Tips for interviewing for class projects

The more structure and preparation you demonstrate, the better the interview will be. The following are guidelines in developing good interviews.


Preparation:
• Develop a statement of interest, including what you find interesting about the subject and what you will be able to discover through the interview that you could not otherwise.

• Research thoroughly whatever public knowledge you can find on the person, the project, the company, and/or events. Remember, the interview begins long before you meet the person!

• Prioritize a set of objectives and questions. Going in prepared makes you even more capable and competent.

• Your objective is to make the interview subject feel comfortable, and willing to share what is important to them. Ask yourself: "How would I want to be treated if the roles were reversed?" Dress neatly and appropriately for the situation.

• Develop a checklist of what "tools" are needed – notebook, pens, recording device, etc.

• Arrange for the interview "on location" if possible.


The Interview:
• Arrive early.

• Observe and orient yourself to your subject's environment, working conditions, co-workers, etc.

• Don't be "nosey" but be alert!

• Don't interfere with on-going operations.

• Treat the interview like a conversation only with more structure.

• Begin with your list of questions.

• Follow chance openings.

• Keep in mind your objectives.

• Actively listen to understand.

• Affirm that you understand what they are saying.

• Do not agree or disagree with the person.

• Do not debate what they have to say.

• Listen carefully enough so that you know when to let your source pause to collect his or her thoughts.

• Don't feel the need to fill every empty space with conversation.

• Don't be afraid to say you don't understand or need more explanation.

• Use your own words to repeat back; ask: "So what you're saying is ..." or "So let me get this straight..."

• Be willing at all times to be surprised; follow chance openings.

• Don't think you know what the story is about.

• Don't let your own feelings or bias shape the questions you ask.


Introductions (a "few" minutes):
• Introduce yourself and your project.

• Ask for the person's name, title, business card, photograph or digital image, company logo, etc. as appropriate.

• Try to make the person you interview (and yourself!) comfortable. Some casual conversation is appropriate as ice-breaker.

• Express your appreciation for their time and willingness. Compliment their office, directions, your respect for their achievements, etc.

• If this is your first interview, share that you are developing your interviewing technique.

• If you know the person from before, keep in mind that your project may require that you be impartial or neutral to that person's experience. Make no assumptions!

• Offer a consent form.

• Be complimentary to set the tone.

• Demonstrate your interest and preparation.

• Verify a few known selected facts, sequences, etc.


Introductory questions:
• I read your biography and saw your degrees are in....

• The newspaper reported that your neighborhood has succeeded in...

• In your company's annual report, I read that the most successful product line is...

• What prepared you for your success in...

• How did you become interested in....)

• I read that you started out as a chemist, and developed yourself to become....

• What books or people most influenced your....

• I see that your position is responsible for....

• Who were your important role models or teachers for....

• What was the consequence of....)


Things to remember:
• Follow the order and priority of your questions.

• Be aware of time constraints and your purpose.

• Look for a convenient jumping off point to engage the subject.

• Develop more depth/complexity as the interview develops given the comfort level and opportunity.

• Avoid yes/no questions.

• Ask some questions that can be only answered with a story. This reinforces your interest in not only getting "facts" but also the role your subject has played. It lends voice to the narrative, and can personalize the story for your readers.

• Don't accuse (Why DID you ....?"), rather ask if the person would like to respond to accusations, or tell their side, or...


Follow up questions:
• It sounds like.... is very important to you, what/how/…. has it affected...

• What was most significant in....

• What difficulties or challenges were most important....

• How did you react to....

• How do you see your role in changing....

• At what point did you know you wanted to.... How did you meet this challenge or change?

• What do you see as your current/next challenge...

• In the ...., I read that you said ".........", can you provide more detail?

• How do you keep track of....

• Some people say that ...., but you seem to take another path. Can you explain the difference?


Transition to conclusion:
• Keep aware of the time, and all the topics you need to cover.

• Ask if there are additional points that have not been addressed.

• Summarize a few important points to verify if you understand correctly.

• Ask for references for additional information, sources for data, or advice for further development.


Conclusion:
• Review your timeline toward completing your project.

• Volunteer to provide a copy of your completed report, article, or a summary of the presentation, including any reactions to the interviewee.

• Express sincere appreciation.

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