Unexpected Phone Interview!
August 27, 2012 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend, who writes: I am currently an academic with a humanities PhD, doing the whole adjunct thing. I have been pursuing non-academic careers for a while, and things might finally be starting to pay off in the form of a phone interview. Trouble is, I haven't had an interview for anything in ten years.

I am an adjunct and have been trying to get out. I recently applied at a local company that I was interested in. I was told that while they felt I was overqualified for the position I applied for, they would keep my resume on file and that they thought I might be suitable for another position in the company, should one open up. Great! I sent an updated resume (tailored to this other position) to a recruiter there, and crossed my fingers.

Today, a different recruiter got in touch with me (after viewing my LinkedIn profile) to ask if I knew of anybody who might be interested in a particular position at the company—in fact, the very one that they said I might be suitable for. I said "Yes, me!" and noted that they should have my resume on file. A little while later the guy asked when he could give me a call regarding the position.

Now, I'm very nervous: I do believe myself to be very qualified for this job, and am excited about the opportunity with this particular company, and don't want to blow things. But, I haven't had an interview since I applied for the recurring summer job I held during my undergraduate days.

I have a short time to prepare, and have been googling like mad, but I was hoping some HR / recruiters or anyone else might offer me some advice. I have already read about very practical things, such as smiling while I speak, finding a quiet place, and so on. What I would like some help with is what to expect from the interview itself.

What is generally the purpose of the phone interview? What kind of questions can I expect, and what are the right answers?

My cursory searches suggest that I might be asked about salary expectations and my current salary. How do I respond to this? I have done some Internet research and found what people with this title in the company make, but I am unsure how reliable the data is.

Second of all, I also see that I may be asked why I am leaving my current job. I am going to assume that I can't say "There are no tenure-track jobs" or that "I don't want to contribute to what I feel is an unethical growth in graduate degree holders" or "I'm so tired of re-applying for the same courses at a pittance each semester" (among many other reasons) and be done with it. What would you, as a recruiter, need to hear from a post-academic transitioning into the private workforce? And what would scare you away?

Are there other questions for which I should have a ready answer?

And, are there questions I should definitely ask the recruiter?

What else can I do to prepare? I have limited time as the interview is early tomorrow afternoon. However, I really, really do want this job. The company sounds fantastic and the work fascinating.
posted by pised to Work & Money (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a recruiter or in HR, but I have gotten a few jobs lately and there are no replies yet.

A phone interview is generally a check that you're basically competent and can answer some simple questions in a reasonable fashion, so they only have through the trouble of a full interview if there's a decent chance you'll get the job.

Adjuncts are underpaid, so if they ask about your current salary, instead give a target salary. If you know anyone in the field, call them up and ask them their starting salary if you're comfortable, or if you're not just ask them what you should ask for.

Here are a few super-cliched job interview questions (though it's missing perhaps the most cliched question, "Tell me about your biggest weakness."). Have a friend read them to you over the phone, so you can role-play an interview. Do it a couple times if you have to.

Likewise cliched is the advice to always be positive in a job interview. When asked why you're moving away from academia, instead praise the field you're looking to move into: "I want to move into a field with better growth potential," or, "I want to move from theories & abstractions into more tangible work."

There may also be field-specific questions on the phone. Search for "$employer phone interview" or "$field phone interview" or "$location $field phone interview" to see if you can figure out any more specifics. I'm a computer engineer, and some folks want you to solve complicated comp-sci problems over the phone, while some folks just want to chat to see if you can keep up.

Since you're nervous, practicing answering interview questions over the phone is probably your best starting point.
posted by akgerber at 7:25 PM on August 27, 2012

First of all, just try to relax and be yourself. A phone screen is usually just to check if you're worth bringing in for a face to face interview (or interviews with multiple people). They want to check that you're a reasonable candidate for the job. If you're really qualified this should be straight forward.

From the candidates pov the point of the phone interview is just to get to the next stage.

I think the most important things are to make a personal connection with the interviewer, it can be hard over the phone, but if they like you at the end of the call they will often give the benefit of the doubt for any answers that didn't match what they are looking for and still bring you in for a full interview.

The more you can learn about the company, the markets it serves, it's products, the job itself the better. Candidates that have done their homework always impress.

WRT salary expectations, what akgerber said.

Don't sweat giving a reason why you're leaving academia. Simply saying that you want to experience working in industry should be enough. Don't ever be negative about where you're coming from, always be positive about where you're going. So it's the tremendous pull of working for such a great company that is dragging you away from a wonderful academic career.
posted by Long Way To Go at 7:29 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The phone interview with the recruiter validates that you meet the minimum qualifications. The recruiter is there to screen candidates and identify the subset of candidates that will be referred to the hiring manager.

Go through the job posting and outline examples of when you've demonstrated that skill. That's probably the best prep for a phone screening.
posted by 26.2 at 9:47 PM on August 27, 2012

I have some recruitment background, and the advice above is really good. You definitely want to use a positive answer when asking why you are moving on, and the typical post-academic answers are as above.

One thing to think about, coming from academia, is how to counteract any stereotypes of academics (or humanities academics) the interviewer may have. Take a moment to think about your past experiences leading teams, making decisions on tight deadlines, managing complex projects, and making decisions about budgets and spending. Be prepared to talk about these experiences, and if possible to present them as part of your reasons for moving into the private sector ("I had such a positive experience organising that conference that I realised managing major projects was something I would love to do more in the future...")

Best of luck!
posted by Wylla at 2:40 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I made the transition from academia (in the humanities) to the private sector and the best advice I received was to be positive about the reasons for the move - you need to make it clear that you're doing this because it's the right thing for you, rather than because academia is a dead end. So, this job (whatever it is) offers better opportunities, the possibility for more impact, the ability to use your highly developed analytical skills in a way that can make an immediate difference, etc.

Going to the private sector is neither a failure nor a cop out--even though some within higher education are desperate to believe it is--so make sure that this attitude doesn't come through - I'm sure you're not thinking this but if you've been in academia for a while, it may have rubbed off just a tiny bit.

Leaving Academia is full of good tips and advice. Looks like it's had an overhaul since I last looked at it (when it was the project of a single Canadian grad student and when I used it to help get a non-academic job), but would assume that the historic content is still there and the new content is good, too.
posted by lumiere at 7:53 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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