How to Find an Adjunct Teaching Position

Where Are Those Teaching Jobs and How Do You Get One?

Jobs I chuckle a bit when I think about job postings for part time college instructors that call for two years prior teaching experience. It’s the chicken or egg thing. Which comes first? You mean you can’t get a job teaching unless you have had a job teaching? Well, I am being a bit facetious, but the question remains, how do you get a job with little or no prior teaching experience?

My Advice

  • Identify all the opportunities in your area. Check college websites for job postings. In my part of the country, every college advertises openings on their website. Many have online application processes also.
  • Apply early, well before the start of a term. Colleges attempt to assign classes well in advance of each term.
  • Apply at the “last minute.” (Huh? Didn't I just say ...) There are always a few last minute openings that are posted in the week or two proceeding a term. Twice in my adjunct career, I landed a teaching assignment with less than a week to prepare, but that’s the name of the adjunct game. (Hey, did you catch that little rhyme? Sounds like the title of a future post to me. :-) )
  • Make sure you meet the minimum criteria. If it says that a masters degree in English is required, don’t waste your time if you only have a bachelors degree or if your masters is in communications. Unless the ad specifies such options, the likelihood of you getting a job is nil. Sometimes, however, a college will accept a “related” masters with 15 or 18 graduate credit hours in the specific discipline. Note: Many career and technical education positions require less than a bachelors degree.
  • Sharpen the Saw*. Assuming your academic credentials miss the mark a bit, go back to school. Take the courses you need to qualify for openings at colleges near you.
  • Apply for non-credit teaching positions at local colleges. These positions have less stringent requirements, and the experience will look good on your resume.
  • Put a teaching spin on your resume. Emphasize "pseudo-teaching" experience if you are short on classroom teaching. Have you trained co-workers? Have you taught Sunday school? Have you spoken at your local Rotary? Do you educate the customers you deal with on your job?
  • Synergize * (Is that a verb?) your background. Whether through reading my blog and upcoming books, by networking, or by osmosis, you need be familiar with the skills, qualities and characteristics of good college instructors. Indicate how your education and experience demonstrate that you possess those qualities. Some good ones to emphasize are passion for the subject, desire to give back, willingness to put in long hours of preparation time, and good computer skills. By all means, you should always emphasize that you are not in it for the money.
  • Attend college-sponsored job fairs. Sometimes these events include part-time teaching opportunities.
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  • Keep fishing. When I was a kid and the fish weren’t biting, I’d reel in my line and go hunt for snakes. Dad would remind me, “You can’t catch any fish if your line isn’t in the water.” Get the point? By the way, I do not recommend hunting for snakes as a diversion from adjunct job hunting. I got bit once, and that was the last time I remember picking up a snake.

Obstacles You Might Face

The laws of economics, primarily the law of supply and demand, come into play. A greater demand for instructors coupled with a lesser supply of instructor candidates, translates into more teaching opportunities. Unfortunately, many highly qualified professionals who have been “displaced” from their former positions increase the supply. Furthermore, when college enrollments decrease, the demand for instructors goes down.

Then there are expense issues. You have to spend money to make money, and job hunting can have its expenses. Keep in mind, your job hunting expenses may be tax-deductible, so keep good records. You may even want to use a tax calculator. Some are free, and there are even smartphone apps.

And in addition you may overlook lessons to be learned. It was Albert Einstein who said insanity was, "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Don't act insane! When you apply for a job and don't get a call, go back and compare your application to the job posting. If you get an interview but no job offer, thank them for the opportunity and politely ask what were they looking for that you lacked. Network with current instructors at the college and ask their advice for getting a job.

* Note: Without planning of forethought, I realize that I applied several bits of advice from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. If you haven’t read it, get a copy!

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Revised & Updated January 17, 2014


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.


How to Find an Adjunct Teaching Position — 1 Comment

  1. Dr. Hummel,
    Would you recommend ‘sharpening the saw’ by obtaining a certificate in distance education from one of the various online programs offered?

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