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The Tenure-Track Phone Interview.

6 February 2013

I write this post with the naked ambition of being linked in @doc_becca‘s Tenure-Track advice aggregator. But also to impart the little bit of wisdom that I can based on my own experiences as a Tenure Track professorship applicant. I read an enormous amount of advice on writing my CV, and on my research and teaching statements, and on all kinds of issues about job-talks and interview etiquette. The one thing I didn’t find any information on was the phone interview.

I don’t know how common it is. I submitted about 25 faculty application packages. I heard back, so far, from about 10 schools. About 8 rejections and two requests for phone interviews. I was not offered a single on-campus interview without a phone interview first. In fact, I ended up with one request for an on-campus interview, and one request to submit more information for additional consideration, after my phone interviews. The latter was clearly leading to an on-campus interview (they were very enthusiastic about my candidacy), but I suspended my job search when I got my post at PECMC.

But clearly, the phone interview is a way of making a long-list into a shortlist, weeding out candidates who can’t think on their feet and answer questions, before spending a couple thousand dollars on flying them out, putting them up, and getting a whole bunch of people into a room for a job-talk and a chalk-talk.

The phone interview will be with the selection committee, or a subset thereof, and lasts about half an hour. They ask who you are, what you do. It will give you the impression that they haven’t actually read your research statement or your teaching statement. Maybe they haven’t, maybe they’ve read so many that they blur together. Maybe they just want to make sure that you’ve read your research statement. Keep this brief, but informative. They want to know, it seems, that you can talk about your research cogently, in a little bit more detail than an elevator pitch. Mention someone in the department doing interesting research you’d like to work with.

Next, they will spend about 20 minutes asking you questions. There was some cursory attention given to my modeling methods, but the conversation very quickly turned to funding in both cases. They were clearly impressed when I could quote NIH and AHRQ open request for applications (RFAs) relating to my work, and talk meaningfully about the recent funding lines at the agencies to which I’d be applying. They clearly were interested in someone who knew the details of pursuing funding. It was also important that I had applications under review already. I would strongly advise any faculty application to have a submission as PI, even a small foundation grant, under review while interviewing.

After establishing that I knew what I was doing with respect to a grant application, one school asked me about teaching philosophy, which I was prepared for. I had been coached on twitter to ask about teaching if they didn’t bring it up. And then I was asked if I had any questions for them. I asked about path to tenure, start-up, how the position was currently funded, and so on.

My overall impression with the phone interview was that I was being given the opportunity to take myself out of the running. I think @proflikesubst mentioned this first to me. That people will remove themselves from consideration if given the chance. So, to have a successful phone interview, write down people’s names so you don’t forget who’s talking, and then simply describe yourself, your plans for the next 5 years – specifically including how you intend to fund yourself – and how you think you fit in the department. They asked you to interview because they like what they saw on paper. Your job is simple: don’t convince them they’re wrong.

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