Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ask the Administrator: How to Apply for a Position that Doesn't Exist?

A new correspondent in a two-academic marriage writes (edited for length):

I have a question regarding how to successfully apply for a position that doesn’t exist.

The husband and I attended a 4-year regional U in our hometown. Hometown is also home to the local cc. After getting his Master’s, the husband taught for department X at the cc as an adjunct while I completed my Master’s. During the following summer, I taught one or two sections of a remedial support subject at the cc under the learning support (not department specific) division. Afterwards, we packed up for Grad School City, Ph.D.’s or bust.

Years later…Husband has completed his Ph.D. and is now in a tenure-track position in department X at a regional U near Grad School City. While ABD, I was also able to land a full-time position at a regional U near Grad School City teaching remedial courses (not a career choice, just the way the cards fell). I am now rapidly approaching completion, and both of us want to head back to our hometown.

Logically, we might consider applying for posted, vacant positions at the 4-year regional U in our hometown, each in our own departments. Without saying too much, there are some external circumstances that render husband an unlikely candidate at that U. As for me, my own field requires some clinical experience before I could get a tenure-track position at the U. I could gain such experiences in hometown, but it would take a while. Our gaze, then, logically turns to the hometown cc.

Unfortunately, there are no posted full-time positions available – only adjunct. Herein lies the problem. Is there a way we could appropriately express our interest(s) in teaching there to those who are in the position of hiring and, if the situation merited, “creating” positions? For that matter, can full-time positions be “created” anymore?

(A long paragraph follows detailing how well they’d fit the cc.)

As you can see, we’re eager to get our feet in the door, at least to the point that the powers-that-be can tell us if they like them or not! But how? Routine procedure calls for an opening and/or posting prior to application. Without that, is there a “proper” way to express interest? Perhaps one that has proven successful in the real world? The husband “knows” – to the extent that he would have said ‘hello’ to them in the hallway upon passing several years ago – a few people in dept. X, though he hasn’t been in contact with them since our move to Grad School City. The same dept. head is still there, though he only met the husband once or twice while working there (adjuncts reported elsewhere). I don’t know anyone in my department there.

Help! Recommendations? Advice? SOS! I wanna go home!


As I understand it, you want to return to your hometown, but your husband doesn’t make an attractive candidate for the local university and the local cc doesn’t have vacancies posted. You’re asking if positions are ever created for people, and if so, how to get them.

In answer to the question about creating positions, yes, but it’s very, very rare. For that to happen, the college (or a particular program) has to be in a pretty spectacular growth mode. I saw it happen at my old school (a for-profit technical college) in the 1990’s when anything connected to technology was hot and enrollments doubled in three years, but I haven’t seen it happen (or heard of it ever happening) at my cc.

Since cc’s are public institutions, the jobs have to be open to the public. That means that they have to be approved by the Board of Trustees (or whatever the local equivalent is), advertised with set criteria, and open to all qualified applicants. That’s not to say that hiring managers (dept. chairs, say) don’t sometimes try to bring in their favorites, and sometimes succeed, but the existence of the job itself has to be approved at high levels. Unless the college is simply rolling in money, that’s unlikely to happen just because someone attractive came along.

I receive unsolicited applications for phantom positions about once a week. I send them to the relevant department chairs for the ‘potential adjunct’ files, and send a “thanks for thinking of us, but we don’t have any openings” letter to the applicant. That’s true regardless of the quality of the applicant. At a public-sector college with limited funding, I couldn’t just hire on the spot even if I wanted to. And when I can hire, I strongly prefer a full, open, national search. Even if I preferred a more Don Corleone-style, HR would veto it.

Depending on the culture of the college (and of the specific departments), who to schmooze (or to what extent schmoozing at all would help) will vary. I find it creepy, myself, though I’d be na├»ve to deny that some people like that sort of thing.

I don’t quite understand the pull of the hometown. It may be perfectly lovely, but so are plenty of other places. The academic job market is national. Narrowing the search to a single town requires unbelievable luck, no matter how qualified you are. Narrowing to a single institution, for two jobs, simultaneously, pretty much requires divine intervention. Far be it from me to dictate to the divine, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. I’d encourage you to broaden your range of acceptable outcomes, in any of several possible ways.

Outside of the big Western states, cc’s are usually specific to individual counties. That means that there are probably neighboring counties with cc’s of their own within reasonable commuting distance; at the very least, I’d look seriously at those. If you can broaden your search from one college to three or four, that can only help.

I’d also recommend looking hard at one or both of you branching into either administrative or quasi-administrative positions, or looking outside academia. I don’t know what your scholarly fields are, so I can’t be very specific there, but positions like writing-center director or assistant/associate dean of whatever can actually be much easier to get than tenure-track faculty positions. (That’s especially true when you get away from the coasts.) The hours are more traditional than a faculty position, but the salary and benefits are comparable. These positions can also be more conducive to work/family balance, since you generally don’t take this work home with you. If the pull of the hometown is about family, this is not a small consideration.

Or you could look at alternatives to the hometown.

If all of this strikes you as true-but-irrelevant, at the very least, don’t advertise your ‘place-bound’ status at your desired cc until it would clearly work to your advantage. It’s easier to ignore adjuncts who clearly can’t or won’t go anywhere else anyway. Loyalty to place helps once a job is actually available – that’s when flight risk is a negative. Until then, you could fall prey to the old ‘why buy the cow when we can get the milk for (almost) free?’ Don’t pledge your troth to an institution before it pledges to you. You could easily get jilted at the altar.

Loyal readers – any thoughts on this one?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.