Skype interviews to supplant big conference interviews?

Lynn Lubamersky, an Associate Professor of History at Boise State University, makes a pretty good case for using Skype instead of flying faculty and grad students around North America to (usually) northern cities in early January:

[S]ome history departments like mine have tried Skype to do initial screening interviews, and I think that it is a much more humane and effective method of seeing who is best for the job. At first, I thought that using Skype was useful because it is free, but that we should return to the AHA when the economy improves. But now I feel that interviewing via Skype is a better way to find the best job candidates.

Why? Because job-seekers are not required to travel across the country and the world to pay for the opportunity to be interviewed, and they have more control over the presentation of self. Instead of all the candidates appearing relatively the same in a sterile environment, the job candidates interview in their own offices or even kitchens, taking the opportunity to position themselves to best advantage.

I’m with her entirely–using Skype saves everyone’s time, money, and carbon emissions to boot.  And I think the arguments about the greater economic justice for using Skype make it an absolute slam-dunk.  I’ve been on search committees that wanted to inteview people at the American Historical Association’s annual convention, but because of a candidate’s recent surgery, recent or impending childbirth, or perhaps because of plain ol’ poverty, some prospects were unable to meet with us there.

But with respect to Lubamersky’s last point about the charm of seeing people in their home or work environments–I’m a little whingy about considering that at all when considering someone for a job:

It was striking how beautifully some of the candidates communicated with us, filling the screen with their laughter and wit, and showing real enthusiasm and capacity to bridge the digital space between us. I think that students today prefer to communicate via their electronic devices rather than in person, so these candidates showed that they were already doing that in a big way. Some of the candidates staged their interview so appealingly — with artfully placed key titles in the background — that their image gave the impression that it was the book jacket photograph on their first published book. Other candidates were interviewing between classes, standing before 12-foot-high European casement windows of their university offices while gray northern light streamed through, projecting their competence and professional experience. And one candidate who was living in an 18th-century farmhouse delightfully scanned the camera 360 degrees so that we could enjoy a view of the rustic space in which she was living.

I think her major point here is that more of a candidate’s personality can shine through, and that Skype makes interviewing candidates a more varied and enjoyable experience for the search committee.  But, really:  who cares about the experience of the search committee?  As a once and future member of faculty search committees, I sure don’t, and I would work hard to avoid making judgments about candidates who needed to go to a coffee shop or sit in a sterile, cinder-block office (much like my own!) instead of staging their interviews with carefully-selected books arrayed in the background, or gothic revival windows lighting their performance.  What about the candidate who just gave birth and who decides to hike on down to her local cafe to focus on her interview and make sure it won’t be interrupted by a crying baby?  What about the Road Scholar adjuncting at two institutions who is squeezing in his interview in-between classes and has to borrow a proper office for an uninterrupted 45 minutes?  Here’s where the invisibility of good, old-fashioned phone interviews seem to have an advantage over the video link or Skype interview:  it makes it harder to discriminate by the appearance of the candidate and/or by the appearance of hir interview setting.

The search committee’s number-one priority is making a good hire, and making a good hire means making job candidates feel as comfortable as possible and treating them generously and thoughtfully through the whole process.  The advantages of the Skype interview for the majority of job candidates are clear and obvious, and democratizing access to the screening interviews seems like a no-brainer to me. 

But then, I’ve never conducted an interview by Skype in my life since we haven’t hired anyone for tenure-track positions for four years!  Please share your thoughts and experiences with video link and/or Skype interviews, from both the perspective of the job candidates and from the perspective of the hiring departments.  Here’s a question I have:  how would this change the nature (not to say the attendance) of big conferences like the AHA and the MLA?  I think they might get smaller, and that this change might be much for the better in terms of amping up the intellectual life of the conference.

41 thoughts on “Skype interviews to supplant big conference interviews?

  1. I have done plenty of phone interviews as both committee member and interviewee. I think that they are fine. I would be more than happy to do Skype interviews, but some of my colleagues are convinced that video conferencing will steal their souls.

    I can see pluses and minuses for the video conference component of Skype.

    On the plus side I think that self presentation, both in person and on line is an important skill. Video conferencing is going to be part of our jobs, whether its for committee work (Woebegone state has a satellite campus 45 minutes away and I’m on a committee that uses video conferences to conduct business) or in the nebulous future of on-line and distance education. I’d be willing to do office hours on Skype to help out some of my commuter students with hectic family and work schedules.

    On the negative side, I think about the trend towards blind auditions for major US orchestras. Once the musicians had to play behind a screen and they were solely judged based on their chops, a lot more women started to get hired as first chairs! I think Skype interviews _could_ have the opposite effect by privileging the visual. They could run the risk of reinforcing discrimination on the basis of gender, age and body type. Its a format that is going to be to the benefit of people who present well. Its a win for the ‘pretty people’ who understand the genre. This might not be much of a change from the AHA conference interview.

    In terms of interviewing for faculty and administrative positions, I wish there was the academic equivalent of the musicians’ blind audition. Maybe this is why people weigh things like dissertation (book) topic, publications and pedigree in the first cut.

    That said, getting rid of the AHA interview would level the playing field, it would also probably make hiring more flexible. You could start searching and interviewing anytime you want.


  2. I fully agree with the economic benefits of Skype, but also wonder about the potential for discrimination. My university has been hiring in the past few years and has used the big conference interview; however, when candidates couldn’t make it to the conference — no matter the reason — the search committees used phone interviews. I don’t know if it hurt or helped or was merely neutral — some phone interviewees made it to campus, some didn’t. The real focus should be on the quality of answers and demeanor (polite/rude, engaging/boring), the backdrop, the candidate’s clothes, the candidate’s accent, etc should be irrelevant.


  3. I would add potential forms of class discrimination to the list above. A remarkable amount of supposedly “free stuff” in this world is differentially available based on people’s access to resource-rich institutional connections (think of, e.g., scholarly data-bases and library budgets), and distance or locational-flattening technologies may confer benefits differently depending on where you are or have been in geographical as well as institutional space. It would also certainly confer a potentially-irrelevant generational advantage on candidates who’d been skypeing their parents and friends since they went to school eight-ten year ago as against, say, the more seasoned candidate who may now have to find someone to do a few “practice skypes” along with the by now almost standard mock interview. If the argument is that continuous technological modernity translates directly as a skill-set to pedagogical effectiveness it might be possible to discount that as a legitimate concern. I’m not sure I would buy that generalization very broadly, though. Students today who I see roll their eyes at the very idea of “students today prefer to…” pronouncements from the faculty types. Should we still predicate policy on the presumed continued dominance of the 18-22 classroom demographic?


  4. Apologies for not answering the question Historiann:

    “how would this change the nature (not to say the attendance) of big conferences like the AHA and the MLA? I think they might get smaller, and that this change might be much for the better in terms of amping up the intellectual life of the conference.”

    Yes, it might make them smaller, but there would still be a premium on grad students and junior faculty presenting at nationally recognized conferences. So I think there would still be plenty of new faces and fresh ideas to animate the conferences.

    But the intellectual life would still be dragged down by the usual suspects: the people who spend five minutes asking question that isn’t so much a question but a statement where they can showboat about how smart they are on a given topic. The same goes with panelists who take forty minutes to give their twenty minute paper and hose the other presenters.


  5. kudos to Indyanna – yes students are tired about hearing what professors and administrators think students want. No, we shouldn’t take the consumer desires of 18-22-year-olds as the benchmark for how we select faculty. But it might not hurt to hire faculty members willing to experiment with their teaching style and new tools.


  6. In my experience Skype users in the U.S. are privileged upper-income folks. Skype is more egalitarian outside this country, I think. I’m not surprised that candidates exploit the technology artfully. A great idea, but Skype hasn’t yet ripened into a progressive medium.


  7. LadyProf and Indyanna–I hear what you’re saying about the skills and technology needed to access Skype, but I think it’s still way more democratic than asking someone to pay for a flight, meals, and hotel to go to a couple of interviews. Skype is free software, and it’s pretty easy and intuitive for anyone to use, let alone scholars, whose research and writing lives are ever-more on the internets these days. (I’ve had a more difficult time as a candidate with some telephone conference calls than I’ve ever had with Skype.)

    I think most struggling grad students would rather download Skype and do a few practice calls in lieu of spending upwards of $1,000 for the *chance* at a job.


  8. I have interviewed by skype and got the job (twice)! I really liked it actually and I had little skype experience previously. The first time I ever used skype it was because a colleague of mine asked me to get on skype by email. So one morning, before I was even dressed and am sitting in a large blue bathrobe with large white pandas on it, unbrushed hair etc, I set myself up an account. Unexpectedly, my colleague immediately phones me on it and I answer it to demonstrate my fabulous morning fashionwear. I tried to avoid putting the camera on but she insisted!! Turns out she wanted to do an informal interview for a journal editorship, which I was subsequently offered and accepted.

    The second time was a formal job interview, which I did in my own home at my desk, wearing the whole job interview regalia, opposite a panel of 6 at the other side of the world. I really enjoyed it. They only saw my head and shoulders and a bit of my backdrop, so no worrying about waving my hands about or other body language ticks. Moreover, you can see yourself as you talk- so you know how you look and I found that reassuring as I knew I wasn’t doing anything stupid or had egg on my face etc. I didn’t consciously set up my office to look good; I did it there because there was a desk and a chair at the same height, so I didn’t have to hold my laptop on my knee. I also liked the fact that afterwards I was in my own home and could get on with my day, rather than being stuck in job interview land with a long journey back to home. I did a couple of practice skypes with my brother, but that was it, so I am hardly a fluent user.

    It was also the quickest ever job interview- lasting a total of 20 mins! (they had told me to expect 30mins)- and I was really paranoid afterwards about it being so short. I am not sure if it was the medium or just that this job really was perfect for me, but I was remarkably concise and on topic. I have since wondered if it was the medium, but not sure what would make a difference in this regard as I could see the panel and read their body langugage (so it wasn’t a lack of physical cues to continue etc). But, they phoned up an hour later and offered me the job and I will be starting there in the fall!


  9. I’m neutral on skype as an interviewing medium. Much in the way that I’m neutral on online delivery methods for courses. At the end of the day, the “delivery method” or the medium doesn’t make the process more/less humane – each has challenges, and each has benefits.

    I will say this, however: I don’t think that skype means that junior scholars (grad students, newly degreed, early on the t-t) are somehow going to get out of shelling out those thousands of dollars on AHA or MLA. At the end of the day, while those conferences are about interviewing, they are also about networking and presenting scholarship. If anything, taking interviewing out of the equation has the potential to grant even more class privilege to those who can afford to go “just for the experience,” while people who might have tried to present in those venues as a way to get some funding to go in order to offset some of the cost of being on the market in a world of skype interviewing would be left completely out of the conversation, out of the professional network, out of the profession. Being professionally involved means something toward getting a job even at a teaching-focused regional uni like mine, and at least in English, professionally involved does have something to do with the MLA.

    So personally? I feel like skype interviews would just add a layer of hassle, because anybody who had scholarly ambitions in my specialization would pretty much have to go to MLA pretty regularly pre-tenure anyway.


  10. Congratulations to Feminist Avatar! Terrific news. Now, welcome to “work,” which frequently feels like work, funnily enough. . .

    Notorious: yes you must clean your apartment AND wear makeup AND wear an interview suit or other interview-appropriate outfit. (See what I mean about telephone interviews? They’re looking good now, aren’t they?)

    And Dr. Crazy: the networking function is one that can’t be replicated on blogs or via Skype, so I absolutely take your point about the value of those large conferences for paraprofessional development. But, if MLA and AHA get smaller, won’t regional/more topically focused conferences come to play the networking role more prominently?

    I think the importance of networking at MLA or AHA depends on your area of specialization, but as someone who works on the margins in BOTH of her major fields, I’ve never felt compelled to attend the AHA to network. I do that with more temporally or topically focused conferences. For me anyway, the AHA has been just a place to find a job or hire a colleague, and any networking I’ve done there was built around my interview schedule.


  11. H’Ann, I’m sure there are people who’d disagree with me, but actually, no, I don’t think smaller or more topically focused conferences can serve the networking function in a way that is as *directly* professionally significant. I say this for two reasons:

    1) The publishing component of MLA. Two of my best placed articles fell into my lap because of presentations I gave at MLA where journal editors were in the audience. Realistically, journal editors are not going to be going to every regional or tightly focused conference, and for a person like me at a no-name university, it really does make a difference esp. early in career to be invited to submit something to a top journal as opposed to sending it out cold. There is also the opportunity to meet with university press editors at MLA, and I can’t think of a single other conference where that is the case.

    2) I think that part of my perspective does relate to the fact that English is so glutted. With literature lines disappearing (not just because all lines in a department are disappearing but because lit lines are being converted to “professional writing” or “technical writing” or whatever lines), and with ever-increasing pressure on those lit Ph.D.s who do “make it” to teach across fields, small focused conferences and small focused professional networks seem like a luxury that many departments/institutions just don’t value very much. (This is not to say that I don’t have those, and that they aren’t important to me personally. Nevertheless, my institution has absolutely no respect for things that are very narrow in their scope.) So I do see where you’re coming from, but my friends who have taken that approach post-PhD but pre-full-time-employment don’t have tenure-track jobs. In that purely pragmatic sense, I would never advise a person to set herself up in that particular way prior to tenure, at least in literature fields in English.


  12. I wonder if English is significantly different from History as far as specialized conferences. Almost everyone I know in history is either a medievalist (which means attending Kalamazoo and/or Leeds) or a Byzantinist (which means the BSC and/or the ICB, plus Kalamazoo and maybe Leeds). To add on to that the extra cost and time of the AHA, on the off chance that you might network with someone who might help you get a job someday…it’s really pushing it.

    Although, this year I went to a little regional conference where there was one medieval panel, and it was fun to sit through some of the modernist presentations. Not at all useful: the place of I Love Lucy in the history of American views of sex doesn’t really help me understand the pre-1081 Byzantine civil service. But fun.


  13. In Art History, our big conference – CAA – is the location for interviews, but there are rarely enough sessions on Asian Art for it to be worth the travel. Little learning or networking in the Asian field is done, or so I hear from my Asianist colleagues. I’m sure they would prefer to interview (for free) via Skype.


  14. Yeah, I think this issue of whether the big conference is an intellectually important experience is field-specific. I’ve had this conversation with a friend, who’s a religion scholar. He’s a big fan of AHA and was shocked and appalled that no one he knew in the history department felt compelled to go to AHA. But of course it turns out that one of his professional associations has its own mini-conference there. I’ve never felt the need to go to AHA, in part b/c my subfield conference is so much more lively and important. Around 300 scholars show up, there’s a wide range of panels, stuff that goes way beyond what I do specifically, etc. If I’ve got a spare $1000, I’m going to the subfield conference where I may actually get useful feedback on my work, where I’m more likely to get intellectual ideas, etc than AHA, where there might be two relevant papers the entire weekend.

    This friend then assumed that my subfield conference was some dinky affair without the books exhibit. I quickly set him straight.


  15. I’ve conducted a bunch of phone interviews,which seem to be preferred by my colleagues who live far from campus — skype charges to have group video. I’ve done one skype interview. Skype is occasionally unreliable, though, so not necessarily the best choice. Both ends have to have good connections.

    And Z is right: for ALL first round interviews, you need to have planned things.


  16. Oh and also, given Dr. Crazy’s characterization of conferences other than MLA/AHA as “tightly focused,” and “regional,” it’s clear that we’re not talking about the same thing. In history, which I think is much more fragmented than English (in that there’s significantly less hiring flexibility–as a black woman who doesn’t work on US history, I cannot apply to a Latino history job as a friend of mine did successfully for Chicano lit, a subject not hir speciality), these subfield conferences are conferences based around nationality (as mine is), or around chronology (as the medievalists’ Kalamazoo and Leeds are). Tightly focused, they are not, since these are wide umbrellas.


  17. As a medievalist, the AHA is useful for two things. Interviewing/being interviewed, and spending time with my non-medievalist friends who I don’t otherwise see. I presented last year at the meeting in Boston, and there were maybe 8 people at my session. And it was sponsored by the Medieval Academy, so in theory could have drawn a much larger audience.

    That said, at a recent FHS, 3 people attended my session.

    So maybe it is me.


  18. I think that as always, whatever the format that is used, the committee’s overall attitude will be the deciding factor re: whether or not a process is fair, thoughtful and profound.

    I was on the job market this past year, and had 4 preliminary interviews, in 4 different formats: AHA, skype, phone, and in person (due to the job being close to home). For my in person one, they offered skype to candidates who weren’t within commuting distance, and while I have no idea what influenced their decision, I certainly think that my in person appearance helped me. I got, and am just starting, that job.

    Re: the other formats:

    AHA: My AHA interviewers were lovely, and I was lucky to interview in a suite and not in a ballroom, which seems particularly inhumane when candidates are making expensive trips just to be there. Giving candidates a chance to actually speak in a quiet space conducive to conversation seems like the least a committee can do if they are going to make people travel at their own expense to be interviewed. While my suite interview was a great experience, I will say that it still felt frustrating to travel just for one interview. As I understand it, it is increasingly common for candidates to only get one AHA interview (anyone else I know who got one also got only one), and so again, it seems to me like it is increasingly just not worth it.

    Skype: My reservation re: Skype is that while it’s come a long way, the technology is just not there. My one Skype interview went wonderfully, with the exception of the fact that my camera kept freezing. Even though I tested it twice before the interview, the last time about 20 minutes before it began. It was very stressful to worry that the committee might think I was irresponsible and unprepared for not making sure that my connection was solid. The third time my camera froze, we just finished the interview without my being visible beyond the frozen frame. This is where a committee’s humanity comes in handy–despite this problem, the interview was warm and a really positive experience, and I was surprised by how well I felt I got a “feel” for them despite the technological divide. And I was invited to campus as a finalist, so I was very grateful that they did not hold the problem against me.

    My point being that Skype is a great tool only if the committee are nice people willing to roll with the punches and understand that they’re using imperfect technology that will have imperfect results. Having read horror stories about committees that will throw out your candidacy for seemingly trivial issues, I worry that not everyone would have been as kind as that committee.

    I also totally agree with your objection, Historian, to Lubamersky’s over-emphasis on staging and how lovely it is. In addition to your critique, I also just think that adding another freaking performative aspect to interviewing, and another thing for candidates to freak out about, is not super helpful for anyone. Candidates are worrying about enough already (have you looked at the Chronicle job seeking forums? Yeah.) I myself sat at my kitchen table with a bookshelf and a poster for an art exhibit related to my subject of study in the background. I barely rearranged things, just tried to clear the clutter a little bit. What was cool was that the committee’s first question was, “tell us about that poster behind you”, which I was not expecting but proved to be a great way into my approach to my subject of study. I like that they acknowledged the performance of it all, which seems like a way of keeping this whole thing honest, and perhaps acknowledging that everyone is going to be interviewing from different locations/circumstances for different reasons. I know committees like to get candidates to speak “off the cuff” a bit to get a better sense of their non-rehearsed personas, and this was a great way to do that.

    My phone interview: This was the only truly terrible experience I had interviewing last year, out of 6 interviews (4 preliminary, 2 final). The university used a conference call system that had dubious technology, resulting in delays and echoes, so that it was incredibly awkward to speak. And it wasn’t just awkward for me–the committee members were also stilted and unnatural in their questions, but of course, they were not the ones being evaluated, so they may not have realized that they sounded as “off” as I know I did. I totally lost track due to competing with the technology, and was inarticulate and stammered considerably. It took me a while to regain my composure.

    I feel like if the point of these interviews is to be feeling candidates out as potential colleagues, then the conversationality of the interview is really important. Indeed, I was scared out of my mind by the plethora of job market advice out there on the internet before my first interview (the AHA one), and once I realize that all an interview is is the usual conversations I have at conferences and other academic gatherings about myself and my work, just more polished, it got a whole lot less scary. The interviews where I felt I excelled were the ones that felt like conversations. And that is why that last phone interview felt so disastrous to me–because it was impossible to just have a conversation due to the technology. And so I am left wondering what the committee really could have gleaned from those interviews, that they hadn’t already known from our application materials.

    I’ll end this epic comment there. To summarize: I think the key here is making sure your technology won’t massively disrupt your interviews (and in my case, phone was far more disruptive than Skype, even though both failed me), and having committees that are made up of, you know, nice people and not jerks. Because there will be technical disruptions in every format, and it’s really how the committee handles it that will determine whether or not those disruptions really screw over the candidate.

    Man, have I mentioned how glad I am that I don’t have to do this again this year?


  19. Oh, one more point, re: people who say the AHA will still be useful for junior scholars because they need to get big conference experience on their CVs: the problem with the AHA is that ALL historians interview there, but in terms of getting it on your CV, that seems mostly important to modern Americanists? I.E. I am not an American historian, and no one I know thinks that in my historical subfield AHA presentations are a mark of anything. I would only go, at this point, for a job interview. There is definitely a disconnect between who goes there for interviews, and who goes there because it is the professional organization that best represents their discipline. Personally, I will be letting my membership lapse this year because access to the job ads was the only reason I needed it, and I will not be attending the AHA unless I go on the market again and need to interview there.

    All that to say: if interviews stopped happening at the AHA, I think it would become more of an Americanist ghetto. Which is not necessarily a bad thing; a professional association can decide that that’s who it represents, and the rest of us will be represented by other associations. But they just need to think about who they want their members to be. (As it is, I don’t think it’s particularly productive that so many of us sign up and attend JUST for the job stuff, and not because we need to network/present/etc. there, so this is certainly not a situation worth salvaging, beyond the cash they get out of people like me.)


  20. I am currently enrolled in an NEH summer seminar. One of my seminar-mates just had a Skype interview, which was the first I ever heard of such new-fangled interviewing techniques. The problem he had to negotiate was finding a decent internet connection. We are all staying in dorm where we had been without wireless service all weekend long for no apparent reason. Luckily he had access to a seminar room on a non-class day, but had to contend with the fact that we generally come in and out of that room on a regular basis which I can imagine would be terribly distracting while interviewing. He did dress as if interviewing at the AHA, but I can’t imagine that he otherwise was able to craft a beautiful setting.

    Phone interviews are awkward, too, but I liked that I interviewed in my working-on-my-dissertation clothes and could make faces at will.


  21. We’ve done some Skype, some video conference and some phone interviews in my day. As I’ve said before, the Canadian academic conferences come in late May or early June – the wrong time for a conference interview. And you know what? Our hirings have always turned out just fine.

    The conference interview is an unnecessary luxury for the institution, an annoying obligation for many faculty members who’re on the committees and an expensive obligation for the job seekers (especially those who book on the HOPES of an interview and then don’t get one). Get rid of the conference interview boondoggle and work out a fair, clear and helpful protocol to do the preliminary interview via Skype or conventional telephones if the former isn’t workable for a candidate.


  22. It was striking how beautifully some of the candidates communicated with us, filling the screen with their laughter and wit, and showing real enthusiasm and capacity to bridge the digital space between us. I think that students today prefer to communicate via their electronic devices rather than in person, so these candidates showed that they were already doing that in a big way. Some of the candidates staged their interview so appealingly — with artfully placed key titles in the background — that their image gave the impression that it was the book jacket photograph on their first published book. Other candidates were interviewing between classes, standing before 12-foot-high European casement windows of their university offices while gray northern light streamed through, projecting their competence and professional experience. And one candidate who was living in an 18th-century farmhouse delightfully scanned the camera 360 degrees so that we could enjoy a view of the rustic space in which she was living.

    This is one of the most fucked uppe things I’ve ever read. These poor fuckers are interviewing for a motherfucken faculty position, not to be Martha Stewart’s fucken successor.


  23. Skype is not applicable to hiring in the precise/natural sciences. Such candidates give a talk on their chosen research topic. The depth, quality, originality and other factors are evaluated by attending faculty members. Questions are asked and the ability to answer, quality and “shine” of the candidate’s response is crucial.

    With a much more advanced Skype (more interactive and text features, higher quality of picture, ability of candidate to see the whole audience, etc.) may work towards adaption of Skype like tools.


  24. “The conference interview is an unnecessary luxury for the institution, an annoying obligation for many faculty members who’re on the committees and an expensive obligation for the job seekers (especially those who book on the HOPES of an interview and then don’t get one). Get rid of the conference interview boondoggle and work out a fair, clear and helpful protocol to do the preliminary interview via Skype or conventional telephones if the former isn’t workable for a candidate.”

    THIS. Excellent Janice. It would be helpful for the AHA and the CHA to develop guidelines for using Skype or other phone/videoconference protocols. The AHA already has a list of rules for interviewing people in person at the convention–why not rules for teleconference interviews?

    And, Koshem Bos–I think you’re talking about the campus interview, not the screening interview. Skype would just pertain to the screening (first-round) interviews, not the on-campus interviews. I agree that it’s important to see people give talks about their intellectual work in person.


  25. What CPP said.

    The interview process in academic libraryland tends to be a phone interview with the search committee followed by a campus interview. This generally means that ALA and other library conferences don’t involve a lot of job interviewing — no interview pit along the lines of AHA. I attended AHA this year for the first time in a long time, and enjoyed it much more without the interview anxiety.

    I’ve never done a Skype interview, and am one of those more (ahem) seasoned folks who would need to do some practice Skyping beforehand. Have to admit that I would prefer a phone interview, because I can have notes in front of me, can take notes, etc. But then I’ve done enough of them that I’m pretty comfortable with the format.

    Also, I have to wonder with Matt_L whether getting rid of conference interviews would make hiring more flexible. One of the BIG differences about going from the academic to the library job market was there not being that clearly defined “season” — jobs get posted throughout the year.


  26. “But, if MLA and AHA get smaller, won’t regional/more topically focused conferences come to play the networking role more prominently?”

    I’m just chiming in with Dr. Crazy. If departments have a hierarchy of travel support in which travel to the big conferences is more apt to get funded, then the regional/specialized conferences won’t be able to play the networking role as effectively. Also, the problems with staging the background and counting on Skype not to freeze or cut out during the interview is, as several have suggested, something to think about.

    What if you’ve carefully staged your background to include some books that the committee thinks are poor scholarship, or if you’ve forgotten to take down the Keane paintings or dogs playing poker prints that your beloved grandmother gave you? How does that factor into the committee’s reaction to you?

    On the other hand, this would be ideal for an HGTV series: “Staging your Skype Interview.”

    On the othe


  27. A few random thoughts, prefaced by saying that, based on the thread today, I’m not categorically fur it or agin it–the use of Skype as a screening tool, that is. But.

    Unless we have good data on the degree of “penetration” of Skype-type tools in the population itself, and its penetration into the interviewing process, who would make these guidelines and how? If it was a task force of early adopters we could imagine them coming out one way. If it was a group of AHA warhorses who weren’t sure they’d want to do this in *their* departments, but were pretty much convinced there should be guidelines for the practice anyway, they might be pretty generic and maybe even impertinent guidelines. Yes, the AHA has lots of “rules” for interviews, but when and how are they enforced? Don’t interview in hotel bedrooms (unless your dean makes you rent one of them), and in any case, don’t sit people on the beds (unless the room fills up). My favorite: always notify candidates who have been eliminated from consideration within two weeks of that occurrence (unless your institution wants to totally hedge its bets). Guidelines without teeth look like people without teeth. It’s also worth at least thinking about the fact that saying Skype is not the equivalent of saying “the internet” or “by telephone.” It’s a specific and privately-held concern, and having one such entity become the unofficial official distance modality of academic search might be kind of funny, just on principal.

    On networking and the AHA as an “annoying obligation,” I’m going to be a contrarian skeptic just for argument’s sake–but not specifically with regard to the hire itself. There’s 1980s Jerry Rubin/Donald Trump “here’s my card” type of networking, and then there’s the inadvertent randomized pollen-tracking that happens from scaling group interaction to large (and chaotic) levels. The standard trope of search committee membership is “oh we barely even had lunch, never saw daylight for three straight days, were holed up the whole time,” but in my experience that’s just a war story. People do get around, collective experience does happen, even if only in retro-memory (how many thousands of people will tell their offspring about being iced in Atlanta in 1995; or of watching the cops cuff that “jaywalking” scholar there twelve years later?). A committee I was on did twenty four interviews in two and a half days, had a lunchtime melt-down that we still laugh about (ruefully), hired two colleagues, but lost another when a member of the committee took a job she interviewed for during one of our authorized breaks. And I think the risk of that kind of thing happening is actually a good thing. I don’t want to romanticize or try to dollarize the value of unintended consequences, but departments that cut themselves off from professional contact at mob-scale may pay an unrecognized price in forfeited cosmopolitanism and lost collective experience. The ethernet may make much of this irrelevant, someday.


  28. I find skype tiresome–mostly due to tech issues out of my control, like the stability of the connection. I haven’t used it in this context, but I think it would add a level of stress on both ends of the process. For screening interviews, I’d tend to stick with the older technology of the telephone.

    Don’t know about the conference issues; not my field(s).


  29. It worked well for a hiring session that I recently sat through. We were hiring about a dozen postdoctoral fellows in the humanities and we interviewed some 30+ people. Skype was not without its ticks and quirks and occasional spazzings out, but the technology worked about 85% of the time. A lot of people came across very well on camera, but I can’t say I would have been one of them. I simply don’t know.

    From a practical standpoint, Skype fricken rocks. Why fly to San Francisco for one interview, which I’ve done? Why be penalized by not going to a gigantic conference when the market is saturated with Americanists this year again and only one school has picked you for an interview?

    Oh, I’d miss the booksellers’ conference discounts and everything, but I could live without the extra trip during my winter break.

    HJ (deceased)


  30. As a believer in the AHA (it would be a little strange if I weren’t), I’d like to say that as things stand, I completely agree with those who point out that subspecialty conferences are now better places to network. RSA, which I go to most often, is big, has a terrific book exhibit, panels that people actually go to, lots of opportunity to see friends–and that’s where there’s time to organize lunches and dinners where younger and senior colleagues can meet and network.

    We’re now trying to make AHA annual meeting work better on a social level–for example, by providing real opportunities for grad students to meet early in the conference and begin to know their cohorts at other schools. All suggestions welcome! But the subspecialties are, I think, going to be the centers for most of our networks in the years immediately ahead of us.


  31. As the person eventually hired by Lubamersky’s department after an initial videoconference interview, I will say I’m a fan of the medium. :)

    In fact, even though I’m tech-savvy, I’d prefer videoconferencing over Skype. Skype is easier logistically on the surface, but as others have pointed out, it’s not always reliable. I liked having a professional tech person responsible for the technology on my interview day, especially since it was my only interview in five years on the job market.

    I have little interest in the AHA, and have therefore never attended–and I never went to the MLA when I was pursuing a graduate degree in English, either. (I went to my Ph.D. discipline’s big conference once, and found it not a good fit, either.) Instead of “chronological” conferences, I prefer methodologically or genre-focused ones, like the National Conference on Public History or Museums and the Web–those are the places “my people” hang out, and I’d much prefer to interview amidst the interesting conversations that take place at those conferences.

    My one question to those of you who have been on an interview committee that used Skype–how did you all manage to fit in frame? I suspect there was a good deal of huddling at one end of the table, yes?


  32. For the job I interviewed for (which is only for 3 years but in the UK- although this job is not in the UK- at the moment, this is about as good as it gets), the skype interview was my only interview. And, all the other candidates were interviewed in person. They just didn’t want to pay to fly me across the world to interview.

    I did think it was strange not to do a presentation, which is de rigeur for these jobs normally (this is my fourth post of this nature), and I am not sure whether the other candidates were made to do that? But clearly, they decided it was enough just to interview in this case.


  33. @ Feminist Avatar – over 15 years ago I was offered a job (my current) on the basis of one phone interview (they were going to do another, but opted to offer me the job instead), because the university would not pay to bring in candidates for my type of position. When I told them I couldn’t take a job without visiting, they figured out a workaround, so that the travel costs were split.

    In retrospect, it’s a really odd way to hire someone, particularly (as you point out) there was no opportunity for them to really see me in action.


  34. Leslie M-B, I thought that hire might have been you!

    I think everyone has made great points here about the advantages and disadvantages about the Skype interview. But given the cost savings for everyone involved, I think it’s a slam-dunk to use Skype and (as Janice suggested above) for the various academic professional organizations like the AHA and the MLA to develop interview protocols to guide both hiring departments and job candidates.

    I agree that the backdrop/staging of the interview shouldn’t be a priority for either the interviewing department or for the candidate, and am a little concerned about how that might potentially affect a search. But my sense is that there’s more economic/class discrimination built into the convention interview compared to a Skype interview. Anyone who is qualified to be interviewed for a faculty position has access to the kind of technology and high-speed connection that one needs for a Skype video call, whereas there are a lot of starving ABDs and new Ph.D.s who can’t really afford the travel.

    ProfSweddy’s comment about the wifi connection fritzing in and out is perhaps my greatest concern. It might be a courteous and useful thing for Ph.D.-granting departments to provide access to a computer with a high-speed ethernet connection in an “interview suite” so that their grad students could do Skype interviews there. That kind of environment might offer a more stable connection, and a quieter and more dignified surrounding than one might find at a coffee shop or even at home!

    But even with technical difficulties, if everyone approaches these interviews with a spirit of understanding and a sense of humor, these technical difficulties can be worked out. There are all kinds of difficulties involved in getting physically to an interview: planes cancelled/delayed, connections missed, hotels too noisy to sleep in, etc. One of our best hires was a guy who arrived sweaty and obviously scared because he was 10-minutes late for his interview because he found himself in the wrong hotel and had to sprint across town to get to us. At least the technical difficulties with Skype would be visible and obvious to all present, whereas the other difficulties, because they’re not obvious to everyone, remain more in the realm of personal problems for which a candidate might be unfairly judged.


  35. and p.s. on the background and staging of the interviews: no number of artfully placed smartypants titles is going to win anyone a job if ze’s not well-trained, engaged, and able to present hirself effectively as a interesting colleague. Even so, a hiring committee using Skype might do well to have a conversation about not letting the aesthetics of the interview setting sway the analysis of the candidates.


  36. @ koshem Bos

    Actually, I just had an interview with presentation for a academic science position over skype. Using screen sharing and a projector on their end, you can give a projected powerpoint presentation to an audience and answer questions afterwards – they had to speak close to the mike, but it worked!
    (Amusing side note: If you do this, you will answer questions after the talk as a Big Giant Head on a screen. I caught my reflection in a mirror in the room I was talking to and my nose was like a foot wide. I laughed so hard – after I hung up. :D)


  37. Done to death already, but yes, if we moved to Skype interviews I’d never go to the AHA again. And I’d be fine with that. It is not an academically relevant conference for me, really, and I have other ways to see my friends from grad school.

    It’s not a big-versus-little conference thing. I go religiously to my major field conference, the African Studies Association, which is just as big as the AHA.


  38. Pingback: Skype Interviews : Lawyers, Guns & Money

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