As a financial copywriter I must often interview people face-to-face in order to be able to complete my work, whether it’s for a magazine article, an annual report, a press release or anything else.
Face-to-face interviews get the best results
Although they’re harder to arrange and take more time, I’ve always found that face-to-face interviews get the best results. They’re far better, certainly, than interviews conducted over the phone or on Zoom.
Most people are happy to give interviews and will communicate freely and openly. I do though sometimes encounter interviewees who are a little reticent, perhaps through their natural shyness or concern about being misquoted.
My job is to ensure that interviews run smoothly and yield good results. I know how important it is to establish a good rapport with the interviewee so that I get all the information I need. The best interviews happen when the interviewee is relaxed and happy with the process too.
Here are some business interviewing tips that I’d like to pass along:
1. Prepare Well
This probably goes without saying, but it’s really important to do your background research on the person, the company and the subject matter you’ll be writing about before you sit down for the interview.
Put all your questions down on a sheet of paper and keep this handy in front of you. You might not get to ask all of them during the interview but it’s great to have the questions sheet handy as an aide-memoire.
Ensure, if at all possible, that your questions go right to the heart of the interviewee’s areas of expertise, experience and competence.
Your questions should show that you have knowledge of the subject matter. Never ask questions which are vague, or open-ended, or which can simply be answered “yes” or “no”. Your questions should help you to achieve the goals of the interview – you want the interviewee to think carefully about each question and to answer them in an interesting way (as far as this is possible).
Note – more often than not you’ll be asked to submit your questions ahead of the interview so that the company’s corporate communications team can “vet” them. This also gives the interviewee an opportunity to prepare his or her responses.
2. Arrive in Good Time
I always aim to arrive at the interview venue at least 10-15 minutes before the scheduled start time. Do bear in mind that at big companies it often takes a few minutes to register and get a security pass.
Arriving in good time means I can grab a coffee, run through my list of questions and gather my thoughts.
3. Starting the Interview
I like to put the interviewee at ease – believe it or not even company chairmen sometimes get nervous at interviews, so I start with a quick introduction and an observation on something topical, to get the ball rolling. It’s important to smile and maintain positive body language in order to create the right atmosphere in the room.
I generally exchange business cards with the people I’m interviewing – not only does this ensure that I get their names right but it also means that I get their job titles right as well.
For lengthy interviews, digital voice recorders are very useful. I always use one if I can, but not everyone is comfortable with these – always confirm with the interviewee before you ask your first question if it’s OK to use one. Be prepared for the interviewee to say no. If this happens (rarely in my experience) quickly put the device away with no fuss and grab your notebook and pencil!
4. Listen Carefully and Clarify
Having prepared your list of questions, make sure that you listen attentively to the answers. Never ask an interviewee a question that he or she has already answered, unless you’re doing so to clarify a point – doing so out of inattention can ruin an interview.
If an interviewee gives a response that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to seek clarification, but always do this politely. Never try to pretend that you know more than you do as you may well be “found out” later on.
Often an interviewee’s answers will lead naturally to the next question. While you have your list of prepared questions, bear in mind that interviews rarely proceed according to these, as interviewees’ answers may jump around from topic to topic. Be prepared for this. You must try to master the art of framing good follow-up questions “on the hoof.” Do this and you’ll usually get good interviews, but it requires that you listen very carefully to what the interviewee is saying.
5. Never Be Confrontational
There will be times when you’ll interview people who are difficult or uncooperative. Sometimes you’ll encounter people who are taciturn or monosyllabic, or who give the impression that they don’t really want to be in the room with you. There can be many reasons for this (not worth going into here) but if you encounter such situations there is absolutely nothing to be gained by being confrontational yourself.
Whatever the situation you must plough on and try and get the interview done, however uncomfortable this may be for both of you.
6. Closing an Interview
As a general rule there will be a fixed amount of time allocated for an interview. It’s important that the interviewer keeps track of time during the interview and covers all the ground without an unseemly rush of questions at the end. Equally, if a scheduled 60-minute interview seems to be coming to a natural conclusion after 45 minutes, don’t be afraid of saying something like this to the interviewee…”well that concludes my interview questions. Thank you very much for your time today.”
It’s useful at this point to give the interviewee the opportunity to add any other thoughts he or she has which were not covered in the interview questions. I often find that this sort of “free format” session after the prepared questions have been answered yields very useful material for the interview.
Interviewing people can be quite a challenging task, but it’s an essential one in many types of writing assignment. If you prepare well and follow these interviewing tips, you’ll find that the task gets easier.
Written by Steve Shaw, Principal at Bishopsgate Copywriting
If you need any interviews done, I’m happy to help. Please get in touch on 07771 641498.