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Interviewing Tips for the Other Side of the Table

Interviews are valuable in a variety of situations in the workplace. Whether you are hiring someone, surveying clients or prospects, or simply looking for more information from employees, knowing how to conduct an efficient, effective meeting goes a long way.

In my role as a publication editor, I have received training, attended courses, and taught staff how to interview others effectively. This encompasses establishing a positive relationship, making both parties feel comfortable, and obtaining the needed information. Below are some of the basic principles that will sharpen your interviewing skills and get you the best content in response.

Before the Interview

Before you start any preparation for an interview, establish your goals. Clearly define what you are trying to get out of the interview and work backward from that goal, choosing which questions and interviewees will provide you with the appropriate information you need.

Conduct research on the topic and the subject of the interview. Get familiar with an interviewee’s background, occupation, or any other appropriate information you can find. This eliminates the need for unnecessary questions during the interview and will demonstrate your interest in them.

Write open-ended questions. This means that your questions cannot be answered with a simple one-word answer. For instance, asking “did you like this initiative?” can be responded to with a single yes or no. Asking “what did you think of this initiative?” will likely produce a stronger, more accurate answer. Open-ended questions produce less unintentional bias and allow you to generate more dialogue, helping you get to know the interviewee better.

During the Interview

 Make the person comfortable. Don’t immediately launch into your largest, most important question right off the bat. Instead, set a conversational tone for the interaction. You could do this by asking the following:

  • “Where did you grow up?”
  • “What do you like to do in your free time?”
  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “Who is <<interviewee’s name>> outside of the office?”

Asking these informal questions will allow the interviewee to get used to opening up and sharing, which you can take advantage of with your actual questions.

Ask follow-up questions. As an editor, there is nothing worse than proofing a staffer’s interview transcription and finding that they did not deviate at all from their pre-written list of generic questions. Generally, the most valuable information you obtain is from follow-up questions.

These are often the most personalized and uncover unexpected information. If you are stuck thinking of a follow-up question but can sense an important topic, ask “Why?” It is often said that it takes five “whys” to uncover the root cause of an issue or motivation. Oftentimes, this will reveal information that the interviewee themselves did not even realize.

Read their body language. Body language is one of the top reasons that in-person interviews are far superior to those conducted via email or phone. By simply watching someone, you can sense whether or not you are approaching valuable content or touching on a sensitive topic.

Keep the interview on track (for the most part). Some of my favorite interviews have been ones where I leave with information that is not at all relevant to the questions I prepared. When writing profiles, this is gold—a new angle! However, when strategizing a new business direction or offering, this is not as valuable and is rather a waste a time. Unless you are dishing out follow-up questions to elaborate on a precious piece of unexpected information provided in the interview, stay on track. Let the interviewee talk, but remember to bring them back to the conversation by asking appropriate, relevant questions.

There is no such thing as “no dumb questions.” Sometimes, I would overhear my staffers interviewing the football quarterback, asking questions such as “were you happy when you won the regional championship?” Not only is the question begging for a one-word answer, but it’s also painfully obvious. If a football quarterback wasn’t happy to win a regional championship, he probably would not be a title-winning athlete. Do your research beforehand to avoid asking obvious or irrelevant questions that waste both your time and the subject’s.

Listen! During the interview, let your subject take the reigns. Encourage them to open up and spill. Don’t interrupt, and pay close attention to what they are saying between the lines—often, this generates valuable content for follow-up questions.

After the Interview

When you have exhausted all of your questions, be sure to allow the interviewee time for additional comments or propose another topic of conversation; sometimes, you could miss an important angle or uncover unknown information.

Be sure to thank your interviewee. Not only should you extend your gratefulness to them in person, but add a personal touch by sending a handwritten note later. Along with just being polite, this act of kindness will increase the likelihood that they will be willing to meet with you in the future or help you on your search for additional information.


Article written by:

Alex Schweitzer

Marketing Intern

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