The Telephone Interview: Why am I so Nervous?!

The Telephone Interview: Why am I so Nervous?!

by Natalie Kahn


natalie kahnLast week I had my first telephone interview for a university librarian position. This was a brief, first-round interview that covered the basics listed in the job description, and I appreciated the lack of curve ball questions. I was surprised by my nervousness and uncertainty during the interview despite my ability to wear anything and not having to fight traffic, find parking, or navigate a new campus. Here are some disadvantages and advantages of the phone interview, and how I worked through the challenge to convey a comprehensive professional portrait from another city.


There was no way to “read” the room. Were my answers long-winded? Too concise? Was I even answering the right question?! I found the best way to deal with this was to keep my responses brief and to the point and ask questions, like “Would you like me to further elaborate?” or “Did I answer that question fully?” Regardless of how the committee feels about a particular answer, clarifying questions are a great communication tool that help a conversation feel less static or one-sided and more engaging.

It was difficult to convey my personality. Humor is one way that I relax some of my nervous energy, as well as connect to a search committee. It was challenging to make my answers sound anything other than robotic over the phone, but towards the end of the interview, when asked about ability to work evenings and weekends, I took the chance to loosen-up the interview by following my answer with “Nailed that one!” The committee laughed! Humor does not have to be in every interviewee’s arsenal, but I do think that an effort to connect to the committee, one way or another, can only help in a telephone interview.


I could read notes throughout the interview. Before the call, I printed out the job description and filled in my related experience and knowledge, which I used throughout the interview. Making sure to sound like I was talking and not reading, I was able to hit many points I may have otherwise forgotten or overlooked due to nervousness. I also had the opportunity to jot down the names of each search committee member and questions that popped into my head throughout the interview without worrying about looking distracted.

The committee knew the phone interview was challenging, and was likely more than understanding. I like to think of interviews as a mutual selection process and the first opportunity to get to know potential colleagues. Most likely, each search committee member has participated in a number of interviews in-person, via Skype, and/or over the phone as an interviewer and interviewee. Therefore, it is important to communicate your challenges with the expectation that the committee will help you through a technical difficulty or question lost in translation. In my case, the committee was glad to repeat a name and a question because it was hard, at times, to hear each committee member.
Both disadvantages and advantages of the phone interview can be worked to connect to committee members and sharpen answers to present yourself professionally and personally. While the same rules apply to a traditional interview, phone interviews demand more from the interviewee in the area of communication. The phone interviewee must be an astute listener because he or she cannot see the panel to judge their reactions to answers. At least you can wear your pajamas…


About the Author

Natalie Kahn, MLIS, is the circulation manager at a community college library in Hawaii and recent graduate of San Jose State’s MLIS program. Though her days at work are mostly spent clearing paper jams, stuffing ILL bags with books, and directing patrons to the testing center, Natalie is passionate about uniting and strengthening academic services, promoting diversity in academic libraries, library management, intellectual freedom, open access, and staff training and development. She believes in the importance of upholding the tenets of the United States Constitution to ensure all patrons who seek information will find it freely and easily. When she is not working toward this goal, Natalie enjoys hiking, running, and eating in beautiful Hawaii.