Four Tips for Getting Hired at a Christian University (A Guest Post)

Today’s anonymous author is a tenured professor in the field of religion at a mid-sized Christian University. He has sat on and chaired numerous search committees for both faculty and administrative hires. He sees the enormous stack of applicants for each open position, but insists that there are certain methods for distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

I realize that I am fortunate to follow this horrendous academic job market from the other side of the desk. With that said, in every search, I see scores of applicants make simple mistakes that sink their candidacy. Here are some common-sense tips when applying to a Christian University. Remember, the faculty and administration at my type of institution see themselves quite differently. My advice applies specifically for member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), but it is also may be helpful for any institution with some religious affiliation.

1. Research the School’s History

You must research the religious heritage of the institution and situate your candidacy accordingly. For example, if you applying to any of the Methodist related institutions, such as Greenville College, then you should be able to speak to Wesleyan theology and its influence on your own career trajectory. If you are applying to a Jesuit institution such as Santa Clara University, explain why you would want to work there if you are not Jesuit. Anything is helpful. Did you go to a Mennonite high school or were you deeply influenced by the writing of Yoder? Then you should inform the search committee of Eastern Mennonite University. Just a couple of sentences can demonstrate that you have some familiarity with the religious culture of the institution.

[NOTE:  Of course, you need to research and get a feel for the way this is played out. For example, Johns Hopkins University and Earlham School of Religion were both founded by Quakers. But obviously, the Quaker influence will be much more pronounced on the latter school.]

2. Show Your Integration of Faith and Learning

The idea of the integration of faith and learning is pretty important for these schools. Be sure to demonstrate how faith informs your field. If you are a sociologist, you may want to explain how faith compels you to develop your research regarding income discrepancies along racial categories. If you are a biologist, you could speak to the wonder of creation that nurtured a love for all living things. Be sure to speak to tangible ways that this integration of faith and learning influences your teaching.

3. A Hiring Committee is Not a Dissertation Committee

If you are coming from a top tier PhD program, remember that these schools want to be academically respectable (and generally speaking, I believe that they are), but that also have other mandated missions, particularly service to society and communities of faith. I’ve seen colleagues at my school make the assumption that “Candidate A went to (insert prestigious R1) so I’m worried that he/she will not be satisfied teaching our heavy load in this type of environment.” I personally believe that these assumptions are tremendously unfair. But if you finished your PhD at Harvard, remember that you do not need to prove that you are smart. Instead, you need to prove that your heart matches the institutional mission, which may involve an outreach beyond the academe.

4. Be Authentic

I know that the nebulous idea of “fit” is maddening to candidates. But if you cannot do #1-3 authentically, then you will be absolutely miserable at a school like mine. If it’s not a fit, then it may be better to move on to another type of school where you truly be yourself!

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Four Tips for Getting Hired at a Christian University (A Guest Post) — 11 Comments

  1. I just applied for a TT at an Anglican (Episcopalian) university. I followed the professor-is-in’s CV template, with the addition of a section for Pastoral Service/Leadership. Under this section I included Parish employment, chaplaincy work, etc. We’ll see how it goes.

    • This advice is right on. I work for a small liberal arts institution that is “intentionally, courageously, and graciously Christian.” The interview did have a few religious questions but it wasn’t really about that. The real concern in my case is can you teach well? Do you have a plan for how you will make four classes work.

      There is not a real need to put it on thick at the interview with respect to faith matters. You aren’t being hired to be a theologian unless that’s your field. But you must respect the culture and values of your school and it must be a good fit for you.

  2. Thank you for the timely post. I just received a request for additional materials from the type of Christian University you describe. This includes a statement of religious affiliation that asks me to identify my denominational affiliation or religious preference as well as my involvement in church/parish/synagogue. As someone who was raised Methodist but now identifies culturally as Jewish due to familial obligations, how much detail would a statement like this require? I would prefer not to bring up spouse and kids at such an early point in the search. And what exactly does the search committee or administration look for in these statements?

  3. The author does realize that Jesuit is not a denomination but a Catholic religious order?

    Plus in my experience many Catholic schools are tricky as they are mostly staffed by laity of various religious backgrounds and levels of devotion.

    Even the president of Santa Clara is not Catholic, if I recall correctly.

  4. Many jobs at these institutions do not get advertised on the major job-market web pages such as H-Net. If you do some Google searches with terms such as Christian Faculty Jobs or Christian Higher Education Employment, you will find a number of webpages that only list jobs from Christian colleges and universities, and which might not be listed anywhere else. If you think that you might fit the profile, it is really worth the time to do this, because the harder the job ad is to find, the fewer candidates there are competing for interview slots.

  5. Catholic schools differ from Protestant ones (which themselves differ a lot amongst themselves). Most Catholic schools do not expect/require faculty members to be people of faith, so it is not necessary to show that your faith informs you work if it doesn’t. You can be an atheist or of another faith and teach at a Catholic institution, but you should study the mission statement of the institution and be able to talk about how that mission speaks to you. Do you have a passion for social justice, for educating the “whole person”, for community service? Do you believe that “faith and reason” are not enemies? Do you value the “Catholic Intellectual Tradition” (in other words, any parts of Western civilizational history that pertain to the Catholic things)? This is the stuff to talk about. And show some admiration for the school’s history. But don’t feel that you can’t apply to Catholic colleges and universities if you’re not a person of faith.

    • I concur with this. I have worked (teaching and academic admin positions) at two Catholic universities affiliated with different vowed religious orders. At both, only the President needed absolutely to be Catholic. Talking about the aspects of the school’s specific mission that resonate with you, and how you might contribute to them in your scholarship, teaching, and service, is important. Even Protestant schools can vary widely though, in what they expect. Look at their missions, read the ad carefully, see if they have published statements of faith that faculty must sign off on. If not, inquire.

  6. is it illegal to not hire or dismiss non christian faith applicants? I.e., muslims, jewish faith, etc…want to ensure that this country is providing equal opportunity for all to these non profits that do not pay property taxes, or any taxes yet get full services of police, fire, etc..thank you. Lilly.

    • If the institution is officially a religious one, then it is illegal for it to discriminate on such grounds as race or sex or veteran status, but it is perfectly legal for it to hire only people who agree with a specific statement of faith, the same way that an Orthodox synagogue will not be hiring a Catholic priest as its rabbi.

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