A few weeks ago, I posted a question from Busted Barry in Bakersfield about whether to announce in his job application letter that he had no plans to go to the American Historical Association’s annual conference, which traditionally hosts screening interviews for faculty job aspirants. A telephone interview would be the obvious substitute, so the question for today, dear readers, is: are phone interviews an adequate substitute for in-person interviews at large conventions like the AHA or the Modern Language Association?
My sense is that telephone interviews are inferior to the real thing, because no department I’ve ever been a part of has brought someone who had a telephone interview to campus as a job finalist when we also conducted conference interviews. That may be because the people at the conference were truly the best candidates, but I wonder if the disembodied voice over the speakerphone just doesn’t establish one’s energy or presence in the same way that in-person interviews can. But, Commenter JJO disagreed (somewhat), offered some good advice, and raised an interesting point in his comment on the Busted Barry post given the price of jet fuel these days:
[M]any departments might be looking to save money by finding alternative interview arrangements this year.
I’ve had both good and bad experiences on the interviewee end of phone interviews (be very upfront if you can’t hear everyone or need something repeated or clarified — I know from experience that faking it doesn’t work well; the confusion comes through). But in my department we’ve had excellent luck bringing people in through phone interviews and videoconferencing (usually for postdoctoral positions; we still do AHA for tenure-track jobs, but the positive experiences we’ve had in these other formats might actually change that, particularly given the funding cuts that are already being implemented.)
I think JJO makes great points, but I’d suggest that parity is perhaps the key here: if some people get in-person convention interviews, and other people get phone or videoconference interviews, then inequitable treatment may be the result. But, if everyone gets a phone interview or a videoconference interview, that would seem to level the playing field, provided that you have no candidates with hearing loss or other disabilities that might make telecommunications difficult.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Are phone interviews an acceptable substitute, or do they doom candidates? Have you heard of any moves afoot in your college or university to go the telephone or videoconference route in these hard times?