Breaking into Academia: The Dread Phone Interview

The Dread Phone

I asked what library school students would like to know about and @dorevabelfiore replied, “Recommendations for preparing for an interview for an academic library job.”  Breaking into academia is difficult and due to length I’m splitting the answer into two posts, this post addresses the dread phone interview.

Disclaimer:

The thoughts expressed here are my opinions and impressions based on my experiences and those of my friends, there is no such thing as a typical academic interview experience so take everything here with a grain of salt.

Phone Interview Tips:

  1. Very few people are interviewed by phone, 5-10 people seems to be the average.  You got the phone interview by demonstrating how you met their requirements in your cover letter supplemented by your CV/Resume.  Interviews should be taken seriously but having a good attitude and a pleasant demeanor are a huge plus when passing the phone interview stage.  Yes you need to know your stuff, but you also need to sell yourself as a person people will be comfortable working with.
  2. Ask for a list of people who will be conducting the phone interview and research them ahead of time.  I read CVs and skimmed documents from the institutional repository created by the people interviewing me.  This is probably a overkill but it made me feel less anxious being over prepared and may be helpful to you.
  3. Read as much about the university and library as possible before the phone interview.  I read the strategic plan, the library’s annual report, and everything else I could get my hands on and had time to read.
  4. Do check out what databases the university has, you won’t have time to look in depth at all of them but make sure to skim those on topics relevant to the job you are applying for.
  5. Sit down with a list of commonly asked interview questions and type out and refine your answers.  This will help you synthesize your thoughts.
  6. Be prepared to be asked something totally off the wall, take a moment to think about it seriously and then give a real answer these questions are a test of how you react under pressure, i.e. what will you be like if a students asks you about something totally outside your area of expertise and you need to help them.
  7. When asked to provide a phone number make sure you are on a reliable land line for the interview.  There are often problems on the other end due to all the interviewers being on speaker phone and you don’t need to aggravate the situation by being on a cell phone which I guarantee will drop out, Murphy’s Law at work.
  8. Do enunciate everything in as clear of a voice as you can, those on the speakerphone side will be better able to understand what you are saying.
  9. Since it’s often hard to hear what is being asked (sometimes I had to guess), it is good to rephrase the question as you begin to answer so that people know what you think you are answering.
  10. Have a glass of water nearby, you will probably need it, and even if you don’t it will make you feel better to have it ready.
  11. Always pause for a second before you answer (this one is hard but really helps a lot in terms of gathering your thoughts and not rambling).
  12. Don’t be afraid to say you are not familiar with something, they don’t really expect you to know everything and it’s best to just admit it if you haven’t heard of something or have heard of it but don’t know much about it.
  13. Have 2-4 questions written down for when it’s your turn to ask questions.  A good question to ask is what are the next steps in the hiring process and when will they let people know if they have been invited for the in person interview.  Another important question is what is the standards for review and promotion (my impression is it’s about 50/50 whether positions are professional or tenure track faculty positions.)

Other things to think about:

Remember, these people can’t see you, if you have an online profile make sure you have a picture to go with it preferably one that you feel represents you.

Ask mentors for advice on what to say and what to be careful of.  The dread “What’s your worst quality question” is a good place to mention an area that you struggle with but are working on with the help of friends and/or mentors.  This shows that you evaluate yourself and realize that just like everyone else you have faults. This is never comfortable but we all have our strengths and our weaknesses and I’m fortunate enough to have friends who are willing to be honest with me about what mine are and help me work on them.

Share 1-2 good or memorable things about yourself when appropriate and leave it at that, remember you still have the in person interview to let people see the whole you.

It’s easy to feel like the phone interview is all about the impression you’re making on your prospective employer but you should be forming your own impression of the library and university you might get a job offer from.  How rigid is the structure?  Do the people seem pleasant or judgmental?  Did anything said make the university or college seem like a really great place to work, or raise a red flag?  Don’t be afraid to be judgmental at this stage since you are not committed to anything it’s a good time to take stock and begin figuring out if these are people you might enjoy working with.  The more you think about things at this stage the easier it will be to make a thoughtful decision when you receive an offer.

Remember:

Bee yourself! (A little bee humor!)  The most important thing is to be yourself!  If the people interviewing you don’t like you once they’ve seen what type of person you are then you wouldn’t enjoy working with them.   You’ll be much more relaxed if you aren’t trying to go against you basic nature just to conform to someone else’s opinion of what proper behavior is for you.

What else have you done to prepare and survive the dread phone interview?  Please comment below with your tips!

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