Rob Jenkins

Associate Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College

Community College FAQ: The Application

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Image: Applicants for employment in the Lockheed plant, Rondal Partridge, Photographer (NARA)

When I speak to graduate students about applying to community colleges, the question I’m invariably asked is, “What do I send in with my application?” Sure, the job ad only asks for a CV and a cover letter but, applicants wonder, “Shouldn’t I also include a teaching statement? A sample course syllabus? Maybe a copy of a published or in-progress manuscript?”

In short: No, you shouldn’t send any of those things — unless the ad specifically asks for them.

That’s a basic rule of thumb. The reason is simple: Search committee members already have to wade through a flood of documents from dozens (if not hundreds) of applicants. They won’t thank you for making their job more difficult and time-consuming by sending in materials they didn’t request.

Of course the problem is that some job ads do ask for a teaching statement while others don’t. And if you feel pretty good about your teaching statement, you probably want to add it to your application. Resist the temptation. There’s another way to make such documents accessible to potential employers without risking their ire, and I’ll talk about that in a moment.

But first I want to examine the most common elements of an application, along with some of the other items that a hiring committee at a two-year college might ask for.

Application form. Almost any state job these days requires you to fill out an application, usually online. In some cases, these are standard state-employment forms that are not specific to higher education, which can make completing them feel a little awkward — like when they ask if you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) or how many words per minute you type.

You may also find this form somewhat redundant, in that it asks for much the same basic information (your education history, previous employers, etc.) that’s already on your CV. For that reason, applicants may be tempted to treat the state form lightly, giving incomplete or inaccurate answers or even skipping some questions entirely.

Don’t. Most application forms actually do ask for information that’s not on your CV — such as why you’re leaving your current job. Your answers may well be significant to someone in HR if not to committee members. Filling out the form accurately, honestly, and thoroughly —however much it feels like a waste of time — will reflect well on you as a candidate.

Cover letter. Like nearly all job listings, community-college ads usually call for a cover letter. I’ve written extensively about the community college cover letter before, and I won’t rehash that advice in this space. Suffice it to say, this letter is your best opportunity to portray yourself to the committee as an attractive candidate. Don’t waste it.

Remember, the operative word in this phrase is “letter,” not “cover.” It’s not just a short note attached to your application, saying in essence, “Please note the enclosed.” At the same time, this particular letter is for a job at a community college, not at a research university. A three-page discussion of your dissertation is not only inappropriate in this context but will almost certainly get your entire application tossed onto the slush pile.

Curriculum Vitae. As I noted in this post, I’ve changed my view on CVs over the past decade. I used to think a résumé was sufficient for most community-college jobs, but I now believe a true CV is probably necessary (even if the ad uses the word résumé).

I also used to think that, while applicants should tailor their cover letters to each institution, they could get by with using the same CV. Now I believe the CV that accompanies your application to a two-year college should be a little different from the CV you send to a four-year campus.

Other materials. In addition to those three standard documents, some community college ask for additional materials. Here are some of the more common items requested:

  • Teaching statement. This is essentially a short essay about your philosophy of teaching, perhaps as it relates specifically to first- and second-year students or to two-year colleges.
  • Your philosophy on community colleges. Some committees will ask for this either in addition to, or instead of, a teaching statement. What they’re trying to find out is how much you know about community colleges and understand about their mission, and whether you’re really interested in teaching there.
  • Writing sample. Depending on the way it’s worded, this could be just about anything, including one of the documents mentioned above. But it could also give you a chance to include all or part of scholarly manuscript that you’ve had published or that you’re currently working on.
  • Letters of recommendation. It seems to me, as I peruse the community-college job ads, that most are moving away from asking for actual letters. Instead, they just ask for references’ names and contact information. If you have two or three very positive letters, you might be sorely tempted to include them even if the ad doesn’t request the actual letters — but once again, don’t.

So how can you make sure prospective employers have access to all of this wonderful, candidacy-enhancing information if they don’t actually ask for it?

Just put it on your website. As a serious job seeker, you should have a nice, clean-looking website that you use specifically and exclusively for your job search. It doesn’t have to be expensive; a basic WordPress site will work just fine.

Post all of your basic application materials on that site. Edit down your standard cover letter and use it to introduce yourself, professionally, on an “About” page. Have a separate page for your CV, one for your teaching statement, and one dedicated specifically to your publications (with links if possible). List your recommenders on a “References” page, and even include excerpts from their letters (with their permission, of course).

Be sure to mention your website in your cover letter, along with an invitation to check it out. That way, if committee members are intrigued and would like to find out more about you, they can do so. And if not, you haven’t inundated them with unwanted documents.

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