Why is it that in the world of interviewing, the interviewee gets all the press? We're always hearing about what we should and shouldn't do to get that job or ace that high-stakes media appearance. But what about the other side of the desk (or TV camera or radio mic)? (To know how to influence others, whatever the setting, download my free cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
A great interviewer is a priceless asset for a company, organization, or even for the interviewee. I was recently interviewed live on the radio, and I came away firmly with that point of view. (More on that interview later in this piece.) A talented interviewer puts the other person at ease, elicits their best, gains the information they're looking for, and places the relationship on a firm footing.
Here are 10 best practices, then, for conducting a great interview. Follow them, and you'll create a more enjoyable dynamic for all concerned while succeeding at what you set out to accomplish. You may also feel better than you thought you might about the process.
1. Be clear on your purpose and stay on target. Know your purpose and keep your eye on that prize throughout the interview. Just as it's easy to become defensive when you're being attacked in an interview, you as interviewer can get distracted by the too-difficult or too-intriguing person across the desk from you. Maintain your focus within the fascinating or puzzling reponses you may be getting. To learn how to do so, download "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking.")
2. Instead of conducting an interview, have a conversation. Follow that great advice from digital marketing guru Mitch Joel. Forget about the standard question-and-answer format, he advises, and just have "a comfortable conversation." If you've done your homework, you won't need to get stuck in the question and response dynamic. Instead, go where the flow of the conversation is taking both of you.
3. Be a good listener. Listening is an active process, not a passive one. A person being genuinely listened to can both see and hear the results. When you respond verbally, give something more than one-word grunts that allow the other person nothing to build on. You'd be amazed at what you can learn if you're an interesting sounding board. As an actor, I can testify that actors crave someone on stage who's at least as good as they are, because they know that other performer will make them look good.
4. Engage the person, don't put them on the spot. Interviewees, especially job seekers, often anticipate that they'll be treated like street urchins begging a crust of bread— and often, they're right. If you really want to hear what another person has to offer, treat them with maximum empathy and respect.
5. Approach things from a different angle. Let's say you're conducting a job interview. Instead of the tried (you could spell that T-I-R-E-D) and true comment, "Tell me about yourself," you could ask the interviewee what he or she thinks is interesting about your industry. Perfectly relevant, and perhaps not expected right off the bat. Starting this way will give you an insight into how the person's mind works, and whether they can think on their feet. Here for your own purposes are some skills for learning how to think on your feet.
6. Ask open-ended questions. How, why, and what questions reveal how the interviewee thinks and feels about things. And don't be afraid to ask him or her to go deeper than their initial response. I call this "getting out of the shallow end of the pool" (it's also a great technique if you're coaching an interviewee). In other words, follow up in ways that ask for more from the person.
7. Look for reasoning. Ask at least one question that requires deductive reasoning, and one that calls for inductive reasoning. Do you know the difference? Deductive reasoning requires going from the general to the specific (it's the Sherlock Holmes type of reasoning). Inductive reasoning is just the opposite, moving from specific data to the bigger picture. Both may have a place, for instance, if you're trying to fill a position at your company. And working along either line can be fascinating if you're interviewing someone with a superior mind.
8. Maintain solid eye contact and use effective body language. This is one place where the advice always seems to be aimed at job seekers and other interviewees. But nothing can spoil an interview like a conversation where the interviewer makes no effort to be a friendly interlocutor and to put the other person at their ease. Who would want to open up to a person like that? Do you know how to use body language? Find out here in my cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language."
9. Get involved emotionally. An interview doesn't need to be an interrogation (and in fact, an interrogation doesn't need to seem like an interview). One of the most interesting facts of interpersonal communication is that influence occurs more readily when the other person "shows the way" by opening up emotionally. It's a way of demonstrating that it's safe to do so.
10. Try your best, because you're being interviewed too. Just as an interview isn't a monologue, it's not a one-way street. Traffic can and must flow in both directions. Regardless of whether you're asking most of the questions, your interviewee is judging whether they want to join your organization, reveal their truest self, or come back for a return engagement. Don't lose sight of that fact.
Now, my recent radio interview: I appeared live recently on a really excellent program, "The Matt Townsend Show," originating at BYU Radio at Brigham Young University. Matt is a relationship expert, who had me on to discuss the importance of body language. It was a 40-minute conversation that didn't lag for a second. One reason it didn't is because Matt is a superb interviewer. If you get the chance, listen to the Matt Townsend Show on Sirius/XM.
Green, Alison. "Ten Mistakes Job Interviewers Make," August 29, 2011, accessed July 26, 2013, http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2011/08/29/10-mistakes-job-interviewers-make.
Hathaway, Tom, "Seven Characteristics of a Good Interviewer," July 26, 2012, accessed July 27, 2013, http://businessanalysisexperts.com/seven-characteristics-of-a-good-interviewer/.
Joel, Mitch. "12 Ways to Conduct a Great Interview," July 12, 2009, accessed July 26, 2013, http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/12-ways-to-conduct-a-great-interview/.