Interview Skills for Every Day

Interviewing skills are not just for interviews. While we usually associate interviews with job-hunting and journalism, interviewing skills have their place in the everyday. When you’re the interviewer, you generally want to extract some information from the interviewee. There are many areas of life in which someone else possesses information you would like to know.

Before we look at interviewing skills, let’s examine a few situations in which you can apply these skills:
– You’re shopping for a product with which you have limited knowledge. You want to ask the salesperson about it.
– Your daughter is bringing her new boyfriend to meet you for the first time. You want to interrogate him, but gently.
– You’re floundering in your AU course. You don’t understand the last chapter you read and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do for the assignment. You want to phone your tutor for help.
– Your teenager is barely home from school before he’s holed himself up in his room. At dinner, you want to find out about his day.

In each of these cases, you want to extract information that you can use for understanding, for ease of mind, or to make a decision. You aren’t trying to intimidate, interrogate, or trap. You just want to know.

Many journalists follow the Sawatsky method of interviewing. Developed by John Sawatsky, this method is designed to get the purest quality information. Sawatsky, a Canadian journalist, teaches interviewing techniques worldwide. The following tips, which can be used in everyday situations, are based on his method:

– Prepare. Make a list of questions ahead of time. This will discourage you from thinking about the next question when you should be listening to the answer from the previous one. It will also prevent you from forgetting to ask something important.
– Avoid closed questions. If you ask a question that can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” that is probably the answer you’ll get. Begin questions with “what” or “how” or “why” to get the fullest answers. Compare “Do you like your job?” with “What do you like about your job?”
– Avoid overbroad questions. Asking a question that is too broad invites a vague answer because the interviewee really doesn’t know what you’re asking. Focus your question on something specific. Compare “How was school today?” with “What was the class you enjoyed most today?”
– Avoid double-barrelled questions. A two-part question often generates a one-part answer; the second part of your question will likely be ignored, even if it was the most important part. Keep questions short and simple.
– Keep wording neutral. Avoid emotionally-charged words that may provoke a negative response. Compare “Why did you give me such a crappy mark on my essay?” with “How did you arrive at my essay mark?”
– Keep yourself out of the interview. Don’t interrupt when the interviewee is responding. Don’t finish sentences. Don’t ramble on about your views or experiences.
– Listen. When the interviewee is responding to a question you should be doing nothing except listening.
– Don’t argue or be adversarial. Nothing makes someone clam up quicker than feeling they’re being attacked for their views, actions, feelings, judgement, or opinions. If you disagree with something the interviewee says, ask a question like “Why is that?”
– Go deeper. Use the responses as opportunities to go deeper. “Tell me more.” “Why do you say that?” “How did that make you feel?” “What else do you know?” “Is there anything important I haven’t asked you?”

As with most communication skills, the more you practice, the better you get. Think of some situations where you could practice?say, the next time you call your tutor?and soon your information-gathering skills will become second nature. Then you’ll gain possession of the information you need to know.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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