How to prepare for a job teaching in higher education

October 23, 2018

If you’re interested in postsecondary teaching, now may be a good time to consider your career options.

Four tips to prepare for a postsecondary teaching career

Whether you’re looking to teach full-time or part-time, at a traditional college or online, the Capella University Career Center recommends the following tips to help you put your best foot forward in a postsecondary teaching job search.

1. Get the proper education

Education required for postsecondary teaching varies by subject and by the type of institution, but your degree should be in the field you hope to teach in. Supply and demand play an important part in what is required.  Look at job postings for positions that interest you to see what the education requirements are.

2. Identify and connect with potential employers

Landing any job is easier when you are known by others in the field. Identify the institutions you’d like to work for by searching locally and online for programs in your field of interest. The best way to connect with faculty at the institutions that interest you is with good, old-fashioned networking.

Specific steps you can take include:

  • Participate in professional groups for educators, including informal ones on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • Reach out to anyone you may know (even those you don’t know personally) who teach in higher education. Ask if they’d be open to having an informational interview with you.

3. Meet and demonstrate the necessary qualifications in your application

As with any other career, you’ll need to have the required qualifications to apply and interview for the job. Application requirements may vary by type of institution and by position, so be sure to follow the specific posting requirements to ensure your application is within guidelines. Application requirements for faculty positions may include:

  • Cover letter. Your cover letter for a teaching position should reflect that you understand the purpose and mission of the educational institution, as well as the student population.
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV). A CV is used in lieu of a resume when applying for positions in academia. There are a number of differences between a CV and a resume, but one key difference is that a CV always begins with your educational background, followed by your experience.
  • Reference list. Names of references are generally not included in your CV. If requested, provide a separate page that lists contact information for your references.
  • Statement of teaching philosophy. Unique to higher education, this is essentially a statement of why you want to teach and how you view your role and responsibility to students.
  • Statement of research plans and expertise. This document gives you an opportunity to highlight your areas of expertise, as well as describe how you plan to contribute to the body of knowledge in your field. These statements are generally one to two pages, and should describe your research goals for the next three to five years.
  • Dissertation or other professional writing sample. You may be required to submit a writing sample. (Although, everything you submit in your application is an example of your communication skills and should therefore be impeccable!) For your official writing sample, select something that reflects your ability to write in an academic style, rather than an informal or literary style.
  • Colleges and universities generally require a fee for processing an official transcript. Unless instructed otherwise, you may want to submit an unofficial copy of your transcript in the initial stages of the application process, and wait to submit an official copy until it is requested.
  • Teaching portfolio. You’ll want to include some evidence of successful teaching, such as sample syllabi, summaries of course evaluations, presentation handouts, and letters of recommendation from former supervisors or colleagues, etc.
  • Video of your teaching or an in-person presentation. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise in a subject area, as well as your teaching skills. A teaching demonstration is usually presented to a panel of committee members, but may take place in a classroom with actual students. Whether submitting a video or doing an in-person demo, consider using multiple delivery methods to appeal to different learning styles (visual, aural, oral, kinesthetic, online).

4. Ace your interview

Interviews for faculty positions are likely to be lengthier and more intense than other job interviews. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

  • Know what you’re getting into. Request as much information as possible about the institution’s interview process in advance and prepare for each step accordingly.
  • Do your research. Learn as much as you can ahead of time about the institution, the community it’s in, the department you’re applying for, the student population, and your interviewers.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Cut down on your interview anxiety by practicing. Come up with sample interview questions and rehearse answering them out loud. If you’ve been asked to submit a teaching video or do an in-person presentation, be sure to rehearse those multiple times in advance as well.
  • Remember your manners. An academic interview can span a 12-hour time period and may include an element of socializing. Remember that you are “on” the entire time – in the hallways, over lunch, at a reception, etc. Even small talk is part of the interview. Constant professional etiquette and tact are essential. And don’t forget to send prompt thank you notes to all of your interviewers.

Finding a job in academia can seem like a full-time job in itself. Follow these steps to make the process more manageable and prepare for landing the postsecondary teaching position you desire.

The Capella University Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.

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