At some point we have all been in an interview as the interviewee. Perhaps you were interviewed for a job or for an article or a newspaper. Some interviews are great, you connect with the interviewer and feel as though you have gotten our point across. Other interviews fall short. You may feel as though you and the interviewer are speaking different language and you may leave the interview wondering what you could have done better. I have been interviewed more times than I have conducted an interview. In an effort to push through my comfort zone, I would like to become an interviewer. Watching those with this skill set conduct an interview is much like watching a great painter paint.
Lets break down the interview structure; the one-one-one conversation. The whole crux of an interview is to gain information about the respondent and their point of view in a manner that they feel comfortable enough to surrender their true thoughts. This holds true while interviewing a candidate for a hiring position, conducting a journalistic interview of your favorite writer, and when moderating a focus group for market research. The interviewee has information that you need for yourself or that needs disseminated to a larger audience. Your task as the interviewer is to get the information out, the truthful, usable information.
The Interviewers To-do List:
- Punctuality: Once the interview appointment is scheduled the interviewer should be ready to start at the agreed upon time. Do not be fashionably late.
- Prepare the Interviewee: Let the person or persons know what to expect. This could be the order of operations if there is a group being interviewed vs. a single person or simply how long the interview will take. Knowing what will happen will make the person being interviewed more comfortable.
- Environment: Select a location that will limit distractions. If the interview is over the phone or Internet, be sure to select a quiet place. The environment can have a negative impact on the interview. Dogs barking or doors slamming can be a detraction.
- Prepare Notes: You want to be prepared with questions to ask and notes on the background research you have done on the person and subject matter. These notes are to help you prepare and for reference if you need them but relying on notes to heavily can make you seem unprepared. You want to ask insightful questions about their vision, ideas, and goals. These questions are to be open-ended, but no so open or vague that the interviewer does not know how to answer. For instance, “Tell me about yourself” is very vague. Here’s a great question I was asked at my graduate entrance interview, “Can you tell us why you have selected Chatham University’s Master of Professional Writing program?”. As a person I usually choke when I am asked to speak about myself, it is not my favorite topic. But when asked about a program of study I find it easy to put words together. I can put a purpose to it.
- Let go of Your Ego: Even though the interview is a one-on-one conversation, the interview is about the interviewee, not you. As the interviewer, when you speak encourage the other person to talk about their story or experience. The words you use should always be taking the interview further, diving deeper into questions to gain more insight or information.
- Be a Good Listener: Practicing active listening will help you know when to dive deeper into a question or take the questioning in a different direction. Listening will also show that you are genuinely interested. There is no need to take notes during the interview, just listen. Asking the interviewee if they mind the interview being recorded will provide a method of going back and allow you to listen instead of taking notes. While they are speaking this is their chance to get the point across. Their answer to a question may help you select which question to ask next.
- Not-So-Awkward Pause: No one wants the uncomfortable pause but taking a slight pause rather than interjecting with the next question too quickly can allow time for the responder to add more information. Use the silence to draw out more information. Maybe they will add more info on the question or offer information on a new idea.
- Close the Interview: Too short of an interview may show your disinterest as an interviewer and too long of an interviewer may result in diminishing returns in the quality of information gained. Once you have finished with your questions, be sure to ask the interviewee if there is anything they would like to add; you may be surprised that they will offer information you did not think to ask about. Finally, be sure to thank your interviewee and be sure to help them exit the interview as you
Conducting an interview involves critical reasoning skills and imaginative thinking skills. Be aware of the details without losing sight of the big picture. Much like any other form of communication or writing, the more you are an interviewer, the better you will be.