The best interviewing is like having a great conversation. It’s not over complimentary, gushy or about impressing the person you are interviewing with your knowledge. A successful interview comes from doing good background work, building a set of questions and then engaging your subject to create that genuine conversation. The following points will help you prepare, engage, and end your interview successfully.
1. It’s not about You.
Even though the goal of an interview to get your questions answered, while you are conducting the interview, the person being interviewed is the star. You are there to “pick” his or her brain, so your goal is to create a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Don’t try to impress by taking up time talking about your skills or background…let the quality and intelligence of your questions do that for you!
2. Do your homework.
To craft effective questions, you have to start by researching the person’s background, their business, and the industry. You want to ask questions that get answers only the live person in front of you could give.
3. Develop a strategy and create your questions. The first question you ask will be the most important one because it sets the tone and expectations for all that follows. Begin with the easy questions, the ones that slowly open the door for the more probing or difficult ones.
Talk the persons language but go easy on jargon. Usually jargon heavy questions will elicit jargon heavy responses, leaving you with a bunch of scribbled worthless notes.
4. Focus on making the person comfortable and at ease.
Start out by thanking the person for taking the time to see you. Briefly touch on something that is common ground or an object in their environment. Don’t use up too much time here, transition quickly to the main part, your questions.
Bolster their confidence during the interview, with small, well-placed and sincere compliments.
5. Ask open-ended questions.
What you wish to achieve is a dialog. What, When, Where, Why, Who, How, elicit sentence replies instead of yes/no answers.
Use close ended (yes or no reply) when you need to confirm or verify something. If you are using them to clarify, start out by putting the onus on yourself: “But I don’t understand. Did you say…?”
6. Control the conversation but do it in a non-threatening manner.
Never become belligerent or demanding. If the person can’t or won’t answer your question, after one gentle probing move on to the next question. Never ever contradict the person or tell them they are wrong. If you know the response they gave you has incorrect information, ask another simple open ended clarifying question to get to the heart of the matter.
Proceed at their pace. Give the person you are interviewing time to respond. If the going is slow don’t interrupt with more questions or act impatient.
7. Use penetrating questions when you need to drill deeper.
“How do you mean that?” Is a good example.
8. Don’t lead the person on.
When you’re not clear about what they’re saying, don’t ask: “Do you mean (this)?” That is “leading them on”. Instead ask: “What do you mean by that?” You want to put the ball back into their court!
9. Silence and other tactics to move the interview along.
Silence can feel uncomfortable, however, sometimes remaining silent after someone has finished speaking is a good tactic in order to encourage them to elaborate on what they were saying.
Listen carefully and take notes. However, be sure to make eye contact when asking your questions. Don’t be so busy taking notes that all they see is your flying fingers and the top of your head.
If the person rambles on, at some point interject, “That’s a great insight but let’s go back to this question and …” .
10. Conclude the interview with an affirmation
Repeat your understanding of their comments in your own words. Ask if that is a correct interpretation and ask for any clarifications. Wrap up stating what the information will lead to i.e. another meeting, or that you have the information you sought. Always thank the person for his/her time spent with you.
Finally, unlike Barbara Walters’ hour-long shows, your interview should be no longer than 30 min – take the lead from the person you are interviewing. Also, be aware of your interviewee’s non-verbal cues. You can pick up a lot of secondary information, or realize you need clarification from voice tone, body language, and choice of words used!
When you’re interviewing, it’s not just about using words in question format. It’s about planning, consideration, and how you conduct yourself throughout the interview.