Much as I prefer interviewing in person and encourage hiring units to do the same, often the sheer volume of applicants and compressed timeframes necessitate doing phone interviews as a first step to “weed out” those who are not as strong as their resumes might indicate. I am currently working on 4 very senior searches for various professional graduate schools and have had to do phone screens to expedite processes.
I always try to give candidates notice and never expect them to be in an on-the-spot interview mode. Hopefully when you a request for a phone interview you too will have sufficient notice. The normal time allocated for a first round phone interview by an HR person is 15-20 minutes. If conducted by a faculty member then the interviews could be as long as an hour since they are apt to dig very deeply. I use phone interviews to determine the following: (1) Are the person’s salary expectations in line with the salary allocated for the job in question (2)what is their motivation for applying for this particular job, i.e. are they actively conducting a search or is there a special appeal of this position (3) comfort level with a large decentralized organization in a large urban city. (4) of course correlation between what they have done in past roles up against the needs of the open job (5) what is their phone “presence”. Do they listen to the question and pause a minute before responding or jump in too quickly and talk-over before the full question is asked. It is a fine line between wanting to show enthusiasm and wanting appear thoughtful. In this regard, phone screens are more difficult since you cannot see your interviewer and pick up on cues. Overall, however, the preparation should be the same as if you had been invited in for an in person interview---you just have less time to show how good you are. But do your advance research on the institution and on your interviewer and you will feel more confident. Because the time is so short, you may not have the opportunity to ask questions, but it is perfectly fine at the final conclusion of the interview to ask what the next steps are in the process and when you might expect to hear.
Contributed by Paula Goodman, Director of Recruitment / HR Client Services-CUHR at Columbia University