The Interview Process for Tenure-Track Faculty

The Academic Job Search: Faculty

If there is any career where you can be “voted off the island,” it is as a college professor. Both of my parents are college professors, and I recently had a great conversation with my dad about the hiring process for tenure-track faculty in colleges and universities. The process I’m about to describe is different for folks who want to work in community colleges, and is also different for those who wind up as adjuncts, lecturers, part-time faculty, or staff of universities. (I’ll be posting soon about how to get a job as a staff person in higher education). I should highlight that unfortunately it is becoming more and more likely that people who want to work in academe end up being part-timers or adjuncts, who typically earn little for their work, often don’t have benefits, and are not considered for tenure. (This is a major reason I decided not to pursue a PhD in anthropology, the field I was considering after undergrad.) I should also add that certain PhDs lend themselves to careers in either academia or in “industry” (i.e. everything outside of academia). Some examples include industrial/organizational psychology, counseling psychology, economics, and public policy.

For those who are interested in become tenure-track faculty in universities, it is a long and difficult process of first earning a PhD. It’s important during your time as a graduate student to make sure you start networking in your field, attending professional conferences, building teaching experience, and ideally getting published. In the final year of the program, while you are busy writing your dissertation, universities start sending out notices of tenure-track positions, usually in the late summer to early fall. (A good place to look is the Chronicle of Higher Education and any listservs or professional associations in your field.) You apply, using your academic CV (not your resume), letters of reference from faculty, and other documents (like a statement of research interests, writing samples, teaching portfolio etc.). The letters of reference are scrutinized heavily to assess the quality of your research work. If selected, you will have a pre-screening telephone interview or may be interviewed at an academic conference. If you are lucky, the hiring committee calls you in for in-person interviews, which consist of regular interview questions, lots of meals with faculty and students, a “job talk” in which you present your research, and a teaching demonstration. The university will pay for your travel expenses. Once the hiring committee makes a decision, you come to work the following fall. However, this is only the beginning of the process.

The next step occurs about six years later when you are being considered for tenure. A committee determines whether your teaching and research are up to snuff. There are many situations where you may be denied tenure and then go back on the job market, a fate which could mean the end of your academic career, because there will certainly be questions in future interviews about why you were denied tenure. Academia is a very small world; most people in a particular field of study know each other, and the reputation you have will likely precede you. If you can make it all the way through to receiving tenure, you have more job security even than a federal employee.

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