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Conducting Great Interviews (SXSW Recap)

Check the #greatinterviewsadvice hashtag on Twitter for more on this session.

University of Kansas Professor Nancy Baym led an interactive session about conducting great interviews, whether for broadcast, print or recruiting. Some of the points were pretty standard, but overall it was a helpful discussion. Some main points:

  • “What questions should I ask?” is not the first step in prepping for an interview.
  • You have to understand who you’re interviewing, but also what audience the interview is for.
  • Design questions with a story arc in mind.
  • If crowdsourcing questions (i.e. “What would you like me to ask They Might Be Giants”) – make sure your crowd matches the audience the interview is for. Don’t ask fanboys to give you questions for an interview that’s meant for a general audience.
  • Don’t call it an interview – say ‘I’d like to talk to you about ______” or “Let’s have a discussion.” Often less intimidating.
  • Dry questions elicit dry answers. “What do you love about your job?” will probably pull out more passion from someone than “What’s the best part of your job?”
  • Give people a chance to tell stories. Rather than ask “Are you a self-starter?” try “Tell me about a time when you had to build something from the ground up.”
  • If you’ve noticed someone often repeats themselves in interviews, pull out one nugget from one of those interviews and ask them to elaborate and expand on that point. This will help get new answers.
  • Instead of e-mail interviews, consider an online chat. Real time back and forth, and you’ve got a transcript of the interview built in.

I asked the crowd to share their favorite all-time interview questions and got some great responses:

  • What’s next for you?
  • Why do you keep coming back to this (line of work, perspective, city, etc.)?
  • What do you wish people asked you?
  • What do you wish I had asked you?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What’s your story?
  • Do you have any questions for me?
  • How have you changed? How have you grown?
  • How have past experiences changed or informed your current situation?
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • What keeps you up at night?

For more on conducting great interviews, see my post on 10 Interview Tips from former Texas Monthly Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

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