If you’re on the academic job market this fall, chances are you will soon be facing the prospect of a phone interview. In my discipline, rhetoric and composition, phone interviews generally happen after a candidate has applied for a job and responded to a request for more materials from an interested program. The phone interview can be disorienting, distracting, and nerve-wracking, but it also can be an interesting chance to discuss your work with a group of scholars who are interested in knowing more about you. What follows is the best advice my mentors have offered me about phone interviews. While the format of the interview might not be the same for graduate students in every discipline, I believe the advice translates well across different kinds of programs and jobs.
1. Script, script, script. Did I mention you should script? Script. Scripting is the best preparation one can do for a job interview, because it allows you to be in control of what you say. Even if you think you can talk well off-the-cuff, you should script anyway, because when the actual interview happens, you’ll need a backup in case you blank out, lose your train of thought, get a question you’re not prepared for, et cetera. So make sure you are prepared to talk about a few things: your dissertation research, your teaching, and your research trajectory (aka the “where will you be in five years” question).
2. Practice, practice, and practice. Again, practice. You don’t have to memorize your script word for word, but you should know it well enough that you can talk about your research and teaching in a number of different ways, depending on the questions that the search committee asks you. So practice. Practice talking about your research with mentors, with friends, with family, with your pets. Practice while you’re in the shower, while you’re getting dressed in the morning, while you’re driving, while you’re on the treadmill. All the time that you put in to practicing your script will make you seem that much more poised and relaxed in when the actual interview happens.
3. Prepare your space, and prepare yourself, for the interview. Find a place that you won’t be disturbed for at least an hour–this could be your office, or the office of a colleague or mentor. If this is a Skype or other video interview, make sure that the space you’ve chosen to be interviewed in is reasonably clean and tidy. Try to be on a land line if you can, since cell phone signals can be unreliable. Wear something that makes you feel professional–even if the search committee can’t see you, it’s not wise to do the interview in your pajamas. Print all your interview materials out so that you’re not goofing around and typing when you’re being interviewed–this is especially important when on a Skype call. When the call comes, be ready to write down all the names of those on the call, and refer to them during the interview. Calling people by name during the interview can make you seem all that much more poised and calm.
4. Speak at a relaxed pace and pause often. This is especially important if you’re on a phone interview and several people have dialed in for a conference call–simple clarity can be an issue, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t speak too quickly, even if you’re nervous. Also, pauses are valuable, and they give you space to ask the committee if they would like to know more about particular points. Don’t prattle on indiscriminately. Make sure you leave space for the search committee to get their words in if they need to go back to questioning.
5. Direct the interview as much as you can. When search committee members ask you a question that you haven’t rehearsed for or that seems to come out of left field, find a way to redirect without dodging the question. Find a path that you can take back to the answer you’ve prepared, and practice getting to that answer from various points of view.
6. Get your assurance points in. Make sure that the search committee knows that you WILL have your dissertation finished. Let them know when you’ll finish, if you have a defense date and time scheduled, et cetera. Be honest, but never, ever, ever, under any circumstances indicate that you somehow aren’t close to being done. The search committee will be analyzing your answers to determine how close you are to being finished, and you want to convince them that you’re there.
What other advice do you have for the phone interview? Let us know in the comments below.
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