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Job Interviews


For jobs with a large applicant pool, anywhere between five and 15 candidates may be selected for a phone or Skype interview.[1] While the types of questions that will be asked can vary greatly among different types of jobs, there are productive steps that you can take to prepare for any Skype/phone interview.


1.    Your setup matters. Choose a space that is isolated and will be free from distractions. Make sure that your phone has good service in that area or that your computer has a strong Internet connection. If the interview is done over Skype, the background is important.[2] Make sure that your surroundings project the image you want. Have a glass of water available.[3]

2.  Have the job description, your CV, your cover letter and a list of names of possible committee members accessible. There will be times in your interview when these documents may prove helpful. 

3. Take notes.[4] Often, questions posed are lengthy or have multiple parts. Jot down important items while the question is asked, and then respond to each in turn. 

4.  Prepare in advance the questions you want to ask the committee member(s). Normally, phone and Skype interviews are conducted on a tight schedule, so it is best to plan on asking only one or two.[5] It is expected that you will have these prepared and that they will address specific elements about the program or organization. Often, a helpful question to ask may be, “Where does this organization hope to be in five years?”[6] This will provide you with insight into whether the goals of the organization align with your own. Keep in mind that these types of questions work well for sessions with one or two interviewers. If speaking to a committee, these questions might prove difficult to answer because a diversity of opinions may exist within the group.


1.  How you speak matters. Speak slowly and clearly, and do not eat or chew gum while you interview. Never interrupt the interviewer.[7] If something is unclear, wait until the question is completed before asking for clarification. Refrain from using any fillers, such as “um,” “ah,” or “you know.”[8] Pausing before answers in order to gather your thoughts is entirely appropriate.

2.  Use formal titles such as “Dr.” or “Professor” when addressing committee members.[9] Always thank the committee at the beginning and end of the interview. 

3.  Research carefully. Find out as much as you can about the school or organization. Know its history, mission, goals and current projects. Have an idea of its budget. The website will list a non-profit’s IRS form 990, which can provide valuable information about an organization’s budget and salaries.[10] If you have researched well, that will become apparent to the committee throughout the interview. 

4.  For interviews on-site, time will often permit you to ask three to five questions.[11] Have thoughtful questions prepared. 

5.  Practice! Use the sample questions provided below, and assemble a group of friends or colleagues who can serve as a mock-interview panel. Have them ask questions, and record your answers. Ask this group to provide you with feedback on the interview. Having answered these questions under pressure will prepare you well for the interview.


So, now that you’ve prepared well — what questions will they ask? Again, the list will vary between academic and professional jobs, but here are potential sample lists from two experts in the field.

Donald Hamann suggests that for academic jobs, the questions most often asked include:[12]

- Tell us a little bit about yourself. (This is an especially difficult question to answer, even though it is often meant as a “conversation starter.” Rehearse an answer to this carefully, and keep the focus on service to the students and to the school.)

- How do you plan to recruit effectively for your ensemble or studio? 

- How will you work with students at different levels of experience?

- What materials will you use — repertoire, method books, etc.? 

- How will you assess and grade your students? 

- How have your past experiences equipped you for the position?

- What is a difficult situation from a past job that you handled successfully?

Diane Wittry provides a list of the most common questions for professional job interviews:[13]

- How does your background make you the right person for this position?

- How would your current employer describe your accomplishments, strengths, and weaknesses?

- What would you consider your most important responsibilities in a position such as this one?

- How would this job fit into your current professional schedule?

- Where do you see yourself in five years?


Record yourself giving a mock interview, and then review. This is one of the best ways, along with peer review, to better yourself as an interviewee. Here are some guiding questions that you can use to evaluate your successes, or that of a peer:

  • Was the interviewee appropriately formal at all times during the interview? Was the interviewee dressed appropriately? Did the interviewee always allow a question to be completed before answering? Did the interviewee thank the committee for the interview? Did the interviewee address the committee members using their formal titles?

  • Did the interviewee maintain appropriate body language throughout? Did the interviewee speak slowly and clearly, without adding filler phrases such as “um,” and “you know”? Did the interviewee maintain appropriate pacing and answer questions in appropriate timeframes? 

  • Did the interviewee demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the job description and of the school/program without being perceived as making an overt attempt to do so?

[1] Hamann, Donald. On Staff: A Practical Guide to Starting Your Career in a University Music Department. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, 77.

[2] Hamann, 99

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hamann, 99

[5] Wittry, Diane. Beyond the Baton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 54.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hamann, 100

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Wittry, 53

[11] Wittry, 53-54

[12] Hamann, 100-101

[13] Wittry, 54


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