Explaining the Black Hole of Applying for Community College Jobs

EssayCity, the larger metropolis north of Paragraph City, published in its newspaper an article on that gap between when you apply for a job and when you hear back from the employer (http://career-advice.monster.com/job-search/getting-started/job-application-process-following-up/article.aspx  ). They refer to that time as the Black Hole, and I have to think that it must be even worse for applicants for faculty positions. However slowly business progresses, certainly a faculty committee moves slower.

On search committees, I have always felt terrible about how little we can respond to applicants, so to salve my conscience, here’s something of an explanation.

I’ll start by describing the steps that a faculty search committee in Paragraph City goes through, once enough applications have come in to rev our engines.

  1. Preliminary sort, either by the committee as a whole or the committee chair. Committees are formed of four or five faculty. We eliminate candidates who do not meet the minimum requirements as stated in the ad: usually the degree held and the amount of experience in college teaching, but it can also include particular coursework, leadership experience, and amount of familiarity with the community college. As per our HR office, it is illegal to consider applicants who do not meet “applicant must have” job requirements, and we don’t even look at those.
  2. Then we each read the resumes, cover letters, and transcripts of the remaining applicants; time passes. Applications with missing parts go into a kind of limbo, some never to emerge if the transcripts or references or whatever never come through. Others that we consider ‘acceptable’ we each put in a ranked order of preference.
  3. We meet (often harder than you’d think, given our various teaching schedules), share our ranking, agree on a committee ranking, and decide on a group of candidates to interview by phone.  This number varies by committee, but it might be as high as 15 or 20; often more like 10.
  4. Now more time passes as someone has to mesh the committee schedules with candidate schedules and find a block of half-hour periods when all can talk on the phone. If you are not in this group to be contacted, you must wonder what’s taking so long, because you’ll hear nothing from us. If these interviews aren’t satisfactory, we may well go back and pull you out for a second round of phone interviews, so we don’t tip you off that you have been put in a second tier somewhere (which is still not as bad as limbo).
  5. Over a couple of days, the committee or its subgroups interview candidates, trying to decide which we most want to meet in person. We meet & decide on five or so to bring on campus.
  6. Now we each take one or two of these five candidates and phone their references. Depending upon the time of year (Spring Break, President’s Day holidays, the dates of a major conference in the discipline), it can take a few days to speak with three or four of each candidate’s references. The candidate can’t come on campus, though, until we do.
  7. If the reference checks don’t produce any surprises, we finally have a go-ahead on five applicants. Five candidates means that the entire committee has to free up most of five different days to meet with them. In Paragraph City we consider it rude to have candidates bump into each other, and we also expect to need several hours at least to know whether or not the fit between the candidate and the college is good. You see, we already know you can do the job; the review of credentials and phone interview told us that. We’re now in the business of comparing to find the best of the competent.
  8. Once I was on a committee that could meet only once a week. Those five candidates took five weeks to interview.  Between every interview I thought of those applicants in the Black Hole. Yet if those five we brought on weren’t satisfactory, and the candidates we had phoned had all found jobs elsewhere, it was possible we would still go back to that second tier pool of candidates.
  9. On campus interviews usually involve this: meeting time for anyone on campus interested, interview time with faculty, a teaching demonstration, a meeting with deans and a meeting with the president, a tour of the college, and a meal.  It’s surprising how much comes out over the meal, good and bad, about the candidate and the college.
  10. After the interviews, assuming all has gone well, the committee passes two names on to the administration, which can accept one or reject both (a rare event), so a few more days pass. Then the candidate is contacted and the job offer made. Often the candidate wants some time, possibly to consider (or wait for) other offers. When she accepts verbally, a contract is mailed to her, and only when a signed contract is returned and HR is happy with all the paperwork, then are applicants sent a Thanks for Applying letter. How much time has passed? Not always as long as two months, but that’s common.

The article linked above gives great advice on what to do while waiting in the Black Hole. I’ll add a few more tips.

  • It’s probably ok to call, and most understandable if you are in that phone interview or personal interview group. But know that you are more likely to reduce your chances of getting the job than you are to increase them.
  • If you call, what you are doing is re-opening the interview, so act and sound that way. You may speak only to an administrative assistant, but his or her office is probably three steps away from the division chair, and what you say will be conveyed those three steps.  We don’t want people who are easily annoyed, self-important, impatient, or rude teaching our students, so don’t communicate that.
  • Better action is to follow-up any interview with a thank you note. I’m more impressed by something that comes through Snail Mail and is not the generic silver Thank You script on a white card with a generic remark inside. Make the note as unique as you want to be remembered and send one to each member. Don’t jot off an email to the chair and ask her to forward it to committee members. Then if a couple more weeks pass, instead of the phone call, contact them by email with an offer to send any more information the committee might desire, and at that point ask for an update on the process. You can control the message better in writing. Communicate a sense of how interested you remain in the qualities of the hiring institution, and feel free to get a little specific (without being long-winded).
  • Then let go. You finally have very little control over the process once you have sent in your materials. It is not a reflection upon you personally if you are not called for an interview, and if you were called in, and you were genuine during the interview, then just trust in the wisdom of the committee. They thought you would not be happy there, and why not leave it believing that they were right?
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