Interviewing someone successfully is an art, and often people don’t take it too seriously. Companies tend to send their communicative, friendly and approachable employees to get the interview done. And, while these are all qualities that are needed in an interviewer, what’s lacking in many cases are the skills to prepare and conduct a thorough interview. This post won’t give you the 7 top tips you need to ace interviews, or the top 10 resources to read, it will hopefully shed some light on how to approach this art in a different way. So, if you are looking for a quick fix for tomorrow’s interview, stop reading now.
Alright, so you are still here. That means you are serious about getting to understand the art of interviews. This post will discuss how to interview someone with the aim of writing quality content for marketing.
What do I want to find out?
The first place people can go wrong is by starting with research. You found your candidate, and you dig into their professional and personal background. You start finding lots of interesting information, which gives you great ideas for questions. Now, this by itself isn’t wrong, but it definitely isn’t the right place to start. You need to start by knowing what you are looking for.
You need your interview to align to a greater purpose.
That can be a greater business aim. For example, I did a series of interviews where I talked to leaders within an organisation and introduced their leaderships skills to a wider audience. Why? Because, I wanted to humanise a corporation. Nothing humanises a corporation like getting to read “raw” material about senior leadership at a company. The people behind the product matter.
Another example of a greater purpose is a theme. Take storytelling, currently I am on a quest to interview as many different types of people about how they use storytelling in their business.
Whoever you are interviewing you need to be doing it with a clear goal in mind.
What isn’t out there already?
Here is where your research starts. Unless you are interviewing someone and it’s their first public interview ever, there will be plenty of material about them online. Don’t forget social media. Your main research aim is to find a new perspective. Have you seen those movies, where journalists talk about a fresh angle – it’s true you need one.
That doesn’t mean coming up with completely new information or making something up, but taking a different approach. Don’t forget no two conversations are ever the same. Here are some practical examples.
You are interviewing a CEO of a growing startup. Everyone is surely asking about the beginning, how did the business grow. So, give that information in your introduction, and surprise your candidate by asking something different. For example, “What do you miss the most about the beginning?”. Usually people will go for questions that focuses on challenges and hardship, but by asking about a memory you are more likely to get a good story from your CEO. You might get some overlapping information, but you will get that “feeling” of how to start a business.
Create a loose flow
You need a flow, and you need it to be loose.
Having a flow, essentially means structuring your interview questions so that your interview moves logically from point A to point B, and so on. Don’t jump from one topic to another, and this doesn’t only apply to video recorded material. Jumping from topic to topic will disrupt your interviewees thoughts and you could miss out on some quality information.
A standard interview flow goes something like this:
- Introduce the candidate to the audience
- Confirm the credibility of your candidate for your chosen topic
- Dive into the meaty section of the interview
- Challenge their opinion (this is optional depending on the type of interview)
- Add some flourish
- Thank your candidate
It’s not always advisable to challenge someone, and don’t think of this as you are “attacking” their position, rather ask the “why”, and get a broader and better understanding of where they are coming from. The flourish is important, because it can spice up an interview.
Recently during an interview with a Senior UX Designer I asked him to speak Portuguese, as he was about to get married to a Brazilian. It gives your candidate more character, and your audience something else to think about. Although, the interview was about UX and his talk on the UX Balkan tour, it included his love for travel and culture. That way it tied in naturally.
The best interviews are natural conversations.
This is the loose part. A conversation should not be forced, and the difference between good and great interviews is not getting that forced feeling when listening to an interview. This happens when you are trying to get a certain piece of information and you follow your structure even though the conversation has strayed away. Don’t panic if this happens, listen to what your interviewee is saying and find a different way to come back to your topic of choice.
Prepare the questions and your interviewee
When putting together questions try and keep them open ended. Your question should set a theme, a direction in which a conversation should flow. It shouldn’t point to one answer and one answer only. Here is a tip when asking questions. Lead first with a relatable fact or event, helping your interviewee get started with an answer. For example, “You have already given talks in over 24 different countries, which must have been a great learning experience all together. What do you think you learnt from your audience here in Belgrade?“.
Usually when I have my questions ready, they have been divided into sections. That way my interview has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Just like a story. What I do is I email the concept of each section to my interviewee. I explain what the focus of the overall interview is, and what he or she can expect from me. I don’t email the full questions. I have found that if you do that the interview will be too prepared, and it will lose its conversational tone. Now, if you are someone who has been in the business of interviews for a long time, you will be able to make any interview feel natural, even the most rehearsed one. I don’t feel that I am quite there yet, so the above trick tends to work for me.
Forget everything and enjoy it
After you have prepared yourself and your interviewee, don’t forget to enjoy the interview. You are about to find out some really interesting information and share it with a large audience. Make sure you are relaxed, because if you are you will encourage everyone around you to relax. It’s fun, so smile and make the person you are interviewing feel welcome.
Good luck on your next interview!