You've completed the campus interview at a community college. The hiring committee seemed impressed with your credentials and informed you that it would make a decision within the next few weeks. You leave the college optimistic that this time the job will be yours. It may be a day or two before reality dawns: Now you can do little but wait.
It may be difficult, but try to avoid locking yourself in the house, waiting for the telephone to ring, or the mail to arrive with a rejection notice. Conduct your life. Go grocery shopping, take the dog for a walk, and let the answering machine handle your calls. If the college wants to hire you, rest assured that the person calling to offer you the job won't think, "Gee, she's not home, so let's offer the position to someone else."
But shouldn't you be doing something productive while you wait? Isn't there something else you could do to improve your chances?
Some advice books tell academic job seekers to send post-interview letters thanking members of the committee, saying how much you "enjoyed" answering their questions, and offering any additional information they need. I disagree, and would advise you not to waste your time with meaningless courtesies. If you made a favorable impression on the committee, you won't have to remind them who you are by sending a follow-up letter. In fact, if you're going to write anything, it would be a good idea to devote time to revising your résumé or sending applications for positions elsewhere -- you know, just in case.
Look, you've supplied the committee with all the materials it requested. You've taken time out of your life to interview at the institution. It's time for you to relax and let the committee do its work.
You no longer have any control over the process. Instead of finding that reality unsettling, you should view it as liberating. Take a day or two to pat yourself on the back for what you've accomplished: You were qualified enough to make the interview cut, and you feel good about what transpired. At the same time, try to keep a clear focus on reality. Remember that just because you interviewed well doesn't mean that you're a shoo-in for the job. Although you may think that you impressed the committee, someone else may have been equally impressive.
Now you may argue that this advice is of the touchy-feely, Oprah variety. In urging you to cultivate an upbeat, but laid-back attitude, my intent is not for you to develop inner peace, although that would be nice. I'm suggesting this approach for tactical reasons -- so you don't do something stupid during this phase to undermine your professional credibility.
For instance, you shouldn't let your anxiety drive you to badger the college's human resources staff with questions they probably don't know the answers to anyway. These staff members are busy people, with many other personnel matters to deal with besides the hiring of new faculty members. Don't pester them with a lot of phone calls to inquire how many applicants there were, how many people were interviewed, how long these things typically take, and so on. If you do, even if you get the job, you probably haven't made any friends in the office that handles your paycheck and other matters pertaining to your salary and benefits.
No matter how convinced you are that the job is yours, it's always a good idea to prepare yourself mentally for rejection, so that your disappointment doesn't lead you to indulge in some public display of your frustrations -- for instance, calling up the president or another representative of the college to complain about the unfairness of the search and how you're convinced that the entire application process was a sham.
Believe it or not, this happens quite often. I remember one such instance when I worked at a community college in Alabama and served on several hiring committees in succession. One particular candidate applied for English teaching jobs at my institution three years in a row. (We had a series of faculty retirements.) She tried -- and did well -- every time she went through the interview process.
Unfortunately, she also was beaten every time by candidates who were a better match for what we were seeking in an instructor. After her third unsuccessful attempt to secure a job, she was extremely angry with us and sent a hostile e-mail to the division chair, asking if she should ever bother to apply again since it was very obvious that the search was rigged.
While her frustration is understandable, her accusations were without merit. Moreover, by insulting our integrity, she succeeded merely in making herself look irrational. She blamed us because she didn't get hired. But the truth was that while she was consistently among the top candidates, she simply did not possess the amount of teaching and community-college experience of other applicants.
Did that mean she had no hope of ever getting a job at our college? Absolutely not. In fact, rather than thinking the worst of us, she should have come and talked to us to discern why she kept coming up short. Ironically, she lived only about 20 minutes from the campus, yet she never made any attempt to learn about our institution and what we were seeking in an instructor.
One of the best suggestions I can give to individuals who have tried and failed to get faculty jobs in community colleges is to learn from those who have succeeded. Study their backgrounds. What do they have that you don't?
In the case of the applicant I've discussed, if she had contacted me, I would have told her not to give up if she really wanted to teach at a community college. I would have shared with her a few of my own stories: After graduate school, I wanted to teach at a community college and applied for my first such job in 1990. My ignorance about the entire process was colossal. It wasn't until 1993, when I began teaching part-time, that I started to have some clue about how to achieve my objective. It would be 1996 before I landed a full-time tutoring job at a community college. And it would 1998 before I managed to obtain a faculty position.
Even though it took me eight years to get what I wanted, I was always determined that I would figure out what I had to do to get hired. I paid a lot of dues in those years, volunteering for every activity I could to help out at the local community college. I taught any English courses the institution needed me to teach, at any time I was asked to teach them.
Was the time and effort worth it? I think so. When I decided to leave Alabama and move to Illinois two years ago, I had no real difficulty getting another community-college job -- an even better one. Then last year, my impending marriage necessitated finding a position in the St. Louis area. I went on the market again, and luckily, I was offered my current job at Jefferson College.
My hope is that my own experiences will shed some light on the process so that you'll be successful in less time than I was. There were times when I was convinced I had the job, only to see it go to someone else. And I was sure I was the better candidate. In 1996, I was passed over for a job I really wanted. At that time, I had been working as an adjunct at a community college in Alabama for three years. I had volunteered to assist with student activities on campus and attended most of the important functions. I had made it a point to meet the full-time faculty members, and they seemed to like me. So, when the college advertised a new full-time position in English, I was certain the job would be mine. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
To say that I was outraged was an understatement. I cried and fumed for two days. I also sat down at my computer and wrote a spiteful, angry letter to the academic dean, accusing her and everyone else on the committee of fraud, deception, manipulation, you name it. And the worst part is that I almost mailed my scathing epistle. Thank goodness better judgment prevailed.
The moral of my story? Don't assume you know what's going on behind the scenes. A couple of days after I received my rejection letter, the dean called to say that the committee members were impressed with my interview, but the person who got the job simply had far more community college experience. Still, she continued, the college was in desperate need of a full-time English tutor for a federal program on campus. She offered me the job, and I took it.
At first, I didn't believe that the "winner" could possibly be more qualified than I was. But then I got to know her. She had more experience at community colleges than I did. On top of that, she was charming, interesting, and outgoing, and the students really liked her. And in spite of myself, I did too, doggone it. Instead of the ogre I had imagined, she served as an excellent role model for me.
So as you're sitting there waiting to hear whether you got the job, stay hopeful. And if the outcome is disappointing, step back and figure out what you have to do to get a faculty position at a community college.