The Community-College Application: 7 Ways to Improve Your Odds

The faculty job market is just as brutal lately at community colleges as it is in any other sector of academe. As I often tell graduate students and new Ph.D.s interested in applying to a two-year campus: Getting hired here isn’t necessarily easier — it’s just different.

That said, there are things you can do in your application to make it stand out and increase your chances of at least getting a first-round interview. No guarantees of course, but here are seven ways to improve your odds:

Meet all deadlines. Duh, right? Yet every time I serve on a search committee, I am always surprised to see how many candidates send in their materials two or three days — or even a week — after the published deadline. They must think we will consider a late application. We won’t — unless they’re related to the college president, and maybe not even then.

Moreover, some job ads contain multiple deadlines — for instance, one for the bulk of the application materials and a separate one for recommendation letters. Far too many candidates pay attention to the first and ignore the second. Or maybe it’s their recommenders who are not paying attention to the deadline. Either way, the responsibility to make sure every element of your application is submitted on time falls on you, the candidate.

 

Read the fine print. Applicants can usually avoid situations like the one I just described simply by reading the job ad closely. Once you’ve seen the first deadline in an ad, it’s all too easy not to notice the second one buried in the text a bit lower.

Job ads tend to sound alike, all seemingly asking for the same items. But the devil, as always, is in the details: They often don’t ask for exactly the same documents, and if you assume all ads do, you’re likely either to leave out something important, send the committee something it didn’t ask for, or send the wrong thing. For example, there’s a big difference between official and unofficial transcripts and you need to send the type the search committee wants to see.

(For more advice on how to read job ads, see Manya Whitaker’s excellent recent column on that topic.)

Seriously: Send everything the ad requests. Submitting an incomplete application is tantamount to removing yourself from consideration. That is the second-biggest reason — after late submissions — why the committee might not even bother to read your packet.

Again, the problem is that different search committees ask for different things. Some just want a CV and cover letter. Others also require candidates to fill out an official application form. Still others want your official transcripts, teaching statement, and letters of recommendation, too. Some requests might even seem a bit odd or unusual, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they are optional.

Don’t send anything the ad doesn’t ask for. Given that academe is generally comprised of chronic overachievers, applicants who send too much information are actually more common than those who neglect to send enough. There’s always the temptation, it seems, to photocopy your recently published article or your carefully crafted teaching statement — even though we didn’t ask to see either of them.

Search-committee members hate this because, in our minds, we already have more than enough pieces of paper to read about this search — the last thing we want is more.

With so much of today’s application process online, it has gotten harder to send unwanted documents in recent years. But I’ve still seen candidates mail an unrequested document to the search committee — or sent it as an email attachment — when they couldn’t find a way to submit it online.

 

If you’re responding to multiple job postings, you probably will have to create documents — like a teaching statement, a diversity statement, or a writing sample — that only one college requests. Here’s a simple way to handle that: Create a free website specifically for your job search and post all of your application materials on the site. Then mention the link in your cover letters. That way, even if College A doesn’t ask for a teaching statement, the search-committee members will know about your website and can read your teaching statement if they want.

Do your homework. Sound obvious? If that’s the case, then why do so many candidates not do it? If I had to name one quality that most distinguishes successful community-college applications from the ones we pass over, it’s this: The applicants we pick to interview sound like they already know something about community colleges.

When we review applications, we want to make sure candidates understand what they’re getting themselves into (the pros and the cons) by deciding to work at a two-year college.

Of course, it’s an advantage if you actually do know something about community colleges — maybe you attended a two-year campus or adjuncted at one. Failing that, you should at least read up on community colleges in general — their mission, students, typical requirements and expectations for faculty — as well as on the specific college to which you’re applying. You can learn a great deal about how the place operates and what it values just from perusing its website.

Tailor your cover letter. One of the biggest mistakes academic job seekers make, in general, is attempting to use a single generic letter for every application — regardless of the type of institution. That rarely works. A major red flag for a search committee at a community college is a cover letter obviously aimed at a four-year university. Some candidates don’t bother to tweak their letter even slightly.

That is a major no-no, because it’s immediately obvious to us that applying to a community college is your fallback position. If you want to be seriously considered for a teaching position at a two-year college, the hiring committee must believe you (a) know what the job entails and (b) truly desire to do this kind of teaching-intensive work.

And you can’t just send out the same cover letter to every community college, either. We’re not all the same. Your cover letters to two-year colleges may be very similar in substance, with only a few details tailored to the specific college. But those details — in the eyes of search-committee members — could mean the difference between inviting you for an interview and tossing your application immediately onto the (figurative) reject pile.

(I wrote about the mechanics of writing an effective cover letter a few years ago, while Leonard Cassuto offered some excellent advice on the same topic just last month.)

Put your teaching up front. The single most important thing you can do — in your cover letter and everywhere else in your application — is make sure your teaching experience is front and center. As I always tell job seekers: If you have a lot of teaching experience, be sure to spend an entire paragraph talking about it — and if you don’t have a lot of teaching experience, spend an entire paragraph talking about it, anyway.

That paragraph should definitely be near the very top of your letter, right after the opening where you state your interest in the position.

Whereas your letter for a research-oriented position would focus on your dissertation and scholarship in the second paragraph and only mention teaching later on, your letter for a community-college post should do just the opposite: Lead with your teaching experience and briefly mention your research, if applicable, only toward the end.

By teaching experience, I’m not just talking about the specific courses you’ve taught and where. All of that information is already on your CV. The main point of your teaching paragraph should be to talk about the experiences you’ve had as a classroom teacher. What have you learned? How has your teaching enriched the lives of your students — and your own? Why do you want to do this for a living?

Ultimately, your application for a community-college job is an opportunity to present yourself as someone who is serious about teaching. You don’t just meet deadlines and follow directions, you have a passion for the classroom. You’re someone who knows exactly what to expect from faculty life at a community college — and fervently wants to be there.

Use your application to persuade us that you’re that person, and there’s a good chance we’ll want to interview you.

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College. He writes regularly for The Chronicle’s community-college column. The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @HigherEdSpeak.

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