Interviewing 101

At some point in your writing career you will have to interview someone. Maybe for a news story, maybe for a magazine feature, or maybe as part of your research for your debut novel. While I was getting my Journalism degree, I was always nervous about interviewing people. Mostly I was nervous about people not wanting to talk with me, but the more interviews I did, the more I realized that people often want to talk. That is, if you ask them the right questions…

As a communications specialist, I’m still digging up news and interviewing people, and whenever I come across a hard nut to crack, I always refer back to my interviewing 101 notes. 

A few important things to remember:

  • An interview is NOT a conversation. You are there to get information.
  • Do your research beforehand. Get some background on the subject early so you can ask more detailed questions during the interview. Don’t let them sit there and explain what you can glean from their website.
  • Don’t be scared to say ‘I don’t understand.” Most people like explaining something they are passionate about.
  • Avoid asking double-barreled questions. That means stick to one question at a time. They will only answer one.
  • Don’t trust your subject to know the highlights. You need to find them.

5 things that can go wrong:

  • Asking yes or no questions (example: are you happy about the deal?)
  • Finishing people’s thoughts for them.
  • Showboating by telling your interviewee how much you already know about the subject matter.
  • Using trigger words that anger them and shut them up like “what’s the point?”
  • Thinking you already know what the story is. Likely, the longer you talk, the more things will be revealed.

5 things you can do to improve your interview skills:

  • Listen. Let them do all of the talking. If what they say is interesting, follow up on it.
  • Ask open-ended questions like “what do you think of this decision?”
  • Write your questions out beforehand, but remember that more than likely you will go off script. Always follow up with “is there anything else to add?” AND “is there anyone else I should talk to about this?”
  • Relax. Don’t concentrate on writing everything down verbatim. Record your conversation so you can pay attention more to what is being said in the moment.

Good luck cracking those nuts!

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