How to Take a Phone Interview for a College Teaching Job

In Paragraph City, when we go looking for new faculty, we always conduct phone interviews. Doesn’t everyone? They come at the point when we have screened resumes & cover letters and selected a batch who seem to meet all our basic criteria (the “Required” part of the ad, and maybe some of the “Preferred” too).

I’ve seen search committees make twenty phone interviews for one position, with just two or three of the committee participating in each, and I’ve seen them make five phone interviews, with all members of the search committee in the discussion. And everywhere in between.  I’ve also seen a lot of mistakes made by candidates, some of whom we never spoke to again.  Candidates entering into the phone interview need to think through just what’s going on, remembering things like this:

  • The job you applied for is in your grasp. Phone interviews are time consuming to arrange and conduct; if the committee didn’t think you were capable of doing the job, they would not bother. So treat this as a real interview.
  • You are not interviewing to get the job; that comes later. You are interviewing in order to get called on campus. Your goal is to make the committee want to meet you.
  • You are your voice, yet most of us don’t really know how our voice portrays us. How much do you “um” and “ah” and what other verbal habits do you have? I knew a colleague who sighed and squinted and made eye-contact before he answered a question; in person, it communicated a thoughtful engagement, but on the phone he just sounded dull, and possibly bored.
  • Static, background noise, lag between Q and A, throat-clearing, the hum of your computer fan or the tapping of the keyboard or the squeak of your chair: these are all part of your voice in a phone interview, too.

If you don’t know how you sound over the telephone, you are handicapping yourself; it’s like going to the in-person interview in your everyday clothes, without checking in a mirror first. So record a rehearsal with a friend. I know, nobody actually does that, do they? Well, you should.

At the interview:

  • Set it up for clarity. Unless you have awesome cell reception, use a landline and find a quiet place to take the call, never outdoors.  Even a gentle breeze across your phone can make it sound like you’re standing under a waterfall. Also avoid voices in the background (where is this coming from, a Geico call center?), traffic noises (so she conducts business on street corners?), and the kids (he knows he can’t do this job from home, right?).  We interviewers try to not think rude thoughts, but we do have to choose among candidates, and are you able to turn off first impressions?
  • Do not answer the phone with “hello” like you think this might be your neighbor calling because your dog pooped under his Jimmy’s swing set. This is business. You gave them the time and place to call; so don’t create the impression that you forgot about it. Whether your professional greeting is “hello” or “hi” or “howdy dudes”, give it and follow it up with your name; we want to hear that you are happy to talk to us and that we’re in for a great 20 or 30 minutes of conversation. That doesn’t start out with an awkward “is this….?” followed by “hi this is Paragraph City, remember we were going to call you?”  Nice blog post on this from Interview Angel:
  • Stand up for the interview. You will answer questions with less lag time and speak more clearly; at least most people do. It’s too easy to get casual and sloppy on the phone, so do what you can to keep it professional, and being professional will give you confidence.  I also recommend you dress as a professional for the interview.  And smile – not all the time, but as you would for an in-person interview. Remember, you are your voice, and we hear subtle inflections on the other end.  We heard a candidate yawn once.
  • Do the usual prep: have your resume and questions ready on note cards, make a list of your qualities that you want to mention (matched to the college’s ad, if you’re smart), and know a ton about the college that’s calling, including where they are and what they are near and what you particularly like about them and who else works in the department. I wrote about questions for community college teaching applicants here  and here .
  • Rehearse your ending.  It’s likely to echo in our ears for a minute after we hang up, and it may even be the first thing we say to each other about you, so plan it. “Nice talkin’ to ya” is pleasant, but not great in that professional, we-want-to-meet-this-person way that you want.

Finally, here are a few “nevers,” most of which I have heard and all of which seriously damaged the candidate’s chances.  None of these are particularly rude or stupid, but they do communicate that to you this is not a serious interview, just a thing you’ve got to do today, maybe an inconvenience that’s interrupting more important things.

  • Don’t take the interview while you’re driving. You will be giving us only half your attention (for the safety of other, hopefully less) and you can’t get a job when you have dialed your intellect and sense of humor and memory down to 50%.
  • Don’t take the interview in the mall or at the dentist’s waiting room with your ten year old. (“Mr. Johnson, we’re ready for Jimmy now” from the background does not enhance our impression of you.) or in the garage while you oil’s being changed. The whine of those air wrenches really carries.
  • Don’t yawn, burp, heave heavy sighs, eat, power walk, start every answer with “So,” or speak through gritted teeth about a former employer. Seriously, people have fewer inhibitions over the phone.  Some true stories.
  • Don’t drop the phone, use call waiting, or say “excuse me a moment” so you can chat with the Fed Ex guy at your door. You know we can hear you even if you put your hand over the mouthpiece, right?

If you find yourself irritated that all these things, which have almost nothing to do with how well you can operate the controls of a college classroom or win the respect of your students and the admiration of fellow academics, well, me too. But take my word, that is the way it is.


One Response to How to Take a Phone Interview for a College Teaching Job

  1. Hi,

    Nice post for telephonic interview. I will always take care of these things at the time of telephonic interview.

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