Monday, March 25, 2013


Ask the Administrator: Second Round Interviews

A new correspondent writes:

I am writing about second round interviews at community colleges. I have found many helpful resources online about first round interviews, but I have found fewer resources about second round interviews, and those resources tend to be short on details. Thus, I was hoping that you might be willing to post some questions about second round interviews on your blog. In particular, I would like to solicit feedback on the following questions:
What can candidates expect from second round interviews? What if the first round consisted only of a brief (20-30 minute) interview? Might a teaching demonstration then be expected? Or are those always conducted during the first round? What kinds of questions do search committee members typically ask during second round interviews? What about administrators (e.g., deans)? Do second round interviews usually contain many of the same kinds of questions asked during the first round, or do they tend to be significantly different? What exactly are faculty and administrators looking for when conducting second round interviews beyond "fit"? Or is it often all about "fit?"

I’ll assume that you’re talking about interviews for faculty positions, since your refer to a teaching demonstration.  

First, each institution has its own protocols.  Without giving away anything confidential about my own, I’ll say that the first round is typically where the teaching demos occur.  The first-round search committee includes faculty from the discipline in which the hire is being made, and that’s where we screen for both subject matter competence and a demonstrated ability to teach.  By the time I get the list of second round candidates, I assume that all of them have shown both content knowledge and teaching ability.

Different institutions handle second round interviews differently.  At mine, the second round interview is about 45 minutes to an hour with the VPAA, the dean of the division, the campus affirmative action officer, and the chair of the first round committee.  (Having the chair of the first round committee is helpful, since s/he can address any abrupt changes in answers from the first round.  That person’s presence also helps quell rumors of administrative perfidy in the second round in case the first round committee’s favorite doesn’t win.  Sometimes, people tank second interviews, and having a witness helps.)

In the second round, since basic competence is already established, we’re looking for other things.  Are you aware of the realities of teaching a community college population?  How have you handled, say, students with learning disabilities, or major cultural clashes?  In what way do you see yourself contributing to the college beyond teaching?  How do you work with difficult colleagues?  With students whose academic preparation wasn’t as strong as one might have liked?

The subtext of all of these questions, and the many others that come up, is how well you would wear, over time, as an employee.  Do you show signs of flexibility and reflectiveness, or is it all about you?  Do you want to be a citizen of the college, or are you likelier to just teach and go home?  Is this really where you want to be, or are you settling?  (One whiff of the latter is the kiss of death.)  

On the blogs, I’ve seen “fit” put in scare quotes, and used as if we all know it’s nothing but code for whatever “ism” you object to -- racism, sexism, classism, and the like.  And it can be that.  But it can also be a very real daily reality.  For example, at my previous college, a candidate for a full-time position in music asked if it would be a problem if she took off most of October every year to tour Europe.  Um, yes.  Yes, it would.  As a teaching institution, that’s not how we work.  Somebody who really has the Eastman School in mind wouldn’t be happy here, and that kind of unhappiness is both toxic and contagious.

This may all sound squishy, but folks who’ve been through the drill a few times know that it’s real.  Yes, we want excellent teachers who know what they’re doing; I take that as given.  But we also want people who actually want to be here.

Good luck on your search!  

Wise and worldly readers, I assume that you’ve seen contexts I haven’t.  What have you usually seen or done at second round interviews?

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

To answer your correspondent's main question: If you are interviewing at a CC and they only did a cursory (phone?) interview the first time, you should expect to do a teaching demonstration. However, our candidates all know in advance that they will be teaching during their visit.

We don't do two separate rounds of interviews at my CC, but then we are in "flyover country" rather than a densely populated area like the NE. We can't afford to bring candidates back to campus for a second round, so everything DD describes is done during a single visit. I'm aware that other fields do this differently, but our approach is much like science departments at universities do their searches, only with teaching instead of research as the focus.

IME, the search committee asks questions that include ones like DD lists and some of those are asked at other levels. And, yes, our search chair is usually along on some of those other parts of the interview process.

Finally, I think the faculty are more concerned about "fit" than the administration is.
Off topic, but there's a very interesting higher ed item in today's Wall Street Journal, Chinese College Graduates Play It Safe and Lose Out.

Here's a link, but I believe there's a paywall:
Interesting to hear that any hint that an interviewee for a community college teaching position might actually be “settling” would be an automatic disqualifier for the job. I suppose that there is a lot of that going on today.

Graduate education, especially at the PhD level, has as its primary goal the training of students to do peer-reviewed and publishable research. The faculty members at these research universities are heavily biased toward considering any job other than research at a prestigious university as no job at all, and this attitude gets transferred downward toward their graduate students. I suspect that the professional goal of most new PhDs is to secure a tenure-track position at an R1 university, where they could continue to do their research.

But there are so few of these prestigious jobs available and there are so many new PhDs on the job market that the chances of landing such a job are not really much better than the odds of winning the PowerBall lottery. This means that a newly-minted PhD who wouldn’t ordinarily ever even consider a job that stresses teaching over research is grateful to find any full-time gig at all, even one at a community college where they suspect that they will have to spend all of their time teaching a bunch of ill-prepared and sullen students.

So if you hanker after a research-intensive job and all you can find out there is a teaching gig at a community college, it is best that you carefully hide any sense of disappointment or disillusionment during the interview, and try to convince them that you are really and truly interested in teaching as a full-time career. So you have to be a good lier. Full-time gigs of any sort in higher ed are very hard to find, and even if the one you do find is not ideal, it sure beats adjuncting for the rest of your life.

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