7 Steps to Conducting a Professional Interview
When you interview others, you learn about their perspective and the obstacles that they encountered in their journey.
Using this information, you can craft an inspirational story for those who admire this person or admire the work they’ve done.
If you are starting in a field, interviewing an expert is a smart move.
It shows them that you’re interested in who they are, and you can also show them your professionalism in the way you conduct the interview.
- Build greater network
- Build greater knowledge
1) Choose an interviewee
Start by contacting someone who you want to interview. It could be a local hero in your community, someone well-known, a business owner, or someone who has accomplished something.
Keep in mind this person should be more experienced than you in a given field. Otherwise, you might as well be interviewing yourself.
2) Research your interviewee
Once you’ve got a person to interview, the next step is to conduct research.
I have aced job interviews because of ONE thing that is easily overlooked, and that is researching the company.
- The company’s mission & values
- What they have been doing so far
- The services that they provide
I do this to become familiar with the company’s brand, and this applies to interviewing others because you need to be familiar with their brand.
You don’t want to wait until the actual interview to learn things that you could’ve easily googled and found on their Linkedin page.
Through conducting research, I found out one of my interviewees won a trip to France on a radio show. They also had the great honor of cutting the red ribbon at the seasonal opening of Toronto’s amusement park, CNE!
3) Prepare thoughtful questions
What do you want to get out of the interview?
If the purpose of your interview is to address racism, then your questions should indicate that.
Questions that will allow the interviewee to share about the racial discrimination that they have encountered. Either during childhood, adolescence or adulthood.
Whereas, if you were interviewing a local hero in your community, you would choose questions that would showcase their journey:
- Why did they pursue this path?
- Who influenced them?
- What are the extremes, the highs and lows of the work they do?
- How has the pandemic affected their work and personal life?
- What are their plans for the future?
I don’t mind doing interviews. I don’t mind answering thoughtful questions. But I’m not thrilled about answering questions like, ‘If you were being mugged, and you had a lightsaber in one pocket and a whip in the other, which would you use?’
— Harrison Ford American-Actor
4) Build trust
Okay, so you have done your research, prepared the questions, and now it’s time to do the actual interview.
One of my professors, who has well over 40 years of experience interviewing others, mentioned that he doesn’t give his questions to the interviewee in advance. To avoid conducting an interview that sounds scripted.
That said, don’t immediately begin the interview by asking your prepared questions.
- Find common ground between you and the interviewee
- Try asking about the painting on the wall or something else that you notice before you begin the interview
- Make them feel comfortable talking to you
- When you feel like it’s appropriate to start the interviewing process, make sure to let the interviewee know
- Remind them that you will be recording the interview
5) Actively listen
Focus on the question being discussed instead of reviewing what to ask next. That way, based on the information provided, you can ask further questions. Sometimes that may mean going off your prepared questions list.
If someone tells you that they’ve suffered a loss, instead of jumping to your next question, ask them, “How did that loss affect you?”
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” — Bryant H. McGill
6) Take organized notes
There are endless possibilities to take notes. Some of the examples include:
- Writing down key points on paper
- Circling interesting concepts
- Drawing pictures to capture a setting
- Zoom allows for recording and also live transcript of the interview
- Using voice memo
Having a set of notes makes it that much easier to pick out the main points in the interview and then look back on them as references.
7) Ask for clarification
Sometimes professionals use jargon(technical words that apply to their field).
If you are unsure what your interviewee means, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. I find myself asking many questions so that I understand what is said.
When I do not understand something, I repeat parts of the information back to the interviewee. My interviewee would then continue to explain from where I had left off.
Repeating parts is helpful because it saves time for both of us.
- Saves time for the interviewee to have to repeat the whole explanation
- Saves time for me from re-listening to parts that I understood
“Learn avidly. Question repeatedly what you have learned. Analyze it carefully. Then put what you have learned into practice intelligently.”
— Edward Cocker
Whoever you are, in whatever profession you are in, interviewing others is extremely rewarding. You can gain a greater perspective on who they are, what they do, and every detail in between.
If you love writing, you can craft the experiences of your interviewee into an inspiring story:
- Give a voice to the voiceless
- Remember the lost lives during the pandemic
- Bring justice to vulnerable persons
- Bring awareness of local heroes
- Learn from people who made it in their career
“As a professional journalist, I’ve been interviewing people for almost thirty years. And the one thing I’ve learned from all those interviews is that I am always going to be surprised.” — Hector Tobar