Interviewing



Interview Preparation

Prepare for your interview by researching your interview subject and coming up with a list of prepared questions.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how interviewers should best prepare for an interview

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Thoroughly doing your homework on a potential interview subject not only helps you to build rapport with him or her during your interview, it helps to confirm whether or not your interviewee makes an appropriate primary source.
  • Whether you write out talking points or specific questions, make sure to pay attention during your interview to look for opportunities to ask follow-up questions.
  • Both interviewers and interviewees should keep in mind factors such as timing and pacing to keep the discussion focused.

Key Terms

  • talking point: A specific topic raised in a conversation or argument which is intended as a basis for further discussion, especially one which represents a point of view.
  • interview: A formal meeting in person, for the assessment of a candidate or applicant.

Preparing for Your Interview

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Preparing for Your Interview: Make sure you’ve done your homework and research before heading to an interview!

An interview is a conversation between two or more people where questions are asked by the interviewer to elicit facts or statements from the interviewee. Interviews are used for purposes that range from evaluating job candidates to collecting market research and creating news stories. Interviews are usually led and completed by the interviewer based on what the interviewee says. They tend to be far more personal than questionnaires and surveys, as the interviewer works directly with the interviewee. The format also ranges depending on the context, purpose, and constraints for both parties.

Question Preparation

Once you’ve figured out everything you need to know about your interview subject or interviewer, it is time to prepare your questions. There are two approaches to this. First, you can make a list of talking points. These aren’t necessarily specific questions, however they serve as a guide for main points you want to make sure you hit over the course of your interview. Alternatively, you can be even more prepared by coming up with a set of questions for your interview subject or interviewer. Make sure you ask enough questions to get the information, or to demonstrate your knowledge of a certain subject or industry. Keep in mind timing and pacing during the interview. It is easy to overwhelm or appear aggressive if you ask too many probing or irrelevant questions.

As an interviewer, you may use open-ended and close-ended questions. Close-ended questions typically have a yes or no answer, or some kind of definitive fact. Open-ended questions are those that are open to interpretation and experience.

Preparation for Interviewers

Even if you are planning to interview the foremost expert in your subject field, you should always do some research into your interview subject no matter how famous they might be. You’ll want to do this for a couple of reasons.

First, you’ll want to establish rapport right away with your interview subject, even from the very first communication you have with the person asking if they’ll consent to being a primary source for your research. Second, you’ll want to evaluate that you have in fact selected the best person with the most credibility and authority to speak to that information for which you seek.

Interview Conduct

Listen to your interviewee, ask questions, respect boundaries, avoid leading questions, and don’t interrupt to ensure a successful interview.

Learning Objectives

State the best practices for conducting an interview

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An interview, in qualitative research, is a conversation where questions are asked to elicit information, usually pertaining to a product or service, as a means of gaining a better understanding of how a consumer thinks.
  • It is important to listen not only to what the participant is actually saying but also to the subtext and flow of the conversation.
  • It is essential that while the participant is being interviewed they are being encouraged to explore their experiences in a manner that is sensitive and respectful.
  • Ask open-ended questions, not leading ones.
  • Participants should feel comfortable and respected throughout the entire interview—thus interviewers should avoid interrupting participants whenever possible.

An interview, in qualitative research, is a conversation where questions are asked to elicit information, usually pertaining to a product or service, as a means of gaining a better understanding of how a consumer thinks. The interviewer is usually a professional or paid researcher, sometimes trained, who poses questions to the interviewee, in an alternating series of usually brief questions and answers.They are a standard part of qualitative research, in contrast to focus groups in which an interviewer questions a group of people at the same time. The qualitative research interview seeks to describe and the meanings of central themes in the life world of the subjects. The main task in interviewing is to understand the meaning of what the interviewees say. Interviewing, when considered as a method for conducting qualitative research, is a technique used to understand the experiences of others.

Approach to Interviewing

When choosing to interview as a method for conducting qualitative research, it is important to be tactful and sensitive in your approach. Interviewer and researcher, Irving Seidman, devotes an entire chapter of his book, Interviewing as Qualitative Research, to the import of proper interviewing technique and interviewer etiquette. Some of the fundamentals of his technique are summarized below.

Listen

According to Seidman, listening is both the hardest as well as the most important skill in interviewing. Furthermore, interviewers must be prepared to listen on three different levels: they must listen to

  • what the participant is actually saying,
  • the “inner voice” or subtext of what the participant is communicating, and
  • the process and flow of the interview, so as to remain aware of how tired or bored the participant is.

The listening skills required in an interview require more focus and attention to detail than what is typical in normal conversation. Therefore, it is often helpful for interviewers to take notes while the participant responds to questions or to tape-record the interviews themselves to as to be able to more accurately transcribe them later.

Ask Questions

While an interviewer generally enters each interview with a predetermined, standardized set of questions, it is important that they also ask follow-up questions throughout the process. Such questions might encourage a participant to elaborate upon something poignant that they’ve shared and are important in acquiring a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Additionally, it is important that an interviewer ask clarifying questions when they are confused.

Respect Boundaries

Seidman explains this tactic as “Explore, don’t probe.” It is essential that while the participant is being interviewed they are being encouraged to explore their experiences in a manner that is sensitive and respectful. They should not be “probed” in such a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or like a specimen in lab. If too much time is spent dwelling on minute details or if too many follow-up questions are asked, it is possible that the participant will become defensive or unwilling to share. Thus, it is the interviewer’s job to strike a balance between ambiguity and specificity in their questions.

A picture of a man and woman sitting at a table. The man is talking while the woman listens.

Conducting Your Interview: Be respectful and practice active listening to get the most out of your interview time.

Avoid Leading Questions

Leading questions are questions that suggest or imply a particular answer. While they are often asked innocently, they risk of altering the validity of the responses obtained as they discourage participants from using their own language to express their sentiments. It is instead preferable that interviewers ask open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking “Did the experience make you feel sad?”, it would be better to ask “How did the experience make you feel?” which suggests no particular feeling.

Don’t Interrupt

Participants should feel comfortable and respected throughout the entire interview—thus interviewers should avoid interrupting participants whenever possible. While participants may digress in their responses and while the interviewer may lose interest in what they are saying at one point or another it is critical that they be tactful in their efforts to keep the participant on track and to return to the subject matter in question.

Interview Followup

Content analysis is an essential part of the follow-up, in order to summarize who said what and when.

Learning Objectives

Explain how the different interview methods influence content analysis during follow-up

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • If you have interviewed synchronously one or two experts in person, telephone, or video conference, then you should listen to the recording of the interview and mark points of interest.
  • If you have conducted an online synchronous interview using chat, make sure that you have actually activated the archive feature so that you have a recorded transcript of the chat and are able to review each of the questions and responses at a later time.
  • If you conducted an online asynchronous interview, you may have a large sample of geographically dispersed respondents. You will need to summarize the content or tabulate the ratings if you used rating scales for the interview questions.
  • Once you have completed your content analysis, you will want to consider how to cite or credit the source(s) of the “personal communication” in order to indicate the person, the date, and the type of interview or manner of data collection.

Key Terms

  • content analysis: A methodology in the social sciences for studying the content of communication. Harold Lasswell formulated the core questions of content analysis: “Who says what, to whom, why, to what extent and with what effect? “

Content Analysis is Essential Follow-up

Content analysis is an essential part of the follow-up to any type of interview. You want to summarize or describe the responses and associate them with the source or group of sources, who were the sample of people who responded. You want to summarize who said what, and when. If have engaged in a one-on-one in-person interview, the you will want to use your best informational listening and note-taking skills to capture the content of what was said. If you used an online synchronous or asynchronous interview method, you will already have a transcript or archive of the content, but will need to reliably summarize the responses to your interview questions. The different methods of interviewing will require different methods of follow-up to capture the content and prepare it for use.

In-person Interview

If you have interviewed synchronously one or two experts in person, telephone, or video conference, then you will want to listen to the recording of the interview and mark points of interest. You can either take notes, transcribe relevant answers, or mark with a time stamp the location of important content that relates to your topic for replay or review later.

Jimbo Wales being interviewed by Herbert Blankesteijn.

In-person Interview: Record the interview for playback and analysis.

Online Synchronous Interview

Online synchronous interviews use simple text chat functions that can be recorded or archived for later analysis. If you have conducted an online synchronous interview using chat, make sure you have actually activated the archive feature so that you have a recorded transcript of the chat and are able to review each of the questions and responses at a later time. Since you can chat interview with a number of people about your topic, you may eventually want to summarize and analyze the data for patterns in the responses.

Online Asynchronous Interview

An asynchronous online interview is one where the researcher and the researched do not need to be online at the same time. Typically these interviews will use email, but other technologies might also be employed.

If you conducted an online interview asynchronously, you may have a large sample of geographically dispersed respondents. You will need to summarize the content or tabulate the ratings if you used rating scales for the interview questions.

If you asked closed questions, you can tabulate the frequency of responses in the different categories. However, if you asked more open-ended questions, you will find it useful to code the content of the interviews with some system so that you can group the responses into meaningful categories in order to summarize the results.

Citing the Interview

Once you have completed your content analysis, you will want to consider how to cite or credit the source(s) of the respondents. Since the results of your interview are usually not published, they will be considered “personal communication. ” Generally, you will indicate the person, date, and manner of data collection. Here are some examples:

Personal Interview face to face—Expert, A. (2013, May 2) Personal Interview.

Personal interview by telephone or chat—Expert, A (2013, May 3) Telephone (chat) Interview.

Personal interview by email—Expert, A. ( 2013, May 4) Email Interview.