Can you hear me now?: Phone Interviews

Job interviews can be both exciting and stressful.  You impressed the employer enough to be a final candidate yet you know that the interview will determine whether or not you get the job.  It is very likely that the first round of interviews will be done on the phone. Often thought to be used only for industry interviews, we are now seeing a large increase in the number of first round faculty interviews conducted by telephone.  There are definite pros and cons to phone interviews.  One of the biggest challenges is losing the nonverbal cues that help direct how you answer questions: eye contact shows interest, facial expressions convey understanding, and hand gestures help explain a concept.  So, if you are faced with a phone interview here are some tips to help you make the best impression.

First off, find a quiet space to conduct the interview and if possible use a land line as opposed to your cell phone.  You want to limit distractions and background noise.  Your goal is to be heard and to hear the interviewers easily.  Typically, there are one to three people on the other end of line.  Write down the name and position of each person as they introduce themselves so you can refer to them by name during the call (and try your best to put a voice with a name).  After introductions you will likely be asked to briefly tell them about yourself and what excited you about the position or they may dive right into asking you more direct questions. 

We have seen that interviewees tend to ramble, probably since the lack of non-verbal cues makes it seem like the interviewer is still looking for more information. Try to keep your answers to three or four sentences, and then pause. If they don’t ask another question, ask “would you like me to elaborate on that?” 

Also, be prepared for the interview.  The interview may focus on traditional interview questions, and the OITE has a list of questions here: 

For academic positions, we have collected a list of questions that other post-doctoral fellows have reported being asked in their phone interviews.  Obviously some of these questions are for predominantly teaching positions and others for predominantly research position.  A few questions apply to both types of positions.


  1. Why did you apply to our college/university/department?
  2. Briefly tell us about your career leading up to this application?
  3. Who do you envision collaborating with here on our campus?
  4. What will be in your first grant application?
  5. Do you need access to any major/special equipment to do your research?
  6. What types of resources will you need to start up your lab?
  7. Tell us how you approach developing a new course.
  8. Tell us how you deal with students who are struggling with the material in one of your courses; a spin on this is how do you deal with disruptive students in your classroom?
  9. What would you like to teach? – be sure to talk about both survey courses and advanced courses for majors
  10. Any updates on papers or grants mentioned in your application
  11. How do you focus on making your classroom welcoming to a diverse student body?
  12. How will you accommodate the unique needs of adult learners in your classroom?  
  13. Are you aware of our honors requirement and how do you think you would approach supervising honors students?

 The final question almost always is: 

  1. Do you have any questions for us?  You must have one or two, and “when will I hear back from you?” does not count.