Demystifying the College Teaching Job Search Process: Part I

View of Sterling Memorial Library Photo credit: Michael Marsland

Can recent music graduates realistically aspire to teaching at the college level?

College teaching is an aspiration of many music students. While these jobs, especially tenure-track positions, may seem out of reach, it is still possible for recent graduates with masters degrees to compete successfully for these jobs. Recently, Professor Robert Van Sice, the renowned head of the percussion studio at Yale School of Music, demystified the college teaching job search process to explain how music students can enhance their chances of obtaining a college teaching job.

Professor Robert Van Sice:

A few words about Professor Van Sice are in order.

Professor Van Sice is an international percussion star, particularly known for his work on the marimba. He heads the percussion studio at Yale and also teaches at Curtis and Peabody. As one of the world’s leading educators in percussion, his former students have established successful careers as soloists, symphony orchestra players and founders and members of chamber ensembles in over 20 countries. Over the years, Professor Van Sice has helped 78 of his students obtain college teaching jobs in universities and conservatories in the US and Europe including Princeton, Peabody, Cornell, NYU, the Geneva Conservatory in Switzerland and the Oslo Conservatory in Norway. With such a great track record, Professor Van Sice was the ideal person to talk our students through the process.

Overview of the Process

Musicians who aspire to teaching at the college level should keep the following in mind:

First, winning a college teaching job is a serious undertaking. The field is highly competitive, with anywhere from 40-200 people applying for a job. Therefore, you need to have a sense of urgency around the process.

As Professor Van Sice so crisply put it,

Your options are either to get a nice job that will afford you a home and benefits or you go back to your student apartment.”

Moreover, you are applying for a job every day of your life. You will meet colleagues throughout your career and you make your reputation by virtue of the way that you interact with people. Moreover, the music world is small and people have long memories. If you have made a good impression on someone at a summer festival or on tour, that will help you a lot. By contrast, if you exhibit arrogance or are otherwise not an easy person to work with, that too will follow you around and your past behavior may very be the reason that you do not win a job.

A corollary of the foregoing is that relationships and personal connections matter a lot. You will need the help of your current teachers and other people who know you well to advocate on your behalf.

Finally, as a young person who is applying for these competitive positions, you are being compared to applicants with more experience and those who already have their doctorates. Therefore, you need to present yourself impeccably and show that you try harder.

The good news is that there is a process for obtaining a college teaching job and with a lot of preparation and knowledge, young people graduating from Yale and similar institutions can successfully win a college teaching job.

There are 4 key areas to know about in securing a college teaching job:

  1. Finding the Job Posting
  2. Applying for the Job
  3. The Search Committee Review
  4. The On-Campus Interview

This week, I will talk about how to find the jobs and prepare your applications.  Next time we will cover the Search Committee Review nd the on-campus interviews.

Step 1: How to Find Job Postings

Start by scouring the two principle databases for college teaching jobs where large universities post openings:

Then, look at the individual websites of smaller colleges and universities who typically cannot afford to advertise in the two databases. In fact, as a young graduate, you are more likely to win job at a smaller institution where you can gain experience and then work your way up to a position at a larger university.

One way to gain teaching experience while you are still in school is to look for openings at institutions within a radius of 100 miles from your school. If you are able to get such a job while still in school, it will enhance your teaching CV.

Finally, instrument-specific websites and Facebook pages also are a source of teaching jobs.

Step 2: The Application Process

Here are some pointers on how to navigate the application process.

  1. Analyze the Job Description

Once you have found the job description, review and analyze it carefully. Only apply for the job that is realistic to your current level of experience. Professor Van Sice suggests printing out the job description, highlight everything you have done with a colored marker and use another colored marker to flag what you have not done. If there are two or more job requirements that you do not possess, do not bother applying for the job.

2. Understand the Levels of College Teaching Jobs

There are four levels of college teaching jobs:

  • Lecturer
  • Associate Professor
  • Assistant Professor
  • Professor

Recent graduates should aim for Lecturer or Associate Professor, depending on your college teaching experience. Also, note if the job is a tenure-track position. If not, the job is unlikely to lead to a tenure-track job.

You should also pay attention to what degrees the job is looking for. “Master’s degree required, Doctorate preferred” means exactly that. If you do not have your doctorate, it’s not worth applying for a job where a doctorate is required.

3. Review the Responsibilities of the Position:

Now, carefully review responsibilities of the position. A typical percussion teaching job would look like this:

  • Private lessons in a teaching studio
  • Percussion ensemble
  • World music component
  • Marching percussion
  • Methods class
  • Secondary subject teaching

4. Profile the University

Notice if the job is in a Department of Music or a School of Music.  A Department is run by a revolving Department Chair who reports to a Provost, whereas a School is headed by a Dean. The Dean has more leeway in hiring than the Music Department Chair. Therefore, as a young person, if you impress the Dean, you may have a better shot at a job in a School of Music than in a Department of Music.

Location is critical. If you are applying for job in Mississippi, Oregon and New York, these are 3 very different jobs.

Be sure to read the school’s website and be familiar with the resumes and bios of all of the faculty members.  Furthermore, Moreover, notice what types of ensembles the school has.  A small university may not have a large orchestra but instead may have a wind ensemble.

5. Generate Top-Quality Application Materials

Your application materials are of the utmost importance since they are the first contact you will have with the Search Committee. Be sure that all materials are organized and comply with the job description. Chaotic materials may even disqualify you right from the get go!

Here are Professor Van Sice’s top tips for producing great materials.

  • Cover Letters

The goal of a cover letter is to get the search committee to read your CV.

Your cover letter showcases your qualifications that meet the requirements of the job description. It should be between 1 and 1-1/2 page long. Professor Van Sice indicated that most CVs do not get read, so a cover letter is a great opportunity to present yourself and your experience in such a way that the Search Committee will want to review your CV.

  • Academic CV

An academic CV should detail the experience that qualifies you for teaching at the college level. This would include college teaching experience, private teaching, master classes, performance experience, grants that you have received, awards, honors and commissions, media, recordings, professional affiliations, community service as well as your education and principal teachers.

If you already have college teaching experience as an instructor, TA or as a private teacher, begin with your teaching experience. Otherwise, start with your education, especially if you have attended a prestigious school like Yale since that is an impressive credential to search committees.

Never lie in your CV. You cannot fake a credential so do not pretend to have experience that you do not have. This is a very small world and it is too easy to pick up the phone or do a quick google search to verify some unusual bit of experience in your CV!

  • Demo Video

Follow the guidelines of the job description and be sure to present a variety of repertoire. Represent the breadth of your skills, from Bach to Berio!

High quality video makes a big difference. If you have beautiful materials, it tells people that you try harder.

Make it easy to navigate the tape. Provide cursors to mark where you want the auditors to listen so that they can jump in and out of the tape. Do not provide references to Vimeo and YouTube since it takes too long to access materials on those sites.

  • Letters of Recommendation

Professor Van Sice recommended that you include the names and contact information of your principal references on your CV. If the job description asks for 3 letters of recommendation, ask your references for letters.

The first reference should be your current teacher. If he or she is not listed, that may flag a problem. You should also have diverse recommenders who can speak to your experience in a variety of contexts.

The quality of the recommendation is also paramount and is more important than “star power”. Just because you attended a master class with Yo Yo Ma does not make him a better recommender than someone who knows you very well but does not have YoYo Ma’s reputation.

Next time:

The Search Committee Review and the On-Campus Interview