Practicing for phone interviews

Let’s talk about phone interviews. Whether you’re to be interviewed by a reporter about your recent press release or by a prospective employer, you can employ the same preparation strategy. I learned this strategy in a media training class*, so I’ll talk first about media interviews, then how to adapt the method for job interviews.

Here’s what you need to know about phone interviews with reporters — they favor you, because you can prepare in advance, use notes, and the reporter won’t know. The methodology we were taught in class is to write down the key ideas you need to get across:  why this discovery is important; what the larger context is; an everyday analogy to how this source is as faint as a flashlight on the moon (rather than trying to do the math in your head and brain-farting on whether a Jy is 10^-23 or 10^-26 erg/s/cm^2/Hz); a reminder to say the names of your co-authors; a plug for the next-generation instrument that would advance this research.) Put those ideas on flash cards, organize them on your desk in a way that makes sense to you, and use them (or not) during your phone interview. Once you use a card, flip it over so you won’t repeat yourself.

Confident public speakers may think such sort of preparation is overkill. But in my experience, many scientists are so nervous about public speaking that they don’t share their scientific discoveries with the press, even when they really should. Of course there are a few scientists who call a reporter every time they discover breakfast cereal — that’s overkill. But most scientists err the other way; they’re reluctant to talk to the press when their discovery really is press-worthy. Again, one can overdo press releases. But in moderation, as we discussed last week, one should be publicizing one’s most interesting (and digestible) results. After all, the public pays for the research, and would like to find out the results.

This same note-card strategy can help you prepare for a phone interview for a job. A postdoc was telling me about an upcoming job interview, and I thought — hey, that’s just like a phone media interview! Why not prepare the same way? The postdoc prepared, and we did a mock interview over the phone. I had fun anticipating the sorts of questions that might be asked, and recreating the halting, odd tone that phone interviews often have because they lack nonverbal cues.

What do y’all think — does this strategy seem helpful to you? What other strategies have you employed to prepare for phone interviews? What have you learned from phone interviews with the media or with prospective employers?

* (The folks who taught my media training class have a blog on public speaking and dealing with the media.)

3 comments… add one
  • John Debes Aug 9, 2012 @ 16:35

    I was advised to stand up during a phone interview for jobs–apparently you sound a bit more active if you’re standing up–I also found that I would pace a little bit and gesture more, which I hope added a bit of enthusiasm to my answers (and it relieved some of my jitters).

    As more people are interviewing candidates over skype, people might also want to prepare for that medium as well. For the one skype interview I had last year, I taped notes behind my computer so that I could glance at them without the interviewers noticing and I arranged my laptop so that I could stand while facing the camera, again with the thought that I’d be more dynamic.

  • Chris Mar 25, 2013 @ 21:11

    Seems like phone interviews are common place now. I’ve had one and I was really nervous about it. It’s interesting that people are interviewing via Skype now.

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