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.


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.