Making the right impression: Academic phone interviews
12 June 2012 8 Comments
This post comes about because of @emilyandthelime’s query about academic job-hunting and phone interviews. While Skype and video-conferencing are gaining ground, phone interviews still pop up regularly.
It’s stressful enough being on the job circuit, but scoring an interview where you won’t be flown in can ratchet up the angst.
We depend on visual cues (smiles, gestures) so much in making an impression that being bereft of these when doing a phone interview can be daunting. You might also feel that the candidates who are fronting up in person for their interview had a ‘home-ground’ advantage because they’re able to smooth their presence into and out of the interview. On the phone, you appear and disappear with a click.
Conversely, not having to be in the same room as an interview panel can feel less intimidating and allow you to perform better. This was something that I found and appreciated. And in the instance I’m thinking about, they gave me the job (which always helps me remember the interview fondly).
Here are my top strategies for making a great impression when interviewing by phone:
1. Do your research on the panel.
This is true for all interviews, but it’s even more important for a phone interview where you’re hoping to make yourself positively memorable for everyone. The best way to do this is to engage in some way with their research interests or past projects. Have you heard about their work and can say something intelligent about it? Do not fawn – a truism to live your life by! – but do make observations about its direction or impact.
If there’s a potential research collaboration with someone from the panel, float it as a light possibility. This demonstrates you’re looking to engage with researchers in your new institution, you’ve done your homework on people, and you’re pro-active. Make sure, of course, that you don’t come across as that person’s (wannabe) best friend.
2. Have all relevant position material in front of you, including the interview panel’s short biographies.
I had small stacks of information surrounding me on the desk, highlighted and underlined to within an inch of their lives. You want everything to be within arm’s reach and easily skimmed. It doesn’t give quite the right impression if you’re heard to be flicking through papers, then you suddenly respond with a suspicious detail about someone’s research or project work – they’ll know you just looked it up!
This level of convenience in accessing information may not always be possible, though, especially if you’re interviewed while you happen to be out in the field (or literally in a field, as an archeology colleague recounted to me). Times like those, you may have to be dependent on your electronic devices and a good memory!
3. Remember whose voice is whose – use each person’s name every time you respond.
Try to recognise panel voices as soon as you can. If anyone’s a bit mumbly or you didn’t hear their name properly, there’s nothing wrong with asking them to repeat it. Better this than using a wrong name, or not referring to them by name at all!
4. Respond to as many comments as you can, sometimes even if it’s just to agree.
The interview panel can’t see you so you need to project yourself into the space with them more than if you were fronting them visually.
If possible, synthesise some common elements within the interview that shows you were listening closely. For example, when talking about your current research work, you may be able to say something like: ‘As <Panel Member A> mentioned earlier, the field of Y is a dynamic one, and my plans are to…’
5. Try to avoid too much dry or sarcastic humour.
This kind of stuff may not transfer well without the accompanying quirked brow or wry smile. People might just think you’re a smart-arse, and that probably doesn’t help with snagging that job. You don’t have to be humourless, just avoid anything that might be interpreted as snide.
6. Clear the time and space.
This might go without saying, but just in case you tend to over-schedule your time: Ensure you clear a blocks of time before and after the stated interview time. Chances are, they’ll call you a bit late, and you may end up chatting longer than intended if they’re asking good questions or you’re getting active conversation (both nice signs).
Similarly, don’t chance someone walking in on you mid-interview. Lock your room door if possible, and put a sign on it saying that you’re on a tele-conference (otherwise, they might just knock and knock and knock…).
Another couple of other good hints, which you can find in context on this Columbia University job-search factsheet, are:
- Use a land-line: Be wary of cell phones. You don’t want static or a dropped call to mar the interview
- Be prepared to fill the “dead air”: If there is a prolonged period of silence, you might want to ask a question or use this as an opportunity to discuss a topic of your choosing.
Other than that, all existing advice about academic job interviews hold! Deep breaths beforehand and a perspective-restoring chat with friends afterwards are always good ideas.
Any other strategies for phone interviews that you’ve tried and would recommend? Things you definitely should not do?