Becoming an Effective Interviewer

By Cora Thomas

This past summer I was involved in a collaborative project at the Writing and Communication Center that included filming staff interviews about their experience working for the Center. While I was doing research on interview techniques, I found that there are numerous resources devoted to becoming an effective interviewee but not many about how to become an effective interviewer.

What is it like to turn the table and be in the interviewer’s seat? Have you ever written for a newspaper or conducted research in which you needed to interview someone? You may be able to use the following information in a variety of contexts in your professional or academic lives.

Tips for doing Interviews for Academic Research

These tips, which I learned in my Research Methods class, taught by Kari Lerum, focus on interviews conducted for academic research that will be shared with a larger audience. Before the Interview:

  • Be prepared for the interview; come with the list of questions or notes you’ve made. Practice the questions beforehand to become familiar with what you’re going to ask. This may help you refine the questions if need be.
  • Have a clear purpose for the interview. For the benefit of yourself and for the interviewee. be clear of your goals for the interview.
  • Have a second party review your questions to ensure they are clear.
  • If you are using an audio recorder make sure you are comfortable operating the device and test it beforehand. Writing down what interviewees say may distract both of you. Recording might help with the organic nature of the conversation as well.
  • Before beginning the audio recording obtain written consent (if needed) of the interviewee and make sure they understand how the transcripts of the interview will be used.

Tips for all Types of Interviews

The video, “How to Interview Someone” is a slideshow animation of best practices for conducting interviews. Here are my favorite tips from the video but I highly recommend watching the entire slideshow for more detailed tips.

During the Interview:

  • Beginning with questions that make the interviewee feel comfortable shows them that you are interested in who they are as a person, not just the answers they can provide. Create a relaxed atmosphere by starting out with non-threatening topics like, “tell me a little bit about yourself.”
  • Ask open ended questions so there is room to have a dialogue with the interviewee. When launching into the main interview questions avoid questions that only need a “yes” or “no” answer. Try to begin your questions with “how,” “why,”  “tell me about,” “did you ever,” or “how did it make you feel.” This will help with the conversational flow.  . Encourage more dialogue by using follow up questions.
  • Be aware of your body language. Be open with your body language so your interviewee will feel more welcomed and comfortable.
  • Know as much as possible about the subject before the interview.
  • My own tip: Have fun with it!

I hope this information can help your interview flow more smoothly and eliminate the jitters of interviewing. These tips have helped me immensely with my own approach of being in the interviewer’s seat.

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