5 Tips For Getting Online and In-Person Adjunct Teaching Positions

A computer on a desk with a whiteboard laying on its side in front of it and glasses on top of the whiteboard.
(Image credit: Image by Sam Jotham Sutharson from Pixabay)

Sometimes working as a adjunct professor online or in-person can feel like you were granted a wish by a genie but didn’t word it carefully enough. “I want to teach college courses -- No, wait! I mean I want a full-time, tenure-track position at ONE college, with benefits and . . . .” 

However, for those of us who have other careers beyond college teaching, such as working as a K-12 educator -- or in my case, as a full-time writer -- adjunct teaching can be a fun and rewarding way to earn a little extra cash. And since my primary work is in journalism, adjunct pay, though it various significantly, can seem downright lucrative!

I’ve taught as an adjunct instructor online and in-person for at least two colleges over most of the last decade. During that time I’ve developed some strategies for getting adjunct work. So if you’re looking for adjunct positions, these tips can help guide your efforts — just remember not to quit your day job. 

1. Skip The Job Applications and Go Straight to The Department Chair  

In all my years working as an adjunct, I’ve never had success applying to an adjunct position that was posted. Either my cover letter is really bad and no one has the heart to tell me, or -- and I think this is more likely --my CV is getting lost in the shuffle with dozens, if not hundreds, of talented applicants.

I’ve had much better success by looking up who the department chairperson is and cold emailing them to introduce myself and share my teaching experience. It’s not necessary to have a personal connection to this chairperson,  but it definitely doesn’t hurt, as we’ll see in the next item.  

2. Cash In Your Connections 

Just the term “networking” has always felt a little cringe to me. I dislike the quid pro quo vibe I get around those who are networking hard.

That said, on the path to getting the advanced degree and/or developing the expertise that is generally required to work as an adjunct, you’ve no doubt made friends, or at least know people in the field who have worked at local universities. As such, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out and asking if they can recommend a contact person who staffs classes in the subject you want to teach. That also gives them the opportunity to offer to put in a good word without any awkwardness, plus can save time in finding the correct contact person. 

3. Highlight Your Online Teaching Experience 

If you taught online during COVID no matter how briefly or chaotically, you have online teaching experience. If you took an online course or attended an online seminar, you have experience with online learning.

Highlight these kind of experiences when you reach out to department heads if you are interested in online teaching. Stress what you like and find helpful about the medium.

For example, I always write that I have taught online for years and that I love how asynchronous online classes attract diverse students at different points in their lives and provide an opportunity to focus most of my time and energy on my favorite aspect of teaching: one-on-one interactions and feedback. You’d be surprised at how far this goes. 

4. Don’t Worry About Reaching Out Right Before The Start of Semester  

In a perfect world, you’d set your adjunct teaching schedule for the year and know when department chairs are staffing courses, and that the Jets would have developed a talented young quarterback at some point in my lifetime.

In reality, different departments staff different courses at different times depending on the year. New classes are added, adjuncts get full-time jobs and have to back out of commitments, etc.

Due to all this, a few weeks to a month before a semester starts can actually be a good time to connect. Because adjunct courses are often contingent on enrollment, I’ve occasionally had a class dropped on me shortly before the start of the semester. I've often been able to fill last-minute openings by reaching out to various department heads.

For instance, I write a query such as, “Hi, I know your adjunct schedule is probably set for the upcoming semester, but I am interested in teaching [insert subject(s)] in general, and would be available should something last minute come up.”

Even when this doesn’t work out, it can be a good initial contact with a new department. 

5. Remember If You’re A Reliable, Dedicated Instructor, Colleges Are Looking For You 

Adjunct teaching is a transient profession. Some people with full-time jobs try it for a few semesters before realizing they can’t fit it in their schedule, others take on adjunct work while they are looking for something full-time, and still others over-commit and/or are just not suited to the profession so they don’t get asked back by departments they’ve worked with — remember, adjuncts lack the job security of fulltime staffers.

All of this means that there is a lot of turn over, and a lot of opportunity to get hired as an adjunct. If you stick with it and have the required degrees and expertise, you will get hired in the field and live the dream of teaching college — just remember to be careful what you wish for!

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.