My initial plan in the Job-Market Boot Camp was to move "chronologically" from job-market prep (cover letters, teaching and research statements, etc.), to interviews, on-campus visits, and so on. Alas, or so the saying goes, even the best laid plans go awry. Although we have already discussed APA interviews and campus visits, I just realized we never discussed the most common types of first-round interviews: namely, Skype and telephone interviews. Since these types of interviews pose unique challenges, it would probably be a good idea to discuss them!
1. Skype interviews
Because the kinds of questions one receives in Skype interviews tend not to be very different from those of APA interviews, I'm not going to focus much on content, but rather focus on presentation.
Here's what I'll say about content. As I explained here, for all of my interviews I put together questions and detailed, bullet-point answers to three classes of questions: (1) General questions pertaining to the college and department (i.e. explaining how my research and teaching speak to the college's mission, values, etc.), (2) Research questions (summarizing my research program, how I merge research and teaching), (3) Teaching questions (summarizing my teaching philosophy, how I would teach different courses in the job ad, etc.), and (4) questions for the committee. Although I cannot of course say what the content of your answers should be (your research and teaching methods are yours alone!), generally speaking, I think I've learned that effective answers (A) don't ramble, (B) firmly hit 3-4 "talking points" for each question you receive (so it looks like you've thought out a clear and detailed--but not pendantic or unending--answer to the question, and (C) speak to the place you're applying to (you want to show how your research, teaching, etc. fit the department and institution!).
Now let us turn to presentation: that is, how you speak, appear, and come across. This, in my experience, is the really tough part--the part that takes a lot of practice, and probably matters a ton. Let us begin with why it probably matters a ton. Most of us, I take it, know about the famous Kennedy-Nixon Debate, the first televised US Presidential Debate in history. Long story short, people listening to the debate on radio tended to think Nixon won the debate, but people watching television thought Kennedy won. Why? Because Kennedy looked better. Nixon looked pale, shifty-eyed, mistrustful, etc.
I learned something similar about Skype interviews by practicing with my wife. Anyone who has ever met me knows that I can come across a bit awkward with people at first. This is especially true when I talk philosophy! When I think about things, I tend to look up, or down, or to the side--anywhere except at people. I also tend to gesticulate a lot, emphasizing words with arm gestures, bodily movements, and so on. While I've been told this sort of thing works nicely in the classroom, my wife told me it looked really bad on Skype--and, what do you know, when she showed me a recording she was clearly right. Like many people, I also have a tendency to ramble, something which also comes off poorly in interviews. Thankfully, there are ways to fix these things.
The most obvious--and important--thing to do is do Skype practices with people, asking them to evaluate your body-language and provide tips for avoiding bad habits. My wife, for instance, got me to hold two stuffed animals in each of my hands on my lap, the purpose being to stop my hand-waving and "bouncing around" in my seat (they reminded me to "sit still"). And they worked like a charm! Similarly, to get me to avoid rambling, we decided to table several index cards around my computer screen: one card on "teaching", another on "research", one on "general questions", etc.--each one with several common questions along with bullet-point answers. I cannot tell you how helpful this was. Although I didn't read them (which you shouldn't do!), oftentimes I would just glance at them briefly to remind myself of the 3-4 bullet-points to hit in my answers. One of the best things about this is that it prevented me from that thing we all hate the most: forgetting to talk about something. Whenever I had any inkling that I was leaving something out that I really wanted to say, all I had to do is take a brief glimpse at the relevant card to see if I'd forgotten anything. If I had, I'd just add in that final point. Just as importantly, it helped me avoid rambling.
Another thing to think about, and work on, is one's cadence and tone of voice. Like many people, I have a tendency to speak very quickly. Yet, in an interview--especially one on Skype--quick-talking can be really hard to follow, and it also lends itself to rambling. I really had to work on being deliberate, and uttering answers in a calm, authoritative voice. If you need a reference-point, just watch a presidential speech. Your interviewers are looking for a Professor. Try to "sound like one": speak deliberately, confidently, and without rambling, and you'll already be ahead of the game. Oh, and smile. :)
Finally, one thing to think about is your set-up. You should make sure to buy a nice headset (with microphone), set up your camera just a wee above eye-level, and have good lighting. More importantly still, try to do your interviews in a place where you feel comfortable. Initially, I did Skype interviews in my office, and they didn't go all that well. I felt uncomfortable there. Once I started doing interviews at home, with a view of my backyard, I felt so much more comfortable and performed much better. Apparently, "power-posing" and practicing confident body-language before your interview helps too. Try to work yourself into a confident frame of mind, and get to it!
2. Telephone interviews
Telephone interviews are quite a bit less common than Skype ones, and in my experience a lot nicer (since you don't have people looking at you!). However, they have their unique challenges, for which I have several suggestions.
First, utilize a headset. It can be very hard to hear what your interviewers are saying over a normal phone connection--and if you struggle to make out what they are saying, the interview can turn awkward very quickly (viz. "sorry, can you repeat that?). Once I started using a headset, I never had those problems.
Second, in my experience the biggest difficulty with phone interviews is not "talking over people." It's hard to tell when someone is or is not finished speaking, and you don't want to interrupt. Consequently, just like with Skype and APA interviews, it's critical to practice. Do some mock phone interviews with your partner, a friend, or family member. Chances are, they will give you really good feedback--on your tone of voice, tendency to interrupt, etc.
Third, be sure to give verbal cues that you are paying attention (viz. "Uh-huh"). Oftentimes your interviewer will talk about the position, department, university, etc., and it's important that you convey interest! Also, smile. Apparently there's a lot of research that you can hear someone's smile in their voice: that it makes people sound friendlier and more interested. I've found that it works wonders, positively transforming my entire attitude on the phone.
Finally, I've found that it can be incredibly helpful to have a well-organized system of bullet-point notes spread out on a table in front of oneself. Although, as with Skype interviews, you don't want to "read your notes" (you don't want to sound like you're reading from a teleprompter), my experience has been that notes keep you from rambling (the death-knell of bad interviews). If you have your 3-5 bullet point answers on common questions on notes in front of you (I usually had anywhere from 3-7 pages of these), and you stick to your bullet points (without reading them), your answers will tend to be clear, concise, and well-organized.
Anyway, I guess these are my main tips for Skype and phone interviews. Did I miss anything? Get anything wrong? Fire away, and in any case I hope my tips are helpful!