Preparing for Phone or Skype Interviews

If you are in the process of applying for jobs, your first interview is likely to be over the phone or via Skype. These interviews are often used to help narrow down the candidate list and decide who they are most interested in interviewing further, so performing well in these initial interviews is important to getting further interviews and, ultimately, the job.

What will it look like?

Typically, these interviews are intended to be 20-45 minutes long depending on the department and committee. The hiring committee will be gathered in a conference room or similar space for the interview. Each member will likely have a question or two to ask you. They may have been doing several of these interviews that day, so be positive and enthusiastic. If they’ve been listening to responses to the same questions all day, they will appreciate your energy. Plus, all committees want to know that you are excited and interested in their department.

General Tips

  1. Dress professionally.
  2. While the interviewers may not be able to see you, or all of you if you're doing a Skype interview, dressing as if you were doing an in-person interview will help you feel as though you are. If you are wearing pajamas, you will feel more like you are chatting with a friend rather than conducting a job interview. This is a professional interview; treat it as such.

  3. Test the equipment.
  4. Practice using Skype to make sure the technology works and you know how to operate it. Check the set up of your computer, webcam, and microphone to make sure all function correctly and you can be clearly seen and heard. Also, this will make sure you know how to operate the technology when the time comes. If it is a phone interview, check that you can be heard well. Make sure your phone as adequate service in the room you will be using. You do not want the call to cut out mid-call. Ask friends or family members to do practice calls with you to test the equipment. If you are doing a Skype interview, keep a phone handy in case there is a technical glitch and you need to do it over the phone.

  5. Prepare the space.
  6. Photo of laptop and phone on a desk
    Notebook/Macbook by Anka Albrecht; licensed by CC BY 2.0

    Make sure that you are sitting in a quiet room, free of major distractions. If you are worried your roommates might come in during the interview, ask them to leave the apartment or house for a little while. If you have children or pets that might make noise, schedule the interview at a time when they will be away or that you could find a babysitter or pet sitter. If you are doing a Skype interview, check what is visible behind you on camera. It is fine if you have nothing but a blank wall behind you, but you certainly want to avoid anything that might negatively affect how they view you (offensive pictures, dirty laundry, etc.). For a Skype interview, also check the lighting in the room to ensure that it is not too dim or too bright and that you are clearly visible on camera. Keep water near you in case you need to take a sip.

  7. Prepare yourself.
  8. Review the position announcement and have it in front of you when you interview. It would also be a good idea to have some of your documents (cover letter, CV, research statement, or teaching philosophy) available so you can reference them if need be. Practice answers to some of the questions you think you might be asked. For academic interviews, questions will probably focus on your research, teaching, or the department (some examples are available here). Write 2-3 questions to ask the interviewers, too. These questions should not be something you can easily find by searching their website; you want to show that you have researched the position and the company or department. Make sure to tailor your questions depending on the type of university or industry position you are applying to. For example, do not ask interviewers for research position about teaching opportunities, as it will seem like you do not understand the job you are applying to and are not interested in that kind of work.

  9. Take notes.
  10. Make sure to note whom you spoke with and any information that they mention about the school or company, department, or position. When you are invited for an in-person interview, this information will help you prepare for those interviews.

  11. Speak clearly and concisely.
  12. You want to make sure the interviewers can hear what you have to say. Make your point and do not ramble. Answer the questions asked. On a phone interview, you cannot read their facial cues, so it can be trickier to engage with the interviewers. Try to be enthusiastic nonetheless, and if you think they might be confused, ask if they would like you to clarify a point.

  13. For Skype interviews, maintain eye contact.
  14. When you are on camera, it can be difficult to know where to look to maintain eye contact with interviewers. A good tip is to look at the camera, not your computer screen, so that you will appear to be looking straight ahead. If you look at your computer screen, it will look like you are looking down the entire interview.