hired where they aren't suited. And I do think that CC faculty make sacrifices that really aren't fair, in terms of what they provide to society. But so do people in lots of other public service positions. On a daily basis, I love my job. I will apply for the TT position that my colleagues want me to apply for. I really like my colleagues, my students really do bring me joy every day, the campus is great, the librarians get me obscure volumes from R1s and are thrilled to do it, my chair helps to work my schedule and number of preps to make sure I can make myself a good candidate on the market this year in ways I hadn't thought to request ...

I'd be really happy if I stayed. But 15 class hours a week is really hard. Especially for the money. I will never be able to buy a house, or even a condo, where I teach, unless I marry again. I will always have to work twice as hard as my colleagues at four years if I want to remain engaged in the wider academic world. So I do wonder 'what if?' And in talking to most of my CC colleagues at three different CCs, I have to say that the best of them -- tenured faculty who are getting the teaching awards and are campus leaders and whose students move on successfully, the ones who seem most happy in what they do -- they also ask 'what if'?

Makes you wonder about the system, I guess.
Excellent advise...

I was on my first CC hiring committee last spring.

I'd add that you should be sure to actually read the job announcement and address the areas suggested... Also, make sure you get all the parts of your application in.
Thx for the info.

Steve @
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