Advice for a job interview
May 14, 2007 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I need advice for my community college job interviews this week.

I've been applying for full-time psychology instructor positions at community colleges since January this year. I've had three interviews so far, with no job offers. I have two interviews left, and they're both this week. I'm in desperate need for advice for these interviews because this is kind of make-or-break time for me--If I don't get either one of these jobs, then I'll have to move to an area that doesn't offer any job opportunities in my field. It's hard to think that I will have spent six years getting my Ph.D., and I won't be able to get a job.

I do realize that most people work part-time for years before they get a full-time teaching position. However, that option will not be available if I have to move, and I will have to move if I don't get a job.

Any sort of advice for this type of interview would be appreciated.

If necessary, I can answer questions at
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about psychology or community college jobs, but I was in a Ph.D. program where we were given advice on interviewing for university jobs.

Best advice I heard about faculty interviews -- read everything the other person published, then talk about how your work intersects with their interests. Make them think you'll be a colleague they'll really like collaborating with. Plus, you sound fascinating when you're talking about them. :)

Second best advice -- there are classes in the department that everyone on staff is sick of teaching. You can probably figure out what they are and express your interest in teaching them, if they don't ask you to outright.

Third -- you probably don't want to talk that much about theory or your dissertation. You're probably bored with it, so they'll be bored with it. Talk about what you want to teach and what you want to research.
posted by salvia at 6:56 PM on May 14, 2007

In my limited experience on both ends of the academic job search I can say that any interviewee that has made it on campus is someone the committee wants to want to hire (no typo). What has broken the deal (again, in my own limited experience) has been a less than perfect fit with the institution, (mission, enthusiasm, personability). I'm sure you've read the Chronicle top to bottom by now, (if not then you should) for specific advice. Pay close attention to job search advice specific to community colleges. In general, though, at the look-see be engaging, interested in the students, and show a willingness to commit. CCs get more short-timers than McDonald's over summer vacation.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2007

Go to the discussion forums at the Chronicle for Higher Ed where we talk about this kind of thing all the time. See the job search FAQ there.
posted by LarryC at 8:26 PM on May 14, 2007

It depends on the area, but in my experience, we do not care about publishing or research at all--we don't care about your publications, we care about your teaching and your dedication to the mission of a community college.

I still remember the question I was asked ten years ago about why I wanted to work at a community college, and my answer. You should want to work at a community college because you believe in first chances, second chances and getting people on the first rung, and changing people's lives.

Different colleges have different profiles. You need to find out for the college you interview at, but community colleges do two things in general: occupational/technical programs (associates degree to a job) and transfer programs (first two years of four year degree). A psychology faculty member will do a lot of the latter, if I recall correctly.

We've turned people down for not knowing about our institution and what we stand for.

If you have time, hang out in a student area at the college before your interview, or ask to spend some time with some students, if that's not part of your interview process.
posted by idb at 8:30 PM on May 14, 2007

I teach part-time at a California community college. When I was going through the hiring process, I felt like there were a few things key to getting hired.

By the way, I teach baby firefighters who are interested in increasing their hireability quotient by getting a college certificate- not at all like psychology, but I think there are a few parallels to our situations.

Make sure you talk about the classroom. This isn't Stanford; you're being hired to fill seats, which will ensure that your department's funding doesn't get cut next year. They need to know you can teach, and have the ability to hold the attention of your class. Ideally, you're the sort of person who will bring them back to the department for another class with you or one of your colleagues. If you've taught before (GSI, guest lecturer, even tutored) this is the time to talk about it.

Increasingly, in California, the students are being discussed as the customer. And in the community college system, it is more important that you be able to offer deliverables to the customer than that you be brilliant (sorry) and certainly more important than you publishing on a regular basis.

You've just gotten your Ph.D. (huzzah!) but most of my colleagues in the community college system have, at best, a masters. I've found that being in the process of getting a Ph.D. (the process, mind you, I'm not even half-way there yet!) can lead people to assume that rather than being an asset to the department, I'll be an ivory tower academic that won't spend time trying to make sure students and the department at large is successful.

Basically, don't play up your experience in academia: talk instead about deliverables (Will you incorporate Math Across the Curriculum in your psychology classroom? Do you spend time ascertaining and exceeding student expectations?) and make sure that you project the fact that despite the fact that you possess a doctorate in your field, you're basically a down-to-earth kind of guy interested in being part of a team to achieve student and departmental success.

How you dress is part of the image you project. As a young woman, I chose to wear a simple, conservative suit. Nothing fancy- but I did and do dress professionally for every meeting and class.

Finally, my experience with community colleges is that you need to be in the right place at the right time. Good luck- and take everything I said with a grain of salt. While it is true at my institution and in my department, it might be a different can of worms for your college and your department.
posted by arnicae at 8:48 PM on May 14, 2007

Couple of things. Remember that a college wants to hire someone who can be good in the classroom. If you are being hired for teaching position, then you should try to impress them as someone who might be a good teacher. In the end, it all comes down to the classroom.

Also, sounds corny, but smile and be pleasant. Remember that it is very possible that the person whom you are interviewing with might be your colleague one day. And once they are satisfied with your competence, they want to know that you would be pleasant to work with.

Best of luck.
posted by boots77 at 8:59 PM on May 14, 2007

If you have time, read and search through the archives of the Confessions of a Community College Dean. He's written a lot about hiring and interviewing, including this piece on interviewing specifically.
posted by idb at 9:05 PM on May 14, 2007

I'm one of those people who had to move to get full-time teaching work. It was well worth it, though.

What others have said above about the community college focus on teaching, as opposed to research, is true (at least in British Columbia, where I live). Some good advice I was given when I started is to be aware of WHO you'll be teaching--it won't be grad students or fellow academics. I know instructors who talk FAR above their students' heads--the instructors get mad because "those stupid students don't get it" and the students get mad because "that instructor is impossible to understand." As a community college instructor, you have to know how to communicate the material to people who are just starting their post-secondary career, or are non-traditional students of some kind. I do not mean dumbing it down--I don't believe in babying students or letting them out of doing actual work; I just mean remembering you're teaching Intro to Psych, not a grad-level course. In a way, teaching at this level can be a much more challenging task.

Good luck with your interviews! If you really love to teach, then a community college can be a great place to work.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:03 AM on May 15, 2007

The best community college profs I've had have real world experience in their profession and ALSO are good at bringing that to the students. If you've done any practical, in the flesh stuff (not just research) bring that up and explain how you'd give your students examples directly from your (emphasis real life) experience.
posted by anaelith at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2007

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