By Lucy Smith, Consociate Media Winter 2016 Intern
Google “how to give a good interview.” The majority of suggested searches feature advice on how to respond to “The 15 Most Common Questions Asked During A Job Interview” or “10 Tips to Make a Lasting First Impression.”
But what do you read if you aren’t the one being interviewed, but the interviewer?
The advice for persons on that side of the table is much harder to find.
Interviewing is an art, a craft, a muscle to be trained and practiced and honed just like any other skill.
If you aren’t yet ready to be the one behind the questions, or simply need some advice to improve the skills you already possess, I have adapted some advice from Consociate Media’s own CEO and founder Stephanie Heinatz to help get you from start to finish.
How do you take an interview from a reserved time slot on your schedule to the next trending blog post, magazine article or front-page story?
Before the interview starts…
Preparation, preparation, preparation. One of the worst mistakes an interviewer can make is coming equipped only with questions that are public knowledge. Think of it this way: the person you are interviewing is the one who knows the real story- that’s why you are having the interview!
So why waste precious time asking questions whose answers you can find on their website?
You want to enter an interview with those thoughts already in mind so that you can move past the yes or no questions, the factual questions, into the kinds of questions that ask why and how- the questions that drive the conversation forward. The better your questions are, the better your story will be, and the more preparation that you do on the front end, the easier the writing will be on the back end of an interview.
What kind of interview will be the most rewarding in your situation? There are three main types:
The in person interview
With his or her permission, bring a recording device to both review statements and questions but also to review your own approach to interviewing. How do you sound? It will be uncomfortable to hear yourself at first, but it is a great way to learn about your strengths and weaknesses firsthand. Along with the recorder, bring a writing utensil and paper to take a full set of notes as if you weren’t recording.
Technology can be touch and go; so don’t depend solely on the audio file for all of your data.
The Phone/Video Call
This type of interview allows the flexibility of location with the personal feeling of an in person interview. If possible, try to record your conversation on another device. For an on the phone interview, use headphones with a microphone piece for hands free conversation. Have a Microsoft Word document open or a pen and paper in front of you for speedy notes.
The Email Interview
By email you can often lose the spontaneity of an interview, the body language, personal stories, so make sure your questions are leading questions and avoid yes/no questions.
During the interview…
Start with easy, conversation based questions. Relate to something they are interested in- if he or she is a marathon runner; mention you just began to train for your first 5k. Make that person comfortable by asking easy questions, like how they spell their name, confirming where they attended school, or even just how they are doing today. It will break the ice and set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
Be open to the possibility of your conversation to delve into uncharted territory! If your interviewee is inspired by a question of yours, he or she may grace you with a small back-story that further explains his or her answer to the question. You never know where these side bits will lead: in fact the ultimate main point of your piece might be found in a bit of information you would not have know to ask about!
Don’t feel embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves or to clarify the statement they just made. It is far easier to ask in the moment than it is to send an email a day or so later, when the thought has already left their minds. Furthermore, it is a sign of confidence: this tells your interviewee that you are committed to accurately recording their statements and views, and really are focused on reiterating what they want to say in this article or blog post. Thirdly, asking someone to repeat themselves on a point offers an opportunity for them to refine their message, or to reflect on a relating point for which they might not have had time to if the interview had moved on to another question or topic. Asking someone to repeat him or herself during an interview ensures you receive their intent exactly.
At the end…
To finish, add one largely open ended question at the end to tune of “Is there anything else you want to add, anything that you want to address that I haven’t asked you about?” Most of the time, people will search for something to answer your question with. Many times, this tidbit will lead on to a few more questions, extending your interview.
After the interview…as you start writing.
All the hard legwork is done! The work is to read through all of your notes and find the story.
What should you focus on? Before submitting the final version, be sure to fact-check, even when interviewing an expert.
Stephanie Heinatz often quotes from her old newspaper days the age-old journalism tip of “if your momma tells you she loves you, check it out.”
A misquote or an incorrect statistic can ruin your credibility for future publications.
She adds “anyone that has a website or a blog or a news page, they are a publisher just in the same sense that a newspaper or magazine is a publisher.”
With great power to publish, comes great responsibility.