How to Thrive in the Adjunct Professor Job Market

Adjunct Professor Part-time, or adjunct, teaching positions are more prevalent than ever in higher education. According to the Modern Language Association, “adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities.

For adjuncts who teach online or on campus this can be rewarding work, but it’s not without significant challenges. Landing that first teaching job is critical to landing those that follow (and require previous teaching experience). The competition for open positions can also be daunting. Referrals led to my adjunct teaching opportunities, but this is just part of the overall job search effort. What do you need to know about adjunct jobs? Where can you find the best leads?

Make Connections

The old saying “it’s who you know” is alive and well in higher education. Referrals can be the difference in getting a call back, or not hearing anything after you submit an application. They can also be instrumental in letting you know about openings before they are advertised. Take action to develop your network and keep it informed about your skills and qualifications.

Participate in professional communities.

Are you affiliated with the professional associations in your field of expertise? There are also organizations devoted specifically to teaching and learning. Explore the Online Learning Consortium and New Faculty Majority, two very different examples of organizations focused on education across across disciplines. Social networks focused on career development can also be a great source of inspiration and connection. The ones listed below allow you to create a user profile, and offer a variety of career planning and professional development resources:

  • Join the more than 11 million members sharing their academic research and publications.
  • LinkedIn: “The world’s largest professional network” features thousands of internal “Group,” many highlighting the interests of educators, higher education professionals, and adjunct faculty members.
  • Profology: This “exclusive community for higher education professionals” emphasizes that it is not open to undergraduate students.
  • VersatilePhD: Explore your options in this online community “dedicated to non-academic and non-faculty careers for PhDs in humanities, social science, and STEM.”
  • Vitae: “A service of The Chronicle of Higher Education,” this community focuses on academic career topics for faculty members and administrators.

Develop professional relationships.

Referrals are an important source of applicants for employers in many industries, and higher education is no exception. Jobvite’s research about hiring practices recently found that nearly 40% of all new hires came from employee referrals. This source was also found to be the fastest way to hire someone. Do your network connections know that you are looking for a new position? Reach out to ask about opportunities and make them aware of your interests.

Build your reputation.

Are you known for your teaching expertise, your interest in education, your knowledge and skills in your field? You can increase the chances you’ll be discovered by a potential employer by promoting your work through publications and presentations. Use social media to share more about what you are doing. A recent Twitter #AdjunctChat revealed that some schools are looking for, and reaching out to, potential instructors through information found in user profiles and participation in discussion boards.

Understand the Trends

In my role as a career advisor, my recommendation to students and job seekers is usually to research industries that are hiring, and find out more about the process they are using and the numbers of jobs available. This is easier said than done in higher education since there isn’t a standard practice for how many adjuncts will be hired by and institution in a given semester, or how long any adjunct assignment will last.

Adjunct positions are often created and filled “as needed.” Meaning there isn’t always a lot of lead-time for the person who gets hired, or for the group tasked with doing the hiring. This can be beneficial for professionals whose schedules are flexible enough to react to offers at the last minute. For institutions that are staffing with reduced budgets, hiring the minimum number of instructors required is ideal and often a last minute calculation.

These practices also present a lot of challenges for the instructors, including a lack of job security, low pay, and limited access to employment benefits. The Just-In-Time Professor [PDF], a 2014 report from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, documents these issues, as well as the evolution of adjunct teaching from part-time, “supplemental” income for working professionals, to “the way many instructors cobble together full-time employment in higher education.”

A call for changes in faculty hiring models is getting louder as groups of adjuncts unite to propose the formation of labor unions and fight for better working conditions. Research the latest news about adjunct employment in your State and at the institutions where you would like to work, to find out more about how these issues may affect adjunct hiring in your area.

If you aren’t looking for a position right now, but are interested in adjunct teaching in the future, monitoring the trends can include setting up job search agents. Register for accounts on sites like and receive automated email messages with details about new positions that match your pre-selected criteria. Watch the listings to identify the most active times of year for posting jobs, which disciplines seem to be in demand, and which schools are actively seeking applicants.

Anticipate the Contract

In many ways “adjuncting” is a lot like freelancing – instructors are always looking for the next contract, which is often issued semester-to-semester or term-to-term. There may not be a “typical” teaching contract, but you should be aware of some of the requirements to teach, and have realistic expectations about compensation.

Here are a few components to look for as you scan vacancy announcements, talk with members of your network, and prepare for a new contract:

  • Start and End Dates: Employment may align with the start and end dates of the academic term, or allow for planning and wrap-up time. Many adjunct instructors are not compensated for planning or course prep.
  • Compensation: Pay models vary and may relate to course size or a specific amount per student. A fixed rate may also be used per course or course level (i.e., undergraduate, graduate). Some schools have formulas with multiple variables to calculate pay rate.
  • Benefits: These may or may not be spelled out in a contract, but they are worth asking about. Benefits like health and dental insurance are not usually provided, but you may have access to specific resources, such as online library databases and campus-based fitness facilities, as a contract employee.
  • Fine Print: A signed contact does not necessarily guarantee a teaching assignment. Look for details that list criteria such as minimum enrollment, and dates at which decisions are made about courses being offered (e.g., last day of the first week of classes). You may also be subject to a background investigation before being assigned a course.

What are your questions about working as an adjunct professor? The experience will differ depending on the institution, program, students, and resources. Prepare a list of questions to ask, so that you’ll have a better set of expectations about the experience at each school. These questions might include:

  • Does the course already exist, or is it one that I will be developing or revising?
  • How much flexibility will I have with the content?
  • Will I have access to the course before the term start date?
  • How many students usually enroll in this course?
  • What is the deadline for submitting grades at the end of the term?
  • What are the requirements/restrictions related to: email replies to students (e.g., within 24-48 hours), holding office hours, using social media?
  • Who is my primary point of contact should I encounter any problems once the course is in progress?

Some schools require all faculty members, adjuncts and full-time, to complete a new employee orientation before teaching their first course. Content and length of orientations vary, but may include learning about academic policies and procedures, as well as getting hands-on experience with the institution’s learning management system. You can also search the school’s website for faculty handbooks or guidelines that document expectations. Request access to these documents if they aren’t automatically provided or already publicly available.

As you pursue adjunct teaching opportunities, keep you career goals in mind and be proactive about making connections, staying current with employment trends, setting realistic expectations, and preparing for your next assignment.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog