Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Applying for Jobs : Phone Interviews

This is the third post in a series on applying for faculty positions. It is written by Jeff Phillips, frequent guest blogger, who will be starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah (yay!) starting Fall 2011.

A part of faculty interviews I had not heard or thought as much about was the phone interview. Not sure this was my strength in the interview process, since more places I had phone interviews did not follow-up with on-site interviews, than did. So if you have any different experiences, please post in the comments.

Some places do not have phone interviews, as some of my on-site interviews did not first have a phone interview. From my perspective, the places that did have phone interviews were places that may have wanted to confirm I was actually interested in coming. There were always several questions about why I was interested in that particular location/university.

Anyways, I'll try and provide some advice for performing well on phone interviews, even if I did not necessarily follow all of my advice.

First, prepare for these as if they were an on-site interview. Practice answering questions with someone over the phone (or in a room without eye-contact). You need to keep answers relatively short and to the point. Its harder to listen to a long answer over the phone. And its harder to take hints if you are giving too long or too short of an answer. Its probably more important here than in an on-site interview that you are well-prepared for questions, since you can't, say, move to a white board to explain something in more detail with a picture.

Try to figure out who will be on the other side of the interview a head of time. I've had one-on-one interviews as well as group interviews. The entire hiring committee was on the other side. Although usually in this case, one person asked most of the questions, but others would add follow-up questions. It could be a bit disorienting. When it was just one person, I usually tried to have their webpage up on my computer so I had a picture of them.

And, research who your interviews are, what their research areas are, and what classes they teach. If they bring up an topic, make sure you don't disrespect their research area, and you can try to positively relate to it if its relevant. If they realize you put in this effort, it will definitely help show you are serious about that university, which, I believe is a key aspect of why they are calling you.

Most importantly, make a list of potential questions and prepare and practice answers for them. I tried writing down answers, but this was not necessarily good on the interview since I really felt like I was just reading answers at some point. I'd rather suggest writing them down just to organize your ideas, but don't necessarily have them in front of you during the interviews. Bullet points might be ok.

Here are a list of questions similar to those I had:
- why do you want to go to UofX?
- why the location of UofX is attractive?
- who will you collaborate with? (try and answer with actual names, in the department)
- how will you fit in the department?
- what will your first proposal be about? (here they want to get a feeling that you have thought about proposals, name specific funding agencies and calls if you can. Don't be shy to mention any experience you have writing proposals even if you are not asked.)
- what you will teach? (try not to duplicate existing classes, especially not special topics ones)
- what is your research areas?/describe you research. (You may choose a topic so that is easy to describe over the phone.)
- Do you have any questions? (This one always gets asked. Sometimes you get the option to ask this at the beginning or wait til the end. I recommend waiting, since it allows the interview to get underway at first and you can get a sense of your interviewers before you ask.)

For faculty interviews, you probably won't get any technical questions (although you might - I did for research lab interviews).

And finally, you will probably have no idea how well it went after it is over. Don't worry this is normal, but quite frustrating. And you may not hear back for a couple weeks or more, so hang in there.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, congrats to Jeff on your new position. I think more than 10 from our original batch of CIFellows have joined academia as faculty members ... fulfilling the original goals of the program. Wish you all the best.

    Now, back to the topic: great suggestions. I will add a few more points:

    1. Please sound enthusiastic!! The interviewer(s) can't see you, so all you have is your voice to show your enthusiasm. A nice trick the career office at UIUC taught us was to smile (even if a fake one!!) during the conversation ... somehow that shows up in your voice.

    2. For a phone interview, it is better to use a land line. I learned it the hard way when trying to listen to questions through a noisy cell phone connection. The committee conducting the interview may be using a speakerphone, and you really need good phone connectivity to listen to their questions/comments.

    3. Be prepared. Write down your pitch ("Tell me about your research"), and practice reading it so that it doesn't sound like you're reading from a script.

    4. As Jeff suggests, do your research on who the interviewer is, what courses are taught in the university, what is the direction of research there.

    5. Always, Always have a list of questions to ask. Not just one. And have that list in front of you ... they always expect you to have these questions. Even if you know the answer, asking questions shows that you are serious and interested about the position.

    I had several phone interviews prior to the campus visits this year. While a few of them were just to know if I'm serious about the place, the others were actually formal interviews lasting half hour or so. The univ I'm joining had a phone interview round followed by a campus interview a few weeks later. This is perhaps becoming a trend in CS.


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