Sunday, July 03, 2011
Do you really want this job?
I have one of the best jobs in the universe. I'm a college faculty member with seniority and tenure, so my job comes with a high degree of security and a sense of doing something worthwhile. I am fortunate indeed, so I understand that other people might be eager to apply to be my colleague. What I do not understand is why so many of these people do such a bad job of applying. Perhaps it would be better not to describe their mistakes. Folks who do not figure it out on their own are probably not good choices for future colleagues.
On the other hand, teachers can't help teaching and we should not discourage people from learning. Here, therefore, is a brief list of suggestions. You may be struck by how obvious they are. Or should be.
Fill out the application
No, really. Fill it out. Don't leave parts of it blank unless they're really supposed to be blank (like the section where you list the misdemeanors on your rap sheet). Sometimes this mistake is made by adjunct faculty members who are applying for a tenure-track position at the school where they already teach. “Oh, they already know me. I'll just hit the highlights.” Sorry. Get a clue. There will be people on the hiring panel who don't know you—like those from outside the department. It's also likely that the screening rubric will explicitly require the application screeners to evaluate the applications strictly on actual content. (“Do not base your rating of an application on personal knowledge.”) Blank spaces earn no points from the screening committee in deciding who gets an interview.
Don't hide information
This is something of an ancillary to the previous point. Hiring committees typically screen dozens of applications. If you put information where it's not expected, it may not be seen. One recent unsuccessful candidate neglected to indicate that he was bilingual on his application—something that would have fit well in the item related to personal experience with academic and cultural diversity. He buried his knowledge of Spanish in a block of miscellaneous skills in a résumé attached to his application. I found it, but I know others did not. That was probably worth a point that most other screeners didn't give him.
Know your references
Rehearse your presentation
So far as I know, every college asks its applicants to give some kind of teaching demonstration. At a university you might conduct a seminar. At a community college you can expect to give a mini-lecture. At my school, interviews typically include a 10- to 15-minute teaching demo. We send out a topic (or short list of topics) for the candidates to prepare. Some ill-advised applicants attempt to squeeze a one-hour lecture into their allotted time, tearing through the material four or five times as fast as they would in class. That's missing the point entirely. We want a representative sample of each candidate's style and skill. The smart candidate will rehearse the presentation a few times to ensure that it flows well and fits the time permitted. I have seen candidates attempt to address their assigned topic off the cuff, with no evident preparation. The results are predictably poor and haphazard. At least two candidates seemed not to remember the exact assignment and needed to be prompted; neither of those candidates advanced to the next round.
It really is all about you
Yes, I know that most of us in the teaching profession are self-sacrificing martyrs who put the interests of others before their own. We're all candidates for sainthood. In an interview for a faculty position, however, you're supposed to persuade us how wonderful you are. During your interview, the focus is indeed on you and on no one else. And here I will make my point: Don't talk about other people. Stay focused on giving the committee a complete picture of your splendid qualifications for the job. Do not try to build yourself up by tearing others down. I have seen more than one instance where a candidate felt it necessary to poor-mouth rival applicants. In one particular case, a part-time faculty member thought that his principal rival for the full-time position was another adjunct instructor. He proceeded to say bad things about his part-time colleagues, building himself up by denigrating their talents. (If only he had known that he was the only part-timer among the finalists.) He didn't get the job.
Don't burn bridges
Good luck, future faculty members.