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  • RiverForest Connections

Interviewing Techniques

Interviewing Techniques

Before the Interview:

1. Prepare. No interview can be successful without some amount of preparation. Know the person you're going to talk to. Know enough about the topic to be able to ask the right questions, and consequently, impress upon the interviewee that you care enough to prepare. Your own anxiety will lesson the better prepared you are, but the preparation is a guideline, not a script. Some people benefit from a tentative list of questions, others from some background material.

2. Scheduling. Make the appointment as convenient as possible for the interviewee. You are at their whim. While you should not go anywhere or schedule a time you're not comfortable with, you should bend over backwards to accommodate the schedule and preferences of the interviewee. Be sure to be frank when talking with the interviewee, telling he/she the purpose of the interview and the audience.

3. Practice. If you are nervous or would like the practice, do a dry run with a friend just to make the experience a bit more familiar to you (have them make up answers to your questions).

During the Interview:

1. Provide an Overview. Tell the interviewee exactly how long you plan to talk and ask if that is ok (if not, make the appropriate changes in your head). Build rapport with the interviewee in any genuine way you can (common interests, weather, family, office, etc.). Be creative, but make sure you're not doing most of the talking (true anywhere in the interview process). If you want to use any recording device, ask for their permission, and then ask again while the tape is rolling so you have their permission on tape.

2. Dispel any fear/apprehension or confusion right at the beginning by asking if the interviewee has any questions before you get started. Be honest and friendly. Smile a lot.

3. Get busy, and ask your questions. Do not ever appear to be wasting their time.

  • Do not ask "yes/no" questions. Use the 6 interrogatives (who, what, where, why, when, and how).

  • Listen actively. Eye contact is vitally important. If you are taking notes, learn to take most of them without looking at the page (another good reason to record the conversation). Do not be afraid to show genuine emotion at appropriate times in the conversation (this builds rapport).

  • Avoid confrontation but not conflict. In other words, ask the hard questions, but try to ask them in such a way that the person answering them can maintain their dignity and not be unnecessarily embarrassed (this is not 20/20).

4. Follow up each question with another question on the same subject. It is rarely the case that a subject is adequately exhausted with one question. You may need to ask the same question in several ways, or diligently press for more detail to really get a good answer. If the interviewee strays from the subject, try not to interrupt, but do not hesitate to ask them to talk more about your specific question. Make sure the interviewee is as specific as possible. Do not be afraid to stray from you prepared questions—tangents often yield valuable information you can not anticipate. As soon as the info feels irrelevant, though, steer them back on track. Use questions like the following:

  • Why?

  • What else?

  • Can you give an example?

  • What about this idea in terms of ___________?

5. Always build rapport. You may be listening actively all the way through the interview, but you may need to save the hardest, most difficult questions for when you have had a chance to build a relationship with this interviewee. Feel free to briefly relate a story or situation of your own to build rapport, but do not dominate the conversation.

6. Control the interview. Do not allow the interviewee to be asking most of the questions. Answer questions with questions if you have to in order to keep the interviewee talking about the subject at hand. Don't be rude, but keep the inquiry on track.

7. Conclude. When you are out of time or you think you do not need any more information from this person, ask four very important questions:

  • Have I left anything out? Is there anything else I should have asked about __________?

  • Is there anyone else (or any other sources) I should talk to about this? Can help me contact/find them?

  • When can I get the paperwork/forms/information you mentioned in this interview from you? (Give a specified date.)

  • If I have any further questions or clarifications, how can I get in touch with you again?

8. Thank them sincerely and often for their time and help. It's hard to exaggerate this. Really convince them you appreciate their time and expertise (even if you didn't get any).

After the Interview

It is not uncommon to call your interviewee, e-mail them, or send a card thanking them again for their time and help. This further builds rapport, as well as makes it possible to see them again if you need to in the future.

(c) Developed by Dr. Joddy Murray, Professor & Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL

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