Thursday, April 10, 2008

 

Ask the Administrator: CC Job Interviews

Several readers this week have asked variations on the same question. 'Tis the season, I guess.

Earlier this year, I applied for a faculty job at a community college. I was called for an interview, where I interviewed with a panel of faculty members and the head of the department in which I would work and taught a class in my discipline. I just got called back yesterday for an interview with the dean. The human resources director said that three of the candidates would be interviewing with the dean. I was wondering how this interview might differ from the ones I already did, and if there is anything I should bring, besides my resume and references.

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I have been called to interview at a community college. Can you give me some examples of questions I might encounter?

  1. I've been applying for cc jobs and have been offered three interviews (already went to two). For one of those two, I made it to the executive round. The conversations go well; but I am not hired.... I'm now going on a third interview and wish I knew what would improve my interview skills, or what I'm doing wrong. I know it's not good etiquette to ask the interviewers. Any advice?

    2. Is it the right thing to do, or frowned upon, to write a follow-up thank you after the interview? Advice seems conflicting.

    3. Is there a better/worse time of day to schedule an interview? All of my interviews have been at the end of the day--am wondering if this is not a good thing. My third interview is scheduled for the afternoon on the second day of interviews, since I wasn't sure initially when I would be arriving in town after traveling a good distance--should I ask for a different time?


A few responses leap to mind, but I'm eager to hear from readers on this, too.

I'll pick the low-hanging fruit first. Thank you letters are fine, but not required, and rarely relevant. If they help you sleep better at night because you feel like you did everything you could possibly do, then by all means, go ahead. But I've never seen a candidacy tank for lack of a thank you letter.

If you have any say at all over time of day, my personal leaning – and this isn't based on anything other than personal observation – is that late morning is best. Say, ten-thirty-ish. Usually everybody is well into the swing of the day by that point, but they aren't tired and cranky yet. That said, sometimes you get the full-day treatment, or even the day-and-a-half treatment. As with thank you letters, folks have personal preferences, but I don't see these as deal-breakers.

For the dean's interview, if they want anything beyond vita and references, they'd say so.

And don't assume that two interviews without offers means that you're doing something wrong. In this market, there's nothing unusual about that. We had a position at my campus last year for which I met several finalists, and found two of them utterly extraordinary. One got the job, the other didn't. If the other were to ask what he had done wrong, my honest answer – and that of the department's search committee – would be 'nothing.' The other finalist just fit the existing need a little better. In some disciplines it's so thoroughly an employer's market that any attempt to psych out the search committee will only make you crazy. Do what you do, and do it well; the rest is out of your control. Although the decision will affect you, it's often not really about you.

Questions I'd expect at a community college faculty interview: How do you work with underprepared or undermotivated students? How do you reach students with diverse learning styles in the same class? How have you incorporated technology into your teaching? (In many cases, “I haven't” is not an acceptable answer. Plenty of departments out there resolve the tension between 'incorporating technology' and 'not being bothered' by 'pushing it off on the new kid.' As the prospective new kid, be ready.) What experience do you have working with non-traditional students? Why do you want to work at a community college (as opposed to a four-year college or a university)? Why this one? (“Because I need a job” is not a productive answer.)

I've shifted the questions I ask candidates, based on some fairly hostile feedback I got on the blog a while back. I ask some of the ones above, plus a fairly straightforward “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” (If you have, fess up and explain. Lying on the application or in the interview is grounds for immediate termination, and we do criminal background checks.) Then I shift to a discussion of the college's expectations of tenure-track faculty; the tenure clock and process; the needs of the hiring department; some of the employee benefits (always including parking); and an open invitation for any questions they have. It's usually a good idea to have at least one besides the inevitable “what's the next step in the process?”

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, especially at community colleges: what would you add? What have you seen?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


Comments:
I'm not at a community college, but I'll weigh in on the thank you note thing. I agree that not sending them won't tank a candidate, but I also think that region of the country/institutional culture makes a difference here, and I do think that a *sincere* and *genuine* thank you can, at least at my institution, work in a candidate's favor (especially if we're choosing between two equally strong candidates). So in the midwest and the south, I'd say, thank yous are probably a good idea, while they'd carry less weight on the coasts. An added note: there's no need to write a thank you to every person with whom you've had contact. One letter to the search chair with shout-outs to specific people other than the chair with whom you had a lot of contact is more than adequate. The chair will circulate the thank you.
 
I've had two CC interviews and in both cases I was asked to give specific examples of research or scholarship I've read or workshops or lectures I've participated in and how I incorporated what I learned into my teaching. One group wanted to know what composition theory I'm familiar with. Also, I think every CC in my state is required to ask a question about the candidate's approach to diversity in the classroom. In both cases I was asked to do some writing, which was interesting -- in one case I had to grade a paper and in the other I had to write about how I define college level writing. In one case I had to have a tutoring session with a student, while the committee watched us. That felt pretty strange.
 
We've requested 10 minute teaching demonstrations. That is a tricky thing, because it requires a good deal of time management.

I think the most important thing to remember is that CCs see themselves very differently than 4-years, and the search committee and dean are going to be very attuned to anybody who feels like they are 'slumming' when they come to their interview. Our attitude is that we have plenty of applicants for the job and if you condescend to us, we don't want you.

I also think it is important to prepare a couple of good questions that can't be answered by looking at the college's website.

As for thank you's -- our CC doesn't circulate thank you notes, as the contact between the candidates and the college is supposed to happen via the dean. I'm not sure that is a good thing, but understand that the thank yous may not get to the group.
 
The best advice I received during my interview for my current job was to make sure I somehow conveyed the impression that I would be a good colleague. The college had lots of good candidates who got to the final interview stages, all with strong backgrounds and classroom styles. I guess I somehow did a good job of convincing the rest of the department that they wouldn't want to strangle me after several months of forced association.
 
Hey, what IS the right answer to how you're incorporating technology? I'm the youngest adjunct in my department by about 20 years, and in my "school" too (but only by about 10), and I'm definitely asked constantly "What are you doing with technology?" but by "technology" they mean "powerpoint," and I resist powerpoint because I think it makes professors lazy lecturers (reading off the slides is god-awful) and students lazy note-takers who focus on scrawling down every word on the slide instead of listening. I *do* use powerpoint when I think it's appropriate (lecture involving art, or something with a lot of charts and graphs), but I refuse to convert all my lectures to powerpoint.

The technology I use the most with my students and get the most response from is using a screenname on AOL Instant messenger and making that available to students as a way to consult me. It makes me far more available for them to consult me at hours when they're working (i.e., later in the evening) and I get two or three times the amount of student contact using AIM that I do any other way. However, they all think IMing is either something teenagers do (which would seem to suggest we ought to do it with our teen students) or they don't know what it is, so they don't consider this "use of technology."
 
For the technology question, I would address any of these that you might have used.

1. The creation of websites through WE*bCT, Bl*ckboard or other existing platforms. How you used the site (for discussions, chat, blogs, whiteboard demos etc.), whether or not your tests were on-line, how you dealt with students who just couldn't figure out how to logon.

2. Use of programs to create video learning modules (like C@mtasia Studio or similar programs), especially if you created SCORM compliant objects (and if you don't know what this means, look it up.)

3. Any use you've made of Elluminate Live, WebX or other live interactive software to facilitate group interactions.

4. Any other Web2.0 based technology you've explored including Flikr, wikis, googledocs, blogs outside of your course website, and facebook or other social networking sites.

5. I would also talk about your use of technology to produce universally accessible documents that can be read by screen readers (for dyslexic or blind students) and your willingness to work with publishers to make accessible materials available to your class (if you start far enough ahead, sometimes you can get e-versions of your texts for visually impaired students.) I'd also make this a talk about how you routinely make an effort to make your class accessible to those that have various disabilities.
 
Another tip, do make sure you do a bit of research on the backgrounds of the folks who will be interviewing you. I know we know we're supposed to do this for our interviews with our potential future colleagues but I feel like this advice is less commonly given for admin interviews. Perhaps this is because (and this is just based on my experience) there was a really quick turnaround between when I did my faculty committee interview and when I did my admin level interview so much so that I barely had time to get my suit dry cleaned! But, don't forget to research those administrators who will be interviewing you. By doing a quick bit of Internet research before my cc-admin level job interview (after I'd cleared the faculty/group interview process) I figured out that the administrator had close ties to the cc that my mom had attended when I was a toddler. I was able to stress in my interview that I had literally been involved with ccs more or less my whole life as I was a product of my mom's cc's child development center which was a place near and dear to the administrator's heart. Needless to say, this really warmed things up in the interview.
 
I agree with others that technology is important: especially experience in web-based or web-enhanced classes but anything that shows you are unafraid of technology is good.

I think you should be prepared to discuss how you teach to a socially, economically and ethnically diverse group of students.
 
Having recently interviewed and hired for a faculty position let me say that I think what got me the job so to speak was that I not only talked about how I integrate technology but then showed them during my teaching time. I made sure that when I mentioned podcasting and blackboard I used both in my teaching time! I also went so far as to repeat language in my teaching time that I did in my interview, saying things like, "I have posted the assignment I am handing out on blackboard for easy access to you, there you will find web links to important resources and easy access during the project." I talked a lot about access in my interview so there was some consistency to my message.

Though it is not everyone's strength, if you can, make them laugh. Even if it is with an anecdote that answers a pedagogy question. If you can make 5-10 tired cranky faculty members laugh you can probably get your classroom going to and that says alot about your ability to connect with students.
 
Write down the names of the people on the interviewing committee, and use them. Call them by name.
 
I'm a FT faculty member and been on 3 hiring committees.

I'd second what DD says about, at the final stages, it's really not about you when there are 2-5 roughly equivalently talented applicants vying for that single position.

The apt analogy is to casting a big-time movie or Broadway role, and here's a story:

Long time ago, before she was a star or known at all, Bette Midler auditioned for Mary Magdalene in the Broadway version of Jesus Christ Superstar. She auditioned by singing "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (Mary's big song from the show), and she nailed it: full of soul, yearning, beautifully musical, filled the theater with her voice, et al.

But Bette didn't get the part. She just didn't look right with the Jesus they had cast.

The moral: Sometimes you're just not the right fit, even if you can sing and act like Bette Fucking Midler.

But she did okay, and you will, too, eventually, if you have comparable talent.

Anyway, My interview advice: be able to demonstrate that

- you are a great teacher with that cc's population;
- you are collegial, earnest, and easy to be with;
- you have intellectual energy.

Be prepared for a "scenario" question, one that sketches a scene/conflict in a teaching or tutoring situation and asks what you would do to resolve it. Make damn sure you understand the scenario before beginning your answer.



Bette Midler.
 
Sarah makes a good point about the main interview / teaching demonstration part of the process. If you say you use "multiple strategies", you better show them to us. (We use 15 to 20 minutes, about one module of a typical lesson plan for a lecture.) It better not be ppt pulled straight from the book that bores us to death. It should not be something so flashy that you couldn't prepare it for several different classes every day for the next year.

One of the subgroups in our part of the college has actually banned ppt from the practice class. They felt it sent the message that we wanted content delivery to passive sponges rather than active, engaged learning in our classrooms.
 
I don't hire at a cc but I do hire and the thank-you note does count in my process. It won't tank people, but given two people who have interviewed but only one with a thank-you note, I'm more inclined towards the person who sent the note. I want people who follow up on things and pay attention to details, among other qualities.

The note itself can be quite short like: Thank you for your time in meeting with me. I was really interested to hear about X, since Y experience gives me Z unique insight into it. I hope to hear from you soon.

I agree with Dr. Crazy that it may well be a regional thing.
 
I have only had a phone interview, but I did write down the questions the cc asked.

The ones that were not discipline specific were:
What do you think is the work load of a cc teacher?
What uniqueness can you bring to the college?

I have been an adjunct at a different cc in the same system, with a similar student body, so they probably didn't feel they had to ask some of the other types of questions you mentioned.
 
Thank you letters must be a regional thing, because I've chaired lots of committees and gotten exactly one letter. It was nice, but had zero effect on the result--our process is so tight that there's no way to give credit (or not) for such a thing.

These aren't specific to CCs, but are on my mind as I've just sat through a bunch of interviews. Preview your answers ("First I'll talk about my education, then I'll tell about my experience"). It will tell the committee what to expect and help keep your answer focused. If the question has more than one part--answer both parts! Ask to hear the question again, if you need to. Don't tell the committee repeatedly how nervous you are. We know you're nervous, but we expect you to perform, anyway.

If a question asks what you learned from an experience or what you would do differently, think of something. "I wouldn't do anything differently" doesn't demonstrate much capacity for self-reflection. If you really did accomplish something perfectly, save it for the "major achievement" question and think of something else for "tell us about a challenging situation" question.

More specific to the CC: As Inside the Philosophy Factory suggests, those of us who work at CCs are proud of what we do and don't see our jobs as second-class. There's a certain type of candidate, usually with a recent PhD and no CC experience, who give the impression that they think they're doing us a favor by interviewing. Kiss of death.

If you haven't taught classes at a CC, do some research. I don't know if SLOs are on the radar much at 4-year schools, for example, but at a CC in my state you are almost certain to get some kind of question that deals with outcomes.

If you get the "you didn't get the job" phone call, say thank you anyway and get off the phone--don't ask why or express surprise, frustration, or anger. The administrator making the call will be very grateful for a gracious response and won't forget that you handled your disappointment with class. There could be another job at that same school next year, after all.

And finally, ditto the comments about not getting the job meaning that you did something "wrong." It's a buyer's market in many fields and we just don't have enough jobs for all the fantastic people who interview.
 
I disagree with one of the questioners' comments that it's bad form to ask for feedback after you didn't get a job you interviewed for. As a department chair, I am always willing to talk with a candidate who was interviewed but didn't get the offer. I would rather not receive queries from applicants who weren't interviewed, but if we were interested enough to interview you I am happy to give you some feedback on your performance. So ask away!
 
Followup to Suzi's comment at 7:01 pm:
so they probably didn't feel they had to ask some of the other types of questions you mentioned.

This may vary with region or the laws of a specific state, but we are required to ask the exact same questions of every candidate during an interview. (We can't toss softballs to one candidate and fastballs to another, like in the SNL parody of a Presidential debate, or assume anything.) The only time there is any variability is when we get to the "what questions do you have for us" question.

We don't do phone interviews, but I'd guess that they used only a subset of their questions for that stage of the process.
 
An addition to the good advice here: I just finished up working on a search. The last question in our interview is "Do you have any questions for us?"

An unproductive answer is "No, I really don't because I think I know everything I need to know about the college." An even less productive answer is "No, I can't think of any."

Always have a few good questions to ask - about the college community or the curriculum, NOT necessarily about the process or timeline or pay scale. Engage the committee members as if you are already their colleague. It helps a lot.
 
I am a graduate student who will be finished at the end of this semester. I am applying for a job at a CC and am really excited about the opportunity. Since I am a recent graduate, how can I increase my chances of getting the position over someone who has more work experience at a CC?
 
OK, suppose you've handed in the app. packet, made it through the 1st round (committee) interview, and got called back for the presidential interview. The next day HR calls, asks for more detailed info about your references (e.g., home numbers, times of availability, etc.)and explains that reference checks will take place in the next day and a half or so.

Question: Would you imagine that reference checks are being done for all finalists (there was one search for 2 positions) or just for the two finalists they're thinking about hiring?

Thanks for any insight.

Cheers.
 
I had good experiences at both the faculty interview and administor's interview and was offered the job recently. Before the interview I spent quite some time reading through DD's blog. (just search for "interview" or "teaching demo" should give you plenty to read) The questions that came up during the interviews were within the ballpark. Many thanks to DD for this wonderful service that he provides to the academic world. I was switching from R1 to CC, and there were very few places from which I can find advice. (I was also a CC adjunct, but never had a chance to talk to administrators when I was there)

My two cents for the questioner: if you can pick a time, don't go for the end of the day. I was given the last spot of the day and people clearly looked tired. Fortunately my teaching demo was energetic enough to keep them engaged. DD's suggestions about 10:30-ish sounds good to me.

Thank-you letters: I don't think it hurts to send those. But the trick is to remember who's at the interview and address them to the right persons. I only managed to remember names of about half of the people at the interview. But I sent them anyway and it helped me not think of the interview after it was over.

Since there were not a lot of dicussions about the teaching demo, I thought I would share my experience. If you only have limited time to prepare, I suggest you polish your teaching demo as much as you can, since it tells people more about you as a teacher than the interviews do. In my interviews, each candidate was asked the exact same questions in the same order, and I can tell my responses were not too different from other applicants by observing their bland reaction. But the teaching demos can be vastly different between candidates. Make your teaching demo interactive and enjoyable. It does have an artificial feeling to it, but also gives people a chance to interact with you without the constraints of an interview (in my interviews, it was strictly question and answer and conversation was nonexistent). I practiced it a number of times with my wife, a friend, and a student. Although I analyzed videotapes and carefully timed myself in rehearsals, I still had to cut some materials out to stay within the time limit. So you shouldn't try to pack too much in your demo. Set your pace so that both you and your audience would enjoy it. Although I thought my interivews went really well, my gut feeling is that it's the teaching demo that convinced people of my ability to teach.

Reference check: my referene check was done after the interview, and I think they do it for all finalists. If you have not told your current employer (if you have one), you should do so right after your interview since most likely your employer will be called to verify your employment.

Good luck to everyone who is on CC job market this year! Once again, DD, thank you for creating this wonderful space to benefit so many others. I wish your selfless service will bring your joy and help you reach where you want to be.
 
I just read sarah's comments above and would second what she said: put what you talked about in the interviews into practice, and make people laugh to show you can build rapport with students. In fact, it may be worth thinking of some interview questions as an intro for your teaching demo.
 
So, after reading all of this, what I didn't learn was how is the second interview--the one for the 3 finalists with the Dean--going to be different than the initial one with the search committee?

I made it into the final round and now have a phone interview with the Dean. what can the Dean determine from phone calls with 3 people that the committee could not have already determined through the interview and presentation??
 
I agree with the post above. I have that third Dean/V.P. interview tomorrow and besides the writing sample, I have no idea what they'd like to talk about besides strategic directions and expected outcomes. It's driving me crazy as I have done well in the previous interviews and don't want to lose this position based on a lack of preparation.
 
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