Phone Interview! How should I prepare?!

I’m very excited and nervous right now. I’ve just been offered an interview for a visiting instructor position, which entails teaching undergraduate art history classes. It’s not a tenure-track position, but it would let me teach a couple of courses in my specialty–not only introductory-type survey classes–and it would be my first “real” career opportunity in academia.

Here’s the thing: it’s a phone interview. I’ve never done one of these before.

Are there any significant differences I should expect in this interviewing format? Obviously, I won’t be able to rely on my charming smile and boyish good looks (heh) to make a positive impression. And I imagine that a moment of silence on the phone will sound like an eternity. On the plus side, I feel like I have decent oratorial skills as a teacher, and I feel fairly confident with the sound/tone of my voice.

Would anyone like to relate their experiences (both good and bad) with phone interviews? I’d be interested to hear both sides of the story–from the perspective of the interviewer as well as the interviewee. In the absence of visual cues, what kinds of things do interviewers “look” for on a phone interview? Any advice on the kinds of things I should, or should not, say or do?

And while I’m at it, how do you handle that last question: “Do you have any questions for us?” I understand that “no” is considered an unacceptable answer (a sign of apathy on my part), but I’m not sure what kinds of subjects I should ask about–questions about the university? their department’s mission statement? the best bars in town? (kidding)

Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Take some deep breaths before you begin. It will help your phone voice be more pleasant and sound more relaxed.

Smile as you talk. People really can “hear” a smiling voice, and it can boost the interviewers’ impression of you as a nice person to work with.

Do not move around, sip water or fiddle with anything as you talk. Pretend you are in a room with these people and that they are sitting across from you. Act accordingly.

As for questions to ask, make sure they are informed questions. Write questions down as they occur to you during the interview, and make sure that you don’t ask one that was more or less answered over the course of your conversation. (Speaking as an interviewer, nothing takes away more from an otherwise intelligent question than knowing it was canned, because I already answered it earlier.)
– Go to the school’s website
– Request their prospective student materials
– Try to find articles about the school, or articles that include a staff person who has been approached as a subject matter expert.

Be sure to to refer to one or more of those when you do ask questions, so they will know you took the initiative to learn more about them. I like the question about the department’s mission statement. You might also ask about how student evaluations work, what the interviewer’s favorite aspect of the school/program is, what do they think the most challenging aspect of working for that school is… remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You don’t want to end up stuck in a position at a place that is not a good fit for you, so ask questions about things that matter to you in an employer. They need to meet your standards as much as you must meet theirs.

Good luck! Let us know how it turns out.

I’ve done a phone interview for an academic position, and they ended up flying me out for a face-to-face interview. And, on preview, I’m repeating at lot of the things Beadalin said.

Before the interview, scout out the departmental webpage and read any materials they might have sent you. As much as possible, familiarize yourself with their program and the classes you would be teaching. Check out the college’s website, too, so you know a little about their size, the type of student they serve, their biggest programs, etc. Take notes, print things out and highlight, etc., and you might even want to have the department webpage up on your computer when they call.

One of my colleagues says it’s a really good idea to find a picture of the person you’re going to be talking to and print it out and look at it while talking to the person, but he suggested it after I’d done the phone interview, so I haven’t tried it. I think it definitely would have been a good idea, because I’d have already associated some names and faces for my campus visit. (I did two interviews with two different professors.)

Obviously, have a pad of paper and a pencil ready.

Before the interview, list some questions you have for them. Write down specific questions about their department and your class (What kind of facilities does the lecture hall have have–LED projector, slide machines, anything new and exciting and cutting-edge? What majors and years are the students who take the class?), general questions about the school (make sure it’s not stuff that you can find easily on the webpage!), and personal questions to ask your interviewer (“How long have you been with the department?”, “Have you taught the class I’m going to be teaching? What did you like/dislike about it?”, “How do you like the area? Are there bike paths / classical music concerts / [insert your interest here–but avoid the bar question. :slight_smile: ]?”)

During the interview, write down notes (If you’re like me, it’ll all go by in a whirl, and you’ll want to remember the details later!) and jot down additional questions–and be sure to tick off any of your questions that have been answered.

Don’t just save all of your questions for the end; ask them as the are apropos. If all of your questions have been answered when you get to the “Do you have any questions for me” part, at least you can refer back to your list and say, “Hmm, let’s see . . . Health insurance options . . . What type of majors take Art History 101. . . bike paths . . . No, I think we’ve discussed all my major concerns.”

As far as awkward silences go, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just be yourself. The more you obsess about verbal tics and silences the more awkward and weird you’ll sound.

The most important thing is, act like you’re shopping around for an employer. They have to impress you with what a great job this is. You’ll sound more confident and seem to be a more attractive candidate.

Make sure your phone’s fully charged.

In addition to smiling, you should stand (and probably best in front of a mirror). Both help you sound better on the phone. The mirror helps you make sure you keep smiling. Take your time. Don’t worry about filling dead time with meaningless chatter, it’s better to leave some dead air and let them assume that you’re thinking.

A lot of people are giving you advice on things to do while interviewing (stand, sit, act is if your interviewer is sitting across from you, etc.). I’ll agree on the smiling while you talk, and if you’re new to this sort of thing a mirror can help.

But, my point was going to be, while all of these tips are good advice, do whatever you’re most comfortable doing. That’s the great thing about a phone interview – they can’t see you. If you think wearing your “interview suit” will get you in “interview mode,” then do it. If you’ll be most comfortable sitting in your underwear, then do that. If you’re better on the phone sitting down, then sit down. If you’re better standing up, stand up. Personally, for some reason, I like to walk around when I’m on the phone. If you’re naturally a fidgeter (and I know I am), fidget away! They won’t know, as long as you don’t sound fidgety. Do whatever you think will be best for you.

The point is to stay calm and comfortable and focused on the interview. Make sure you have absolutely no distractions in your home at the time of the interview. If you’re calm, smiling, and give intelligent responses to the interviewer that show you’re paying attention, you’ll be fine.

Ok, I just had one of these today (yay me!), also for an academic position.

Here’s some tips I asked a friend for, since she had a bunch of phone interviews back in spring semester.
Have several questions ready to ask them, four or five is good. Like an in person interview, you want to demonstrate that you’re interested in the institution. I feel like the phone interview isn’t necessarily the time to talk about salaries - that could come later, when either the position is offered or when there’s an on campus interview.

Speak in complete sentences. Seriously - instead of talking in disjointed phrases, make sure there’s an idea that you are getting across to the interviewer.

Don’t be afraid of a few seconds of silence, especially immediately after you finish your answer. They are likely taking notes about what you just said.

Relax. Take some time earlier in the day if possible and do something that relaxes you but that won’t leave you yawning or anything on the phone.

Shut any pets in another room, unless it’s something silent and confined to a tank. Turn off the television, don’t chew, drink or smoke anything.

Focus and answer their questions. Don’t let them get their first words out and start thinking of the answer then - listen to the whole thing, breathe in (not too deeply - you don’t want them to think that you make a habit of obscene phone calls!) and answer.

Two words: No Pants :wink:

I read this and got the audio in my head of interviewing someone on the phone when suddenly I hear the deep gurgling of someone smoking a bong, then a small cough at that just-did-a-bong-hit-and-holding-in-the-smoke-voice on the answer. Thanks. :slight_smile:

Ryanbobo, while you have a valid point on being relaxed, the reason to stand (and smile) while talking on the phone is that it changes your voice. Your diaphragm is constricted when you sit, and this changes your tone. You can try an experiment at home to test this. Record a sentence while slouched down on the couch and then stand and smile and record the same sentence. Compare the two. They will sound markedly different. So if you can be relaxed and comfortable standing it will sound better.

I always enjoy taking phone interviews in my underwear. It’s kind of like imagining your audience naked when giving a presentation.

Also, sometimes it helps to look at yourself in the mirror while on the call. It’s like you are giving your self an interview!! Seriously, it can provide good feedback on how you come across while speaking professionally.

Other than that, keep a pen and notebook handy and maybe your (NON- DIALUP!!) internet connection handy.

I had one the week before last for an academic librarian position. (I didn’t get the in-person interview, BTW.) The thing that I wasn’t expecting was that although I knew there’d be four people on the phone, obviously on some sort of speaker arrangement, I didn’t know the sound would be so… echoey. Cavey. Very hard to hear! It threw me a bit.

Also, I was surprised at how difficult it was to answer questions without seeing people’s faces for feedback. I normally interview very well, and while I still did well (I didn’t get it because the other people had a lot more experience, not because of the interview) I felt I babbled a lot because I couldn’t look at them and see when they thought I was done with what I was saying.

All told, the format made it much more difficult than I would have expected. Now, some people may be more comfortable on the phone than I, but generally speaking I never sweat interviews. I feel I generally present myself very well. But on the phone I wasn’t sure that I was really showing myself off to my best advantage.

Wear pants. Seriously. It’s just like any other interview and you’ve got to be professional. Then again, I’m just repeating what other posters have said. But mine’s funnier.


I’ll second the advice to stand up. A friend of mine is an extraordinarily successful salesman and he’s full of little communication tips; he said he always, always stands up when talking to a client on the phone.

Granted, it’s only one person’s advice, but I’ve seen this guy at work and I’d do an interview while gargling peanut butter if he recommended it.

I’m printing out this thread to refer to while I prepare over this weekend.

All of your suggestions are great! I wouldn’t have thought about the merits of standing vs. sitting. And I think I will practice in front of the mirror–which sounds like good advice when preparing for any kind of interview, really.

I will definitely avoid the TV, drinking anything, chewing my fingernails, and any other distracting audios. I don’t have any pets to worry about, either–just hope the squirrels outside keep down their chatter.

And while the idea of giving an interview clad only in my briefs has a certain appeal, I will almost certainly dress up a bit, if only to cast my mind into “interview mode.”

Thanks to all of you. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes (fingers crossed, wood knocked upon, etc.).