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Demystifying the College Teaching Job Process: The Search Committee Review and On-Campus Interviews

View of Sterling Memorial Library at Yale. Photo Credit: Michael Marsland

In my last post, I introduced the four-step process for applying for a college teaching job according to Yale percussionist Professor Robert Van Sice and covered how to find a college job posting and create great materials.

What’s next?

This week, we will demystify the Search Committee Review Process and the On-Campus interview. 

Step 3: The Search Committee Review Process

  1. Initial Review

The Search Committee is comprised of 5-9 people, not all of whom will necessarily be in your discipline. There are typically 40-200 applicants for a college teaching job and the initial screening aims to get the pool down to 6-10 candidates.

The Committee sorts applications into 3 piles:

  • Candidates with a job
  • Candidates with a DMA who are looking for their first job
  • Candidates without a DMA who do not have a teaching job

Personal Connections are essential!

The Search Committee focuses on your past experience, as well as your reputation. Thus, if someone on the Search Committee met you at a festival and you made a great impression on her, that will go a long way in helping to move your application along.

It is also essential to have your current teacher reach out to the institution because that helps to differentiate you from your competitors when searching for a college teaching job.

  1. Phone Interview

If the committee likes your profile, the next step in the process of applying for a college teaching job is the phone interview where the committee narrows the applicant pool to 6-10 people and then selects 3 candidates for an on-campus interview. Your goal in the phone interview is to get to campus.

Typically, these interviews take place by Skype.   It is essential to prepare for the Skype interview so you need to do the following:

  • Research the members of the Search Committee

Read the bios of the members of the Search Committee and know everything possible about them.   See if there are any members with connections to your school or if they have relationships with other people who might be able to advocate for you in your search for a college teaching job.

  • Practice a Mock Skype Audition

To prepare his students for the Skype interview, Professor Van Sice conducts a mock Skype interview and tapes them. This helps students learn how to present themselves well and answer the questions that they are likely to be asked.

  • Dress appropriately

As a younger person, you have to look like a grown up. Thus, Professor Van Sice advises me to wear a shirt and jacket but not tie. For the women, look professional but not as though your mother dressed you for the prom!

  • Act and speak professionally

The members of the Search Committee are likely to be the age of your teachers, so speak like a grown-up! That means avoiding slang, casual language or colloquialisms. Practice speaking fluently and avoiding “ums” and “ers”.

Remember that social media means that everything is traceable. People will check your Facebook and Twitter account so be sure that your social media presence reflects well on you.

  • Prepare for the most common questions

Professor Van Sice advised students to prepare answers for typical Skype interview questions. Here were some of his suggestions:

  • What is your teaching philosophy?

I am 23 years old and I don’t have one. My teacher has one. But I have some ideas. (I am not so pretentious as to have one.)

  • What is your recruiting strategy?

I do a lot of national and international tours and I will be on the lookout for great candidates.

I would talk to a local high school teacher who sends students to highly competitive music conservatories and find out his or her strategies.

  • How will we be able to get tenure for you?

I will grow the department and train your students to be amazing performers.

  • How will you reconcile your performing career and a teaching career?

If you are teaching in NY, a big performance career is great. But in other parts of the country it could send a signal that you don’t care as much about teaching. Here’s a suggested answer:

I will limit my performances in the first 2 years to 10% because my first priority is to my studio. And my touring can be a great recruiting tool which I will use for the benefit of your school.

  • What makes you a good fit for our institution?

Read the website and convince the committee that you fit all of their criteria for the college teaching position.

Step 4: The Campus Visit

Congratulations!

You did a great job at your Skype interview and the Committee has invited you to campus.

Now what?

Here is what you can expect at a typical campus visit as you continue your search fora college teaching job.

  1. Early morning breakfast with Dean or Department Chair: 30 minutes

Prepare by reading the bio of the Dean or Department Chair.  At breakfast, the Dean or Department Chair will tell you more about the school. Listen carefully and speak only when spoken to.

Note that regional nuances matter. In the South, be sure to say “Yes, ma’am” or Yes, sir.” Shake the Dean’s hand. Look him or her in the eye. Close by saying, “Thank you for the opportunity.

  1. Play a recital: 30-45 minutes

The recital portion is open-ended and you can play whatever you want. Many of these recitals are public concerts.

Choose repertoire that dovetails with the school’s existing ensembles. For example, if the school has a world music ensemble, program steel drum repertoire.

If the school has a serious chamber music department, offer to play chamber music. They agree 1 out of 3 times.

Be sure to include orchestral excerpts in your recital that you enhance with videos or slides. For example, one student played excerpts from the Rite of Spring excerpts which he accompanied with a video of the ballet.  For Messaien excerpts, the student had videos of birds.  These videos say, “I try harder.” They also engage the students and give the message that as a teacher, you will make learning excerpts more interesting!

Finally, by creatively presenting your excerpts, you demonstrate to orchestra and wind ensemble conductors (who are often on search committees) that you are committed to making the ensemble experience even better.

  • Scores

If your music is complex, bring a score and you can offer it to the jury. Otherwise, don’t bring scores because if you hand a package of scores to the search committee, it screams STUDENT.

  1. Lunch with the search committee

You won’t win a college teaching job over lunch but you may lose it! Here are some ways to enhance the lunch experience.

  • Do not be overly casual
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Don’t eat pasta (it’s messy).
  • Know your CV: Know your CV backwards and forwards. They will have your CV on the table.
  • Be yourself: In a small university town, who you are as a person is as important as who you are as a musician. These people will be your social circle and they are looking for a colleague.
  • Make your enthusiasm for teaching apparent
  1. Coaching ensembles: 90 minutes

Chamber music is the essence of musicianship and this is where Professor Van Sice’s students shine in interviewing for a college teaching job, thanks to their experience in the Yale Percussion Group.  Therefore, you need to make the most of your experience coaching various ensembles in the course of your interview. The Search Committee will want to see how you teach at three different levels: college, master’s and doctorate.   You will have 90 minutes in all or 30 minutes with each group. Here is Professor Van Sice’s advice on how to make the most of your time.

The Committee will send you scores in advance so be sure to study these pieces in advance.  Focus on the big picture and show students how to “live” inside the sound.

Make sure that the students play with you, not for you. Play, listen and share your comments. You want to convey to the Search Committee that you can make the students play and listen to each other. You are the underdog since you are young so talk less, play more!

Finally, this is an opportunity to put your people skills to work.

  1. Public Master Class: 90 minutes

It’s 4pm. You may be tired! But this is where the interview gets real.

Show versatility in dealing with the different age groups that you will likely be teaching (college, master’s and doctorate).

Be prepared by knowing the repertoire and the problems of the particular pieces.

Professor Van Sice’s students do a lot of mock teaching. They film their sessions and talk about pedagogy so they are very well prepared for this part of the interview.

  1. Meet with the students

This is an informal Q&A chat with the students. The search committee members will not be present.  Behave like a faculty member.  Don’t buddy up with the students.  Be yourself and don’t fake your answers.

  1. Public Lecture

The public lecture is a relatively new requirement for a college teaching job and is becoming increasingly common. With university budgets getting cut, you are probably going to have to teach in the classroom. Prepare a topic with which you are very familiar.

Professor Van Sice’s students prepare by doing a 20-minute teaching demo that is filmed and then debriefed.

  1. Drinks with the Committee

The final stage of the campus visit is where you get rid of business clothes and have an informal session with members of the committee. Wear jeans and a nice shirt. Have ONE drink. This is when they tell you about real estate, schools and why you want to work here.

They are still evaluating you so you need to continue making a good impression.  Do not complain or speak negatively. Remember, these encounters are meant to size you up as a future colleague!

Final Words: The Musician’s Mantra

You are auditioning every day, all the time!

Every rehearsal counts. Everyone remembers if you are unprepared, if you play spectacularly, if you yell at people or get along with others.  You are constantly building your reputation of who you are.

And you don’t know the results because the decisions are made behind closed doors. You can’t make up for your bad reputation.

In closing, be sure to practice all aspects of the interview process as you apply for a college teaching job. Use the assets available at your school. Ask for help!

This is doable!