Improve your interviewing skills with these tips and tricks

Are you new to doing interviews, or do you want to do more for your blog or podcast? What are some different ways to interview people, and how can you prepare for an interview?

Interviewing people is a great way to add perspective and expertise to your blog or podcast. We’ve talked about sources in the past two posts, but in addition to print or text sources, another source for bloggers and podcasters is interviews.

When I was in journalism, I interviewed a lot of people. I always enjoyed the interview process because I found it fun to meet people and pull out their stories. If you’re experienced at interviewing, perhaps you enjoy the process already. If you’re new to interviewing and nervous about it, there are some techniques you can use to get better at it.

The only way to get better at interviewing people is to do it. I hope these tips and tricks will help you relax and enjoy the process.

Preparing for the interview

You have a blog post topic in mind, and you think you’ll need to do an interview. To prepare for the interview, figure out what information you need and who the best source is. Then prepare questions to ask.

Interview preparation

A good interview with your source starts with good preparation. Decide the purpose of your interview, get familiar with your source, and prepare questions to ask.

Gather background information about your topic and source so you can plan specific questions. If you’re not familiar with the topic of the story, research other news stories and websites.

Before you do the interview, get familiar with your source’s website and what they offer. Google them, and look for newspaper or magazine articles about them or by them. Find them on social media outlets and check out their profiles. Your first question should not be, “So, what’s your blog about?”

Now you’re ready to write some fresh and intelligent questions. It’s a good idea to start with a list of questions, but you also want to leave room for spontaneous questions. Sometimes, the interview will go in a direction you hadn’t anticipated.

Organize your questions about the same topic together. Jumping back and forth between topics will be jarring for both you and the interviewee. If you have questions that may be difficult or confrontational, save those until the end. Start with the easier questions so you can establish rapport.

Now you’re ready to set up the interview. Decide the best way to interview the source. Is email sufficient, or should you set up a phone call or video interview, or can you get together with them in person?

As a blogger, you’ll probably conduct a lot of interviews via email. This allows you to write out your introduction to a source and contact them no matter where they live. The interviewee can take time to write out thoughtful answers. However, although email interviews are convenient for bloggers, they’re not as spontaneous as an in-person interview. It’s also harder to establish rapport on a screen than it is in person.

Telephone or video interviews let you establish rapport better than email. If you’re on the phone, you have to do it verbally because the interviewee can’t see you. If you’re using Skype or another video interface, then they can see you, so it’s almost like an in-person interview. The disadvantage to a telephone or video interview is that it can be difficult to arrange yours and your subject’s schedule.

In-person interviews are useful when you’re able to get together with the interviewee. Interviewing in person can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it gives you a real sense of your interviewee. Like the telephone or video interview, you have to be able to arrange a time to meet that fits both your and the interviewee’s schedule.

Asking for the interview

To get an interview with a source you’d really like to talk to, you have to ask. Whether you’re asking via email or phone, establish who you are and your credentials, then explain what you’re doing. You can say something like: “Hi, I’m Jennifer Thornberry, and I’m the author of the Contemporary Communicator blog. I’m writing a post about the harm that writing errors does to a blogger’s image. I’d really like your expertise and perspective. Would you be willing to answer a few questions via email?”

Or, if you’re asking for a phone, video or in-person interview, explain that and ask to schedule a time when you can both get together. No matter what type of interview you’re asking for, use common courtesy and respect the interviewee’s schedule. Even answering email questions thoroughly takes time.

You should always identify yourself and what you’re doing to a source. An interviewee whose words may show up in text on the Internet or in voice on a podcast needs to know how their words will be used. You should always give them the opportunity to decline talking to you.

If your source is hesitant or shy, do your best to reassure them. Tell them you really want their perspective because it will really enhance your story.

For in-person, phone or video interviews, schedule a specific time to meet or conduct the call so you can both be ready and have plenty of time. You want to be able to have an uninterrupted, private discussion. Allow more time in your own schedule than what you tell the interviewee. Be prepared for the interview to run longer if it’s going well.

If you’re recording the conversation, ask if they’re okay with you doing so. Some people don’t mind, and some people do.

Next: Conducting the interview

Interviewing sources can add an exciting dimension to your blogging or podcasting. Now that you have your research and questions prepared, and you’ve gotten your source to agree to the interview, it’s time to actually conduct the interview.

In my next post, I’ll give some tips and techniques to help you conduct a smooth interview that helps you and your source.

Readers, have you conducted many interviews? How do you prepare? What other tips besides the ones I’ve given do you find helpful? Let us know in the comments!


Improve your interviewing skills with these tips and tricks — 10 Comments

  1. Jennifer, I’m adding your blog to my list of blogs to comment on each week. ;) And I’m happy I am, because I’m finding your posts worthy of reading!

    I’ve done many interviews via email. I like the flexibility email interviews offer. And I generally do my homework beforehand. There’s nothing worse than being put on the spot and feeling stupid and embarrassed if that’s not done!

    In time, I’d like to move to live interviews, but so far technology recording programs have not been used by me. I’m not too techie, so I’ve shied away from them.

    Good tips, though, in this post!

    One interview I did was with Max, too. ;) Very cool, interviewing a blind man, I must say. Max is awesome!

  2. I think you made some good points about interviewing. I ask a question that usually surprises the applicant. Why do you want to work for my company. More than not most people do not know what to answer. I don’t want someone who is a professional job hunter.

  3. As a former reporter and now blogger, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews. I am conducting interviews now for a client’s alumni newsletter. If you want to keep your sources, you’ve got to be an accurate reporter. Too often today, the news media takes “snippets” of a conversation to support a POV they’ve already decided on before the interview. The snippet might not reflect the true intent of the person being interviewed. I’m concerned that honesty in journalism isn’t observed and revered the way I was taught.

  4. People can learn so much in an interview. I have conducted several in my blogging life and too many to count in my previous business life. I have really learned so much from my fellow bloggers when I have interviewed them. Great post. :-)

  5. I have done many interviews because I used to host my own online radio show and the shows were basically live interviews on air. I prepared for at least three days and made sure I knew a lot about my guest and what their expertise was. The trick was to keep it conversational and upbeat. Lots of work, but well worth it for my audience. Nice tips.

  6. Hi Jennifer, at either side of the table preparation is important and I have seldom seen a good interview where either lacked the respect or interest to do it.

  7. When I saw the title I didn’t think this post would have something for me but was I wrong. I blog from home so the idea of interviewing someone never crossed my mind but your suggestions re email, telephone and video interviews got my attention – I can do that. And your tips are wonderful, especially the one about going in prepared. That would make the interviewee feel much more at ease right from the start. thanks, Jennifer.

  8. Great tips for interviewing. I’m always a little amazed when a reporter contacts me for an interview and doesn’t know anything about the profession or sector I’m representing. I’m happy to enlighten them, but a little homework makes for a far more interesting article.

  9. Very enlightening! I have never conducted an interview but I have been interviewed and was surprised, in my case, with how little the interviewer knew about my background or the subject matter, which was my book. She admitted later that she hadn’t read it.

  10. Hi Jennifer; you did a good job here. I have been on both sides of the interview desk. I’ve also done email, phone, and video. the one thing I remember from my video interview was that the host ashley faulkes skyped me to discuss how it would go and then he made a second video call to actually start the interview. This also gave us the chance to check equipment and make sure the session was being recorded. Never under estimate the ability of technology to fail you if you don’t test it every time. and if you want to interview the blind blogger podcaster, I’m available. ;) Thanks again for the post and take care, max