For the most part, interviewing isn’t something you can just learn in a class. Like anything else, it takes practice to become really good. Or at least not awful. I should keep count of how many folks I’ve interviewed, but for some reason, I consider it almost like someone boasting about how many deer they’ve killed (that number would be zero for me, BTW). But I digress. Bad analogy. As a rough estimate, I’d say maybe 100. People interviewed. Not deer. But I didn’t interview deer, either. NOTE: My interviews do NOT include weapons of any kind. Except maybe my smile.
One thing I remember from the class I took in college on interviewing is silly, really. It goes something like this, and the professor liked to do it all the time if she caught you using this phrasing:
Student as interviewer: “Can you tell me what you were thinking when you saved that clock from a burning house?”
Professor as interviewer: “I could.”
Quite honestly, the idea that the average person would respond with such a curt reply, or that he or she wouldn’t understand what the interviewer is asking, is absurd.
And still, someone out there might speak in such a way. And if so, what a jerk! I guess the thing to take away from this particular lesson is that every source is different. Some like to talk, while a conversation for others is really a huge effort. Here are some other tips I’ve learned through the years. Because they are so different, I’ll touch on just phone interviews for now:
- Phone interviews require a longer “ramp-up” period for your subject to feel comfortable than do in-person interviews, likely because there’s so much less for someone to relate to (they don’t know what kind of clothes your wearing, your age, or anything).
- Always record the interview and make sure you inform your interviewee that he or she is being recorded.
- Take notes while you’re recording. Not only does it help later on when you’re trying to organize your notes, but you can more easily go back to certain parts of the interview to get clarification. Plus, if you use his or her words when doing this, you seem like you’re really paying attention.
- Depending on the interviewee, you can get a feeling whether to add short, quiet words of encouragement to move things along. For example, if they’re going on in a long explanation about something and pause in certain places, you can add an “oh, ok” or “that makes sense,” in those spaces to let them know that you’re listening. But don’t go overboard. What they have to say is still more important than any words you add. So if it seems like they’re confident enough on their own, let ‘em go.
- This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you can, send the questions you’re going to ask ahead of time. They’ll feel more prepared, and you’ll ensure that you get what you need.
- If it seems like he or she is done responding to a question, give them an extra few seconds before you start to speak, especially if you’ve asked a particularly tough or controversial question. Many people are uncomfortable with silence and may give you a couple extra nuggets of information, even if they really don’t want to.
- Lastly, try and relax. Don’t get caught up in feeling like you HAVE to be the hard-hitting, know-it-all reporter. This is, after all, a conversation. So even though you’re in this to hear what they have to say, you can admit that you may not be familiar with that term they used or this person or that person who works in research and development.
If you’re like me and occasionally nervous, though, just try and remember that you’re getting the opportunity to meet someone new. You have no idea how many people I’ve interviewed that I can now say are friends or colleagues or just really smart folks that I’m happy to have gotten to know.