The Job Market: How to Get an Interview at a Community College (Part 2)

by Basil Smith

Tailoring Your Application for the Non-Philosophers on the Hiring Committee

In my last blog post, I argued that to get an interview for a full time philosophy job at a community college, you should not just recite all the obvious things, such as a love of teaching, in your CV and cover letter. In addition, I argued that you should seriously consider the psychology—including the desires, needs, and fears—of the disparate groups of faculty and administrators on the hiring committee. You should adapt, or even completely recast, your documents to please these groups.

Previously, I considered what the philosopher on the hiring committee might want to see in your documents. However, at community colleges, the philosopher is typically just one member of the committee. Crucially, the biggest group of faculty members on the committee will be from English, History, Reading, or other departments, and they are typically chosen by the dean. What will these other faculty want, need, or even fear?

Potential New Friends

Consider an analogy. You are out with a group of potential new friends. They ask you about your work and you say “You see, moral properties such as ‘goodness’ or ‘badness,’ when instantiated, supervene on natural items. But moral properties are themselves irreducible to x, y, or z natural items, even a disjunction of those items.” Your party responds with statements like “philosophy is confusing,” “good luck with that,” or they just look at you as though you are crazy.

Alas, who has not gotten such responses from friends, family, or other faculty members? In an important sense, the non-philosophy hiring committee members are also potential new friends. When you apply for a full-time position at a community college, you hope that non-philosophy hiring committee members will carefully read your CV and cover letter, understand them, infer positive things about you (e.g., that you’re interested in amazing things), and grant you an interview. How can you get these faculty members to this point?

Limitations and Biases

The non-philosophy hiring committee members will be limited in how they read your CV or cover letter. Even if these faculty members are on the philosophy committee, they will have little knowledge of philosophy, such as who its key figures are, what debates are going on today, and philosophers’ style of reasoning. To the extent that such faculty members consider the content of your documents, they will be forced to evaluate them based upon general intellectual themes.

Moreover, such faculty members will probably have heard many of the same stereotypes about philosophy and philosophers that you have heard. Just for fun, here are three. First, some say that philosophies such as postmodernism are but pretentious and vacuous theories, and that those who study such things have hubris without reason (see Alan Sokal and Stephen Katz). Second, some say that philosophical debates, for example about vagueness and modality, are dull, arcane, or trivial concerns, many of which will disappear in time (see Kevin Mulligan, Peter Simons, and Barry Smith and Daniel Dennett). Third, some say that philosophies such as panpsychism and moral realism are sets of unscientific or even theological dogmas in disguise, and philosophers are but the opponents of progress (see Eric Dietrich).

Even if some of the non-philosophy hiring committee members are not limited or biased in these ways, you should assume that they are, because appreciating this provides you with an advantage. When you develop a sense of how these faculty members think, you can infer more about they want, need, and fear.

Explain It to Us, Please

The hiring committee will be looking for someone they can understand, appreciate, and even relate to. Imagine that you did your Ph.D. on modal fictionalism. Does anyone outside certain analytic metaphysical circles have any idea what modal fictionalism is? Well, elaborating on possible worlds will not help. Unfortunately, in debates about modal fictionalism, philosophers almost never cite anything beyond such worlds, as though issues in literature, film, or psychology are irrelevant. But now imagine that you reframe all your talk of possible worlds talk in terms of issues in literature, film, or psychology (Shaun Nichols, in his 2006 book, does just this for fictionalism). In other words, imagine trying to see how non-philosophy hiring committee members would appreciate learning that your work is similar to theirs.

Why does it help to recast your work in terms such faculty members will appreciate? First, because they will need to justify why they grant interviews to the candidates they do. By justifying your work, say, in phenomenal conservatism, semantic externalism, or modal fictionalism, by reference to things they are already interested in, you show that you appreciate this. Second, you also provide these faculty members with reasons to choose you. Third, by recasting your work in terms that these faculty members appreciate, you undermine any proclivity they might otherwise have to stereotype and dismiss you.

Unlike at research institutions, community college hiring committees are mostly non-philosophers, so helping them to see you as a vibrant, considerate, and insightful scholar is your first step to getting an interview.

Philosophical Pedagogy

Since these non-philosophy hiring committee members will not understand philosophy and may be affected by stereotypes of it, they will be more likely to rely on pedagogical matters, such as technology and teaching styles, in evaluating your CV. and cover letter. Although many pedagogical matters are unrelated to philosophy, let us concentrate on those that concern philosophy directly.

Most importantly, you will be expected to teach whatever classes the other philosopher does not teach. If you can look up this philosopher via the college schedule or online evaluations, you can estimate what these classes will be. You should emphasize that you have taught these classes before and done it well. After all, such faculty members will naturally prefer the candidate who shows that they can do what the job requires, as opposed to someone who leaves them guessing about this, or someone who they think will have to learn new material.

Just as importantly, philosophy pedagogy concerns events that relate to teaching, even if indirectly. Perhaps you have organized philosophical events such as conferences or online reading groups, collaborated on interdisciplinary projects, attended American Association of Philosophy Teachers seminars, organized or led philosophy clubs, developed online philosophy classes, or even won a teacher-of-the-year award.

Although this list of philosophy-teaching-related activities is clearly not exhaustive, the more you cite, the better. These activities are important not because they are about philosophy, but because that they allow these other faculty members to infer good things about you, such as that you have many intellectual interests, have exceptional organizational ability, are keen on collaborations, are technologically competent, and are comfortable in leadership roles.

When applying to community college jobs, many candidates do not consider such discipline-related pedagogical matter in any detail. But because community college hiring committees are composed of faculty members who are looking for you to teach the right classes and who are sensitive to your immersion in a wide range of activities, doing all these things will help you get an interview.

Quantity Matters

My observations about how the non-philosophy faculty members on community college hiring committees may see your CV or cover letter are subjective, and may even be incorrect for certain cases. Again, because I have avoided a long list of other important issues, my observations are incomplete.

Still, I want to end by noting that, in my experience, such other faculty members prefer candidates with a broad range of traits. Aside from the things that the philosopher will want see in candidates, such as publications, non-philosophy faculty members prefer candidates who will explain their work to them, because this reveals that they are sensitive to how others perceive them (which is itself a virtue) and it also allows such members to see why such work is important. Moreover, non-philosophy faculty members prefer candidates who engage in discipline-related pedagogical activities, because it demonstrates that they are capable of doing the job and have a passion for teaching philosophy in and beyond the classroom.

Alas, there isn’t a specific set of things all community college hiring committees are looking for in candidates. Even so, by considering the wants, needs, or fears of the diverse groups that make up these committees, you can appeal to more of them.

Read Basil Smith’s first post, “Tailoring Your Application for the Philosopher on the Committee” here.

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Basil Smith is Chair of the Humanities and Philosophy Department at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, and serves on the APA’s Committee on Philosophy in Two-Year Colleges. Smith did his graduate work on Cartesian skepticism at Kings College London and Cardiff University and is now interested in Experimental Philosophy and Metaethics. Find out more about Smith here.

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The aim of this series is to provide APA members with some insights into the hiring process from a variety of sources and perspectives. If you would like to submit a contribution, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us via the submission form here.