As a feature article writer, a journalist, and a budding nonfiction book writer, interviewing ends up being a huge chunk of my daily work schedule. Fortunately it’s a part of my job that I like. In fact, I enjoy my interviews almost as much as the writing process or the thrill of seeing my articles online or in print.
Not everyone feels this way. In fact, for some professionals, interviews are torturous minefields, which somehow never yield the material they want or the satisfaction that comes with a job well-done. For those of you that feel this way, I’ve put together three tips that I’ve found helpful over the years.
Always do your homework
Never begin an interview without having some basic background information about who you’re talking to. This investigative work can take a little time but it will be worth it-trust me. You can look up your source on their business or organization website or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. You can read their blog if they have one. Or simply Google them and see what comes up. This gives you a feel for who you’ll be speaking with and any photos you find will also give you a visual image to relate to if you’re doing a phone interview, or a way to recognize them if you’re meeting in a public place for the first time.
The same goes for the topic you’re covering. You should have some idea of the history behind it, current issues related to it, and why you think your readers will find it thought-provoking and informative.
Warmup exercises work
I usually lead into my interview by asking if the subject has any questions about me, the publication I’m writing for, or the book I’m writing coauthoring. At this stage, sometimes people will be anxious or apprehensive, especially if they’re new to interviewing, saying things like “I’m not sure I have anything valuable to share” or “Maybe I’m not the best person for you to talk to”. Reassure them that they probably know more than they think! Then ease into the interview by asking straightforward questions about their job title, how long they’ve been working in their field, and any special qualifications or experience they have. This tends to remind them that they really do know what they’re talking about.
Questions can make or break an interview
I always try to write out at least five questions beforehand. Not doing this can lead to awkward pauses and silences or, even worse, an abruptly terminated interview if the source feels like they’re wasting their time talking to you. These questions are meant to be guideposts, not written in stone, and you can always add to, or abandon them entirely, if the articles focus changes during the interview.
Open-ended questions will usually elicit more information or perceptions. Expounding on a topic is by asking things like “Your thoughts?”, “Can you give me an example?”, or “Tell me more about that” works well for me. If you don’t like the answer you got to a particular question (i.e. too short or it felt like the interviewee was avoiding it), you can always instantly rephrase it or circle back to it near the end of the interview. If you feel like it’s essential to the interview, don’t give up to easily.
Remember-If you approach each conversation (because that’s what a good interview will feel like) with a genuine curiosity and an open mind and heart, things will almost always go well.