Friday, December 03, 2010

When Internal Adjuncts Apply

In response to Wednesday’s 'helpful hints' post, several people asked about special tips for adjuncts applying for full-time jobs at the college where they already teach.

Internal candidates have been on a winning streak lately at my college, though there are no guarantees. Are the rules different for them?

No, but some of them think they are. That’s how good adjuncts can torpedo their own candidacies.

Don’t approach the interview with the attitude, either stated or implied, that we already know you and you have nothing left to prove. I’ve seen this a few times, and it’s always the kiss of death. The interview is a performance. It’s a chance for us to see what you can do when you have our undivided attention. If you can’t even take an interview seriously, the message you send is either an overweening sense of entitlement -- no thanks -- or basic cluelessness.

References can also be an issue for longtime adjuncts. If your references are primarily from the department to which you’re applying, you’re hurting yourself. I’ve had candidates list members of the search committee as references, which is a glaring conflict of interest. Even if they aren’t on the committee, members of the home department often find the role ambiguous at best. There’s also an obvious issue of inbreeding. Even if you’ve been adjuncting primarily at one place for the last ten years, you’ll need references from other places.

Since full-time lines are rare, colleges will often try to use them to bring something new to the table. That can put adjuncts at a disadvantage, since they were usually hired to fill already-existing slots. There are exceptions to that, of course, but know that you may be competing with people who’ve done things elsewhere that have not been done here, and that we might want here. To the extent that you can show that you have more in your bag of tricks than you’ve been asked to share thus far, you’ll be in better shape.

The role of full-time faculty is different from the role of adjunct faculty. In the full-time role, there’s an expectation of college citizenship, which involves participation in committees and shared governance. There’s a fuzzy but real expectation of a sense of responsibility for a program. Since full-time lines are so rare, they’re often used to add to or transform a program, rather than simply to do more of the same. Be prepared to address how you’ll step into those roles.

Finally, and I know this is hard, think about how you’d handle it if you don’t get the job. This is a real risk. We’ve had cases locally in which a half-dozen adjuncts applied for the same job; even with one of them winning, five lost. Most handle it well, at least in public, but some choose to go ballistic. “I”m good enough to teach, but not good enough to be full-time?” The fallacy in that statement is that the decision is not about you in isolation. It’s about you as compared to other candidates. The obligation on the hiring end is to choose the person who best fits the needs of the college at the time. In getting the adjunct gig, you may have been up against one other person; in going for the full-time job, you may have been up against fifty or more. I know that sucks, and it isn’t much comfort, but it’s true.

I don’t pretend for a minute that the current adjunct system is fair, just, or reasonable. It isn’t, and I’ve been saying so in public for years. But structural critique is one thing, and job search tips are another.

Wise and worldly readers, do you have any special tips for adjuncts applying at their home institutions?