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.