I've had several phone interviews and each time feel that I've done a terrible job. My approach is not to sound as if I've memorized my script, so although I have some notes with me, I say mostly what comes to mind. But given that I haven't had any luck, I suspect my approach isn't working - or perhaps I'm second-guessing too much about the reasons I don't succeed. So I'm curious, what do search committees look for in these phone interviews? What are some things to do/not do during the interview? How long to talk for and when to wrap up your answer (I tend to talk for a long time, because I don't want to appear as if I've run out of things to say). Is it better to sound well-prepared/scripted or be more casual (it's a phone call after all, not a formal interview). Any advice would be highly appreciated!
I've not yet been on a committee, but I did successfully get several campus interviews and a TT job. The advice I got was to have basic points about research, the department, the fit, etc. ready for each interview (personalized!) and be concise with answers. When I went through this, I had two sheets of paper where I outlined the topics I expected to be asked about and then bullets underneath each point that I would want them to know. If I got asked anything I wasn't expecting during an interview, I added it to the list for later ones so I handled them better. I didn't memorize a script but I made sure to hit the high points each time, and really I was so used to answering the questions (both from practicing and just general life experience) that I was pretty comfortable ad-libbing within the context of my bullet points. Your statement about talking as long as you can seems like a possible problem, so I would work on shorter responses. Whether your content is good, I'm not sure any of us can say. Can anyone in your lab/dept practice with you?
I've seen phone/skype interviews fail for 3 reasons. I'm writing these in the negative not to scare you, but to give you some clear goals for future interviews….fwiw, I've successfully completed a number of phone interviews as a candidate, and I've sat on several committees.
The first (and, in my opinion, the biggest) is that the interviewee is off-putting (with respect to personality)…this has included appearing robotic, angry, and/or extremely flustered (though we are VERY understanding that phone interviews are stressful, and cut substantial slack for nervousness). The appearance of confidence and WARMTH immediately help the candidate. My advisor's only piece of advice for me when I was on the market was to exude calm warmth (and, I can say, this strategy was successful at top R1s and SLACs). As a committee member, I've also seen how successful that calm-warm interview can be. Being long-winded can also be off-putting (because it can be boring, and because it can indicate that the candidate doesn't really understand the question or is trying to talk themselves into the answer) — but, candidates are rarely good judges of how long-winded they are. I would strongly suggest giving a skype interview to a friend or colleague, and to ask them to tell you whether you are being too long-winded. If you are in an interview, and you notice that the interviewers are cutting you off, interrupting you, or looking bored, that is a sure sign that you are being too long-winded (this might be obvious to some, but is not to all). One way to increase warmth if you are having a skype interview is to really practice talking into the camera (and not at the screen). It feels unnatural and weird, but it is SO MUCH NICER for the committee. One way to reduce your tendency to be long-winded is to limit most answers to what you can say in 1-2 breaths, and end with a "I'm happy to say a little more about this if you're interested"/"Of course, I have lots more to say about this; would it be helpful if I addressed x?".
The second interview-killer is that the interviewee is unable to articulate their research program, teaching philosophy, and/or fit for the school in an interesting, succinct, exciting, and compelling way. The committee should feel your excitement, and should also hear that you have a clear vision. I don't think there's a way to achieve this without practicing your elevator pitches of everything (but this doesn't really mean writing a script; I mean trying to explain, off the top of your head, your vision to as many people as you can, until you can naturally and easily improvise responses). What you say should overlap thematically with your materials but should be worded differently, ideally with different examples etc… remember, they've likely JUST re-read your materials prior to skyping, and so if you appear as though you are using the same words you used before, they may question whether those words are your own and/or whether you are able to speak off-the-cuff about the content that you are supposed to be expert in. As others have said, you should know how you fit with the school — who would you collaborate with? What would you teach? How would your research/teaching be the same/different at the school you're interviewing for (compared to your current and past positions)?
The last reason phone interviews often fail is that you potentially *just* scraped by to the phone interview list, and no one else crashed and burned. It sounds like this is not the case for OP (since they feel they did a poor job), but, as with all jobs, it's possible to not move forward because the other interviewees just rocked it, or because your materials (pre-interview) were relatively weaker. Or because of random nonsense. I can't emphasize this enough: the academic job search is random, chaotic, and bizarre.
I'd agree with the previous asstprof, with an emphasis towards most "failures" being that you were lower on the list to begin with for other reasons. People can't always move way up or down on the list from the phone interview, but keep in mind a lot of the time there are 10 phone interview slots and only 3 campus interview slots, so odds are you won't be selected in the end. I love the advice to exude "calm warmth."
In my experience, I didn't get a campus invite after some very good or average phone interviews (in my mind), and yet got at least one campus invite after an abysmal phone interview, and received that job offer as well (it was my first phone interview.) But the one that went very well for which I was not invited back was an elite place. I think I was just lower on the list to begin with. And the opposite was true of the one that bombed but gave me a second chance. I did great on the campus interview, though.
I agree with everything that has been said, with an emphasis on the "show excitement in a professional way" (that's my version of "calm warmth"). Interest and excitement goes a long way toward making a favorable impression. A few other tips:
-Even if you're only on the phone, smile while talking, because it can actually come through in your voice.
-Have questions prepared that make it clear you have a sense of the school and program so you aren't asking things that can be found on the website. Questions that show real interest in the location, program, department, university, etc.
-For research focused places, have a basic sense of what you would need to do your research (probably true for SLACs too, though I can't speak to this personally). This isn't an exhaustive start-up list, but will you need specialized equipment? A wet lab? Space for animals? Observational equipment? Specific populations? In my department, one of the things we try to figure out from the phone interview is if you *can* do the work you want to do here, and if you can't articulate this, you won't get invited to campus. How flexible are you about your needs?
-Do NOT ask a bunch of questions about yourself, your ranking, or your "fit." Don't try to convince the interviewer that you're the perfect person for the job—this comes across as annoying.
One thing that has put me at ease a little more with phone interviews: Have the department website up on your computer, and check out faculty photos/bios. You'll at least know ahead of time who is the point person for the call, so you can have their photo up; then when it becomes clear who the other SC members are, you can look at them, too. At least you get a sense of who you're talking to (and smiling for!).