The phone interview!

Figure 1.  This is not what you want to have happen in a phone interview.  Remove all sharp objects & rodents from the room when you take the call.
Figure 1. This is not what you want to have happen in a phone interview. Remove all sharp objects & rodents from the room when you take the call. Credit: Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

The job market season is right around the corner and many of us are preparing our research statements and CVs, all the while trying to keep our productivity up.

A common feature in the current job market is the phone or Skype interview.  As exciting as this interview may be, the phone interview is fundamentally different from the on-campus interview – they want to whittle the long list down before they bring people to the campus for a broader look at their qualifications.  This means there’s less time for you, the candidate, to find out what you need to know about the faculty. It’s all about telling the committee what they need to know about you in less than an hour.  The details that will be helpful in your later negotiation need to wait, except inasmuch as they show you have thought deeply about who you have been as a researcher, who you would be as a peer and mentor, and where you want to be at tenure. [more after the break]

It seems like a huge challenge, but people have done it before, people will do it again, and, as far as I’m concerned, the most important thing is to be prepared and be calm.  I have lots of questions for the committee: questions about how much collaboration happens within and across departments, how seminar series are run, how long grad students take to finish, opportunities for undergraduate training and mentoring, &cetera.  Lots of questions, just not much time for asking.

Do your homework on the department, the faculty and yourself.  Ask the hard questions and write down the answers (or go back and figure out what you need to know to be able to write down answers).

In preparing for phone interviews I’ve found it handy to look at multiple resources, because they often have different perspective on the importance of various aspects of the phone interview.  I hope these links will help you out if you’re in the same situation as I am at some point in the future.  Of course, if we wind up competing for the same position then you should ignore the following links and just wing it (and good luck!).


If there are any resources I’ve missed, or things that you think are important feel free to add them in the comments.

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Assistant scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Studying paleoecology and the challenges of large data synthesis.

4 thoughts on “The phone interview!”

  1. Thanks for this list! I just want to put in a plug for doing a practice round with someone via Skype or the phone and not in person. I found that really helpful. Also, in spite of what some people may tell you, dress professionally, head to toe! Not only does this help you get into character, so to speak (in a phone interview where no one can see you), if you are Skyping or using G+, the last thing you want to do is jump up to close a door or grab a fresh pen and have everyone see you’re wearing your space dino pajama bottoms.

    1. Thanks, that’s a great point. It’s echoed on several of the links in the list as well, even if it’s a phone interview.

      And you’re right, having someone run through questions has helped me tremendously in preparing. Knowing you can get the answers out clearly makes the whole process less stressful.

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