How to Ace the Academic Telephone Interview
Going on the job market at the end of your PhD studies is like ending a marathon with another marathon. For many of us, the pursuit of an academic job - especially for coveted tenure-track positions - will involve the following progression of steps:
Faculty search posts open faculty position.
Candidate submits application materials.
Desirable candidates will undergo a telephone interview.
Candidates who interview well over the telephone will be invited for a campus visit.
Many mentors and advice columns guide junior scholars on what to do and expect during the campus interview, leaving many job seekers in the dark about how to prepare for the telephone interview. However, a successful telephone interview is often the golden ticket to a campus visit! Typically, only 2-4 candidates will be invited to campus from a pool of dozens. Therefore, it is important to understand that you need to prepare for the telephone interview as much as you would a campus visit.
Not sure where to start? Here's some advice:
1. Know who will be on the call before hand.
It is perfectly acceptable when arranging a telephone interview with the faculty search committee member to ask who and how many people will be on the call. There is nothing more unnerving than thinking that you will be having a one-on-one conversation with a prospective colleague only to be thrown into a group interview situation with five people on speaker phone.
Once you know who will be speaking with on the phone, do some research on those individuals about their research and other interesting facts so that you can try to personally connect with individuals over the phone. This also helps convey your enthusiasm for the job. If you identify other faculty members in the department or university who have similar research interests as you, but will not be on the call, you may want to mention them. for example:
One of the things that interests me about working in your department is that Drs. Smith and Jones have similar research interests as I do, which may open opportunities for interesting collaborations.
Such a statement also conveys that you may have opportunities to be mentored by senior researchers in your field.
2. Make sure you let the interviewer(s) know why you are a good fit for the position.
Do not expect that every committee member will be able to understand how any or all of your experience and knowledge fits within the position announcement. Spell it out for them. One of the benefits of the telephone interview over an in-person interview is that you can have notes in front of you to help you during the interview. First, highlight the important details of the position announcement and prepare 1-2 sentences about how you contribute to those desirable characteristics. Examples include:
You are interested in someone who teaches research methods courses and I have taught a similar class for several semesters.
You are looking for someone with qualitative research skills and the majority of my publications emphasize qualitative methodologies.
Also consider what makes the university unique and prepare statements that relate to those attributes. For example, if applying to a small liberal arts college, you may explain to the committee:
Although my PhD is from a research institution, my real passion is in teaching and I would like to work in a department where I will have more interactions with students and opportunities to integrate undergraduates in my project.
It is also helpful if you can connect your research and teaching philosophies to the department and/or university mission statement. If the student population at the university is unique (nontraditional students, large minority or diverse student body, etc.), you should prepare a statement on why you want to teach that specific demographic of students.
3. Take time answering questions.
The mixture of nervousness and lack of non-verbal cues during a telephone interview can cause some candidates to ramble when answering questions. Don't let this be you!
As a first tip, I always advise those on the job market to have a paper and pen during the interview. Then, you can write the questions down as they are asked (or jot down a few key words about the question). Then, as you answer, you have the goal of the question in front of you so that if you drift off-topic, you can redirect yourself. At the end of each response you give, you should always ask, "Did my response adequately answer your question?" Writing questions down also gives you an "interview bank" to draw upon when practicing for future interviews.
A second tip is to take a minute after the question is asked to gather your thoughts. On the telephone, there may be a tendency to panic when there is silence. Do not panic. Embrace the silence so that you can prepare a thoughtful answer. When I was on the job market, I always started each response to a complex question with:
That's an interesting question. Give me a minute to think about how I would like to respond.
This is helpful for both interviewee and interviewer. For the interviewee, this gives you time to write down a few talking points or ponder the best response you can give. For the interviewer, it gives them notice that there will be a minute of silence (which they will be okay with) and also provide them with a more thoughtful answer than you may have hastily blurted out right away.
It should go without saying that you should also prepare for common questions that you will be asked on the job market. For instance, you will need a short elevator speech about your research agenda, what your teaching approach is, and a response about why you are interested in living in _______________________ (fill in the blank: New York City, rural West Virginia, Miami, etc.).
4. Don't fret over what you cannot observe.
I have had some wonderful telephone interview and some awkward ones. Oftentimes, when interviews turn awkward it is because the interviewee does not have any visual cues from the interviewer(s). For instance, the interviewers may spontaneously laugh as something that happened in the room and not inform the interviewee why they are laughing - this has happened to me before and as a result, I always inform a telephone interviewee what is going on in the room when they may lose context. Also, the interviewers may be more silent than the candidate is comfortable with - the candidate may attribute silence to boredom or disdain, while the interviewers are actually pensive and attentive.
As much as you may stress about the possibility that the interviewers are sneering or laughing at you, remember that you also are unaware when they are nodding at you in agreement or smiling at your responses. Don't fret over what you don't know.
5. Send a thank you as a follow-up.
While it is VITAL to send a thank-you as a follow-up to a campus visit, also remember that the telephone interview required time and effort from those who participated in the interview. While my personal policy is to send thank you cards in the mail for campus visits, an email thank you can also be appropriate for a telephone interview (though it may look impressive if you are the only telephone interviewee who sends a hand-written thank you as a response!). Not sure what to write? Keep it simple:
Dear Dr. Martinez and members of the search committee: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me over the telephone about your department and the open faculty position. It was so exciting to learn about the work being done at your university! Please let me know if there is anything additional information I can provide you to help with making your final decisions in your faculty search.
Nowadays, Skype (or other teleconferencing platforms) are replacing the telephone interview. In those cases, many of these pieces of advice apply to those types of interviews, too. However, there are additional things to consider that will be the topic of a future post. Stay tuned!
Best of luck on your job search! Need help preparing for finding your academic dream job? Contact Nicole today and find out how affordable academic career coaching can put you towards the top of search committee's short lists!