Thursday, November 10, 2005

Applying for a community college job: Describing your experience

[This is post 5 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

Assume that the faculty reading your application are not familiar with anything you've done. Even if you're applying to a campus you've worked at before, assume that the committee know absolutely nothing about you, the schools you've taught at, the courses you've taught, your style of teaching, or the conferences and committees you've participated in. Include details on all of those items, and anything else the job advertisement asks for, in your application.

Never, ever say anything like “Taught Biology 132 at PU”, as this type of sentence leaves committee members with dozens of questions, including:
  • What is Biology 132?
  • What does PU stand for?
  • How many times did the applicant teach this course?
  • Is this course a lab or lecture course, or both?
  • Is this course aimed at biology majors or non-majors?
  • Did the applicant teach this as an adjunct or as a full-time instructor?
  • Did the applicant teach the entire semester of this course, or did they team-teach it with someone?
  • Did the applicant teach this using someone else's notes and tests, or did the applicant write their own lectures, tests, or other items?
  • Was the applicant involved in any planning meetings for the course? Did the applicant help design the course?
Your job as the applicant is to answer all of these questions, but succinctly and in an easy-to-read format. Yes, this is difficult, and will take a lot of space and time, but doing it successfully will significantly improve your chances at getting an interview.

For instance, let's look at a hypothetical rewrite of the above Biology 132 sentence:
  • Bio 132 (Entomology for majors) – five semesters (10 sections) at Podunk University (CA)
    • Taught four hours lab and two hours lecture per section per week
    • Wrote and implemented four new inquiry-based labs
    • Helped prepare instructor's manual for the lab
    • Trained new instructors in weekly meetings
This doesn't answer all of the questions, but it's significantly better, and other questions (e.g., was the applicant part-time or full-time) could be answered in other portions of the application.

Remember: if you don't include it in your application, the committee won't be able to consider it. So, if you have specific skills that are relevant to the job, be sure to include them, even if it's in a list at the end of your CV. However, don't go into excruciating detail – if I know someone taught an entire lecture and lab series, I can assume that they administered tests, gave lectures, took attendance, and came to class on time. Or, at the very least, I don't want to see bullet points stating all those things over and over again in an application.

When it comes time for the committee to decide who they'll interview, there will almost certainly be disagreement. Thus, one way to look at your CV and cover letter (and application in general) is that you are giving committee members ammunition they can use to defend you if another committee member questions your qualifications (or likes another applicant better than you). If you don't give committee members anything they can use to say, “Yes, this applicant really is better than that one; just look at what she did here ...” then your chances of getting an interview are much, much lower.

If at all possible, give your application (especially your CV) to friends and professional acquaintances and ask them for feedback. Encourage them to be harsh; if they've never sat on a hiring committee, explain what's involved to give them perspective.

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