If, like me, you're not a journalist, interviewing someone can be pretty tough.
However, whether you're a student trying to get information for your thesis, a manager in the process of hiring a new team member, or the marketing or the biz guy seeking feedback about a product or trying to understand a prospect's pain, we all have to conduct interviews during our life.
While there are tons of great articles and books about this topic, I'm gonna give you some easy tips to succeed with this perilous task.
Setup the timeline of the interview
Like a lot of tasks involving humans, a good interview should have a good rhythm. I'm not just talking about the way you are going to ask questions and bounce on the answers. I'm talking about creating a path that you'll follow to get the interview flowing.
To help, there is a tip I often give to people preparing for a job interview.
Draw a timeline of your professional life.
What are the key dates? The important events in your career so far?
Working with this simple tool and, if possible, having it in your notebook in front of you, will help you stay chronologically coherent while telling your story.
This advice applies to any kind of interview, so spend some time working on the timeline.
To do it, you first have to decide about the total amount of time you want the discussion to last. 10 minutes? 30 minutes? In addition to helping you structure the interview, it's also an important information to communicate to the interviewee. It will show that you respect her time.
You then break this global time into parts.
How long for the intro? For the generic questions? For the conclusion?
At last, is there any important information you want to deliver during the interview? This can be useful if the interview aims not only to collect answers, but also to pre-sell your product or services.
Now that you have all this written down, draw a line in your notebook and pin everything to it.
The result will be your Ariadne's thread during the discussion. Follow it and you won't get lost.
Get your intro ready
Now that you have your timeline, it is time to figure out what we are specifically going to say. You want the interviewee to know who you are and what the interview will be about.
Even if the person you plan to interview already knows some things about you, it is always good to keep a short introduction ready. Try to be specific yet brief.
A good way to empower the person (and then have better and more honest answers), is to explain why you picked her to be interviewed. Emphasise her expertise on the topics covered in today's interview.
Define the two big things you want to find out during the interview
Be realistic, and accept that you probably won't collect all the information you want. So beforehand, decide about two or three most important things you want to clarify during the discussion.
Write down two questions, connected to those two important points, that will help you get back on track if the interviewee begins to digress.
Have them written down in the notebook you will keep in front of you.
Prepare some easy questions to begin with
Following the same idea I developed about your intro, having the interview started by asking pretty easy questions is a good way to help the interviewee relax and feel more confident, therefore increasing the quality of the answers.
A good way to do this is to prepare questions related to the specific field of expertise of the person. For instance, ask her about how she is working today.
Keep in mind that it should be short and easy to answer. No tricky questions.
Build a framework to collect the answers
If you are not a pro, it can be tough to ask questions, actively listen to the answers, and take notes all at the same time.
The easiest way to do so is obvious: ask if you can record the interview.
Tell her why you want to do it (active listening), and promise you won't use it for anything else other than taking notes afterward.
If she refuses, you should have your plan B ready: a structure in your notebook (or computer) to take notes efficiently.
You can, for example, leave blank spaces between your questions to write her answers, or use clustering techniques1 if you don't need to be too linear about your notes.
Don't forget about the follow-up
When the interview is done, close the session by agreeing on a way to do the follow-up. Ask if you can reach her by e-mail if you need to clarify something said during the interview.
You can also offer to send her the final result of your work. That's a good opportunity to stay in touch and develop your network.
Besides all of the above, remember, when you can, to favor open-ended question.
Try to reformulate important answers to connect with the interviewee and confirm if you got it right.
And of course... allocate yourself some time to rehearse before the D-day!