Tips for a successful phone interview for a faculty teaching position

A part of the job application process for faculty positions in higher education — and for many other kinds of professional jobs — is a phone interview.

Here are some tips for having a successful phone interview. This post is in response to a former graduate student of mine who is a candidate for a faculty teaching position and will be participanting in a phone interview.

Tip #1 – Prepare notes that you can use as prompts to yourself.

In a face-to-face interview, you often feel like you can’t have notes to refer to. That limitation doesn’t exist in a phone interview.

  • You can have a list of the questions you want to ask, as you probably will be asked if you have any questions.
  • You can have a list of the points that you hope to include in the interview. You may have topics you want to raise in an interview but could forget as you have so much to think about during the interview. If you have a list or ideas on Post-It Notes, you can be reminded.
  • If this is an interview for an academic position, you can have a list of the courses you’ve taught. You can have a list of your teaching strengths with a note of the example you could use to illustrate.

Even if your phone interview will have you on screen, such as iChat or video Skype, you can have your materials for reference out of the camera’s range. But don’t have so many materials that you get caught up in shuffling through your papers.

Tip #2 – Be ready for a technically good phone call.

Avoid being in a location that could cause a problem by being too noisy. You also don’t want to be calling from your current work phone for another job position, or to be calling from work if colleagues could overhear your conversation. If you are using your cell phone, make sure your phone battery is charged or that your phone is plugged into a power source. With your cell phone, be sure you will be in a location with good reception.

Tip #3 – Project yourself with your voice.

With a phone interview, you lose some of those variables that contribute to a face-to-face interview – facial expressions and gestures. As I’ve recently read in a book about teaching online, you need to put “a smile in your voice.” Think about conveying your enthusiasm (in a sincere way) with your voice.

Tip #4 – Avoid being distracted.

We’ve all had the experience of being on the phone but being able to tell that the person we’re talking with is doing something else. The tone of voice or the responsiveness changes. I bet most of us have been guilty of that ourselves – checking our e-mail or looking at a website.  During that phone interview, stay in the moment. And that can mean not letting those helpful notes to yourself become a distraction rather than a helpful aid.

Tip #4 – Consider your attire – maybe.

In a face-to-face interview, you have to consider what you are wearing and how your hair looks. That won’t be a factor if you are doing a traditional phone interview. However, sometimes being a little dressed up can make you feel more like you’re in an interview. So you’ll need to consider the personal psychology for yourself. If you are in a phone interview that includes visual (Skype or iChat), you can be like television sports and news anchors who are seated at a desk and are only seen from the waist up. You can wear your business attire from the waist up and then wear jeans and flip-flops.

Tip #5 – Determine how you can make yourself feel more at ease with the phone interview format.

When you are contacted to set up the phone interview, you want to find out who will be talking with you. Will this be a one-on-one phone cnversation or a group interview? Typically, more than one person from the search committee will be involved in the phone interview so that the committee can have more conformity in the process. Then when you are called, you hope that the lead for the interview will introduce everyone who is participating.

I’ve been in phone interviews where the candidate says, “I’m looking at the college’s web camera in the courtyard, so I feel like I’m there.”

Other candidates have said they have the individual committee members’ photos on the computer screen to be looking at us. At least you can have a list of names to help remind you of who you’re talking with if you are having a group phone interview.

You may want to have a bottle of water. Just don’t pop open a soft drink or rattle a bag of chips during the interview.

Tip #6 – Make sure they can hear you and that you can hear them.

With cell phones and speaker phones, you may not have good clarity of sound. With the speaker phone, several members of the search committee may be sitting around a conference table with the phone on speaker phone mode. If you can’t hear someone, say so. You don’t want to inaccurately answer a question because you didn’t hear the question. And be sure to check that you are being heard. If you are on a cell phone, you may need to adjust the volume or the placement of the phone.

Tip #7 – Stay on point.

Remember that telephone interviews often are set up to be a series of interviews for the search committee. They may have interviews set up back-to-back with three or four candidates. So your interview will only be a certain amount of time, perhaps 30 minutes, before they need to end the call, share some observations about your interview, and then call the next candidate. If you are too long-winded in your answers, the committee may be rushed — or may feel rushed — in completing the interview. In a face-to-face interview, you’ve got visual cues to help you realize when you need to move along in your comments. You won’t have those cues in a phone interview.

Tip #8 – Make the ending positive.

The leader of the phone interview will signal you when the interview is concluding. The end of the interview may be the time you are asked if you have any questions. (And you should have at least one or two good questions.) Even if you feel that you didn’t do as well as you would have liked on a question or two, don’t bring that up. End on a positive note. You can thank the group (or the one person, if you are having a one-on-one interview) for their interest in you as a candidate. Reinforce your interest in the position and you availability to answer any addition questions.

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