This post was written by two postdoctoral researchers in biomathematics, Amy Buchmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Alex Hoover (email@example.com), who are currently on the job market. This is a reflection of their Skype interview experiences so far.
Q: How is a Skype interview different from a phone interview?
Amy: The main difference is that during the Skype interview you are able to see the search committee and you get visual cues as they react to your answers to their questions. They might nod or look puzzled and that immediately gives you the opportunity to explain. At the same time you need to be prepared to be in interview mode from the second you hit Connect.
Alex: For me the important part is understanding from the nonverbal cues if people understand the research you are describing and adjusting your answer based on those cues.
Q: How do you prepare for a Skype interview?
Amy: I created a word document specific to each school. In that document, I copied the job posting and highlighted important words (e.g. undergraduate research). I also listed the faculty who would be in on the interview and the courses offered at that school. If there are too many courses, I listed the ones I would like to teach. I also prepared a page with highlights of my career for research, teaching and service and made notes of experiences I would like to bring up, including strengths and weaknesses in each. Finally I brainstormed 5 to 10 questions to ask the search committee.
Q: What kinds of questions did you ask the search committee?
Alex: Since I have been primarily interested in R1 institutions, I asked what type of support they have for graduate students, whether I would be expected to seek external funding for all of my students or if some are funded through teaching assistantships. If it was not explained in the job posting, I also asked if the hire was a department-wide initiative as part of a long-term plan of the department. Sometimes there are department cluster hires in math biology or there is an initiative for scientific computation or high-performance computing. In those cases I would make a case for how I am a good fit and it gives me a better understanding of where the department is going in the long term.
Q: What other questions do you ask?
Amy: I tried to come up with specific questions for each institution by going to their website and then asking about things I saw there, such as REU programs, math clubs or different activities that the students get involved in.
Other important questions are:
- What need does your department have that you are looking to fill with this particular hire?
- Are there opportunities for undergraduate research?
- Are there any mentoring programs for new faculty?
- Are there any long-term initiatives that the department is working on?
- I try to end the interview by asking what the timeline of the search is.
Alex: Since I am in computational mathematics, I also asked about their IT services and their high performance computing protocols for using these resources. For applied mathematics, I think it is helpful to investigate in advance the people outside the mathematics department that are possible collaborators with specific names of research groups or specific investigators. Understanding which research groups are prominent and what type of science is being done is usually helpful.
Q: What are some possible Skype interview pitfalls?
Amy: I think most Skype interviewers assume that there are notes or something that the applicant can refer to. But it can be a bit difficult to maintain good body language while also referring to notes. So use notes as a tool when it is appropriate and make sure you remain engaged in the conversation (so you are not looking at your cheat sheet when they are telling you about the university). A lot of schools ask why you are interested in that school. It is important to have a good answer to this question.
Alex: When discussing your research body I think a good principle is to have your description shaped like an hourglass where you start with broader strokes on your research and maybe a little bit more detail on your work in the middle and finally discuss the possibilities that you see at the university itself. Be prepared to show that you have plans for transitioning your research at that institution.
Q: Do you have a specific objective going into the Skype interview?
Amy: I approach it by aiming to show that I am a good fit for the institution. I think this can be done by making sure you describe experiences that are aligned with the university’s mission.
Alex: It’s good to do your research ahead of time. An interview with primarily undergraduate institutions will look very different than an interview with institutions that offer PhD programs.
The Skype interview is not an appropriate time to discuss salary or partner hires. However, it goes both ways, the Skype interview is also a time to learn about the institution. You can feel whether the faculty on the search committee give you a sense of being in a friendly department.