Rob Jenkins

Associate Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College

The Community-College Interview: The Process

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Image: The Avengers -- Season 1, Episode 1 (1961)

If you applied last fall for a full-time faculty position at a community college, you know by now that you won’t be having a conference interview.

Nowadays, plenty of institutions, including many large research universities, have moved away from the conference interview as the standard method of initially screening candidates. But few if any two-year colleges have ever conducted conference interviews — for a variety of reasons. One reason is financial considerations but another is that, as perceived “bottom feeders,” we’re only semi-welcome at those large disciplinary conferences, anyway.

As a candidate this year for a community-college job, you’ve probably also figured out that our hiring calendar tends to be a little different from that of four-year campuses. At this point, you may be wondering whether you’ll have any kind of interview at all, because you applied three months ago and still haven’t heard a word. Your fears on that front are understandable. But please understand, too, that it’s completely normal not to have heard anything from a community college at this relatively early (for us) stage in the hiring process.

Chances are, your application has been sitting in a file, either actual or virtual, all this time. Now that faculty have returned from the holidays and gotten those hectic first weeks of the term behind them, the search process is beginning to move forward — however ponderously. Committees are being formed. Meetings are being scheduled. Soon people will start looking at application files and making decisions about whom to interview. But don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything for at least another month.

If you haven’t received an interview invitation by the end of March, at the latest, you probably are not being considered. But even that isn’t necessarily the final word. As I wrote in a Vitae post last summer: For a variety of reasons — mostly financial and bureaucratic — the faculty hiring process at community colleges can actually extend well into the summer. That’s unusual, perhaps, but not unheard of.

The sad fact is that you may never hear anything from some of the colleges to which you applied. In that regard, community colleges are no different from other organizations. Most will write you at some point to say “thanks but no thanks.” But some of them won’t, leaving you to wonder if your application was somehow transported into another dimension.

If you are invited to interview, you can expect that there will probably be at least two rounds — a telephone or Skype session followed, for those who make the cut, by a campus visit. That approach is increasingly more common at all levels of higher education, not only as a cost-saving measure (searches are extremely expensive) but also as a way of starting with a larger pool before winnowing it down. In fact, even at some research universities, the Skype interview has begun to replace the conference interview as the first-level of screening, and many two-year colleges have followed suit.

(For those who are asked to interview via Skype, which can be pretty intimidating, there’s an excellent advice column on the subject by Diane M. Fennig here.)

Speaking of cost, if and when you are invited for a campus interview in another part of the country, don’t assume the college will pay all your expenses. It will probably give you some money to put toward travel — a lump sum for each out-of-town candidate is not uncommon. And it might even pick up the entire tab. But don’t assume that will be the case, because some colleges don’t offer to defray travel expenses at all. You must ask, awkward as that may feel. If the college will not pay your travel expenses — or if the amount you’re offered falls short of your expenses — then you’ll have to make a decision on whether to dip into your own bank account, based on how important the job is to you and what you believe are your chances of landing it.

The nature of the interview itself might also surprise you. Unlike many four-year institutions, most community colleges do not devote an entire day to interviewing each candidate — taking you to lunch, meeting different people, having you “perform” in front of various groups, touring the campus.

Instead, community-college interviews have more of a “cattle call” feel. The committee will probably interview at least four or five people on the same day, giving each candidate at most 90 minutes and perhaps only an hour. For that reason — because committee members can become a bit glassy-eyed after three or four consecutive interviews — I recommend that, when the call comes offering you an interview, you take the earliest time slot available.

During your hour or 90 minutes, committee members will probably ask you a series of questions and then observe as you give a 15-to-20 minute teaching demonstration. I’ll talk more about those elements of the interview in my next post.


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