Landing a full-time community college teaching gig. Part 3: The second-level interview.

Out of the initial applicant pool, some are selected for a first-level interview. If you weren’t, don’t be crushed. There are a thousand reasons why it didn’t happen (and it’s entirely probable that not being qualified was NOT one of them.)

From the first round of interviewees, the hiring committee typically chooses three candidates for the second-level interview. Or not. They may decide to cancel the whole thing. It’s a rough world out there and, unfortunately, because of their sworn non-disclosure agreement, you’ll probably never know what happened. Why so-and-so was chosen (and not you) or, on the flip-side, why you were chosen and not someone else who might have been more qualified… (on paper, anyway).

Regardless, if you are chosen as a finalist, here are some tips on what to expect.

The second-level intervew

In case you missed it from Part 2 — wear a suit to the interview. But if you did happen to miss that tip from Part 2, you probably won’t have made it as far in the interview process to need to be reading Part 3. At least that’s the impression I’ve been given. I mean, you are meeting with the head-honchos of the college, so dress to impress.

This time, you can expect to meet with a slightly smaller crowd: the President of the college, Vice President of Academic Affairs, along with the Dean and Department Chair. A more intimate audience, but certainly one that lends itself to some stress because, ultimately, it is the President who will decide who lands the job (although he/she does listen to comments made by the hiring committee).

Unlike the first interview, this one is normally less structured and more conversational. At least that’s what I’ve been told. I have only gone through two second-level interviews, so take this with a grain of salt. The first time was very casual with lots of back-and-forth banter. One of the first questions I was asked by the VP (with a hint of light-hearted sarcasm) was, “So, I have to know: What got you interested in studying fish?”

The most recent time I got a second interview, though, the school had since implemented an “equitable” interview process. It was much less conversational and, really, was a lot like the first-level interview. with little interaction from the committee. I was, again, given a chance to come in 15 minutes before the interview and review the handful of questions that all the candidates were going to be asked.

For the second interview, I was told by a few colleagues NOT to bring in notes. That’s “kind of” okay for the first interview, but not so much for the second. But, again, the most recent interview, because I was given a few minutes to prepare just before the interview, the people in the office said that it’s perfectly alright to make notes on the questions.

And I’ll say this about that: notes make me nervous. I think the answers come across as scripted. Next time (assuming there will be a next time), I think I’ll make a point of taking the interview questions, folding them up and putting them in my pocket. No notes. Shoot from the hip.

As for the questions, and again I only have two experiences to go on, they tend to lean more toward how your teaching and life philosophies jive with the mission and vision of the college. While the first interview is meant to distinguish people who are capable of teaching, the second is more of a “longer arc” assessment — how well you fit in as a full-time employee.

You’ll definitely want to do some homework. Pore over the school’s website and look for documents about where the college is headed, new propositions and programs. Get a feel for what the school (and, likewise, the President) finds important. Literally, memorize the Mission and Vision statements. I hope it’s evident here, but use that information to prepare answers that show what an awesome fit you would be with the college’s vision on… whatever those aspects might be.

Aside from the easy question about why I studied fish in college, I was asked these types of questions:

“Tell us about a situation where you had a conflict with a co-worker and how you handled it.”
“Share with us what ‘equity’ means to you. How do you enact your definition of equity in your classroom?”
“Explain why you want to work at [this community college].”
“Describe your process for reflecting on how you are succeeding as a faculty member. Provide an example of those reflections and the improvements you made in your classroom.”

Do your best. I know very few people who nailed it on the first round, but there are exceptions. I heard from one full-timer who, upon learning that the President spoke French, set out to learn a few phrases just as icing on the cake. And apparently it worked. Or helped. Who knows?

The post-interview spiral

I’ve spoken with several people who’ve gone through the interview process for a full-time community college position. And while not all have agreed, the vast majority admitted that there was a period afterward where they experienced significant self-doubt, depression and questions about whether or not they were “cut out” for teaching.

“The last time I interviewed, before I got hired, I really had to think about what I was doing with my life. I told myself, ‘If I don’t get [the job] this time, I told myself I would just have to give up and start looking for work in industry (private sector) jobs. I mean, I had a family and bills to pay. Adjunct teaching just wasn’t going to cut it.”

Nameless full-time professor (with whom I recently spoke)

I’ll admit having similar thoughts and feelings. Not only on the most recent round of interviews, but just about every other time before them. Most recently, I had a serious 2-3 day sit-down moment with myself to really evaluate why I’m chasing this rainbow. I mean, I have a Ph.D. with many, many other options for a career that would probably pay a whole lot more than teaching. Why am I going through this whole brutal thing where my qualifications are being questioned?

I will never forget the words of a colleague who’d written one of my letters of recommendation after I’d not gotten selected for a second-level interview: “I know it’s hard. Just don’t let it get you so jaded that you give up.”

She nailed exactly what I was feeling. Dejected. Demoralized. Downcast. Depressed.

After some self-reflection, weighing my options and a little wound-licking (and maybe a margarita or two), I am resolved to keep trying. I love teaching. The reward of helping students achieve their dreams is something that is beyond explanation. If you’ve read my About page, you’ll know that I have found teaching to be one of the most interesting and exciting jobs I’ve ever had*.

If you, like myself, weren’t chosen for the job this time, don’t beat yourself up. Keep going. The reason you weren’t selected could be something ridiculous. Seriously! I’ve heard of situations where the person was hired because the two “top” candidates couldn’t be unequivocally decided upon, so the third, less desirable one, was given the job. It, apparently, can be that disheveled.

(* Perhaps the most interesting and exciting job I had (next to teaching) was as a costume character at Sea World. Take my word; there’s nothing else like donning a plushy outfit and taking on the personas of Sir Winston Walrus, Arthur C. Turtle, Pete Penguin or the venerable Shamu.)

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  1. DJ Jeyson!! Hi it’s Matt from UC Davis (DJ Xpress, Kappa Sigma)! How are you? I’m in San Diego too!

    1. Uh-oh. I’ve been “outed” about my former DJ’ing life! This is supposed to be my professional face on here. lol
      Check your email, dude. I responded there. 🙂

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