Rob Jenkins

Associate Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College

The Community-College Interview: What to Expect

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Image: Good Will Hunting (1997)

Whenever I write about the community-college job search, I’m sure to get several comments saying things like, “My two-year college doesn’t do it that way” or “You should stop generalizing.”

Hello? Of course I’m generalizing when I offer advice on the hiring process. There are more than 1,200 two-year colleges in this country, and I’m trying to help people understand how they work in this series. Every institution does things a little differently, and some do things a lot differently. That said, it’s also clear — based on my 30 years of experience at community colleges, as both a faculty member and administrator at five institutions in four states — that the majority of campuses follow the same general hiring process.

So let’s talk about what you can expect if you’re invited to interview on campus for a full-time teaching position at a community college.

A typical community-college interview has two parts: a Q&A session and a teaching demonstration. At some colleges, there may be other elements to the interview, such as meeting with a dean, department chair, or other members of the faculty. But at most campuses, that won’t be the case — you’ll just meet with the search committee.

(Many community colleges also require candidates to produce a short writing sample on-site — sometimes before the interview, sometimes after your interview. For the writing exercise, you will most likely be put in a room alone with access to a computer and a printer and given a prompt such as, “What is your philosophy of teaching at a community college?”)

If the Q&A portion of the interview seems well-rehearsed, that’s probably because it is. The committee will likely consist of five to seven people — most but not all of them in your discipline. There may or may not be a lower-level administrator, like a department chair, on the committee. At most two-year colleges, the committee will be pretty diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity because our campuses are typically pretty diverse places.

In the Q&A, you will probably be fielding between 10 and 15 questions. Understand that those questions have been carefully crafted beforehand, in consultation with the administration and HR, which is why everything may feel so rehearsed. Someone may ask you a follow-up question, if your answer seems unclear or if it raises an issue not covered by the question, but don’t expect a lot of those. Committee members have almost certainly been warned by HR to stick closely to the script, so as to avoid “inappropriate” questions, and most are happy enough to comply.

I’ve written in more detail elsewhere about the exact nature of the questions — and your potential answers — but to summarize:

  • Expect to be asked about your experience working with underprepared students, your reasons for wanting to teach at a community college, and your familiarity with teaching technology.
  • You may also be asked about your philosophy of teaching, your approach to classroom management, and your experiences working with diverse student populations.
  • Some of the questions might come in the form of case studies: “If such-and-such happened in your classroom, or if you had a student who (did X), what would you do?”

You will probably be given an opportunity to ask questions of your own. My advice: Prepare two or three questions in advance, based on your research into the institution. You may also take notes during the Q&A about questions you’d like to ask at the end. Your questions should demonstrate both your knowledge of the campus (and of community colleges in general) and your enthusiasm for teaching there. Do not ask questions to which the answers can easily be found on the college’s website. And this is not the time to ask about salary or other perks — especially if those perks are nonexistent at most two-year colleges, like graduate-teaching assistants or money for research. You want your questions to indicate genuine curiosity, not appalling ignorance.

After the Q&A, you will probably be asked to give a short teaching demonstration, usually 15-to-20 minutes long. That isn’t something the committee will spring on you at the interview. When the invitation is extended, the committee chair will let you know if a teaching demo is required and will either assign you a topic or ask you to choose one. If no one mentions a teaching demo ahead of time, be sure to ask.

The most important thing to remember about this part of the interview: This is a teaching demo, not a conference presentation. Committee members want to see you in action. They want to know how you might teach if this were a real lesson; they don’t want to be told what you would do if you had more time. That’s the single biggest mistake candidates make in the teaching demo: They keep saying, “I usually do this” or “Normally, I’d do it that way.” Don’t go down that road. Just teach the lesson as if you were actually talking to a classroom full of students.

Don’t attempt to teach an entire lesson in 15-to-20 minutes. Instead, assuming you got to choose your topic, identify a 15-to-20-minute slice of a lesson you’ve taught before, preferably more than once. If you’re assigned a topic, try breaking it down into segments and, again, choose a theme that will take you about 15-to-20 minutes to cover.

Feel free to use technology or interactive learning components — in fact, you probably shouldn’t just lecture. Be careful, though, not to let the interactive activities dominate the demonstration. Committee members want to see plenty of you up in front of the room actually teaching, which is to say lecturing or leading a discussion. That’s the only way they can get a feel for how you would be in front of students.

One last piece of advice: Don’t go over your allotted time. (That may require both some rehearsing and some flexibility on your part.) As I mentioned in my last post, the committee probably has the entire day scheduled, with another candidate already waiting outside the door. (Maybe not literally.) If you want the committee to look favorably on you as a candidate — and you do — screwing up their schedule or lengthening an already long day is not the best strategy.

As noted, I’ve been generalizing here. So if your community college handles the interview process differently from what I’ve described, by all means let readers know that in the comments section below. Be specific about what exactly is different, and how. That’s good information that readers need to consider as they formulate their approach to the community-college job search.

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