Interview Techniques

A lot of interviews are….pretty shitty. That is mainly because of the interviewer and/or whoever was in charge of writing the interview questions. There are many techniques that you can use to make sure that you have written the best questions possible and to help provoke more and better responses when you are actually giving the interview. From my passion and learning of anthropology, I’ve compiled a list of how we go about writing the best questions we can in order to garner the best answers to get the best information for our purposes.

  • Techniques for Writing Your Best Questions
    • Keep your questions as short as possible.
    • Try to only write open-ended questions – these are much better than closed questions. Some closed questions are unavoidable, such as “where were you born?,” “when were you born?,” and others, but try to limit these. Also avoid yes/no questions, as these are all closed.
    • Try to avoid multiple choice questions.
    • Try to avoid questions within questions.
    • Avoid leading questions.
  • Techniques to Use During Interviews
    • One of the most important aspects of giving a great interview is being an active listener. This is a good skill to use always in life. Active listening is extremely exhausting and difficult, but can give you a lot of great information and some aspects that they might not say and that you could miss if you are not practicing active learning. This could mean making mental notes about what is said, who said it (if interviewing multiple people at once), and what it might mean in context. Be sure to be attentive to all details both verbal and nonverbal and jot notes in the marginal of your paper if it does not exactly fit under the question they are answering.
    • A lot of times you could have wrote the best questions you could, are performing the interview to the best of your skills, and doing everything you can yet you still feel like something is missing or their answer is a bit lacking. In this instance there are different probing techniques to try to encourage further response from the interviewee. Many of the names of the different probing techniques are self explanatory: the “silent probe,” the “uh-huh probe,” the “echo probe,” “summary feedback,” the “tell me more” question, the “will you please clarify that” question, playing naïve, the “long question probe,” and some others. These are all acceptable, valid, and useful techniques. There are some other techniques though that are not ethical, the most common type of unethical probe is baiting – a famous sociology survey questionnaire is “How many times a week do you beat your wife?” Probing by leading is not necessarily unethical, just bad practice. An example of this would be asking “Don’t you think that….” instead of the better question of “What do you think about….”
    • One of the best tips possible would be to use some sort of voice recorder, whether on your phone, your laptop, a tape recorder, anything – don’t rely on your memory. This not only helps when writing your article but also for verbatim quotes.

With an English degree you might have a lot of opportunities for jobs where you could write different articles or perform interviews. I will graduate at the end of April with two bachelor’s degrees, one in English with a focus in creative writing, and the second in Cultural Anthropology with a focus in archaeology. A big part of gaining adequate research and information for cultural anthropology or other studies with living humans is that we have to utilize many types of surveys and interviews: informal interviews, unstructured interviews, semi-structured interviews, structured interviews, and self-administered questionnaires. Amongst those we have many different methodologies and techniques that anthropologists use professionally in order to make sure that we write the best questions that we can write, to ask them in the most efficient and effective ways, to get the best answers that we can.

The methodologies for ethnographic research will be a little different than scheduled interviews for an article or the like, but the general steps can be followed and adapted a bit for your use. When we are doing ethnographic research, we are essentially becoming a participant in whichever culture we are studying. Entering the interview with a solid knowledge on what the purpose of the interview is and your place in relation to the interviewee is essential.

The steps of successfully performing an interview should start with you thinking about these eight stages:

  1. Your initial contact with the interviewee – you need to be wary of both the person who is overly willing to help you and give all of the answers, as well as the person who was chosen as the spokesperson and will only tell or show you what they want you to hear or see.
  2. Establishing rapport – this means building trust and confidence, this usually results in the interviewee sharing some of your own goals and is dependent upon mutual respect.
  3. Being sincere – if you cannot tell the truth about someone, a company, an issue, or anything else and remain unbiased (unless it is an opinion piece) you should not take on that project; in this situation, being sincere does not mean divulging your personal life, religion, political views, or anything that you do not want to, but simply being genuine.
  4. Reciprocity – generally speaking, humans inherently seek something when they give something, in most article interview it would likely be them giving you the information for the interview and them having the interview done on them and the publicity they will gain from it.
  5. Your research or interview goals – if you establish a good rapport, your goals and the interviewee’s goals will be the same which will make the interview much smoother and yield much better results; it is important to note here though that reporting your results should never cause harm to your interviewee (this rule is not always clear depending on the type of  interview and article you are writing).
  6. You have to “talk the talk” – this requires you to be able to communicate effectively, being able to follow the informal parts of the conversation, and being able to understand and make jokes, especially if you are interviewing someone with a different expertise than you.
  7. You have to “walk the walk” – you have to learn how to behave appropriately in their culture, here I more so mean their professional culture, and able to navigate that; learn what constitutes good manners and execute them to the best of your ability, this could include proper speech, eye contact, table manners, dress, and more.
  8. Making mistakes – you are going to make mistakes, especially with your first few interviews; making mistakes is a part of being human, the most important thing is to learn and adapt from your past mistakes to try to not make those mistakes again in the future.

Whatever job you get, no matter what you write, make sure it’s something great and something that you believe in. Or….at least write something that is not terrible that you will get paid to write. I’m not judging. We all have to live. No matter what you write, just make sure it’s the best thing you can write. If you have a Paris as a boss who assigns you an article to cover the re-paving of the parking lot make sure you Rory the assignment and write the greatest piece on pavement that anybody has ever read.

– Brittney Diesbourg

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