Dispatch from Adjunct Land III: Getting a Job

Everything I know about getting an academic job. Which, admittedly, isn’t much.

Applying for an academic job as an adjunct? Here’s what I wish I’d known sooner!

You will need:

  • A two-page cover letter for non-profit schools, a one-page cover letter for for-profit schools.
  • A CV and a resume. At the adjunct level, even many non-profits just want a resume, not a CV. For-profit schools just want a resume.
  • A teaching philosophy.
  • A portfolio of assignments, syllabi, handouts, etc.
  • References, and possibly reference letters.
  • Stamina.

What do I do with these items?

  • Cover letter: As with any cover letter, go into detail about your strengths and why you’d fit in with the school. Don’t just rehash your resume. Use language from the school’s mission statement. Mention the school’s demographics or other personal touches like, “I’d enjoy rooting for student players at Wildcat football games.” Focus on the positive and what you’ve done in the classroom, even as a TA. Mention concepts like “learning styles” and “andragogy” (if you’ll be working with adult/non-traditional students).
  • Resume: Normal resume. Focus on accomplishments where possible, not just duties. Make sure the resume is targeted to the job opening. For example, I have a really long “everything” resume, and then a much shorter “teaching resume.”
  • CV: Include any committees you were on, publications, presentations, names of classes taught, technology you’ve used.
  • Teaching philosophy: You probably won’t be asked for this at the adjunct level, but it’s helpful to have this written out so you know what to say at the interview.
  • Portfolio: Have a collection of materials you’ve created. My interviewers are always especially impressed with my technology: Twitter, blog, Prezi presentations, websites. Variety is good, especially depending on the population you’ll be working with.
  • References: It’s a good idea to have generic letters on hand just in case; some schools require them even for adjuncts. Otherwise, a list of names, phone numbers, emails, and job titles will suffice.
  • Stamina: I live in Portland, OR. (Well, the suburbs.) Because of my location, I can apply to schools in a variety of cities. I just consulted my list, and I’ve applied for jobs at 24 different schools. That’s a lot of applications, letters, philosophies! Additionally, if you apply to an adjunct pool, you have to update your application every year.

Interviews

Even for adjuncts, interviews can be intense. Generally, one will not have to go through the rounds of interviews a full time position requires. But most interviews will include a teaching demonstration, which means the interview will last two hours, minimum.

Usually, you will meet with a committee first to answer questions. The committee will usually include your potential supervisor, some sort of department head or dean, and whoever else can be persuaded to sit in and ask questions.

Questions include: When was a time you had to deal with a difficult student and how did you handle that student? What would you do if students complained about a quiz, saying they didn’t know they had one and they were up late completing a project and so couldn’t study? What is your experience working with non-traditional students? [Or working with a diverse student population?] What do you enjoy about teaching?

Bring a notebook with you, and take notes. At the end, you’ll have time to ask your own questions; always ask questions. Some questions you could ask: What are the demographics for the student population? How long is the school term? Are there opportunities to teach/create other classes? What is the late/plagiarism/absenteeism policy? Will I be required to attend meetings or inservices?

Teaching demos will usually last for the length of an actual lesson, say 15 minutes. If you use technology (I love PowerPoint, okay?), ask ahead of time to make sure they will have the equipment you need. Prepare a backup regardless; you never know when the technology will fail. As you go through your lesson, you might stop and explain, “If a student asked a question here, I’d do X” or “Before starting a lesson, I remind students about their homework.”

Usually the people who sat in on the interview will sit in on the lesson. Occasionally you will get to present your demo to live students. Remember to make eye contact and speak slowly. Or if you have trouble with eye contact, as I do, look at their noses or just above their heads.

I also have trouble remembering names, so I make sure to shake everyone’s hand at the beginning and end, and repeat names. Usually I write them down in my notebook.

During this process, the lead interviewer might show you around a bit. This is also a good time to ask questions, especially if you did your research about the school beforehand.

I hope this goes without saying, but be nice to everyone you meet, including the receptionist and current students. Smile, shake hands, introduce yourself to everyone. That’s a given for any interview, but in an academic setting, the receptionist/administrative assistant is an incredibly important person. Make a good impression with him/her.

Send a thank you card or email after the interview.

The Waiting Game

Even adjunct positions have many candidates, so it usually takes some time to hear back. One interview I had went incredibly well, but Dean So-and-So had the final say, and it took him a month to decide. (I didn’t get the job.) Unless it’s an emergency (they’re in the middle of the term and they need a new prof tomorrow), academia moves slowly. Send the thank you, and then follow up with your contact about two weeks later if you haven’t heard anything. Don’t call every day. They know you are waiting.

This is also a good time to make sure the school is a good fit for you. One of the hardest things about being an adjunct is knowing there are 100 more out there. Being an adjunct is already a tough job; make sure you at least have a positive environment: the tools you need, friendly colleagues, supervisors who have your back.

I recently had such an interview. One paper, everything was perfect: this school is close to my house, I’d have opportunities to teach more than just the basic courses, I would have the opportunity to go full time, it was a student population I was used to working with. I’d wanted a job with this school for ages. But the interview was quite dysfunctional. The interviewer asked me just one question, I didn’t have a teaching demo, the classrooms lacked the kind of technology I needed (even if I can live without PowerPoint, I need access to YouTube; that’s just my teaching style), and even lacked faculty offices. Proximity and hey, it’s a job couldn’t make up for the fact that this was an environment I would not do well in.

I realize not everyone would be able to turn down a job offer, so consider what your needs are. If you didn’t have an office, where could you grade/hang out between classes? If you didn’t have access to a computer/Internet, how will you teach? How well can you manage a rowdy classroom?

Because I love teaching, and love hearing myself talk, I love interviews. I love getting to show off my skills and portfolio. This is a system I’ve developed through trial and error. If you’d add something to my system, please let me know in the comments!

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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