By Jordan Troisi, Ph.D., Sewanee: The University of the South
Navigating the job market for faculty positions is never easy. This is true of research-oriented positions, and it’s also true of teaching-oriented positions. This blog post highlights some tips on how to specifically navigate the job market for teaching-oriented faculty positions.
Why this focus? Well, that is where my experience lies. In the past 8 years, I have twice entered the full-scale, nationwide job market in search of teaching-oriented positions. I served as a visiting assistant professor at Widener University for three years, then I took on a position at Sewanee: The University of the South, where I have recently been awarded tenure. I have served on many search committees for tenure-track and visiting appointments. I also serve as the Co-Director of my university’s Center for Teaching, so I interact with lots of new faculty, many of whom have been beleaguered by job market trials and tribulations.
Before delving into specific tips, I should point out that this piece draws substantially, but not exclusively, from a chapter in Preparing the New Psychology Professoriate (Troisi, Christopher, & Batsell, 2014). If you haven’t seen this e-Book and you are applying for faculty positions at teaching-oriented schools—or will soon be applying—download it. It’s free. Stop reading this, download it, then return when you’ve done that.
(Welcome back from your downloading excursion!)
Tip #1: Know the nature of the job to which you are applying.
Faculty positions come in great variety. Some are tenure-track jobs, some are short-term visiting (e.g., 1 semester, 1 year), some are long-term visiting (e.g., 1-3 years), and some do not really fit any of these categories.
To the extent you can, try to determine what type of position is being offered. The job ad might have some hints, and often some reading between the lines will be necessary (hint: if there is text referencing a “sabbatical replacement,” then this most likely means this job is a short-term gig). Your professional networks might also have some insight, so ask around with those you might know, especially near the school.
Knowing the nature of the position allows you to tailor your application materials appropriately. At my teaching-oriented institution, if we are hiring a sabbatical replacement, it does relatively little good for job application materials to trumpet research prowess—we are simply not hiring for that.
Tip #2: The cover letter is the most important piece of the application; the vita is a close second.
Here’s the dirty little secret from the hiring side of the job interview process: most candidates’ application materials look pretty much the same. When we have a pile of 20, 70, or 150 job applicants, one article reprint from one applicant usually does not stand out in the pile. What does stand out though—at least to me—are thoughtful, well-crafted cover letters and vitas.
Let me address the vita first. At teaching-oriented schools, if your vita does not highlight and elucidate your teaching-oriented accomplishments, well, it’s game over. List courses you’ve taught and courses for which you’ve served as a teaching assistant (and please make sure to distinguish between the two). Also list teaching workshops you’ve attended, publications or presentations of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), mentorship of students, and anything else that will make you stand out at job where your primary duties will be working with students (and most often at teaching-focused institutions, undergraduates).
Now, the cover letter. This I view as the most important part of the job application. This is where you highlight what’s important to you. Ideally, these things should also be valued by the school to which you’re applying. This is where you pick out pieces of your vita that are particularly relevant. This is also where you tell the story of why you want this job, at this university, in this department, and ideally, in this part of the country. Teaching-oriented universities want strong teachers, they are likely not looking for research stars. So, tell us why you want to teach and make a life here.
Tip #3: Communicate how you will be a team player.
This one almost goes without saying. But then again, I’ve been on the hiring side of the selection process for new faculty members, and some people did not appear to get this advice. Teaching-oriented universities are smaller, and often have smaller departments. Duties get shared within units at the school (e.g., departments, divisions, colleges), and especially when those units are small, it is important that those involved in the completion of those duties work well together.
What does this mean for you, the job candidate? Both on paper and during phone and campus interviews, make clear that you can make a valuable contribution to the enterprises currently underway. Does the department need you to teach new courses that are not yet in the course catalog? If so, express your excitement for developing those new courses (it will be work, sure, but it will also be exciting!). Teaching-oriented institutions want candidates to be a part of the intellectual and community life of their students. Make clear that you are interested in making a contribution and impact.
Though, a word of caution on being a team player is warranted. Do not go overboard with promises, especially promises that would be difficult to keep. Making a promise then failing to follow through can lead to resentment. Make the promises you know you can fulfill, then for other requests, point out that you would harness the skills you have, connect with the people on campus who have information, and do your best to make progress. This, after all, is the best that anyone can do when they don’t have the answers they need.
Troisi, J. D., Christopher, A. N., & Batsell, W. R. (2014). Ten suggestions for securing a faculty position at a selective liberal arts school. In J. N. Busler, B. C. Beins, & B. Buskist (Eds.) Preparing the New Psychology Professoriate: Helping Graduate Students Become Competent Teachers, 2nd ed. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/page-1862898
Jordan Troisi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Sewanee: The University of the South, where he also serves as the Co-Director of the Sewanee Center for Teaching. Dr. Troisi has demonstrated a commitment to the teaching of psychology, having served in various capacities within the STP, including his current post as the Director of the Annual Conference on Teaching. In addition to his research examining best practices in college teaching, Dr. Troisi also studies the mechanisms through which humans achieve belongingness.