5 Tips for Conducting a Successful Interview
Interviewing skills are not always top of mind for PR and marketing pros. Our jobs tend to focus on connecting the interviewers with the interviewees, ensuring that those two parties can communicate well with one another. But every so often, it falls to us to conduct a successful interview.
For example, maybe you need to have a sourcing call to gather enough background information for a byline or blog post for a client. Or, as 2019 is winding down, perhaps it’s time to start planning for “hot topics” for the coming year. Regardless of the reason, it’s important all PR pros know how to run an interview to get the information you need without interrogating your subject matter experts (SMEs).
Pick a quiet place
Ideally you want a quiet, secluded area for your interview. Most sourcing calls will be over the phone, so try to find a conference room to ensure that background noise is at a minimum. Using a speaker phone will make it easier to take notes as well. That being said, consider putting your end on mute while your interviewee is talking, or they could get an earful of your click clack on the keyboard.
Conducting an interview from your desk can be just as productive, but you might want to consider a headset to free up your hands for note taking.
This might seem superfluous if you’ve been working with a client for a while, but it’s always better to be prepared. Spend 10 to 15 minutes reviewing the topics about to be discussed. This can help you think of questions to guide the conversation and show your interviewee that you’re paying attention.
Writing out discussion points ahead of time will also help. However, don’t view these as hard and fast rules – the conversation could become choppy if you’re strictly checking items off a list. Let the conversation flow and see what ideas pop into your interviewee’s head. One of your questions could trigger a thought that evolves into a unique takeaway or point of view.
Hearing what someone is saying and listening to what they’re saying are different things. While your SME is breaking down a topic, it’s important to listen so you can ask thoughtful follow up questions and recognize when a breakthrough answer happens.
While you’re listening, take good notes. This includes noting time stamps, or even bolding particular words or phrases to help you remember key points when you go back to review your notes and start working on the piece of content.
Long pauses are also fine – don’t be afraid to let them go a little longer than what you think is “normal.” Your interviewee could be thinking, and this is trickier to wait for when you’re speaking over the phone.
Decide on recording
Recording a sourcing call can be beneficial for rereading your notes and making sure that you jotted down all the facts correctly. It can also be helpful to take a quick peek at the time when your SME says something truly quote-worthy, so you can at the very least note the timestamp and know exactly where to go back for a second listen.
However, it is good practice to ask your interviewee if they are okay with being recorded – even when it is strictly for internal use and transcription purposes only. Several states are “two-party consent” when it comes to recording conversations, meaning that both parties involved need to agree to the recording. It’s not as critical with internal SME discussions as when you’re working with outside sources, but it’s always good practice to be upfront and clear.
Finally, don’t be afraid to email your SME once you’ve reviewed your notes or started crafting the piece of content. Clarifying any complicated points shows your interviewee that you want to accurately document their thoughts and helps build rapport for the future. It’s also an important part of fact checking and aids in your writing process overall.