• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Ask the Administrator: Interview Etiquette

Weirdly for this time of year, I've been getting a lot of questions about job interview etiquette. Excerpts from two of the better ones:

June 11, 2007

Weirdly for this time of year, I've been getting a lot of questions about job interview etiquette. Excerpts from two of the better ones:

I have worked as a part-time faculty member at my community college for the
past (several) years. After much talk my department has finally created a new
full-time position and I was encouraged by my department chair to apply ( I
know there was at least one faculty member who was not even told about the
new position). I applied a few months ago and two days ago got a call for
an interview next Friday. The interview is to be with six faculty members,
including my chair, and will include a 15 minute teaching demo on a very
broad topic. I did some online
research to learn more about this type of interview as it is very different
from the one I had to get the part-time position and then contacted the
office staff who set up the interview with more questions. She directed it
to the department chair who answered she could not tell me who else was on
the committee or if other candidates had the same topic as me but that I
could choose to either prepare a general intro to the topic or a more
specific subject within the general one...SO, here is my question: What are
they really looking for? I trust they know I can teach the subject as I
have been teaching there successfully for a number of years...Is this
committee interested in my teaching style? My approach to the problem of a
15 minute demonstration in a totally artificial setting? I plan on
presenting a dynamic introduction to the topic so that I can be creative and
lecture/discuss without notes...it feels more like what I naturally do in
the course that covers this topic but should I be trying to dazzle them with
my deep knowledge (this is a topic actually outside my own field of study
but one I do teach there).
Because I have so little direction and so little information I am unclear
how to proceed. My gut tells me to go with the closest thing to actual
lectures I have given but perhaps I am way off the mark...How do these types
of interviews work and what are they looking for?



I am writing to ask you a question about waiting, after a final job interview. I interviewed via video conference (a new thing for CC's?) for my first, committee interview for a faculty position at a community college here. Three hours post interview, the head of HR called to set up what she called "my final interview" with the President of the college. Twelve days later, I had the interview (late May) which was with the President, Vice President and the Dean of the new campus this college is opening. At the end, I was informed they would be in touch next week, which was a short week due to the Memorial Day Holiday. I am still waiting for news and thankfully have not received the dreaded rejection letter. I am remaining optimistic, that perhaps they got behind, since they are hiring for 60 positions for this new campus.

I don't know who else to ask... how long should one wait before contacting HR or???


Taken together, these don't inspire confidence that our hiring processes are as transparent as they could be.

I'll take the second one first, since it's the easier of the two. Delays could mean anything. They could mean that the committee hasn't had time to meet, or that it met but disagreed internally, or that it's having conflict with someone in the administration, or that the existence of the position is up in the air for financial reasons, or that somebody is just plain swamped and hasn't gotten around to it yet, or that an offer has been made but they don't yet know if the recipient will accept it, or they just aren't very good about communicating.

As with dating, there's always the anxiety about calling too soon, balanced with the anxiety of not-knowing. (The single best portrayal of this dilemma ever filmed is the serial-calling sequence in the movie Swingers, when Jon Favreau keeps leaving messages on a machine, digging himself in ever-deeper. It's actually physically painful to watch.)

(The best example of this that wasn't filmed was when The Wife and I met. We hit it off when we first met, and my instincts told me the next day that she'd be receptive to a call. I got her machine, left a message, and heard nothing back. I did the “should I or shouldn't I” dance for a while, and finally decided that my instincts couldn't be that wrong, so I called again a couple days later. Her machine had eaten the first message, she was psyched to get the call, and ten years later, we're married with two kids. Stuff happens.)

If you were given a “we'll get back to you by...” date, I'd go a week or so beyond that, and then call to check on the status of your application. Don't press; just ask.

The first correspondent raises a serious red flag with “I know there was at least one faculty member who was not even told about the new position.” What's that? Since this is a cc, and therefore a public institution, any job should be posted officially with enough time before the deadline that any interested party could have a reasonable shot at applying. If what the writer means is that she was given a tap on the shoulder to look for the posting, and others were left to their own devices to find it, that's one thing. (Honestly, even that strikes me as shaky, but there's no law against showing someone an ad in the paper.) If it means that the position was 'posted' only by informal grapevine, I'd have some very serious questions about the integrity of the management there.

That said, the actual question was about what to do in a 15-minute demo to faculty. What I absolutely would not do is go 'meta,' and address your “approach to the problem of a 15 minute demonstration in a totally artificial setting.” Nooooo. Don't be 'authentic”; be professional. (There's a yawning chasm between the two.) Give them the best 15 minutes you can – lively, rather than deep – on a topic as close to your wheelhouse as possible. Think of it as an excerpt from one of your best classes. You still have the 'deep' knowledge in your back pocket, and you can use it to address questions or to explain where you'd go next.

From a hiring perspective, I wouldn't use a 15 minute demo to assess scholarly depth. I'd use it to assess the candidate's ability to frame a question, explain something relevant, and engage a group. If they want to know about scholarly depth, they can go to your dissertation or thesis, or they can pepper you with questions afterward.

The common denominator to the questions, other than that they're both about hiring, is that they both show the degree to which candidates are often at sea regarding even the most basic expectations and rules of the game. That's not a criticism of the candidates – how would they know? Different colleges have different expectations, but most assume that their own are revealed truths and that ignorance of them is somehow revealing of limited intellect or flawed character. It's called 'provincialism,' and it's rampant. I suspect that the tremendous lack of turnover is the culprit – with very few people around who can bring any kind of comparative perspective to bear, local myths go uncontested. When new people show up and question those myths, the oldsters trot out “declining standards” to explain why Kids Today Just Don't Get It. No, thanks.

At my cc, I've pressed (and pressed, and pressed) to get hiring committees to be more thoughtful and transparent in their procedures, both for ethical and legal (liability) reasons. It's harder than I anticipated, since I underestimated the degree to which local myths were revered. But we're making progress, even if more slowly than I would have liked, and someday I hope that candidates here will at least know what's expected of them and where they stand at any given moment.

Wise and worldly readers – what weird hiring practices have you seen?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.


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