How to conduct a smoother interview with these tips

So now you have an interview scheduled with a source you’ve been waiting to talk to. Excited? Nervous? How can you focus and get the most out of your source?

We talked in the last post about how to prepare and ask for an interview. We also described the three major types of interviews: email, telephone or video, and in-person. No matter what type of interview you’re conducting, you want to conduct it professionally and make your source, and your readers, glad you did it.

At this point, you should go over your research one more time to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Remember, you should know basic information about your topic and your source before you start the interview.

You should also make sure your questions are organized. Make sure you have a mixture of closed-ended (yes or no) questions to get specific answers, and open-ended questions to get your source’s thoughts and opinions.

If you’re conducting an in-person or video interview, rehearsing can help you be more comfortable, especially if you’re new at it. Get a friend to role-play the source so you get comfortable asking questions.

Conducting the interview


Conducting a smooth and productive interview with your source is important to presenting yourself as a professional, and getting good information for your readers.

If you’re conducting an interview in person, dress business-like to show your seriousness and credibility. Your appearance can help the interviewee gain or lose confidence in you. Make sure you arrive on time, and stick to the time limits you gave the interviewee. If you told them the interview was going to take 30 minutes, make sure it only takes 30 minutes. If they want to talk longer, that’s up to them.

If you’re doing an email interview, and you told the source you were going to ask them six or seven questions, don’t send them twelve questions. Send them what they agreed to answer.

Building rapport is most important for in-person, phone or video interviews. This sets your source at ease and makes them less nervous. You can ask about something on their desk or shelf, or you can tell a story about something that happened to you that day. You can also simply ask how they’re doing.

As you begin asking your questions, take charge of the interview. An interview is basically a controlled conversation, but you’re performing a service to your readers. You need to get certain information.

You may have to assert yourself and be persistent in keeping the interviewee on topic to give you good answers. If the person refuses to answer a question or tries to evade it, ask again. No matter which type of interview you’re doing, you can try rewording the question.

In any type of interview, keep your questions focused and precise, such as: How did it feel? What do you think about…? What went through your mind when…?

Ask follow-up questions, such as: Can you give me an example? Can you elaborate? That’s interesting; tell me more about that. You can do this in-person easily, or you can do it via email once you receive the person’s original answers to your questions.

Be flexible and willing to go off-script. If the interview takes an unexpected turn, go with it. You may get unexpected material. However, if it’s just straying off into an unproductive tangent, redirect the person back to the topic.

If you’re talking to the person, don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down or repeat themselves so you can take notes. People talk faster than most of us can write or type. They will know you’re trying to be accurate, and usually won’t mind.

If the person can see you, use reassuring body language to keep them talking. Maintain eye contact and an open expression. Lean toward them. If you’re doing a phone interview, your reassurance will have to be verbal, such as: Mmmm-hmmm. Huh. Really? Wow.

If you’re talking to the person, one powerful technique to getting better answers to your questions is silence. If they give you a short or lame answer, or try to dodge the question, resist the urge to jump in. Remain quiet, pen poised to write, expression open, and wait. Chances are they’ll start talking again to fill in the silence. This technique may feel uncomfortable the first time you try it, which is where some rehearsal with a friend can help.

At the end of the interview, use one last question: Is there anything else I should ask you about? It gives the subject a chance to open up new topics.

After the interview

After the interview is over, there are a few more things you need to do. One is to make sure you say thank you. After all, they’ve given you their time and information. They didn’t have to do so.

Review your notes. Go through parts that are confusing or need clarification to make sure you have everything right. If you’ve conducted an in-person, phone or video interview, look back at your notes as soon as possible to make sure you have all the information you need.

If you need other sources, ask your interviewee who else you should talk to. They know people and can refer you to other sources.

Ask permission to call them back or email them. You may have more questions, or when you sit down to write, you may need to clarify the notes you’ve already taken. You can also ask them to call or email you if they think of anything else that might help your story.

Once you’re done writing your story and it’s posted on your blog, or the podcast is uploaded, send your source the link. Get their feedback. This keeps a friendly rapport and lets them know what you’ve done with their information. It may also pave the way to use them as a source in the future.

Now that we’ve talked about how to prepare and conduct an interview over the last two posts, I hope you have a better idea of some of the tips and tricks you can use to improve your interviewing technique. The only way to get better at conducting interviews is to do it. The more you do it, the more professional and less nervous you’ll be.

Interviews can add a lot to your blog or podcast, so don’t shy away from doing them. Embrace the chance to talk to expert sources. You and your readers or listeners will be better off for it.

Readers, what techniques have you used when you conduct interviews? Let us know in the comments!


How to conduct a smoother interview with these tips — 11 Comments

  1. Good post on the topic of interviews. I have done them in the past – when they go well, I feel quite good about the whole process. Unfortunately, when I get a no thank you or worse, silence, I feel rather bad. I have learned, however, that some people 1) do not do well with written responses, and in person verbal interviews or one liners with a photo might be better and 2) small business people are REALLY busy, so one might need to find out when they have quieter periods and ask then, in a flattering way.

    Saying thank you is important! Thanks for that emphasis.

  2. Great tips to ensure a healthy interview. Would it be a good idea to give a short introduction before beginning the question and answers? If yes, what should be the ingredients of the introduction?

  3. This is great advice on the after the interview. It is not something anyone would think of easily. Remaining silent to encourage or elicit further response is something I would do all the time. It was pretty amazing what would come out when I did that. I do have some funny stories about that, that would be a good post or two. :-)))

  4. Hi Jennifer; great continuation of your post on getting interviews. brings up a topic for me as a guest and a future interviewer. as a blind person non verbal cues aren’t my strong suit. :) Next month I will be doing a podcast with a fellow from columbia who is also blind. he is going to send me at least some of the questions in advance. I’ve listened to a couple of his shows, and he is a gifted interviewer. so I’m thinking that if i get a chance I’m going to ask him for some interviewing tips. what do you think? thanks, max

  5. Hi Jennifer – I like the before the interview preparedness by checking any information provided by the interviewee and the after interview courtesy. So often interviewers fail to say thank you.

  6. I don’t conduct my own but through television or radio, I find interviewers take too much control sometimes. They either try too hard to guide the discussion or they jump in and interrupt almost as if on cue. It can be frustrating to watch/listen to and maybe a guide like this should be placed on some of these people’s desks.

  7. I see it so often in interviews on television where the interviewer seems more interested in his/her own point of view than actually allowing the other person to answer adequately. That said, I also see a lot of people avoid answering the question put to them. I agree with you and Paul in that once the question is asked, be quiet, let the responder answer or hang himself or waffle.

  8. From what I can see on television mostly, keeping the interviewee on topic can sometimes be difficult. I have great admiration for those who keep circling back and refuse to be led astray. Good advice on the after the interview. I’d never thought of that!

  9. Hi Jennifer: As a journalist with 21 years experience, and now the author of books when I am quoted as an expert, I’ve been on both sides of the bridge.

    My one piece of advice for people conducting interviews, is be sure to do your homework! If the source provides you with links that they’d like you to check out prior to the interview … DO IT! I’m often surprised (and extremely disappointed) when I send someone links with background info and they don’t even bother to check them out, and then waste my time asking me to tell them info that was clearly contained in those links.

  10. Hi Jennifer, I very much favor the interview technique of remaining silent in order to elicit a more expansive response. Very few subjects can resist the urge to open up if the next question doesn’t come too quickly. The same applies to most sales situations and it seems to me that here one is selling trust that the subject’s extended views are of interest and will be valued