How to Interview
Interviewing skills are useful in many ways—whether in college classes in which students are called on to conduct “field research” through interviews or in the workplace—someday you may be interviewing job candidates.
Good interviewing skills rely on good communication skills. Good communication skills will serve you in all human interactions.
While it may “feel” preferable or easier to email or text a person, these communication modes may not lead to optimum results. Sometimes these forms of communication—often called “one-way communication” because one person talks at a time without the benefit of reading the other person’s response and without interruption—can cause misunderstandings and take more time, rather than less. Why? Electronic communication does not allow you to hear tone, such as when a person is being humorous, sarcastic, or sorrowful (sometimes even with emoticons). They do not allow the recipient of information to read body language, an essential component in communication. They do not permit interruption or “course correction.”
A key component of a successful interview is preparation. You should have done some “homework” on the person you are interviewing—this is easy to do on Google and through social media.
You should also have a list of five to eight questions you want to ask (see questioning strategies below), as well as some follow up questions. Tip: start with an easy, simple question to help put your subject at ease.
Flexibility is essential to getting the best information. Depending on how your interview goes, be prepared to change your questions, delete questions, or add questions to dive deeper into a subject area that interests you.
Most important, bring a device for recording the conversation (IMPORTANT: ASK THE SUBJECT IF IT’S OKAY IF YOU RECORD THEM) or bring paper and plan to take lots of notes.
What’s in it for you: Before you go into an interview, think about what most interests you in this subject or subject matter. What do you want to know? Why do you care? How does this connect to your life? The answers to these questions will help guide the direction of your interview.
An open, curious mind
Good interviewing skills start will an open, curious mind. A good interviewer is genuinely interested in what the interview subject might have to say. Do you care if people to listen to you? Do you care if people are interested in what you say? Most people do.
In addition, we like to feel comfortable when we talk with people. For this reason, we want to put the people we interview at ease. Active listening skills such as LQCs (listening, questioning, clarifying) offer techniques that simultaneously help you get the best information and put your subject at ease.
The LQCs: Listening, Questioning, and Clarifying
Listening: How do you know when people are listening to you? Interested in what you say?
One way people tell us that they are interested is by making eye contact. As human beings, we are programmed to look each other in the eye. That’s why our eyes are in the front of our heads and not on the sides (like deer, goats, and other prey animals).
Another way we know when people are open to what we say is by reading body language. When people turn away or cross their arms, these postures send us messages. What are they? When people keep their arms at their sides and face us, we get an entirely different feeling. You might think of this as “embodied listening”—showing you are listening with more than your ears. Smiling, leaning slightly toward a person, and nodding are all ways to show that you’re interested in what they are saying. Another way is to reflect the person’s own feelings, called mirroring, and it might include showing sympathy or empathy in your facial expressions.
When interviewing a person, you might want to be aware of your body language and keep an open, accessible posture.
Taking notes is another good indicator that you are listening to a person.
Questioning: Another way to demonstrate sincere interest in the subject and to get better information is by asking good questions. Questions are not all created equal.
Close-ended questions can be answered with a yes or no. They may be appropriate in some situations, but they generally shut down conversation.
Close-ended question example: Do you like college?
Open-ended questions lead to fuller, more interesting answers. They begin with the following words:
Open-ended questions examples:
What do you like about college?
How do you feel about your classes?
Why did you choose URI?
Clarifying: There’s no reason to leave an interview session confused or uncertain. Instead you can make sure you understand what has been said by using “clarifying” techniques. Do not leave the interview until you are certain that you understand everything the interview subject has said.
Jargon or language that is unfamiliar to you
If a person uses a word you don’t understand, such as “technical” language that is particular to a subject area, it’s perfectly okay to ask for a definition.
Definition question example: You mentioned that you ride horses, and your discipline is “dressage.” What is dressage?
While asking questions and certainly before you leave an interview, take a few minutes to check your notes. If something is not clear, use the following:
Clarifying question examples: “I’m not quite sure I understand what you are saying about ______.”
“When you said _______,what did you mean?”
“Could you repeat _______?”
To be sure that you understand what a person has said and also to reinforce that you have heard what your interview subject has said, try paraphrasing. This is often called reflection because you more or less mirror what the speaker has said. You can reflect back content, emotions, meaning, or all three.
Interview subject, “I just don’t understand my boss. One minute he says one thing and the next minute he says the opposite.”
Listener, “You feel very confused by him?”