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Skype Interviews

[ 10 ] July 14, 2011 |

Historiann links to a good piece by Lynn Lubamersky at Inside Higher Ed, arguing for using Skype for first-round academic interviews rather than forcing everyone to fly to a cold distant city in order to suffer through horrendous in-person interviews.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Flying people around makes no sense in the current economic climate. Graduate students are poor. Departments are under tight budgets. At least with the American Historical Association, for whatever reason it doesn’t like leaving the Northeast any more than absolutely necessary (the 4 years I’ve gone: Washington, New York, San Diego, Boston). This is as opposed to the Organization of American Historians which makes a concerted effort to move the conference around the country in a fair manner.

At the same time, phone interviews can be awful for some people. I don’t mind them. But I know many hate them. It is good to get a sense of the physical presence of a person that phone can’t accomplish. It seems to me that Skype is the best of both worlds. Certainly in person would be better in theory but Skype gives some personal contact while not having to rearrange your life to fly to New York for one interview.

My current job, which I am about to leave, was via Skype. I thought it was great. Better than phone certainly.

That said, Lubamersky fell for some bullshit in those interviews that shouldn’t matter at all. Historiann worries about this and so do I:

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.

Of course, it’s not like interviews in any other format are less prone to absurdity like this. And at least it’s cheap.

Comments (10)

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  1. Ken Houghton says:

    Coming next: Skype Interview Stagers, who will even provide the leather-patched tweet jacket, dog, and pipe. (Extra if you want the dog smoking the pipe.)

  2. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    I work in an interdisciplinary unit that typically advertises jobs that cut across normal discipline. We couldn’t interview at a national meeting if we wanted to. As a result, for years we’ve conducted our first round of interviews by phone.

    Having also conducted Skype interviews, I don’t honestly see the advantage of them over phone-interviews. In my experience, just as some people are made uncomfortable by phone interviews, others are made uncomfortable by Skype interviews.
    It’s hard to set the room up so that the candidate can see the entire committee via Skype, which makes the experience oddly asymmetrical. And I feel pretty ambivalent about the impact of the additional information one receives by being able to see the candidate.

    Either phone or Skype, however, seems preferable to the old-style convention interview.

  3. Historiann says:

    Thanks for the linkie, Erik. The money we spend on attending the AHA has rapidly diminishing returns with the Jetsons-like technology of Skype. I say we should save our cash for bringing the job candidates to campus, and entertain them especially generously while they’re in town.

    Congrats on the new job.

  4. Eli Rabett says:

    Use WebEx instead of Skype. Much better for this sort of thing.

  5. Molls says:

    I live in the Netherlands (I’m American) and I’ve interviewed for several jobs via Skype. These interviews have taken place via Skype for the same reasons American interviews do, to cut down on travel. This is in spite of the fact that one can travel from one end of the country to the other in three hours.

    My partner works for a university here and he interviewed for his position, via Skype, while still in the US. There are plenty of non-Dutch and even non-EU people on staff at his university and most of them were interviewed via Skype.

  6. Bill Murray says:

    We used Skype (but not the video part, just audio) for some of our recent interviews as it is easier to record, so that the committee members that couldn’t make the interview could hear the interview on their own time. Also, we could go back to the recordings if needed. This was for culling the list down to two or three for on campus interviews

  7. Warren Terra says:

    for whatever reason it doesn’t like leaving the Northeast any more than absolutely necessary (the 4 years I’ve gone: Washington, New York, San Diego, Boston).

    Where exactly is San Diego northeast of? And is Washington really Northeast, or just East?

    Other than nitpicking, I agree with your points.

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