I never did a phone interview for my interviews when on the TT job hunt and so I balked when my search committee colleagues suggested we do a round. My though was simply that we would have a bunch of superficial conversations with people that wouldn't change our perception.
I was wrong.
I was quite surprised at the variation in how people handled the phone interviews. I fully recognize that candidate anxiety is high this time of year, as examplified by Reaction Norm's posts on phone interviews and some of the questions. It's a tense time and I remember it well - sitting in the kitchen with my very pregnant wife trying to figure out if I needed to look for another postdoc or whether the job deities would smile favor on me.
But luck favors the prepared and it's unwise to go into a phone interview without having prepared. There is a lot of interview advice on Dr. Becca's job advice aggregator, but fresh from the search committee (SC) side of phone interviewing I've posted some suggestions here for candidates.
1) Do your homework. I don't think it is at all necessary to read papers from people on the SC or anything like that, but you should look into the department, college and university. Know a little about the size of the school and the size of the department. Identify resources, like centers, that may be helpful to you.
2) In a similar vein, find a few people who you might like to talk to should you be invited for a campus interview. The web makes this easy, so have a feel for who is in the department and what research overlap there may be.
3) Be organized in your answers. If you got the questions ahead of time make sure you have some talking points and don't ramble for days. If you didn't get the questions, consider the question and then get to the point. A SC doesn't need to hear a dissertation-level answer and you want to leave time at the end for your own questions. Common questions to prepare for:
-Why is this university a good fit for you (Reaction Norm's fav). Don't go on about "the international reputation of your prestigious university" like you are reading from one of those "Dear Esteemed Professor, I want to work in your lab on *cut and paste topic* using my background in *completely unrelated field*" emails. Identify resources that would be helpful. Proximity to field sites? Potential colleagues? Whatever, but give a couple specifics.
-What could you see teaching here? Demonstrate that you have thought about this. You don't need to see what classes need to be offered (that's for later), but the committee wants to know you have fired a couple neurons on the topic. What level course would it be? What's the topic? Have you considered the general outline? Would it have a lab? Field component? Etc....
-Describe your experience/plans in applying for extramural funding. Have you been involved in submitting grants? Have you submitted something yourself? This your opportunity to bring up unsuccessful proposals that don't show up on your CV. Also, have a feel for WHERE you would apply in the future. And not "I would apply to NSF", but how about "I would probably target the Evolutionary Processes cluster in NSF's DEB".
4) Have questions. Don't be surprised at the opportunity to ask questions you might have, remember that the SC is ALSO trying to recruit you. They'll want you to have a chance to figure out if this is good for you too. Some questions were aggregated by Reaction Norm, but I think a lot of those are more on campus type questions. For the phone interview I would stick to something like:
-What are the teaching expectations and are the different for pretenure vs. tenured faculty?
-Is there lab space available or will space have to be renovated?
-Is available as a shared resource?
-How are grad students brought into the program (rotation or not) and how are they supported?
-If your work might cross departments or colleges: Is there a history of collaboration between Search Department and XXXX Dept?
-What is the time line for the interview process?
5) Finally, be yourself. I know that is cliché, but you can't guess what the department is looking for, so you need to just let them know about you. Be organized in the talking points you want to get across, but don't read a script. Try to roll with the tone of the committee and just let them know who you are. If you make it clear that you are interested in their department and excited about the opportunity to come discuss in person, you've done your job.