Interviewing for Dummies: 5 Bare-Bones Tips to Get You Started
Has your blog been lacking flavor? Looking to make your news stories more credible? Sounds like you’ve recognized that you need to start interviewing experts in your field to breathe some life into your content!
But maybe unlike me, you didn’t major in Print Journalism. Without ever learning the basics, scheduling your first interview can be nerve-wracking and overwhelming, which is why I have put together this “Interviewing for Dummies” series. Before we get into anything too fancy, we have to start with the basics.
In person, phone, e-mail, social networking. While setting up your interview it is important to decide on a method that fits into your source’s schedule, but that will also provide honest, uncontrived quotes. Interviews in person are the most authentic and allow you to capture the source’s mannerisms and behavior. Continuing down the scale, phone interviews are a little less authentic, and interviews conducted via e-mail or social media reside at the bottom of the totem pole. E-mail and social media allow the source time to cultivate a perfect response, whereas interviews conducted in person and over the phone prompt a more immediate, genuine response.
This is what a prepared journalist looks like.
Do some research.You should go into the interview with a general knowledge of your source and the subject you are questioning them about. This will allow you to ask more specific questions and seem more credible. One way to guarantee your source will cut off contact with you is to waste their time. Don’t waste time asking about background information that is readily available to you thanks to the internet. Doing your homework will allow you to get straight to the point at the start of the interview.
Always come equipped with a tape recorder and a notebook. No one has a photographic memory. In order to accurately quote your source in a story you will need at least one, if not two methods of documentation. The best tool for any interview is some sort of recording device. This will prevent you from being glued to your notebook and allow you to be more engaged in the conversation. If you’re planning on recording the interview you must always ask permission first. If you don’t have access to a tape recorder, bring a notebook. Even if you do have a tape recorder, bring a notebook anyways. The notebook allows you to come prepared with a list of questions and take notes as you think of follow-up questions.
If you are relying solely on a notebook for your interview, you will be scribbling frantically. Don’t hesitate to ask your source to slow down or repeat themselves – surely they’d rather that, than be misquoted in your article! Further, it is crucial that you type out your notes in a comprehensible document immediately after the interview in order to avoid any misquotes. You may think that you’ll remember and be able to understand your own notes later on, but trust me – you won’t. Re-write them while everything is still fresh on your brain.
Always end your interview with a handshake. Don't forget to say "Thank you!"
Be relentless. You came with an agenda, so make sure that the questions you need answered, get answered. Don’t allow your source to beat around the bush or skip over the question. It’s okay to take a break from any given question for a while, but make sure you continue to come back to it until you are satisfied with the answer your source provides.
But at the same time be polite, respectful, and grateful. Always end your interview with a handshake and a “Thank you,” and ask your source the best way that you can get a hold of them if you need any further information or clarification.
Simply treating your source with respect is enough to keep them from hitting “Decline” the next time they see your phone number. Whether you call back the next day for follow-up questions, or the next month with a different story, they’ll be more likely to respond if you make a good impression.
Hopefully the interview process seems less daunting to you now. Getting up the nerve to call and set up the interview is half of the battle. The other half? Well, it comes easy with practice!
Stay tuned for part two next week, which discusses specific techniques for getting great quotes from your sources. ‘Til then…sound off in the comments section with any other tips or some examples of your own interview experiences!