Take Aways – Interviewing
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
By Tara J. Henley
- Background + Preparation + Focus + Good Questions = Great Quotes. Essentially, this is the formula to keep in mind while you’re conducting an interview. Before even thinking about walking into an interview, you need to be prepared with background information on the person you are interviewing. You should know who that person is, why they are important, what they do and as many other facts about them that you can get. The absolute minimum that you should have when you walk into an interview is the last article written about that person or the subject you are writing about. You also need to be prepared, meaning you cannot simply walk into an interview without having an idea of where you want the interview to go and the themes you are going to cover. These will vary with each person and subject, so you have to make the right calls when choosing your interview layout. Part of the interview preparation is knowing what the focus of the interview is going to be. You cannot spend your time asking a person questions that do not pertain to your interview’s focus, unless the interview takes an unexpected turn and the focus shifts to a much more pressing matter. “You decide the direction the interview will go in,” says Robert Washburn, a professor at Loyalist College. “You need to always be in control.” Lastly, in order to get good quotes from the person you interview, you need to ask them good questions. Talk to others, know what your audience wants to find out, get opinions and know everyone who’s involved in the article you will be writing. Ask unique questions that have not been asked previously and make sure you do follow-ups on certain questions (why, how or describe).
- Your biggest assets during an interview are your ears; you need to listen to what the person you’re interviewing is saying. If you have a good strategy going into the interview, this allows you to listen closer to what the interviewee is saying because you are not focusing on what you need to say next. “Listening is an art,” Robert Washburn says. “The more you listen, the more you will get”. As Washburn says, the more you pay attention to what the interviewee is saying, the more information you will retain and then be able to use in your article later. Professor Washburn also says that an interviewer must be able t engage in active listening. You should always look like you are listening. Nodding politely and smiling at the interviewee are some ways to do this. If you look bored, the person you are interviewing will become upset and the interview will basically be over. You will not be able to get any more information out of the interviewee because they will be offended that you found them boring and will give simple, general answers. Be polite while you interview and never talk over the person you are interviewing. If you interject, it means you are not listening, which will lead to unimaginative follow-ups.
- There are ten general preparations you should keep in mind while you are conducting an interview. First, you should maintain the interviewee’s focus on the interview. Minimize surrounding distractions and do not conduct an interview in a public setting if you can help it. Before you begin, you should always clear your mind. Take a few deep breaths and calm yourself down before asking any questions. You must also remove all prejudice you may have towards your interviewee. People will sense your hostility and will completely shut down and refuse to answer. That being said, you can also never judge the answer you receive from your interviewee, regardless of what it is. Keep an open mind to your interview’s layout because one person’s answer may send your interview off in a whole different direction. Maintain control, but if the new direction works, go with it. Silence is absolutely golden; you are there to listen, not add your own opinions ever chance you get. Ask your questions and wait for the person you are interviewing to answer. If it takes them a while, do not worry because they are only thinking carefully about what they are about to say, and odds are this means they are about to say something that you will be able to use. Empathy is also important in an interview so you can relate to your interviewee and find some common ground. Do not confuse this with sympathy however because when you pity a person, they will often become offended. Remember that this interview is not about you, so you cannot keep interjecting your opinions as opposed to listening for your interviewee’s (which brings you back to the “silence is golden” rule). You should also always save all of the tougher and more personal questions for the end of the interview because they are easily blown off when you place them at the beginning. If your interviewee becomes hostile for any reason and begins to get upset, the best thing you can do is lower your voice and speak very softly to them. This will make it seem like they are overreacting, and will immediately calm down. Lastly, the person you are interviewing should never intimidate you. We are all the same on the inside and you are just doing your job by interviewing them.
- There are three very important interviewing tips everyone needs to know before they conduct their first interview. If you can help it, never conduct an interview over the phone. When you are in person, you will be able to read the interviewee’s body language and visa versa. Also, the interviewee may be distracted while they are on the phone with you and you may not be able to properly attract their focus. You should also always know what your audience wants ahead of time. This interview is not being conducted for your purposes but for your audience’s, so keep that in mind when you are writing up your questions to ask. Lastly, remember that after you’ve asked all of the questions you feel like you needed to ask, you aren’t done yet. You first need to go over your notes to make sure you didn’t need to ask any more follow-ups because you have already asked them. Next, you need to simplify and language you believe will be too difficult for you, or your readers, to understand. Most importantly, you should always review all of the facts (not opinions) that the interviewee has presented to you. This allows you to make absolute certain that all of your information is correct.
- Going “off the record” is something you should “never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever do”, according to Professor Washburn. The interviewee has agreed to do the interview; anything they say, you can use unless you agree not to (which is something you should not do). If you go off the record with an interviewee, you will not be able to publish anything they have said. Furthermore, if the interviewee decides they do not want affiliation with the information they are giving you, there is no way for an audience to know that the information you are publishing is accurate. There are only three times you should ever agree to go off the record with an interviewee. The first is when there is an issue of public safety. If, for example, a major fast food company has been using worms in their hamburgers instead of beef and the only way a person will agree to give you the proof about this is if they remain anonymous, it is acceptable for you to go off the record. Furthermore, if the personal safety of the source is in jeopardy by them giving you the information you need, you may also go off the record with them. An example of this would be if a person would be fired for having their name published in association with the article’s topic. Lastly, if there was absolutely no other way for you to get the information a person is offering you than to agree to interview them off the record, do it. If the story is good enough, you will be able to find validity elsewhere with another person or documents.