What Makes a Good (Virtual) Campus Visit to a Two-Year College?

By: Jeffrey Klausman, Whatcom Community College

Last spring, my colleagues and I successfully completed a hiring process for a new full-time faculty member in English. By “successful,” I mean not only that we made a hire, but that we hired the person whose experience and interests most closely matched our needs. How did this one person rise to the top? How was he, along with a half-dozen other candidates, selected for an interview? Here’s the best answer I can give: He brought us something we needed.

Too many applicants do not understand our needs as we spell them out in the job announcement. For example, when we state that we are seeking people with “advanced coursework in composition and rhetoric” and “currency in the field of composition and rhetoric,” it should be clear that we’re looking for a compositionist—not merely someone who teaches, has taught, or can teach composition. It does no good to talk to us about your creative writing or your dissertation in literary studies. In fact, if you have an MFA or your PhD is in literature, you have an uphill battle. I’ll skim your resume quickly for comp-rhet courses, presentations, projects, and publications. If I don’t see them and see them forefronted—sorry, but “next.” Our current faculty already includes MFAs and PhDs in both creative writing and all facets of literary studies. Like nearly all two-year college English departments, we’re in the business of teaching composition. So, learning to read that job announcement is a pre-requisite to getting an interview. Show us you’re a savvy compositionist.

Once you get the interview, there are a few things that can help. Like many two-year colleges, we no longer offer face-to-face interviews as we once did, solely because of budget issues. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the same town or across the country, we’ll conduct the interview via Skype. So, your campus visit may well be virtual. Being comfortable with the medium is paramount—practice with it, get friends to help. Know how close to sit to the camera, how loudly to speak, and what kind of background best suits you. If you need to use props—sample student papers, for example—it may be possible to use a different program (Tegrity and Collaborate, for example, allow you to share documents). If you can, record your mock interview and (however uncomfortable it may be) watch yourself and then make adjustments.

Here are a few things to prepare for:

  • Know the college and who will interview you but don’t go too far: Sure, look at the college’s website, familiarize yourself with the mission and strategic plan, and read about current initiatives. Also look at faculty web pages, if they are available. But don’t go overboard. Mentioning someone’s recent article might be fine, but mentioning someone’s dissertation from twenty years before may only point up the fact that this person hasn’t been publishing lately. (Most of our work isn’t publishing anyway.) In other words, you’ll want to be as informed as you can about what the college is currently working on and a little about your future colleagues, but keep it general.
  • Show you can work with colleagues to get things done: Give examples of actual projects you’ve led or worked on that have accomplished something substantial for the college. Maybe you don’t have a lot of experience yet, but draw upon what you’ve got. Much of a faculty member’s departmental and college life will not be scholarly in the traditional sense but will instead be focused on an accreditation report, a revision of a class’s curriculum, or some cross-disciplinary initiative. Show us you know how to get these practical things done.
  • Know your stuff: We have done two things in recent hires, both of which demonstrated for us how much and how well an applicant knew the field. We had the applicant respond to a piece of student writing assuming the writing sample was in the first draft stage. We asked the applicant to respond as she/he normally would, given the criteria (which we provided in the form of the assignment). We also had applicants provide a writing assignment they use often. In both cases, we asked them to connect their work—the responding, the assignment—to their philosophy of teaching writing. What we were looking for was thoughtfulness in their work, of course, but also an awareness of current theory. It’s not enough to cite Peter Elbow, for example; we want to know if you’re up on the field. Have you read a few recent CCC’s articles that inspire you? Are you responding to shifts in education brought about by a new mediascape? If we hire you, can you bring us something we don’t already have?

That’s the main thing. We have 75% adjunct faculty already on staff—without exception, they are good teachers. While “teaching excellence” is a minimum requirement—it is a minimum. Yes, you have to show you’re a good teacher, but our department and college need help in other areas: program assessment, revision of placement practices, expertise in dual and concurrent enrollment, developmental and basic writing, program development, tech-influenced pedagogical approaches, etc. Bring us something we don’t have (experience, knowledge); show that you can get the job done; and have a sense of what’s going on in the world of higher education and our little college’s place in it—then, you’ll have a good shot at getting an interview and doing well in it.