Suresh posted a few months ago about academic phone interviews and asked “maybe it’s because there are more people chasing each slot and so these filters are more necessary now?” I’ve had a few phone interviews this year, with some turning into on-campus interviews and some not. Although it’s considered a thing that only smaller departments will do, I actually think the phone interview has a lot of positive features that make sense for lots of departments:
- You can screen a much larger set of candidates — it’s probably quite difficult to decide on 6 people to invite for on-site visits out of 300 applicants. Phone interviews let you screen out those who seem under-prepared, un-interested in your job (i.e. they applied just because it was there). If someone’s research is not really in your area (e.g. a department with no information theory people), it is a good chance to get the candidate to explain it to you rather than puzzling through the research statement. This also saves money.
- You can talk to unknown candidates — of course if your advisor is great friends with someone at school X then chances are that person will know your name (or at least your advisor’s name on your CV). But hiring people you know personally may be a suboptimal strategy long-term, so phone interviews let you broaden your search.
- It can be done in a decentralized manner — you don’t need the whole committee to be there on the phone call. Divide and conquer!
- If your search is pretty broad, then you can talk to a few people in several different areas. This means you can find the best-sounding candidate in each area and then the committee can try to compare good apples and good oranges instead of the whole motley cornucopia.
- From the interviewee’s perspective, you get to learn quite a bit more about the department, its priorities, and the culture from a 30 minute chat on the phone. You get this from the questions they ask as well as the questions you get to ask. That’s definitely the sort of thing which you can’t get from the website.
- It provides good feedback for the interviewee — if you get a phone interview, you know you’ve made some sort of list (medium, short, whatever) and that knowledge is helpful, given the uncertainty mentioned in my previous post.
That’s not to say I necessarily enjoyed all of the phone interviews; the phone is an awkward medium. But I do think on balance that they are a good way to improve the search process from the employer and job-seeker side. Besides, I’m not sure I look my best in Skype video chats…