10 Things You Should Know Before You Conduct Your Next Interview

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CITIZEN JOURNALISM | 7 minute read

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Mobile Journalism

A focused approach

A journalist ought to be well prepared while planning an interview. Keep the questions succinct, avoid looking at your notes and pay attention to what the other person is saying, otherwise you might miss the news story.

Honing your interview skills are just as vital as being able to write. So if you are an aspiring journalist, freelancer or work in PR - here are a few useful tips for planning and executing your next interview.

Plan, plan, plan beforehand

It is crucial to assimilate as much information about your interviewee before you draft your questions. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve at the end of the session. You need to know the who, what, where, when and how of the situation. This will definitely help you be more confident not just about your subject area, but also the person, their lifestyle and then you could tailor questions suiting the situation for the best responses. Add all your ideas into bullet points and sequence them for a better flow

Etiquettes

It goes without saying that if you are meeting someone for an interview, you have to be on time. Yours and your interviewee’s time is precious. So as a matter of professional courtesy, try and get there early so you have time to get settled before you greet your interviewee. Ensure that your immediate surrounding is calm. This will ensure you get a good and friendly response. A warm smile, friendly handshake and an opening line like ‘hope you had a good journey’ is the best way to start. This holds true for a phone interview as well. Always make sure you exchange plesantries, show that you care, sound confident and make your interviewee comfortable. After a successful interview it’s better that your subject is left feeling that you are a nice person. The interview is a conversation, not a confrontation. You are not there to make the interviewee look stupid. So put your best foot forward and make an impression that lasts.

Starting the interview

Interviewing is a craft which can be honed into an art when you use your individual creativity. The key to a successful interview lies between probing and a friendly chat. Ensure at all times that it does not sound like an interrogation. Sometimes your interviewee might not be willing to divulge all the details that you need to make your story juicy. In such a case, simply continue with the flow of the interview. At the end of the interview, if you have managed to build a good rapport, try polite probing. Beyond that if you feel that your interviewee is not being responsive, then you just have to let it go.

Listen to the answers

Most beginners make a mistake of not carefully listening to the responses of their interviewee. Often this happens because they are in a rush to move on to the next question. Solely relying on your dictaphone will not help because once your interviewee leaves the room or hangs up, you cannot follow up if any doubt arises. So paying attentions to the subtleties and asking more questions in the moment is the best practice. It also shows them that you are keen and paying close attention to everything they are saying.

Quotes - you need them

Often when we read interviews published in magazines and newspapers, it’s the quotes that becomes the selling point. An interesting quote is what grabs the reader’s attention and gives them the desire to read the whole interview. Ensure it has a mystery element. You want to entice your readers to want more. The key thing here is after you’ve delved into a particular topic, you could ask them something personal like ‘you must have a good story regarding that incident or did anything amusing happen when you tried it’. The point in an interview is always about the interviewee. Make sure you personalise the topics to get the best anecdotes and they become your key selling point.

Asking the right questions and steering in the right direction

One popular method of steering the interview in the direction you like is by asking questions that steer into the area or topic you like. Ask it in a manner where it feels more like a comment, so your subject is in a position where they really cannot disagree with you.Sometimes your subject might go off into a different tangent, in such cases it’s always nice to politely steer them into the right direction by saying ‘that sounds great, could we now look at my next question?’ At the interview, if you find yourself asking closed questions, where the answers are a simple yes or no, follow that up with a why to get more meaty answers.

Don’t show them

Never send or show questions beforehand because it ruins the spontaneity of the moment. Spontaneity gives life to answers and can make your write up look interesting, rather than having something that appears rehearsed. If you feel like you are in a situation where your subject keeps asking you for questions, the best response is ‘Let me tell you that I am only going to ask you general questions’ and mention the key areas. The word ‘general’ can be very reassuring and will calm your interviewee’s nerves.

Checklist

Journalism means interviewing people and it often requires you to pay attention to what the opposite person is saying. Learning shorthand could be a very useful in this profession, but  always make sure you take a dictaphone so nothing is missed. Always check that your equipment is working and that you have enough batteries, tapes, discs etc. before you set off to conduct your interview. Always check the interview has been recorded before the interviewee leaves. It’s much harder to re-do the interview if there’s been a technical fault.

Keep it short

Shorter questions are better than longer ones. Never ask more than one question at a time, combining questions makes it easy for the interviewee to avoid answering one altogether. Be as direct as you can without being rude. Try to ask a maximum of three or four questions. If you can’t get to the essence of what you want the interviewee to say in three or four questions, change the questions.

Closing the interview and transcribing

At the end of the interview, no matter how difficult the interviewee has been, always say thank you. When you’re editing, don’t take answers out of context, that’s dishonest. As soon as you complete your interview, make sure that you transcribe it so you are able to capture everything that was discussed during your interview. There is a high chance that the quality of your content might suffer if you let it go cold on you, especially for beginners. The faster you start transcribing, sooner you will realise that your subject has started sentences, but never divulged into too much depth or gave you all the information you needed. If so, the earlier the better to contact them to get a confirm the piece of information you have gathered. Finally always make sure you save all the audio recorded during your interview. It’s good practice to archive everything.

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