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In 2017, I was an adjunct instructor working part-time at both Glendale Community College and California State University, Los Angeles. I had two degrees and was the first person in my family to go away for college and earn a bachelor’s degree, as well as the first and only one to earn a master’s degree. Like many first-gens, I had quickly learned about the harsh reality of life after graduate school: a degree or even two does not guarantee a career with a stable income. In fact, my adjunct’s salary reminded me of the paycheck-to-paycheck jobs my immigrant father had.

Within the first few months, I already knew I desperately wanted a full-time tenure-track position. For many first-generation college graduates and children of immigrants, a full-time position is not just a job—it is a path toward building generational wealth.

My dream job posting appeared on April 24, 2019, coincidentally, also Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, a significant day for me as an Armenian-American. Until the closing date of this position, I was frantically scrambling to learn about the tenure-track process. However, I couldn’t find any information geared toward someone like me, a first-gen college graduate and a child of immigrants. Why didn’t I know much about the tenure-track process? Imposter syndrome quickly kicked in.

I soon learned that many barriers in academia can make that process more difficult for first-generation academics. We might be unaware of certain key steps, like networking, that are common knowledge among other potential job applicants. We may not have had formal guidance or help from our parents on the application and interview process. Indeed, the roles are more often reversed for children of immigrants: We help our parents!

Finally, writing conference proposals, getting accepted at conferences, and finding community and networking at conferences are challenging for people like me who are first-gen and woman of color. This journey is like walking down a dark hallway, following your intuition without any strategies to direct you. You might be qualified but may not be following the unsurfaced and hidden—to you—guidelines.

In short, the tenure-track process must be made more transparent for first-generation academics for the benefit of both them and their institutions. And to help begin to shed some light, I will share the steps that I took that helped me get a tenure-track interview and job offer and become the first Armenian-American tenured instructor in our division.

I will outline a three-step process and offer strategies for each: (1) laying the groundwork before applying for the position, (2) applying for the position and (3) approaching the interview process. While these strategies are based on my experience at a teaching institution, they can nonetheless be helpful no matter where you are applying.

Step 1: Laying the Groundwork

The following are some strategies that might be helpful to you as you begin thinking about a future tenure-track position and preparing to apply for one.

Collaborate. Working with others on curriculum development, learning outcomes, and division or department level activities are key points in the application process and interview. You will most certainly be asked about this. So get to know faculty in your division or department and in other disciplines. Partner with instructors at other colleges.

Join committees. Participate in different committees at your college to learn what is happening across the campus. What are some pressing issues at your institution and beyond it? Pay attention also to key terms being sent out in emails (“Caring Campus,” “equity,” “Hy-flex,” “AI” and so on). Once you are interviewed, you can use that knowledge to show you’re informed about what is going on at the college and how you can help it in those areas of focus.

Apply for ancillary stipends or innovation grants. These funds are available for adjunct faculty to work on projects and to get more involved in college activities. Your college or university may call them by another name. They can be a great addition to your résumé or CV and show that you are not only involved in college activities but can move beyond your institution into outreach to your local community.

Attend and present at conferences. Stay informed about statewide initiatives by attending conferences and networking. If you can’t afford the registration fee, inquire about possible funding from your college. Some colleges and universities pay their adjunct instructors to attend conferences, and some may even pay upfront if you submit the paperwork ahead of time. The conferences themselves may also offer financial support for attendees.

Take things one step further and present the projects you are working on at conferences. If you are struggling with conference proposals like I did, ask someone who has presented if they are willing to advise or collaborate with you. If you get a no, reach out to someone else. These activities will show that you are involved beyond the classroom and that you understand the current and active research in your field on a regional, national, and global scale.

Be curious and ask questions. If you don’t know something, ask someone. If they aren’t helpful, ask someone else. You will most certainly find people who will support you and cheer you on. Ask about the interview process and other aspects of the job search. By asking questions, you’ll obtain helpful and important information you may be unaware of. Plus, you may even find someone who is willing to vouch for you and write a reference letter.

Attend career services workshops. Most colleges and universities offer career services for their students and faculty members, including workshops on a successful job search, feedback on your résumé and cover letter, and even mock interviews. Take advantage of these free opportunities, as the strategies you learn will help you stand out during the application and interview process.

Find ways to understand your student population. How will you distinguish yourself from other candidates? Do something that will show your dedication to the field. For example, when I was teaching part-time at two colleges and had a six-month old baby, I took an Italian class at a local community college. I teach English as a Second Language and wanted to put myself in my students' shoes by learning a new language myself. By being a student again, I was better able to understand the challenges my students faced. Doing something out of the ordinary will make you stand out among many other applicants.

Manifest your dreams. Write your goals down somewhere where you can always see them. Sooner than later, you will realize that the simple act of looking at your goals constantly will help energize you and point you toward opportunities that you never imagined before.

Don’t forget to also speak about your goals. Make them a reality by living in and through them, and telling people about them. By sharing them, you will help people see the potential in you, believe in you and want to help you.

Step 2: Strategies While Applying

Now that we’ve explored what you should do before applying, let’s review some specific tactics that can help you sell yourself during the application process.

Let the job description guide you. What are some key words being used in the job description? Strategically incorporate them in your résumé or CV and cover letter—have specific categories based on what the job description is asking. You can even make certain words bold or italic to make sure they pop out.

Finally, focus on supporting how you meet each qualification by providing specific examples and tying them to the institution’s mission statement. Make sure to focus on any listed special duties, as well. These strategies all help make the reading of your résumé or CV clearer and increase the chances of you getting a higher score.

Revise your résumé or CV and cover letter. Have several people look over your material. If your college or university offers career services, reach out to them. Ask colleagues. Ask teacher friends. The more eyes on your material, the better.

Strategically use your references. Try to pick a variety of people who can speak to different parts of your work: an individual who can comment on your teaching, another who can write about your work with other people on your campus, and still another who can talk about your collaboration across campuses. This is also why you go to conferences— you can make connections with people across the state and broaden your perspective about what contributions you can make to your sought-after college or university.

Step 3: Strategies for Interviews

As a first-generation student and professor, you may have relied mainly on your intuition during job interviews. Here are some specific strategies that might help you better prepare for an interview.

Learn as much as possible about the institution. Who makes up the student population? What is the mission statement? What are key academic or other areas is the college focusing on? What are its biggest strengths and challenges? Reference this information during the interview and share specific ways that you think you can support the students and the institution.

Make a bullet list. What do you want to make sure to mention during the interview? Your collaborations on and off the campus, your committee work, your network across and beyond the institution? List them as bullet points with examples on a document and regularly review it every day before the interview. Memorize it so that when you are asked a question during the interview, you can incorporate one of the bullet points in your answer.

Strategically answer questions. Get the attention of interviewers by starting with an opening statement (your main point), following it by an example (your evidence) and ending it by reframing your opening statement. This will help drive your point across and make you stand out.

Make use of the powerful pause. When an interviewer asks a question, take a moment to reflect before answering. By pausing, you give yourself time to think of your answer, your bullet list, your opening statement and your main point. This way, your answer is coherent and to the point.

Focus on “did/doing/will do.” If you have experience in a certain area, focus on what you have already done. If you are in the process of gaining that experience, focus on what you are learning. And if you don’t have any such experience, focus on how you plan to gain it. Communicate how what you’ve done and will do makes you the best candidate for this position and how you can contribute to student learning and the campus at large.

Practice your teaching demo. Many if not most interviews require a teaching demo. Make the teaching aspect interactive and innovative, and present an activity that you normally use in class that has proven to help students learn better.

Finally, what you shouldn’t do in an interview is to ramble on and only talk about your teaching experience. Each question should have a main point so that your responses are clear. If not, the message you are trying to get across might be lost. In addition, if you only focus on your teaching experience, you may miss opportunities to talk about your collaborations and projects. Remember, a well-rounded candidate is involved in their division or department, across the college and at the state level.

These strategies were all but unknown to me when I embarked on my own job search. I was determined to get a tenure position, yet I did not know how to get to my destination. I simply walked down the path, testing strategies, sometimes making mistakes and learning things along the way. The three-step process I’ve outline has helped me get a tenure-track position as a first-generation college graduate. I hope my recommendations can help you, as well.

Susanna Semerdzhyan is a NCESL Instructor at Glendale Community College. She is a child of immigrants, descendent of Armenian Genocide survivors and first-generation college graduate.

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