Landing a full-time community college teaching gig. Part 2.

Okay. Your application was submitted. You got the call for an interview. Now what? The scary part: The Interview.

Typically, a hiring committee that conducts the interview will include the Dean of the college, Department Chair, 2-3 faculty members and a “referee” from the human resources office (whose job it is to make sure no interview rules are broken). There may also be a student representative and / or a lab technician or other staff member you’d be working with.

Ready? Set. Go…

The interview

To some, this might seem obvious: wear a suit. I dress pretty casually in the classroom, so I thought (at first) I’d just wear what I do to class. That idea was quickly and definitively shot down by someone who has been on multiple hiring committees and told me that there have been applicants who showed up to the interview in jeans and a polo shirt. And, as I was told, they weren’t even given a second glance after interviewing. (Ladies, I’m a guy with absolutely no fashion sense, so I honestly don’t know what the equivalent of a suit would be for female applicants — pant suit?? Whatever it is, make it professional.)

In my experience, you’ll be invited to come in between 15-30 minutes before the interview starts to review the 7-10 questions you’ll be asked by the committee. And, during the interview, you’ll have 30-45 minutes to answer them in any way you can or want. There’s no back-and-forth banter between interviewers and interviewee, so be prepared to answer the questions and espouse how awesome you are while basically facing a concrete wall. Instead, expect the committee to be frantically scribbling notes on your score sheet. This is the only thing that they’re supposed to use to evaluate you — nothing that they know about you outside of the interview room is taken into consideration. That said, you have to tell them things in your answers that they may already know about you. But, if you don’t say it in the interview, then it essentially doesn’t exist.

If you’re able to do so, keep an eye on the clock (or ask the HR rep for how much time is left) and make sure to use every minute to your advantage. I’ve made the mistake of answering all the questions with 15-20 minutes to spare. That interview, I think it’s safe to say, I “bombed.” Of course, the flip-side is that you don’t want to be rambling on and on and run out of time to answer all the questions. No bueno!

You’ll be asked to either do your teaching demo first, followed by the interview. Or vice versa. At my college, it’s been interview first. The questions have ranged from fairly straight-forward, to “Huh??” Here are some examples of questions that have shown up:

“Describe your educational background and experience that makes you qualified to teach … [insert subject here].”
“Describe how you create a collegial work environment. How do you deal with conflicts?”
“Describe your experience working with a diverse student population.”
“How would you accommodate a disabled student, without the ability to speak, when assigning a class presentation?”
“What would you consider your greatest accomplishment and disappointment, and what were the lessons you learned from them.”
“Is there anything else you would like to tell us? (e.g., foreign languages spoken, etc.)”

Those last two killed me on my “bombed” interview. Sure, give me an hour or two to think of an answer to my greatest accomplishment / disappointment and I could come up with something worthy of an interview, but 15 minutes?? Ouch. The lesson learned? Be prepared for unexpected questions!! And the last one really threw me, until I realized (too late, unfortunately) that it was my chance to say whatever the heck I wanted that I didn’t get to work into one of the other answers. It’s like a free-for-all opportunity to really drive home how awesome you are.

Be prepared, too, for possible curve balls, follow-ups or questions that lead into a “second teaching demo” such as…
“You run into students in the hallway who are having trouble understanding osmoregulation. Describe how you would handle this situation.”
Luckily, osmoregulation is something I’m pretty familiar with. But knowing that another, less-than-familiar, subject could have come up, I bring a textbook with me in case I have to quickly cram for a similar question about, say, the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system that I’m less able to shoot from the hip about. (wink)

A little side note, I mentioned in the previous post that I’d gotten an interview because I was “vested” at the college. If that’s the case for you, don’t mention it. One committee member told me (anonymously) that it’s a real turn-off when an applicant starts the interview with, “I know I only got this interview because I’m vested.” Eww. Self-deprecation is not a selling point. Don’t make that mistake.

One last thing about the interview: some committees allow handouts, such as mock homework assignments. In others, it’s strictly prohibited. (If they don’t tell you explicitly, you can contact the HR office about whether or not it will be allowed.) I recently heard about an applicant who found a trickster way to “hand out” something, while not physically handing out paperwork to the committee. Instead, they projected, onto what would soon be the teaching demo screen, their syllabus that outlined their philosophy on inclusion and non-discrimination in the classroom. Sneaky, but it flew. The HR representative in the room had to concede that they weren’t breaking any rules.

The teaching demo

This part was so weird at first. The first time I gave a teaching demo, it was to an audience of one. And I thought I was supposed to pretend that I was teaching to a room full of people. Not so much. Unless it’s stated otherwise, treat the committee like they are your students. You might even make some sort of statement, starting out, to reinforce the idea that they are your students.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can use the interview “time machine” to your advantage. There usually aren’t guidelines as to what your “class” has already covered, so you can jump into a subject completely mid-stream without going through all the preliminary info. For example, if your teaching topic is something like, “Discuss the processes of cellular respiration.” That’s a hefty (if not impossible) lecture to try and fit into 15 minutes. It’s totally fair to start your demo along the lines of, “If you recall from our last class, we went through glycolysis and the citric acid cycle, so now we’ll pick up where we left off and get into the details of oxidative phosphorylation.” (You might want to spend a minute briefly reviewing what was covered “last time,” though.)

How you approach the teaching demo is probably as varied as the topics the committee will come up with. Most people choose to put together a Powerpoint presentation. If you use some sort of technology, make sure it is going to work flawlessly in this bizarre, new classroom. In my “bombed” interview, I tried pulling in a demo from an 3-D anatomical website. Of course, the site didn’t load up like it had at the comforts of my home, so it left me scrambling and ramped up my nervousness to catastrophic levels. If in doubt, leave it out.

Some things I’ve read or learned myself were:
1) First and foremost, DO NOT say, “If this were a real class… I’d do this.” Treat it as if it actually were what you would do in a real class.
2) Be careful using figures / pictures from the common textbooks (unless you modify them enough to look original). Same goes for using pictures from Google images. Remember that there may be up to 11 other people teaching the same demo topic. And, unless your presentation of the material really stands out, seeing the same pictures over and over again will probably seem, frankly, boring. Make your demo interesting; get creative without getting weird.
3) If interaction is allowed (check with the HR regulations), ask your “students” to reply to questions during your lecture. Be interactive!
4) Even if interaction is not allowed, make eye contact. Don’t spend the whole time staring at your notes.
5) If allowed, hand out a mock homework assignment or worksheet that shows how your assignments are different from the other ones the committee probably have already gotten.
6) Don’t cry. This piece of advice comes with a caveat. You might be thinking, “Why would I cry during an interview?!?!” It’s usually not because the interview isn’t going well. I recently ran into two people who cried in their interviews when asked to talk about what their students meant to the them. It’s a touching subject since most of us really do care about our students! But try to hold back the tears if possible. The two interviewees were both mortified at their emotional outbursts. But here’s the caveat: both of them also landed the full-time jobs.

Coming up in Part 3: the grueling post-interview spiral and, if you’re one of the lucky ones … the second interview!

Stay tuned.

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