Conducting Interviews

I did my first interview on  Saturday using my iPhone as recorder.

Previous to this device, I used a small cassette recorder. The cassettes were about the size of two 9 volt batteries. It was ok until something better was developed. The iPhone.

I went to the “Extras” square and clicked on Voice Memos. I played around with that until I learned how it functioned.

When I was set up for the interview, it was a little unnerving because I couldn’t really see how it was doing its job. I decided to trust it.  But, as a backup I wrote the conversation as well as I could since I never learned shorthand.  That wasn’t too bad because I had my printed list as I will describe later in this article.

I was interviewing a couple about my biography subject whom they both knew very well. They were so relaxed and pleased to do the interview that it became very casual. They were very easy to visit with around their dining room table. T’wood every interview go that well!  In response to my questions, they shared story after story that were heartwarming and humorous. It was like visiting with old friends.

It was too easy to forget that it was an interview. I was a little sad about coming to the end of my questions. I had promised only an hour and he had to get back to work.

Back at my desk, I began my transcription. It was much easier than I expected. The one thing that really got my attention was my own voice! I had forgotten how different it sounds on a recording and every one is a little different. Aside from just the sound of my voice was the back and forth conversation. I could hear the laughter from all three of us.

As I did the transcription to my computer, I realized something I wish to share. Each interview has its own atmosphere from casual to serious to challenging.

It is important to consider the person being interviewed. What is known about the person? It the person likely to cooperate or be hesitant, friendly or antagonistic?  If for a biography, as my interview was, what was the relationship between the interviewee and the subject? If the interview is regarding a political or historical topic, do you know how the person feels about it?  If it is a skill related subject, what is the person likely to know about it? I think you, my reader, will understand the basic idea here and be able to adapt it to your needs. The answers to these questions will aide the interviewer in establishing the atmosphere.

Besides the answers to those questions will be the need to quickly evaluate the interviewee’s comfort level before getting into the question and answer period. That can be done with a brief get-acquainted time with a couple of casual questions. This will prevent any misunderstanding and wrong expectations. It will also help your interviewee to relax and get to know your personality.

A previous week I posted list of interview questions. It is helpful to print your questions with plenty of note taking space between each one. I make a copy for each time and simply check-mark those I plan to use. Having the full list available helps when the interviewee surprises you with information that fits an un-checked question.  These notes will help with transcription because you’ll be organized with the questions on paper as well.

Another concern to consider is the location of the interview. If it is the your place of business, you’ll will be in charge. That is important to consider if the interviewee is prone to be confrontational – he/she can pack up and leave if desired, perhaps spoiling the interview.

If it is in his location, you can call an end to the interview when it is time and leave.

If it’s held in a neutral location, such as a room at the library,  or a restaurant, the level of comfort will be more equal.  Consider how private the conversation needs to be.

I’ve had only one interview that I felt completely unhappy with. I was interviewing a couple of glass blowers for a magazine article. It wasn’t planned. It was a spur of the moment opportunity because I met them at a carnival. We could only talk at their display area and they would be gone the next day. There was no opportunity to plan a different time and place. It was before the days of email. They accepted my request to interview them during their break. It was a very noisy place. That little recorder I mentioned above was in my bag as usual. I recorded the interview as well as possible.  Back in my office, I discovered the recording was bad, really bad, unusable.  I might have saved the opportunity if I had merely asked for an address to send them my list of questions or arranged a phone interview. Hindsight does not replace foresight!

So, always be ready for the unexpected.  If you are not prepared, they will surely happen. It must be a Murphy’s law!

Everyone who has done an interview has a story to tell. It may be the worst or best, memorable in some way.  I would love to hear about yours.

Next week I will share ideas for other interview formats and any stories my readers wish to share.  It will be fun.

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