How to interview Interviewing is an art form of intricate discipline that combines preparation and spontaneity in a potent mix. Like any art form, it's practiced so many different levels, depending on the innate talent, hard work, and creativity of its performers. At its best, what really takes place is an inter-view - a mutual process of looking inward (inter means between). The success depends on first understanding your own internal views. The more self-awareness you cultivate, the greater the ease and skill you ll bring to the interview process. The word interview is derived from the French ent revue / ent revoir, meaning to see one another.

The tremendous opportunity available to find out about yourself through discovering other people, their ideas, and your responses to them can come from interviewing. Successful interviewing requires a basic foundation, advanced research, negotiating a interview, preparation, and recording. The basic foundation for any interviewer is to be able to communicate and listen. Communication is a learned process that never really stops once we initiate it. Communication is also a complex process among differently programmed individuals using an infinite variety of symbols-language being only one kind of symbol. To communicate successfully in the interview setting, both parties must be in a state of readiness, able to share a symbolic system, willing to establish a relationship and atmosphere that facilitates interaction, capable and willing to listen and to engage in appropriate feedback behavior, and flexible enough to respond sensitively and with good judgment to a wide range of inputs (Beach, 1982).

Memorizing lists of principals and reciting them upon demand will not make you a good interviewer. According to Barone (1995), you mus understand them, practice them, be able to adapt them to differing interviews and interviewees, and refine them to suit your personality, background, and needs. Listening plays a very big role in building your foundation before interviewing too. In my opinion, the key to being a good listener is to want to listen, which can require willpower and discipline. In most cases few people are unwilling to make that effort. Basically, listening for most of us is waiting for a chance to start talking again.

According to McLaughlin (1950), we all desperately want to be listened to, but what we do is just primarily talk. In my view, when you listen deeply, your response assists and inspires the person to speak with more clarity and poise. The simple but demanding act of listening with total concentration, which includes hearing more than just the person's words, enables the speaker to concentrate and to reach more deeply for ideas and ways to express them. One authors believes that people rarely experience the pleasure and empowerment of being listened to intently, they feel it immediately when it exists, and it generates excitement and makes them want to connect with the person who is the source of that employment. The ultimate reward for active listening seems only just: people reciprocate and listen to you (Richardson, 1965). According to Samovar (1982), if you find in interviews that you re not taken seriously, improving your listening skills could be one way of changing that.

One other aspect of listening that I would like to bring to your attention is the need to be silent. Learning aspects of listening in speech class has given me an understanding of how to understand and be a strong listener. To develop good listening skills you have to understand and become comfortable with silence. As an example, Some interviewers, often out of nervousness, cannot restrain themselves from filling every pause or moment of reflection with the sound of their own voices (Samovar, 1982, p. 120). The benefit of being silent for me, at appropriate times, the guest will continue to speak. It's natural for people to pause and think but if you jump in and cut them off at those crucial times, you re going to stop some important information.

One of the authors believes that the most important thing about interviewing is knowing when to keep quiet (Barone, 1995). In my experiences of interviewing, I have noticed that people hate silence, and if somebody answers a question and you can tell they re not finished, say nothing and they ll start again. Richardson, (1965), believes from his past experiences that silence makes the person being interviewed to tell the real answer because people are so scared of silence. As an example, I know, personally, that when I m talking to someone and there's a long silence, I always feel inclined to jump in and break that silence (McLaughlin, 1950, p. 6). Successful interviewing requires one of the hardest parts which is negotiating the interview. In order to interview someone you have to have a good reason why you want to interview them.

Once you have a reason for interviewing that person or persons, you have to figure out how you are going to get this person to say it is all right for you to interview them. According to Richardson (1965), generally people like to be interviewed because people like to be given attention. Some people don t like to be interviewed because they feel invaded and do not want to be bothered. Many interviewers use the phone or a written letter to arrange the interview. The first step is to choose a method of approach. According to Barone (1995), experiences, most interviews are arranged by telephone, especially if you re working on a daily deadline, but the value and impact of a well-written letter should not be underestimated.

Some interviewers do not like to use the phone because they do not like to be rejected and are uncomfortable in convincing someone to grant an interview. Using the telephone allows easier tracking to the person by using a telephone book, directories, other journalists, and your friends. One author stated that he likes to use the phone because it is faster and affords the opportunity to establish personal contact, either with the targeted guest or the person designated to handle media inquiries (Beach, 1982). A letter on the other hand offers several advantages. Some advantages according to McLaughlin (1950) is, it can get you access to certain people who would be difficult, if not impossible to reach by phone, a letter has a greater impact than a phone call; it almost demands a reply, sending letters can be a more gentle means of harassment than a constant slew of phone calls, and a letter allows you to control the tone and content of your proposal.

From my experience you don t always get a positive response, I tend to use the phone because it is easier and makes the person feel he or she is on the spot. The last avenue of negotiation can be the ambush interview. McLaughlin (1950), explains that the ambush interview is used when all negotiations have failed. Showing up at the house or office, you might have a fighting chance of persuading the person to consider giving you his time for an interview. From my experience, this technique usually ends up with the door in your face. Once you have persuaded the person to let you have an interview, you now have to prepare for the interview.

One of the basic and most important steps in having a successful interview is research. There are few worse feelings than the flush of mortification that overcomes you when your ignorance is exposed during an interview. Apart from the deflating effect it can have upon your confidence and ability to continue, it can also diminish your credibility, shift your balance of power, and destroy whatever degree of intimacy you may have established with the guest. If it's apparent that you re unprepared or know little about the subject, and interviewee will likely become irritated, uncooperative or condescending, or will simply attempt to take control. (McLaughlin, 1950, p. 25) For me, interviewing with a lot of research allows me to understand a story and ask intelligent and probing questions; and to let me relax by increasing confidence, which helps my intuition and instincts to work at their highest capacity. As an example, if your shun preparation and choose to wing interviews, you might sometimes get by on curiosity, good listening skills, and acute intuition, but that will only take you so far (Samovar, 1982, p. 115).

I can see no logical argument for knowing little or nothing about a subject that you re about to discuss with someone who probably knows a great deal. Without your own sources of information, you re at the mercy of whatever the interviewee tells you. Expert interviewer (Richardson, 1965) states, research allows you to offset that imbalance and engage the guest in conservation at a more equal and stimulating level. I have realized that if you re thoroughly prepared, you ll be more able to connect with the guest and understand the subject matter on a deeper level.

An author quotes, there's more to developing your instinctive qualities than just doing research, but the confidence provided by the research will free you to gamble and experiment more, to break down question and answers and engage in a genuine conversation (Beach, 1982, p. 122). After gathering and sifting through whatever research is available, you have to determine what angle you are going to pursue. According to McLaughlin (1950), the story will need a point of view, a purpose, even if it's as simple as just highlighting the major findings but it's usually more specific. An example I might use would be to, concentrate on poverty among native groups, or to compare poverty on a regional basis. Another example given by an author, if you cover a government budget, one angle could be an overview of the entire document, another might focus on social programs, another on the deficit, and so on (Barone, 1995, p. 112). The more directed you are before you go in, the better the odds that the interview will succeed.

One last point given by McLaughlin (1950) is, there is no formula for determining angles and the angle is not cast in stone. If during the interview something unexpected but important comes up, you may have to abandon your game plan and follow the misdirected one. Preparing questions is the last step in preparing for the interview. There are various methods of preparing questions, such as writing them out, memorizing, or just thinking about them. The variety of methods each has it own unique characteristics, capabilities, and pitfalls. The interviewer must select the kind of questions and the sequence best suited to his purpose and objectives.

Also, the interviewer may imply more than one type of sequence in the same interview. According to Richardson (1982), he likes to map out the questions, key information and his strategies. He tries to imagine what the guest is thinking about the interview. He doesn t memorize the questions because he doesn t like to be restricted by a set of questions all in order. There are lots of different ways of asking questions and the ways you do it may work for you and not for others. You just have to use the best way that presents your research on the topic and allows your interviewee to express his opinion.

The last step in succeeding in an interview is the methods of recording. There are two types of recording: writing it down or tape recording it. The are both disadvantages and advantages of the two methods. One disadvantage of tape recording expressed by Beach (1982), is it takes two much time to transcribe when done with the interview.

The advantage of tape recording, though is knowing everything that the person said word for word instead of paraphrasing what you thought he said which can cause controversy. According to Richardson (1965), the advantages of taking notes helps you to easily go back to answers the interviewee might of quoted. Also, the interviewee likes not being tape recorded because his answer is trapped on the tape and he or she feels trapped. The disadvantages of taking notes allow for mistakes on quotes and paraphrasing might change the view of the interviewee. The methods you choose depend on how good you are at taking notes and how much time you have to review your interview. Interviewing is essentially about interpersonal relationships, and how we communicate with each other.

While I understood that point on a certain level before I began this research paper, I came to understand it much more deeply through the intensive process of researching, speaking, listening, recording and preparing. I believe the development as interviewers is intricately linked to our development as individuals. The more we know about ourselves and other people, the more we know about how to speak and relate to others. The potential for personal growth and development, through stimulating conversations with fascinating people, is boundless.


Barone, J. (1995).
Interviewing art and skill. New York: Allyn and Bacon Publishers. Beach, M. (1982, June).
Interviewing. US News, pp. 122. McLaughlin, P. (1950).
Asking Questions: the art of the media interview. Quebec: Canadian Cataloguing Publication. Richardson, S. (1965).
Interviewing: its forms and functions. Chicago: Basic Book Publication. Samovar, L. (1982).