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I've applied for a position in the library of the local campus of the state university, and they've asked to set up a phone interview. I'm not a naturally outgoing person, and I'm even worse on the phone, so I'm going to be preparing for this as heavily as I can. I would love as much information as I can get on the interview itself. I'm comfortable speaking about the job & its responsibilities, since I exceed their list of necessary & desired qualifications. But if I know whom I will be speaking to and what, specifically, we will be talking about, it would help me be more comfortable during the conversation.

So what I'm wondering is whether it's kosher to ask for any info as we're emailing to set up the interview — who's on the search committee, what issues they will want to focus on, that kind of thing? I don't want to look like I'm trying to game the system or anything (much less actually do so). Is there any way for me to get more info without that appearance?

  • "I'm not a naturally outgoing person, and I'm even worse on the phone" Depending on how much interaction with others is involved in the job, this could be a negative attribute or a positive attribute. For example (using student part-time jobs), this would probably be a negative attribute if you were going to work the check-out desk or the information booth, and it would probably be a positive attribute if you were going to spend all your time deep in the stacks shelving books. – Dave L Renfro Mar 12 '18 at 16:53
  • I know what the job is, and I'm confident in my communication skills surrounding it. I'm not asking whether the phone interview is a good idea on their part. I'm asking for concrete advice on one specific aspect of preparing for it. The description of the process is just for context. – spoko Mar 12 '18 at 17:03
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So what I'm wondering is whether it's kosher to ask for any info as we're emailing to set up the interview — who's on the search committee, what issues they will want to focus on, that kind of thing? I don't want to look like I'm trying to game the system or anything (much less actually do so). Is there any way for me to get more info without that appearance?

This question would be a better fit for The Workplace Stack Exchange, so you might want to ask it there. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that it would be a very bad idea to ask those questions. Preparing for the interview is fine and certainly advisable, but you should not ask for this sort of information.

Specifically, asking who’s on the search committee definitely sounds like you’re trying to game the system. I’m not seeing how this could possibly be relevant for any legitimate interview-preparation you want to do, or what reason you could have for asking this other than wanting to do research on those people (or possibly even doing slightly creepy things like scouring the internet and social media for info about them) to gain an unfair advantage in the interview. Definitely not kosher.

As for the other question, it’s maybe less unreasonable, but in my opinion simply makes you sound inexperienced and insecure. The “issues they will want to focus on” obviously pertain to the position you’re being interviewed for and to you, your skills and qualifications. What more of an answer could you reasonably expect to get, and, particularly, what more of an answer could you expect that isn’t perceived as giving you an unfair advantage over other candidates being interviewed? Again, this is just my opinion, but it seems to me that any benefit you might get out of the answer you’re given would be outweighed by the bad impression you would be leaving by asking the question in the first place.

Sorry the answer isn’t more positive... Good luck at the interview in any case.

  • Honestly, that's kind of in line with my thinking. I do disagree with you about the unfairness of learning (in non-creepy ways) about the people on the committee. I was given that advice a long time ago when preparing for one of my first serious job interviews; it helped a lot then and I've remembered it since. I doubt that it has ever made any specific difference, but it's always helped with my general comfort level in the interview, and I think that's a significant factor. That said,I do prefer to tread really lightly and not create a poor impression by asking the question. Thus this post. – spoko Mar 12 '18 at 20:20
  • A remark: in my country a selection is a public process and the names of the selection committee members are public. I don't know if this is true for other countries as well. It can definitely help if you know the idiosyncrasies of certain members. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 12 '18 at 20:29
  • @spoko to clarify, if the information about who’s on the search committee is offered to you, definitely it makes sense to use it - I agree it may be helpful and don’t think it would be unfair of you to do a bit of research on those people. However, by asking about it when it wasn’t offered, I’m reading this as a sign that you are trying to get an edge over the other candidates being interviewed, and that does seem unfair. As an employer I would feel uncomfortable volunteering this information to only some candidates (and I might have good reasons to not want to give it to all candidates). – Dan Romik Mar 12 '18 at 22:09
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I actually differ significantly with the currently posted answer (although I agree with the suggestion to ask on Workplace Stack Exchange).

I would certainly feel comfortable asking who I would be speaking to during the interview. I think it is basic professional courtesy to give applicants this information in advance, and, as a PhD student, I was advised to always ask this information before an interview.

The second part of the request is a bit more odd to me. I think finding out interview questions and topics in advance might strike some red flags. An interviewer might assume that a good candidate would already know the types of questions that are relevant to the position. I suppose you might be able to get away with asking something like "Are there any special topics that you would like me to prepare my thoughts on in preparation for the interview? Or are there any special materials from my portfolio that you would like me to bring to campus?" (I am not sure if you have a portfolio, but that might make sense if you do.)

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