Rob Jenkins

Associate Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College

The Community-College Interview: The Art of the Follow-Up

Full jerrymaguire3

Image: Jerry Maguire (1996)

If you’ve had a recent interview for a full-time faculty position at a two-year college, and you haven’t heard anything yet — which you probably haven’t — you might be wondering if you should follow up. Yes, you definitely should. But you’re no doubt also wondering when and how to do that. And the answer is: That depends.

If your interview took place within the last two to three weeks and you haven’t sent a thank-you note to members of the search committee, I recommend you do so right away. That note should be brief — just a handful of sentences thanking them for interviewing you, telling them how impressed you were with the institution, reiterating your interest in the job (without sounding too desperate), and stating that you look forward to hearing from the college soon.

Handwritten notes on stationary are always nice — assuming your handwriting is legible — but emails are acceptable. The note should be addressed to the chair of the search-committee by name; don’t worry about writing each of the members separately. Ask the chair to share the note: “Please convey my appreciation to the other members of your committee, as well.”

Speaking as someone who has served on more than a dozen search committees, I can tell you that thank-you notes are — well, I wouldn’t exactly say “rare,” but they are certainly not the norm. Sending a note will solidify the committee’s favorable impression of you and set you apart from most other candidates. Of course, even the nicest note won’t guarantee you the job, but it’s well worth the 20 to 30 minutes you’ll spend composing it.

Perhaps you’ve sent a thank-you note already, several more weeks have passed, and you still haven’t heard anything. You’re probably wondering, “Should I check in with the committee? And at what point?” First, understand that it’s not at all unusual for that much time to go by before you hear back. As I wrote last summer, the hiring process at two-year colleges can sometimes take months. That’s not the norm, but it’s not at all uncommon, either.

That said, if a month has passed since your interview without a word from the committee, you have every right to follow up with a second email to the chair. Keep it brief. Ask politely when you can expect to hear something. Once again, thank the committee for the interview and express your interest in the position (try not to sound desperate).

If another month goes by and still nothing, a third email is justified. After that if the response is silence, you can reasonably assume: (a) You didn’t get the job and (b) the college needs a lesson in basic manners.(I do know of candidates who were offered a job long after they’d given up hope of ever hearing from the college; the reasons for that are complicated.) Most colleges will at some point send you a form letter letting you know that you weren’t chosen. I find it a sad state of affairs when they don’t. Perhaps you can console yourself with the thought that you probably don’t want to work at there, anyway. They probably treat their employees the same way they treat their job applicants.

What if you do receive one of those “thanks but no thanks” letters?

Here is where the last bit of follow-up comes in. It’s very difficult to do after this — especially if your hopes have been dashed — but I believe you should send the search-committee chair one final email, thanking the committee members again for interviewing you, telling them how impressed you were with the institution, expressing your disappointment (in a very understated way), and wishing them the best moving forward.

Even if you have to bite your palm to keep from screaming in frustration, send this last note. Why? Because it’s always a good idea to keep doors open, even slightly, where possible. That institution might well conduct another search next year, and you might be on the market again.

Remember, academe is a very small world. You never know who those committee members know, or when you might run into them again down the road. It’s to your advantage to leave the best possible impression — even if what you really want to do is egg their cars.

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