As I navigated through graduate school, I remember thinking about how the role of Adjunct Professor would be perfect for me. I was drawn to the possibility of working from home, the flexible hours, and the ability to work with talented students. Midway through my doctoral degree, I began searching for my first adjunct teaching position. After many, many applications, interviews, and demonstrations of work, I got the golden ticket: the job offer. I landed my first adjunct professor job!
When reflecting on my journey, I realized that the interview process for a teaching position in higher education was somewhat different from what I had experienced outside of academia. Below are the six biggest lessons that I learned along the way:
- Target your search. I initially applied for almost any position even marginally related to my qualifications. I quickly learned that this was a poor strategy! In higher education, qualifications must be well-aligned with job requirements. I realized I needed to include skills and accomplishments on my curriculum vitae (CV) that the particular school was seeking. My main source of leads was LinkedIn, where I set up a daily notifier for adjunct positions in the United States.
- Be patient. Higher education moves at a glacial pace. I had applied for positions and forgotten about them, only to get the call for an interview three months later. The hiring process is very formalized and methodical. You must be patient after applying.
- It pays to prepare interview responses. When I interviewed for my first adjunct position, I knew that I had met all of the minimum requirements and several of the preferred requirements. When I got the email inviting me to interview, I felt confident because I had been honest in the application. The trick now was to anticipate and practice the possible interview questions. To prepare, I pulled keywords and qualifications from the job description, focusing on terms such as engagement and cultural awareness. I knew that the interviewers may test my knowledge and experience by asking me to share real-world examples. I prepared by writing out definitions of the keywords and phrases, then related each one to my own experiences. During the interview, I was able to confidently share my experiences in a clear and concise manner.
- Be ready to demonstrate skills and professionalism. For the interview, I was given a set of teaching scenarios and asked to create a timed video response and a written response. For the video, I dressed professionally, remembered to smile, spoke a little louder than normal, and responded calmly but passionately. Remember that the interviewer is also reviewing you from a student perspective. Is the video professional? Is this person engaged and enthusiastic?
- Use your experience as an online learner. I reflected on my own online experience as a graduate student. Who was my best professor, and why? I realized that my favorite professors were both cognitively and socially engaged. They were knowledgeable in the subject matter and the course (yes, there is a difference!), immersed in students’ conversations, and connected with students’ personal experiences in a way that made them feel valued. In the online realm, the professor overcomes the absence of body language through expressions of authentic cognitive and social connections. I connected the lessons I learned from my favorite instructors to how I plan to teach and inspire students.
- Be open to new subjects and courses. Along the way, I learned that sometimes an adjunct professor must be prepared to teach courses that are not necessarily their strong suit. Having an advanced degree in IT, for example, may likely bring a project management course assignment, even though the individual may have no experience as a project manager. As an online learner, I realized my professors were not necessarily renowned experts in every course. However, I admired their preparation, dedication, and willingness to learn with their students. Remember, some of your students will do for a living what you may be studying – it is ok to lean on them for input!
Finally, as I write this article, the world is experiencing a global pandemic. Schools at all levels are rushing to set up online instruction. College courses are bursting at the seams. As a Walden student, you have gained a lot of great experience with online learning. Due to your years of studying online, learning applications such as Skype, Zoom, or Canvas may not be big challenges for you. However, I would recommend building skills as an educator and taking time to prepare for your higher ed job search. Below is information to build teaching skills, buff up your CV, and find a job in higher ed:
Martin Culberson has been a technology graduate assistant with the Walden Career Services Center for the last four years. He earned a Master’s in Education from Walden in 2015, a Masters in IT in 2019, and expects to complete the Doctorate in IT in 2021. He has worked as an adjunct IT professor for one year, and as a high school classroom teacher for five years.