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upcoming candidate

I would be really interested to hear anything search committee members have to say about how Zoom interviews differ from in-person interviews! Or any Zoom-specific interview tips (setting, dress, formality level, what to expect in general...)


How much do things like backdrop, lighting, and video/microphone quality matter to search committees?

Bill Vanderburgh

The Zoom interview is hard. It is a high-stakes event for candidates and hiring committee alike, and the technology can make it awkward. The cognitive overloading of trying to manage the tech and answer questions under pressure is really a lot. Committees know that, and the good ones will cut you some slack.

The committee has the nearly impossible task of deciding which ~3 of ~12 candidates should come to campus, all of whom are prima facie good matches for the job.

This raises the point that the search committee is already disposed to like you. Unless something is terribly wrong at the hiring institution, they aren't out to "get" you in the Zoom interview. Since all the candidates who make it to the Zoom stage are able to do the job, the committee is mainly trying to assess fit and confirm the impression they got from application materials.

It is probably close to right to say that you can't win the job in the Zoom interview, but you can certainly lose it. The prime way to do that is to come off as a jerk, e.g., with an attempt at a show of dominance. Remember that the committee is recruiting a colleague they expect to have to live with for as long as 40 years. Be yourself--but be the kind, collegial, interested version of yourself. Other ways to fail the Zoom are giving dismissive answers, giving answers that are too brief (or way too long), being uninformed about the hiring institution, not being able to show that you fit the selection criteria, and not having at least one good question for the hiring committee (which makes it look like you don't care or are too naive to hire). Some teaching institutions will have doubts about your candidacy if you over-emphasize your research.

The best way to avoid these problems is to prepare and practice. Many grad departments will help you with mock interviews. If they don't offer, ask. I recommend doing this practice soon after you have submitted applications, rather than scrambling to do it after receiving an invitation.

These days most of us have plenty of experience using Zoom, so the tech is less of a barrier than it was a few years ago. Still, test your setup at least a day in advance. Pay attention to lighting, what's visible in the background, and sound. Hardwire your internet connection if you can. Log on a few minutes early.

Be prepared, but avoid coming off as stiff and rehearsed. Aim for a conversational (but not overly informal) tone. You can expect questions on your educational background, teaching, research, and service, plus anything special in the ad. Ultimately the committee is looking to feel confident that the person they hire will earn tenure at their institution without any problem.

Generally, answering with an example from your experience (how you taught x, how you collaborated with y, etc.) is more convincing than a purely theoretical answer. That's not always possible, especially for junior candidates who get asked how they would teach a specific class they've never taught. The main thing is to answer honestly and not try to bluff. Saying you don't know is better than faking something.

"Upcoming candidate" had some questions in the comments. I'd say dress and act as if it were an on-campus interview. Re: formality, I'd say aim for professional but collegial. One thing that can be hard for junior candidates is the shift from being "under" professors, to being colleagues/equals. In this case you are being evaluated as a colleague, not as a student. The committee should tell you (if they don't you can ask), but I'd say typically the whole committee will be on the call, they might take turns asking questions, it will probably last 30/45/60 minutes, and probably there will be others scheduled after you so it will have to end on time.

not matter

I have been on search committees twice. We tried not to take backdrop, lighting, dress, and video/microphone quality into consideration at all. We even asked one person to turn off the camera in order to hear them clearly, and I do not think that the fact that this person was not on camera mattered to the result. But you do want to make sure that we can get the information we need.

Zoom not Teams

Institutions probably can't help much with this, but if they can, choose Zoom not Teams when interviewing your candidates. Teams is just the worst. I used a 2018 MacBook Air, and Teams would rum my laptop on full capacity, while sharing screen is slow and laggy. Absolutely no problem with Zoom with the same device.

On the other side, if scheduled for a Teams interview, make sure to familiarise yourself with the interface. I think more than one person who've interviewed for a certain job accidentally ended the connection when trying to end share screen. (When I got back in, I heard someone say "he did it too" or something like that.) And if you can, borrow or buy a PC to do the interview.

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