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Prepare for Your Interviews
Since you will be taking up someone else’s valuable time, you should assume that
you won’t be able to “do it over” if you forgot to ask key questions or neglect to
receive full answers. That’s why it’s important for you to write down all of your
questions beforehand. Making time now saves you time later.
Draft your questions, jotting down everything you can think of, no matter
how lame or intrusive your questions sound. Keep in mind that you are just creating
a rough draft here. You can (and should) go back afterwards to revise. If
you’re worried that some of your questions are too intrusive, write them out
anyway and run them by a colleague or friend to see if your doubts are valid.
You might be surprised to hear that what you considered to be prying is professionally
appropriate. Or you might get some help in reframing a question so that
you strike a more assured tone.
Once you’ve drafted your questions, rank them. Some are bound to be more
important than others. First, you’ll want to ask the most significant questions at
the beginning, in case your interview must be cut short. Second, by determining
in advance what questions must be answered, you can give them extra attention.
Highlight them in your notes, for instance. And rephrase them in a number of
ways, so that if they aren’t answered sufficiently the first time, you’ll be prepared
to ask again in a slightly different way. You may have noticed this when you’ve
been interviewed (or surveyed). It’s a tried and true strategy because interviews
rely on memories, and memory is selective. You can’t always count on the right
memory popping up, which is why you need to ask again. If you ask in exactly
the same way you asked before, you’re likely to elicit the same exact answer. A
different word choice could trigger a different part of the interviewee’s memory.
This could mean fuller answers to your most important questions.
While we’re talking about rephrasing your questions, you should also edit
your questions to invite an expanded response. Don’t ask questions that require
only a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead ask open-ended questions that are broad
and unrestricting. (For example, instead of asking “Do you like this logo?”
which will only get a response of “yes” or “no,” ask a question like “What about
this logo do you like and not like?”)
When you call to set up your appointment, specify a timeframe (for
instance, “this should take no more than half an hour”). Offer to e-mail the questions
in advance. This is especially important if you have questions that need
some preparation or research on the interviewee’s part. Confirm your appointment
by phone or e-mail a few days before your meeting.
During the Interview
Begin by thanking the person for taking the time to talk with you. Since some
time has elapsed since you first set up the meeting and sent the questions, remind
the person of the purpose of the interview.
If the person you are interviewing is agreeable, use a recorder, but take notes
as well in case your recorder breaks down. If the person does not wish to be
recorded, you will need to take notes while you interact with your interviewee.
This is a bit like juggling tasks, but jot down statistics, interesting phrases, and whatever else you can capture in your notes. At the same time you are writing, you’ll need to listen actively to your interviewee’s answers. Active listening allows you to create more questions from the person’s comments. (“That’s an interesting point. Can you give me an example of when that happened?”) Conclude by summarizing key points and thanking the person for his time.