Isn’t it every PhD graduate's dream to work in a prestigious research university?
Trailblazing new experiments, publishing papers, debating scholarly ideals—it's a glamorous vision. But the academic job market is fiercely competitive and in reality, tenure-track jobs like these are few and far between.
Most college administrators need professors with a pragmatic pedagogical approach and hands-on teaching experience more than they need someone who can publish hundreds of papers per year.
If you want stellar faculty members for your small liberal arts or teaching college, you can’t take the same hiring approach as a top research university. Here are four ways to help you identify the best candidates, based on your school's real needs.
1. Prioritize pedagogy
This is especially pertinent for community colleges.
When you prioritize a candidate's research background, you send a message that their teaching skills aren’t as important, or even needed. Big mistake.
What happens when your new professor realizes they’re stuck in a classroom all day with zero lab time? Be clear from the outset about what the expectations of the job really are. Candidates need to be prepared to work in a different culture and environment than what they're used to as a graduate.
Ask applicants to focus on the following areas:
- What is their teaching experience? Screen for candidates that focus on this first and foremost in their cover letters.
- How does their pedagogical approach fit into the department’s curriculum and the broader faculty community?
- How do their research interests connect with your teaching priorities? How do they relate to the student demographic?
- What courses have they taught and what are their ‘go-to’ classroom practices?
Don’t dismiss a candidate too quickly just because they lack classroom teaching experience. It’s likely that most graduates have worked collaboratively with other students or faculty members. Also, many PhD students would’ve spent time working as a teaching or research assistant, or in learning labs.
2. Talk about teaching
The median retention rate for university professors is only 11 years.
That's a far cry from the days of decades-long tenure tracks. As an administrator, you want to eliminate any unpleasant surprises on both sides of the interview table. Think of the interview as your opportunity to convey, live and in-person, the working culture of your institution.
You'll probably want to structure your interview questions around student learning and the student experience. You also want to connect with the teacher's personal and professional interests to help gauge their level of commitment and enthusiasm for the work.
Here are a few sample interview questions to try:
- What do you love about teaching?
- Describe your most memorable class.
- How do you engage with students?
- How do you assess student learning?
- What does student success mean to you?
- What are you favorites subjects to teach?
Don’t waste your precious interview time on a deep discussion about the minutiae of a candidate's research interests. If you really need to go there, save it for the second interview once you’ve already established that they’re a good fit for your faculty community.
3. Ask for a teaching demonstration
It’s fine for larger Ivy League schools to focus on scholarship job talk, but if you're hiring faculty members whose main purpose is teaching, you need to see them in ‘action.’
There are a couple of different ways to approach this:
- Ask a candidate to teach a current class of students
- Create a classroom setting, where an assembled group of faculty staff pretend to be students.
Look for candidates who come prepared with a lesson plan, including material and activities they created themselves, specifically for the session. Successful candidates should also demonstrate good classroom control.
Remember, if you’re hiring a faculty member to teach your students better than anyone else, it might not make sense to buy into the hype of hiring like Harvard.
Instead, take an approach that’s true to your school's culture and you'll be much more likely to end up with a full bench of all-star faculty who meet the day-to-day needs of your institution, and not someone else's.