Interviewing is a critical communication skill that is rarely taught in college. As a result, people tend to model their interviewing approach from public interviews they have seen on TV. Unfortunately TV interviewers are typically horrible.
The purpose of an interview in a business context is to gather information. You will need to do this in just about every type of career path. Often the information being gathered is very sensitive, and persons being interviewed may not want to be open in their comments. Getting accurate information in such cases requires some skill. Outlined below are some proven approaches to becoming an effective interviewer.
- Develop a list of questions/issues you want to explore. These should be written down but not directly used in the interview. See item 5 below.
- Select the best place for the interview: Ideally you will be able to conduct the interview in person in a location where the interview will not be heard by others. The location should also be one where there are minimal disruptions. Comfortable seating is also desired if possible.
- Start the interview: Begin the interview with some general ground rules.
- Indicate that you will be taking notes, but you will not identify specific comments with any person you interviewed.
- Tell the person you will stop taking notes at any time that they request. Often these points in time are when extremely sensitive information is being shared.
- Tell the person you have a set of issues you want to explore but that you would like to have these unfold naturally.
- Start your questions with a comfortable beginning: A good first question will be one that asks about the person’s history with the organization (e.g. years of service, job responsibilities, etc)
- Transition from the starting point to one of your questions. The best way to select a question is to build off of something the person has just said. That way the question puts the person at ease because they can simply add to a previous comment. When done correctly the entire interview can move from one discussion topic to another in a natural fashion. You should know your prepared questions well enough that you don’t have to refer to them as you are going through the discussion. In fact the words used in asking the question will often be very different than the words you used originally.
- As you are taking notes, put a symbol beside what you think are important points. These symbols will be helpful in doing interview summaries.
- When a person triggers an interesting point that you want to follow up on, make a marginal note of a follow up question. Often these questions are the most useful ones in the interview.
- Use exclamation notes (!!) to the side of your notes to indicate points in the interview when the person seems to be the most emotional about the topic.
- Toward the end of the interview ask the question: “What question did I not ask that you think may be relevant?” This way you can probe issues of interest to the person that you may not have covered.
- Conclude the interview by telling the person what you will be doing with their comments