Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Applying for a community college job: The interview

[This is post 8 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.]

Interviews are a much more transparent process than the rest of the job application ordeal, and thus I won't go into as much detail on them in this series. While interview styles and details will vary with each college, it's relatively easy to figure out what will happen in the interview (people will ask you questions, you'll answer them), and academic interviews share many traits with other kinds of job interviews.

However, there are some things to keep in mind when planning for a community college job interview. First, you will almost certainly be interviewed by the entire committee at once, and the committee will probably be working from a list of scripted questions. There will probably be a relatively short time limit (~1 hour), and you will be expected to give a short teaching demonstration on a topic the committee has given you in advance (usually in the letter informing you of the interview).

The primary advice I have for job interviews can be summed up in one word: prepare. Go back over the job ad, and read the letter inviting you to the interview, and figure out exactly what they're looking for. As with the application screening process, the interview will likely be looking to see if the applicants meet the minimum and desirable qualifications, and at the end will be ranking candidates on how well they fulfill all of the desirable and minimum qualifications. So, when you're interviewing, try to discuss how you meet the desired qualifications; the only way you can do this is to have studied the application materials thoroughly before the interview.

Look through the interview announcement and see if the committee has given you any clues about what will be covered in the interview. If they've given you a topic on which to do a lecture, prepare as much as you can for that lecture. Be sure that your lecture attempts to address the entire topic (or make it clear why you're not addressing the entire topic, e.g., time constraints), and for goodness's sake be certain that everything in your lecture is accurate. The committee will be evaluating both your teaching skills and your technical knowledge of the field during your lecture; don't include anything that lets them rank you badly.

The committee may also send you questions, or hints about questions, ahead of time. If so, prepare as much as possible for these. For instance, when I was applying for jobs, one campus I got an interview at told me (in their letter) that they were going to ask a question about how I would design a lecture and lab sequence for a particular course. I created two different syllabi that demonstrated different approaches I could take to teaching the course, complete with sixteen-week lab topic outlines, and brought copies of them to the interview. I got the job (while I can't attribute that solely to these syllabi, I'm sure they helped).

I'd also recommend researching the members of the hiring committee. If the campus doesn't tell you who the committee members are, ask (the same goes for any other questions you have – ask!) The worst they'll say is that they can't tell you. Once you find out the committee members' names (or if you can't figure out their names, just assume it's the entire department), learn basic details about them. If you're low on time, you can ignore this (it is admittedly a low priority), but walking into the interview room knowing who you're going to face, and what they do, can only help. For instance, if you know the committee is formed solely of ecologists, you know to talk about ecology a lot. And, at the very least, you'll have an easier time remembering people's names.

Finally, during the interview, try to speak primarily about your own experiences. Try to avoid overly broad generalities and absolute statements (e.g., “Dissections are never useful,” or “Non-majors textbooks are always low-quality,”) primarily because you may offend faculty members who have spent a long time working on the exact things you are criticizing (e.g., what if a committee member who primarily uses dissections has just authored a non-majors textbook?) Be positive with your discussions, not negative. If you don't like dissections, talk about your research finding that students learn more via your cool, new non-dissection teaching technique than they do from dissections. If you don't like non-majors books, say that the books you've used haven't been perfect, and so instead you've written your own mini-textbook and distributed it as handouts to your students.

Once you've gotten though the first interview and have been invited to a second interview, you're on your own. I've never sat in on one of those as a hiring-committee member, so can't tell you much, other than that it seems as though the interviews are much more free-flowing. It also couldn't hurt to research some of the campus's administrative details (enrollment trends, long-term growth plans, budgets, etc.), since that's what the higher-level administration works with on a daily basis.

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