Advice to English Majors Looking for Community College Teaching Jobs: Interview.

We call you for phone interviews and we bring you on campus. You swagger down the hall or you stutter-step like Bambi. When you demo a class for us, you own the room, or maybe you look like those guys in a line-up on Law and Order. It’s a blind date; it’s a job interview on a community college campus. But really guys, we’re just looking for a colleague. 

First, forget all those one-size fits all questions career centers put out (Where do you expect to be in 5 years? What has been your most rewarding employment experience? Why have you selected the profession of your choice?). We won’t ask you those. If your interviewers know anything about interviewing, they will ask you questions that have no right answer, or if they have a right answer clutched in their hands, you can’t possibly know what it is. 

But here’s what candidates do during the interview that catches my attention, that makes me want to work with this character. You see, I often troll the interviews my campus gives, and I’ve served as a member on 20 or so. We are who we hire, after all. 

  • Assume that you are the person the college is looking for and let the committee see the best person you are.
  • Do not bully your way through the interview. I’ll tell you the story sometime of the candidate who thought he could intimidate us into hiring him.
  • Do not wait for the committee to draw you out. The interview isn’t 20 questions and your goal is not to keep as much hidden as possible, on the theory that anything might prove to be a flaw to these whacky faculty.
  • Think of the interview as a conversation, with yourself as the guest of honor. At the community college, search committees tend to be pretty convivial – belabored and frustrated perhaps, but convivial.
  • We want to know you know literature and rhetoric, though we usually trust the transcripts to cover the basics here. We want to know you can teach writing. All community college English faculty teach writing; don’t interview here if you can’t. And we want to know you can teach, period. That means a lot more than talking to a class; for starters, it means your students learn.
  • Don’t ask the questions you think you ought to ask, and don’t ask only about salary. Ask about the things you really want to know about. More on that, in a later post.
  • No one expects you to have all the answers, but we do expect you to be curious about the answers, to be looking for answers, to be in the process of learning. We expect you will go 30 or 40 years in the same condition, just as we have.
  • Remember we are a community college, and therefore neither your graduate school nor the repository for stupidity that sit-coms would suggest we are. Here you have to be able to teach, to engage people who have families, jobs, AA meetings, learning disabilities, poverty or just a middle class income; people who had stupid practices in high schools and only wised up after graduation, when they realized they’d been working at Wal Mart for three years; people who decided their divorce was the signal that it was time to go back to school; people who felt their bodies giving out after six years of roofing; people other institutions throw away; people exactly like you, but with a little less luck, and probably a little less money.  

Final advice: do a reality check. If you don’t know what to ask and you are not sure what your strengths are or what might be perceived as a weakness, you are not ready for the interview. Go off to a cave somewhere and get to know yourself. I have a story I might tell you some time about the candidate who thought he was plenty experienced, and told us so, because he had under his belt four courses as a TA and five more as an adjunct, all at a university. He had, he believed, seen it all.  

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3 Responses to Advice to English Majors Looking for Community College Teaching Jobs: Interview.

  1. Kirk says:

    Not bad advice. I want to add/emphasize, however, that the interview goes both ways: you’re there to examine them as much as they’re there to examine you. I quickly learned that teaching at a community college is a whole different game of cards to my TA experience at the university.

    A job isn’t just a job in this case. Picking the wrong place and people to work with can turn an already difficult career into an intolerable one. Shop around.

    I turned down a job offer at a community college because I felt I was being thrown into a huge load of work with little support. The committee also acted like they just wanted to fill the position, and the college had a history of political and financial problems.

    If you can, try to get to know the college first through adjunct work or paraprofessional tutoring opportunities. You might find that just jumping right in is not the best approach.

    • Dale says:

      Spot on, Kirk. I think it’s probably easier for someone being interviewed to get the true goods on the college than it is for the college to get the real goods on the candidate, but I haven’t seen many candidates take advantage of that.

  2. Joseph Ferrerosa says:

    I am sort of excited and nervous to have found an interview within less than 24 hours an interview for an English teaching position. However, I think back at my time as a tutor at the community colleges, which has prepared me for this moment. I think a little research and openness to articles like this help me better understand the difficulty I’m facing tomorrow.

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