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How to Apply for a College Teaching Position

Carol Dale | May 2012

   Winning flute competitions used to be sufficient to get an interview for a college job. However, the college teaching market is changing and applicants now have to be versatile, innovative, and smart to get noticed. Here are some suggestions to improve your chances of finding a college teaching position.

Job Openings
   The Chronicle of Higher Education (available in university libraries) lists job openings in higher education as does the College Music Society. It is worthwhile to join and become active in the CMS as it provides excellent networking opportunities. Attend the CMS conferences and participate in the sessions. Flute Talk also lists job opportunities on a regular basis.

   A completed DMA or DM is the most common academic requirement, although an MM with substantial teaching and performing experience is often considered as well. Get your academic credentials in order.
   Look like a professional. Join the NFA and become an active member. A serious candidate for a college flute position performs regularly at conventions or large regional festivals. If there is a local flute club in your area, become a member and volunteer your expertise, time, and talent. Work on hosting a flute festival to develop skills in networking, organization, time-management, programming, and knowledge of the community.

Be Prepared
   Candidates should demonstrate knowledge of flute repertoire, pedagogical techniques, and areas of new research. They should have the ability to recruit and possess a comprehensive knowledge of the arts. Besides being able to teach studio flute, they should know how to teach music theory, aural skills, music appreciation and music history. Additional skills in teaching music education, music business, and music technology make you attractive to the search committee. Other non-teaching attributes that will be of interest to a search committee include expertise in marketing, publishing, web design, entrepreneurship, and other closely related fields.
   College teachers are expected to collaborate with the artistic and academic community of the university. Begin now and develop projects with local dancers, filmmakers, and artists. Let your creativity shine in application materials by including DVDs, CDs and fliers of these projects.
   College professors also serve on academic committees that prepare accreditation reports, write grants, set policies, and review tenure requests. Get experience with committees in your community, whether music-related, a non-profit, or government; this will give you experience that most other candidates will not have. 
   If you have limited teaching experience, find ways to acquire more. Present masterclasses and teach private lessons at local middle and high schools. Organize a flute ensemble at each school and present regular concerts. Have mentors observe you and make suggestions for improvement.

Application Materials
   Read the job listing carefully to be sure the position fits your qualifications and follow all instructions. Place materials in a folder or notebook in the stated order to make it easy for the search committee to read them. Submit the application before the published deadline if possible. A late application signals that you do not have much concern for timeliness.

Red Flags
   There are specific things in a vita or resume that cause search committees to question the qualification of a candidate. These red flags include a candidate who has been ABD (all but dissertation) for longer than five years or has had several jobs in just a few years. Don’t indicate in a cover letter that you are leaving a current position because of problems with colleagues or students. Never exaggerate or lie on a resume because the truth will come out. The music world is small and there is always someone on the search committee who knows one of your references. One call can make or break a job search.
   Search committees generally have three to six members, including several non-flute wind faculty members and a teacher from an academic area. For diversity, some institutions suggest a non-music committee member so prepare materials accordingly.

Cover letter and CV
   The cover letter should give a snapshot of your qualities. You also want to demonstrate that you work well with others and will make things run more smoothly. They want someone with energy and creativity as well. If you merely restate the contents of the resume, you lose an opportunity to sell your outstanding qualities. Research the school and look at its catalog and mission statement. Explain how your skills will enhance their program. Let the committee know that you are familiar with their school. Show that you will be a good fit for their school and music program.
   When applying for a college teaching job, focus your CV and order the contents according to the published position description. List degrees first, followed by teaching and performing experience. The cover letter should be no more than three pages. The CV can vary in length, but most are ten pages or less depending on the job and your experience. If you send a paper copy, use fairly heavy paper stock in white, ivory, or light cream. Use clips or staples to hold it together, but do not use a notebook or any binding. Processing paper applications often involves scanning or copying them for each search committee member, so make it as easy as possible for this person.
   On the cover letter and CV your name can be centered at the top, at the far left, or at the far right. If the name is on the far left, it should not flow past the center point of the paper. Use a standard font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Helvetica, with a point size no smaller than 11 or 12, and make your name is no larger than 16 (if you enlarge it at all). A sans serif font (like Arial) works well for headings. Serif fonts (Times New Roman) are easier to read for paragraphs of text. Be consistent – too many fonts or font sizes is distracting.
   Use at least 1" margins. Smaller margins make the text too wide; this is hard to read and looks unprofessional. Check to see that you have no widows and orphans (these are words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph that are alone at the top or bottom of a column) when you print. Copies of newspaper reviews of your performances should be legible. If they are not, include text or translation alongside. If the review or article is in a publication, extract the review in a way that will keep the application compact. Make a copy of your pages and check whether there is anything in your resume that becomes unreadable when copied.
   Contact information should be found and easily read. Tiny print is easily overlooked. Committees look at many applications and want this information readily available. It is acceptable to have your name listed on the top or bottom of each page. What looks good on your computer screen may appear differently on another computer. If you send an electronic application, save the documents as PDF files.
   Before mailing an application, read through the material completely for errors and spelling mistakes. Have two mentors read cover letter and CV for organization, content, accuracy, and thoroughness. Some applications and letters of reference have been received that are addressed to other institutions or with names spelled incorrectly. 

   Each time you apply for a position, notify your references and obtain their current phone numbers and email addresses. Let them know where you are applying, the deadlines, and give them a copy of the job listing. Reference letters older than three to five years are looked upon slightly less favorably unless they are from a major international star (for example, a 1995 letter from Rampal). Balance older letters with current ones. Letters of thanks to your references can serve as a reminder to them in case they have forgotten to send your letters.
   Some schools will notify you when all of the material has been received (transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.) but many will not. A deep applicant pool guarantees that top candidates will get all materials submitted promptly. Be a thorough, low-maintenance applicant.

   You should have an easy-to-navigate website where your recordings, current CV, and relevant teaching materials are posted. Make recordings available online if possible. A single zip file via Digital Dropbox is clean and simple. Audio recordings may be requested initially or for the semifinals, so have them ready. The search committee probably will not know every piece on your recording but they should be able to hear the quality of the playing. Listen to each recording all the way through before sending it out. If you make the copies yourself, play them on different devices to be certain they read correctly with a good sound. Each year committees receive applications in which recordings are unusable due to bad sound quality.
   Label each track on the recording so that the movement shows up when the CD is playing. An unlabeled CD means that someone will have to take time to identify and label each track, a time-consuming process. That person may not know your repertoire which may lead to errors. Put a printed playlist in the CD case and your name on the CD. (Unlike competitions, there is generally no need for secrecy in the job search.) Make the CD look as professional as possible. Using a magic marker to label the CD is not wrong, but it does not present a professional effort.
   Do not send more recordings than requested. If the committee asks for one, send one. Generally, the primary CD should include a wide variety of styles and composers. Additional recordings may specialize in a single area (all chamber music, all solos with orchestra, or your dissertation composer) or it can elaborate on the materials in the primary CD. When mailing a CD, package the jewel case in bubble wrap rather than in a shredded newspaper envelope or Styrofoam peanuts.

Online application process
   More schools now use an online application process. The past school year was the first year each of the UMKC Conservatory’s search committees could view complete applications and listen to recordings online. It was a big success and saved time because committee members could review the materials at their own convenience on any computer. With this in mind, check your documents both in hard copy and electronically to see if they have the intended file integrity. For example, your CV might be read on an iPad – will it come across well?
   For online applications, save the cover letter and CV as PDF files so they retain formatting when posted, viewed, and printed. Name files clearly and consistently, such as [Last Name, First Name, School Abbreviation, and Cover Letter] and [Last Name, First Name, School Abbreviation, CV]. This step makes it easier for those organizing the search process.

The Next Step
   The search committee reviews all of the material, narrows the field to about twelve semifinalists, and calls references. The most common reasons for applicants not moving to the next round are insufficient teaching experience (quality or quantity), insufficient performing (quality or quantity), and insufficient qualifications for the position. If a candidate possesses the desired qualities and phone references are positive, the committee selects three or four finalists for interviews.
   The chair of the search committee notifies the candidate if more information is needed, such as additional references, recordings, or other materials. Generally the school will not divulge whether you are in the semifinals or where the committee is in the deliberation process.
   Applicants can usually email the contact person to find out if all materials have been received. If the application process was completed and letters of recommendation and transcripts have been sent, be patient. Depending on the academic time-table, schools can contact candidates in late winter or spring for interviews. Later rounds of hiring to replace departing faculty may mean a late spring or summer search. If you are not selected, keep working on your application and  improving your skills and try again.     

The Interview

   If you make it to the interview, this is the time to demonstrate to the search committee why you are the best candidate. Prepare for the interview as you would a recital. Do your homework, practice, and give trial performances. Solicit family, friends, and teachers for suggestions and criticism.

1. Look and act professionally. Dress well and use your best manners. You do not want to look more like a student than a professor.
2. Pause and think before answering a question. Give a concise but complete answer. You do not want to ramble on for several minutes and go off the topic.
3. Be sure to respond to the question asked. Sometimes applicants answer with what they want to talk about instead of what was asked.
4. Speak in complete sentences. If you answer with a quick yes or no, it shuts down the conversation. If you do not fully understand the question, ask for clarification.
5. Be enthusiastic but don’t overdo it.
6. Prepare questions for the committee. It shows that you have researched the school and the position. Often the questions you ask show the search committed that you are a creative thinker and would be an asset to the department. Many professors lack creativity but would love to have it. When someone comes in and shows that they can think realistically and creatively, they are impressed.
7. Show your passion for the flute but express your other interests too.

1. Use poor grammar or slang phrases. Tape yourself in a mock interview to check for irritating verbal or physical expressions, such as “like” or “um.” Often colleges offer classes or other help for interview preparation.
2. Make negative comments about former employers, colleagues or teachers.
3. Let your cell phone ring or even buzz during the interview. Turn it completely off.