Tomorrow's Academic Careers
The posting below gives some great advice on preparing for academic job interviews. It is from Case Study 11: A Community College Candidate’s Perspective, by Rickianne Rycraft, associate professor of English, Mt. San Jacinto College in San Jacinto, CA. It is from the book Job Search in Academe: How to Get the Position You Deserve, second edition by Dawn M. Formo and Cheryl Reed. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. https://sty.presswarehouse.com/books/features.aspx. Copyright © 2011 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow’s Academic Careers
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A Community College Candidate’s Perspective
It’s nice to get hired at the first college of your choice. That’s just what happened to me. Before graduating, I worked at a local community college as an intern and, from the beginning, strategized maximizing my marketability in order to win a position there. I worked with the entire full-time faculty in any capacity I could – substituting as well as assisting in the revival of an important program that was floundering, Destino. Once I earned my master’s degree, I was immediately hired into a part-time position at the college and accepted the teaching responsibility for the Destino program. Not very long into that first semester, I was asked to take over the load of a full-time professor who was forced to take an emergency maternity leave. This resulted in a temporary full-time position. The following semester, I was offered another temporary full-time position – this time working full time in the newly established Writing Center. By this time, I had worked and developed relationships with each of the full-time faculty. And it was at this point that a position opened at the college.
Everyone warned me not to get my hopes up – new grad, not enough experience, blah, blah, blah. But as a single head of household, I was pretty desperate to get some job security and medical benefits. In some ways that desperation served me well, but in others … well … I wish I had cared a bit less about winning the position.
A letter of interest was required. I researched online and asked friends for samples. When I finally finished a five-page draft, my friend Suzanne looked at me like I was nuts. “What’s this? Where the heck are you in this letter?” She basically told me to throw it away and start over. So much was borrowed from the researched letters that there was no “Ricki” in the final product. Another friend took a look at the letter and said, “Now is not the time to be self-effacing.” The samples were filed in the trash, and a new letter emerged, focusing on my genuine interest in students and skills in teaching – and specifically teaching at this college. Five pages dwindled to three. Once both friends were satisfied, I knew the letter was done.
The college also required a statement of philosophy, which was trickier to create than the letter of interest. I didn’t know what the heck to do with the thing. So I researched some more. I went back to the theorists I studied when teaching General Education Writing as a grad assistant – the same theorists who taught me how to teach. I chose not to write the statement as an essay but rather as an outline. I reasoned that if the statement was set up in the quick glance format of a C.V., members of the hiring committee would not have to spend too much reading. The outline was concise and to the point, communicating at a glance my pedagogy and how I presented that pedagogy in the classroom.
In addition to the required items, I decided to send samples of lesson plans, assignments, student essays, and student commendations. There was a lot of material, so I organized it into a three-ring binder with a Table of Contents and dividers carefully labeled for easy access. I later learned that while HR might have been impressed with my packet, the extra items were not provided to the hiring committee. The college has a strict hiring process that requires that every applicant must be treated exactly the same. This means that extra items cannot be seen by the hiring committee. Maybe it was a waste of time, maybe not. I knew my packet looked excellent when I submitted it, and that gave me a huge boost of confidence as I moved into the next phase of the hiring process.
Even though I had not yet been offered an interview, once the hiring packet was sent off to HR, I began preparing for the interview process. I researched the college website. I studied the mission statement. I studied the department mission statement and the courses offered. I took nothing for granted. It didn’t matter that I had been working at the college for nearly a year by this time. I wanted to be confident that I knew everything I could know about the place. Then I researched sample interview questions online and prepared answers. I asked friends to come up with more interview questions and answered those as well. My friends even provided mock interviews.
Then the letter came. I was invited for an interview. Candidates were allowed 30 minutes prior to the interview to look over the questions. The interview would last 60 minutes and include a 15-minute teaching demonstration. Fortunately, the teaching demonstration played to my strengths. It needed to be a critical thinking activity for a composition class. But it was to be set in a very artificial setting and with no real students – before the hiring committee. I had two weeks.
In those two weeks, I spent every waking moment in preparation for the interview. I bought a new suit, and new shoes. I got my hair permed. The perm was too tight, and I was self-conscious. Then I prepared my teaching demo. I chose an exercise that had been successful in the classroom – one I felt comfortable with – and practiced it over and over and over until I was sure I could deliver the lesson in 15 minutes. My friends grilled me over and over and over again in mock interviews, including one immediately prior to the interview – a near fatal mistake. By the time I presented for the hiring committee, I was an overprepared, frazzled mess. My colleagues still tease me, reminding me of how nervous I obviously was and telling me I was painful to watch. The interview itself is a fog. The one thing I remember clearly is leaving the interview, walking to my friend Suzanne’s classroom, Suzanne coming out to see how things had gone, and me crying and saying, “Take me out and shoot me now.”
About a week later, I was invited for a second interview with the President and Vice President of Instruction for the college. I was so relieved that I didn’t even bother to prepare. In fact, at the interview I sat relaxed and even joked. The next thing I knew I had the position.
Two things nearly cost me the job. One was being overprepared, and the other was the fact that it meant too much – it meant everything – which created a sort of desperate nervousness I know was conveyed to the committee. What won me the position, I believe, is the groundwork I laid with my colleagues and the college prior to the job opening. I wanted them, and they wanted me. I had demonstrated my capabilities, they were compatible with the needs of the college, and so a less-than-perfect interview did not torpedo my chances.