Friday, October 12, 2012

Through The CC On-Campus Interview Ringer

An anonymous Smoker sent the following story detailing an on-campus interview at a community college somewhere in the American West, which was too long to go as a comment in Zombie's recent CC-related post. Here it is:
I interviewed for a TT CC job on the West Coast in the spring of 2009. I was invited for and had a campus interview (at my own expense), and was one of three finalists, including the incumbent, drawn from a pool of roughly 110 applicants.

The school was heavily unionized, and the entire process was onerous, impersonal, and bureaucratic.

I found it strange, for instance, that from start to finish, all of my correspondence with the CC was with the school's HR department, not with either of the two TT philosophers at the school, or any other faculty.

At any rate, ten days before my campus visit, the HR department informed me by email that my visit would have three parts:

1. A writing exercise;
2. A teaching demonstration;
3. An interview with five people, all of whom were either faculty or administrators.

I was also told that if the president of the college had time, he would meet with me after my interview.

The topic of my teaching demonstration was emailed to me ten days before the interview; it asked me to construct a truth table illustrating DeMorgan's Law.

When the big day finally came, I arrived on campus with only instructions to report to HR at 9:15 am. No one from the CC met me at the airport, or arranged accommodation, or made any effort to ensure my comfort. I didn't even get a campus tour.

At any rate, the HR woman took me into a small office, asked me to leave my materials outside the door, gave me a sheet containing a question to which I was asked to write an answer, and instructed me either to type my answer on a computer, or write it on a legal pad. I chose to use the computer, and was given approximately 20 minutes to compose my answer.

The question asked me to compare and contrast Utilitarianism and Kantianism on the morality of lying.

I finished my answer just as time expired, and was then given fifteen minutes to study a list of three other questions which were to form the basis of my interview with the five people noted above. One of the questions dealt with Hume and induction, another with Plato's Theory of Forms, and a third with pedagogy and the relevance of philosophy to CC students.

When the fifteen minutes expired, the HR lady took me to a large conference room in another part of the building, in which were seated the five representatives (including two philosophers and one English professor) from the school. I should note that this was the first contact I'd had with any of the faculty, including the philosophers. (I suspect, however, that before I arrived in the conference room, the two philosophers had read my answer to the Utilitarianism/Kantianism question.)

I was asked to give my teaching demonstration first, and did so without much fuss.

Next came the interview, which consisted solely of having the interview questions noted above recited verbatim by three of the five interviewers.

I answered the questions in detail and fielded all of their follow-up questions; then the interview ended, and the HR lady led me outside the room while the five interviewers conferred with each other.

Ten minutes later, the HR lady went back into the conference room, and emerged shortly thereafter with word that the CC president would like to meet with me.

It was at this point that I realized that the earlier line about the president meeting with me if he had time was just a ruse; the meeting with him was contingent on my having had a successful interview.

The HR lady escorted me across campus to the president's office, where I met with him and the dean. The interview went well, and I remember being asked, What is the one thing you would change about community colleges?

I gave an answer that I thought they'd like to hear: I said that I'd make it the case that every applicant to a CC be accepted, since CCs' goal (or at least this CC) was to serve taxpayers of the state.

I completed the interview with these two and left feeling like I'd aced not only it, but also the interview with the committee, the teaching demonstration, and the writing test. I was on cloud nine!

Two days later, my hopes rose further when I received calls from two of my references, informing me that they had been contacted by the philosophers on the CC's hiring committee and told that I was an extremely strong candidate. According to my referees, I was one of three shortlisted candidates, and a decision was imminent.

Then, ten days passed with no word from anyone at the CC. I found the wait awkward, especially because I had never been formally given the email addresses or phone numbers of the two philosophers on the hiring committee; I had no one to answer my questions.

Finally, on approximately the twelfth day after my campus visit, I found in my spam mail folder an email from a different HR person than the one who had shepherded me through my visit. It was a rejection letter -- a PFO.

I was devastated.

I should add that I was at that time in my fourth year as a VAP at a SLAC in the Midwest and had previously published a paper in a peer-reviewed (and highly regarded) journal. I had also held an 18-month VAP at a different SLAC prior to the Midwest gig, and held a Ph.D. from a Leiter-ranked school.

In all, I found the whole CC application and interview process dehumanizing, rule-bound, and off-putting.

That said, I would have loved to have got the job, as it was within twenty miles of one of the largest cities on the West Coast, held the promise of good weather, excellent pay and benefits, and a manageable teaching load.

I hope my account of this experience will help some of my fellow smokers.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

this is an awful story.

i would be fascinated to hear insight from someone on a CC hiring committtee. why all the impersonality? why the drawn out process (writing a test? WTF?).

Anonymous said...

My experience with numerous telephone interviews with CCs and one flyout are not entirely like the long and heartbreaking story that opens this point. That being said, in the one case where I did make the final round (at a cc in a nearly ideal location on the east coast) I was subject to some bad decision making on the part of the search committee.

I had been asked to prepare a 10 minute teaching demonstration: one more time: I was asked to prepare a 10 minute teaching demonstration.

I didn't get the demeaning mini essays or anything like that BUT I did have the awkward experience of meeting my competition. Apparently my SC had decided to fly all of their candidates out at the same time on the same day and basically get us all in, one after the other after the other. Imagine the awkwardness.

I was never introduced to students and met with a dean, a provost, and five professors for interviews (no philosophers in this group) and frankly I too thought I had aced this thing.

I had the same long delay, the same notices from my references saying they had been contacted and told by the chair of the SC that I was excellent. And then silence. For weeks. I tried to e-mail for an answer but was told to keep waiting (this was well into May and I had a VAP offer so I needed to know *FAST* whether to turn them down or not).

It turns out that although I was one of three finalists, I failed to have the most important qualification: I was not the internal candidate.

Given where I am now, this is not surprising. The last three major job searches at my current institution have all been farces with the jobs going to internal candidates from our department. I don't know how common this is but given my last few years experience in the job seems remarkably common. Anyone else find this to be true? I imagine research schools would not have this problem but heavily teaching oriented SLACS or CCs seem to have a deep nepotistic streak. Am I over-generalizing. Probably. But I'm angry, tired, and bitter.

Ben said...

"I did have the awkward experience of meeting my competition. Apparently my SC had decided to fly all of their candidates out at the same time on the same day and basically get us all in, one after the other after the other. Imagine the awkwardness."

FWIW, this is perfectly normal in the UK (and maybe Europe more generally). It can be awkward, but I'm not sure it's any worse than the usual drawn-out American process.

arch said...

yThrough the wringer, not the ringer.

If you don't care enough about getting this posting right, why on earth would you expect me to take you seriously?

{Look of disdain on my ugly face as I toss Mr. Zero's dossier into the recycling bin.}

Anonymous said...

Don't we pretty much meet all of our competition at the stupid Smoker?

patty said...

The process itself sounds familiar -- but, we don't have the essay question part and all of our interview questions are about teaching, not philosophical topics.

It's the case that we don't have a budget to fly our or house candidates -- I wish we did. By our union/HR rules we're not supposed to have any outside contact with candidates -- again, I wish it weren't the case.

The delay was probably due to their first choice negotiating a deal, so they didn't want to reject you until their first choice accepted.

I'd say that the problem in your interview was in your answer -- which, if understand the summary of your answer correctly, was to change something that is generally already the case about CCs -- namely, they're open admission. In my state the only restrictions we can have are time based, as in we cut off acceptance for the coming semester a few days before the first day of class. Unless your west coast state is different, this is a BIG boo boo -- and frankly, I'd have rejected you for this, clearly -- you don't understand the nature of the CC.

The fact of the matter is that CCs are often highly unionized, which often results in living wages for faculty -- and an impersonal hiring process. Also, we just don't have the kinds of budgets colleges and universities have -- so nice things like flying in out of state applicants are often cut to keep services to under-prepared students going..

Anonymous said...

That was a very depressing account, but interesting.

To 4:29: From what I've gathered through my own experiences at an SLAC and from many colleagues at similar institutions, internal candidates do not usually have an advantage. It is, if anything, the opposite. My explanation has been that part-timers, adjuncts, and visiting instructors are often treated as part of a lower social class and, as we all know, it's hard to advance across class lines. I think these attitudes are irrational and insidious, but they also seem to be widespread.

Anonymous said...

I had an almost identical experience when I did an on-campus with a community college. I agree with Zero 100% that "In all, I found the whole CC application and interview process dehumanizing, rule-bound, and off-putting." The CC job was the only thing I had going at the time, but I wasn't devastated when I got rejected (also impersonally in a form letter from HR). After going through that process, I didn't want to work there.

If CCs are going to advertise nationally and seek high quality candidates, they need to fix the interview process.

Anonymous said...

Much of this process describes well how most people in America get professional jobs. I guess that's the difference, really. CCs are looking for professional teachers, which most PhDs (especially in philosophy) are not, even if they're good at teaching philosophy. If you think that's a contradiction, you probably shouldn't be teaching at a CC.

Anyhow, it seems to me like you're a bunch of pampered cry-babys. Face it, you're just not that special.

Wa! Nobody wanted to talk about my publication record (nor did they even care).
Wa! I had to demonstrate minimal teaching competency.
Wa! I had to write something(!?).
Wa! The decision to hire me was made by people who have no idea how or whether I'm qualified in my AOS--they don't know what my AOS is!
Wa! They were unimpressed by my teaching record as a VAP at a SLAC!

Wa! A-Wa! Waaaa!

Elizabeth Harman said...

I believe it's been well-established that while in-person interviews create huge opportunities for noise, luck, and implicit bias to interfere with the process, this happens less when all interviewees are asked the same questions. Only meeting with candidates in a formal setting and asking the same questions of all candidates might actually make the process more fair. (Though it may be harder on the candidates.)

Anonymous said...


That sucks! I tell you two things...some of my experiences mirror your own, but not all. (A couple places were good.)

Here's the worst question I received during an interview, and it was the first question: Who was the more important to Philosophy, Wittegenstein or Bertrand Russell?

Here's a little something I wrote once:

Sidney V.

Anonymous said...

At my large research university, we had to meet with an HR/EOE/AA person before beginning our search, and she instructed us that (in order to preserve the legal/ethical integrity of the search? or just to follow best practices in HR w/r/t bias and such?) we must ask the candidates all the same questions. We came up with about four questions--Tell us about your research? How would you teach X? What would you want to teach if you could teach something outside your AOS/AOC? Do you have any questions for us? And then we spent 90% of the interview on the first question, with many follow-ups of course. The candidates would have had no idea that we were conducting a "standardized" or "impersonal" or "dehumanizing" interview, but technically, we were following the same rules at the CC mentioned in the post.

At universities with philosophy departments (or philosophy departments of a certain size) it makes sense that the department has some autonomy over how they hire. They are, after all, a self-governing organization unto themselves, to some degree. But if a CC doesn't have a philosophy department or a critical mass of full-time faculty, it makes sense that the search would be conducted by an interdisciplinary group under the direction of the HR department. Doesn't strike me as odd at all.

I feel the poster's pain...I've been there. But keep in mind that the committee may have loved you and been thrilled to hire you, had their first choice turned them down. They just happened to like the other person a fraction better. Feeling like you aced an interview is no reason to believe you'll get the job...after all the decision is based on a comparison of candidates, and you have no idea how the other candidates' interviews went.

Anonymous said...

As someone rhetorically asked in the comments on the philosopher's imprint fees: "When was it, I wonder, when philosophers turned from being austere stoic types to a pack of self-righteous crybabies?"

While the situation described might not be ideal, it is a perfectly standard job interview...the kind of thing non-academics go through all the time.

There are millions of people out there looking for work, so please shut the fuck up about how "dehumanizing" it was to have to answer a few questions, meet the president, and not have a chauffeur pick you up from the airport.


Anonymous said...

"why all the impersonality?"

For most of the SC's time, you are a file. You are not a person. You are a small slice of a person, a very narrowly-defined function. Until the day the SC meets you on campus, at which point you become a persona. A performance. A shiny, suited, eager to please shell of the full person you truly are.

Maybe some members of some SC will be interested in you as a person, though chances are what appears to be thinking of you as a person is really fishing for information on fit. Also, chances are you will never actually show them the full range of your personhood, either. You want the job, so you'll be projecting what you think they want to see.

The whole dog and pony show is impersonal. It's akin to expressing shock that a waitress is flirting with you for a tip, and not because she's just that into you.

CTS said...

So, someone who is not familiar with what might be standard CC hiring procedures finds the experience impersonal and odd. Those who are familiar with those kinds of procedures could weigh in with helpful comments or even criticisms of the candidate's expectations.

But why the overt hostility in 2:02 and 9:21? Is no one ever allowed to express their sense of having a bad time in the job process?

zombie said...

For someone unaccustomed to the CC campus visit protocol, the experience (if this experience is typical) would indeed seem unusually impersonal and odd. It would be different and far more impersonal than any campus visit I ever had for a university job. But then, every campus visit I ever had for an adjuncting position was different too (shorter and far less formal).

The part about paying for the campus visit is particularly onerous. I have heard of candidates being asked to buy their own tickets (and being reimbursed), but not being forced to pay for the visit.

In my limited experience (yes, it was that CC in Oregon) of having to respond to numerous written questions, my contact was only ever with someone in HR. I will say that said person was frustratingly disorganized. On more than one occasion, I received, on the same day, emails telling me I was out of the running, and then requesting that I submit answers to more questions. In each case, I had to write to HR and ask if I was really out, and in each case, it turned out I was not. Quite the emotional roller coaster.

Anonymous said...

1) That sucks. You should shit in an envelope and mail it to that HR department.

2) I'm so happy to have bailed on my dissertation. Today I'm leaving work at 5 and I'm going out to a few bars and then home to the house that I paid for with money that isn't going to pay for student loans.

While I would have loved the experience of teaching at a university, I have a feeling that the only way that would have happened would have been if a) I finished my dissertation and b) my research allowed me to build a time machine to travel back to 1946 and look for a teaching gig.

Thank you, PSers, for my daily dose of schadenfreude. You should all join me on the other side of the fence. While I do have to work over the summer, the health insurance is awesome and I don't have to write a book a year to keep my job, I just need to show up.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if this was like many interviews I had during my job hunting days where you were just one of the three candidates they were required to bring to campus because of some internal system of regulations. So they put you through the process perhaps when they had already decided on somebody else. Doing well just makes them angry because it means "their candidate" may not be as good. Often my best interviews were at places like these where I had no shot and didn't know it. I tried to "wow" them and just ended up making them sullen and despondent. As an older and wiser veteran my advice is always to have someone inside the search to tell you what is really going on. And don't fret over rejection.

Anonymous said...

We need a discussion of how this year's market compares to the last few years' markets.

Anonymous said...


What do you do? Where are these mythical lucrative private sector jobs that await failed humanities ph.d. students? Because, I have tried, like hell, to find employment beyond academia and neither of my degrees (a non-philosophy humanities BA, and a philosophy MA) served me at ALL on private sector job market, if anything they HURT me. I was seen as someone of low intelligence, with no work experience and no marketable skills. In short, no discernable upside.

No one is waiting in the wings to hire droves of washed out humanities majors.

WV: pysants lol!

Anonymous said...

@ 12:36

I work in publishing. In fact, the publishing industry is nothing but failed humanities majors and people with journalism degrees.

Anonymous said...

I have less jobs to apply for this year than last year. But it seems like the total amount of jobs around this time are the same. But jobs just sort of trickle out now so there is no sense of when the majority of them will have come out.

CTS said...


My partner, with a BA in PHL and a minor in Math went on to a Ph.D. in PHL. Once he gave up on PHL, he took one semester of computer sciencey stuff and got an internship with a major NYC bank. He never looked back.

The advantages in having a liberal arts degree - assuming one was paying attention - is that one can work across narrower constituencies within a company and/or communicate with outsiders. If my partner had gone into CS and stayed there, he probaby would have been out of the work force some years ago. But, as someone who can speak with and understand people with varied primary foci, and as someone who can think well, he has been really successful.

I think the problem for many lib arts/humanities students is that they don't know how versatile they can be and/or do not realize that they have transferable skills that students in the 'school-to-job' set never gain. Sadly, what one might describe as lower level personnel types also do not recognize this (or, they do and resent it).

Anonymous said...

Human that's a thriving area of employment. Recall all those indifferent bureaucrats you communicate with in your job search. Check their salaries. With a Masters in HR you can make $80k to start....$120k if you're an HR director at an institution of higher education, $180k if you move into the corporate sector. Philosophers should be fairly good HR professionals given their analytical skills.

Anonymous said...


Yes and all the failed philosophy PhD needs in order to get a job in an HR department is an MBA or a BA in human resource management...just another 2-4 years of debt. That's realistic!

Seriously, you're nuts if you think anyone is going to hire a failed philosophy PhD student for an HR job, or ANY other non-menial labor job (assuming they don't have a marketable undergraduate degree up their sleeve). No one gives a shit about your "analytical skills".