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Thursday, July 07, 2011


Eight Tips On Interview Etiquette

One of my favorite writing assignments has to be when I get to do an interview. I've interviewed many people over the years from every day folks doing extraordinary things in their communities to fellow authors to musicians to actors to chefs. And I've found that it doesn't matter if you're chatting with someone working in a local charity or an award-winning soap opera star there's a certain etiquette that should be followed.

We all have our own interview styles and practices so I thought we could talk about this today. Here are some tips I've learned along the way on interview etiquette:

(1) Initial contact. What I like to do as soon as I can after being given the interview assignment is to make initial contact with the interviewee. At this point, you'd introduce yourself, where you're from, describe what the interview is about and an idea of what the questions will be like. I've found people are alot more receptive to the whole interview thing when they have an idea of what's going to happen. Another good idea is to give the option of how they'd prefer to be interviewed (eg: in person, on the phone, e-terview, etc.). Most of my interviews have been e-terviews but I've had a couple who will only do phone or in-person interviews. Having the choice means alot to some folks.

(2) Do your research. It's so important to get to know the person you're interviewing. Check out any personal or professional websites, read bios, talk to those who love your interviewee's work and find articles others have written about them. This is an important step because it helps guide the sorts of questions you come up with and the flow of the interview in general.

(3) Organize your questions. How you organize your questions depends on several factors. If you're doing the interview for a publication, your editor will expect certain things to be covered (eg: an author talks about writing or a new book). If you're doing the interview for your personal blog, then you'll need to gear the questions to your blog's theme and/or your Followers' wants. I usually organize my questions pretty much the same: start with basic questions the editor/readers want, ask a few that delve into areas we'd love to know more about then get the interviewee to talk on other areas they love (eg: what inspires/motivates them, what they do for fun, favorite charities, etc.). I usually start and end my interviews with the interviewee having the floor. I've found this really holds the readers' attention from start to finish.

(4) Have 'signature' questions. Barbara Walters always asks questions that make her interviewees cry and they know it's coming. That's a signature question! For me, I always start with asking the interviewee to share his or her background (whatever they feel comfortable sharing) and have them leave us with a pearl of wisdom. For certain celebrity interviews I do, I have a "Rapid Fire Round" where I ask a bunch of fun questions that dig deeper into the person I'm interviewing. I don't do this with every person because some people aren't as receptive to this line of questioning. But I know who'll be 'in' to it or not. Find what works for you and what fits into your overall theme.

(5) Deal with difficult interviews gracefully. Like many others, I've had a few interviews that were like getting root canal. Sometimes you may get someone who doesn't talk much or is rude or copy and pastes responses from their Websites and you have to edit for hours. These situations are so frustrating but I've tackled them like a challenge because good can come from them. For example, there was one interview in particular I did where the person gave one or two sentence responses to my questions, many of which didn't even answer my questions! I basically had to piece her vague responses together with the research I'd done as best as I could and guess what? She loved it! And now she sends people my way for interviews! Deal with the bad ones with grace and you'll always come out on top.

(6) Word maximum and deadlines. I don't usually give word maximums (although there are a few people who probably should have been given one!) I feel that if things run on a bit too long, I can either break it up into a couple of questions or edit it down. I tell people to speak from their hearts and say what they feel needs to be said to answer the question. I do, however, always give a deadline. When you're working with a publication, this is essential because the editor works with deadlines. When you're doing these projects for your personal blog, it's still a good idea simply because some people either won't get around to them, forget about them or change their minds. If you set a deadline, then you can follow up, offer assistance or give the option of backing out if need be.

(7) Edit well and respectfully. Not only do you want the piece to be readable but you want it to put the interviewee (and YOU) in the best light possible. So always check for spelling errors, grammatical errors or topics that may not be suitable for your audience. Hey! I've done some very fun and raunchy interviews and some that are on the reserved side of things. You just have to make sure you tweak things to suit the audience you're writing for without changing things so much that you insult the interviewee.

(8) Follow-up and Links. Once the interview has gone live, or to print depending on who you're writing for, follow up with your interviewee and send any links, thanking giving a big thanks for their time. This is just a common courtesy but is very much appreciated.

These are the basic guidelines I follow. Many people are nervous doing interviews (I know I tend to be nervous on the interviewee side!) so make it as fun and relaxing as possible. Most importantly, be yourself. If you're genuine and easy-going, I find the interviewee responds the same way.

Feel free to share your own interview tips or experiences here!

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Anonymous Elizabeth Young said...

Awesome post, I am going to interview some people for my blog, so found this very helpful.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Chynna said...

I'm so glad you found some points here you can use. And good for you doing some interviews for your blog! It's super fun. =)


3:03 PM  

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