How To Be a Better Interviewer (Part Three)
The previous two articles (here and here) taught you how to become a better interviewer. Although this blog usually focuses on how to be a better interviewee, many of our trainees want to know how to become a better interviewer when they moderate panels or host podcasts.
Today, I’m going to show you an exercise you can use to become a better interviewer.
The great news is that you can practice this exercise with your friends, family members, and co-workers – and they’ll never even know you’re doing it.
Let’s start with the usual, boring interview. When I ask a client to interview another co-worker, the interview typically goes like this:
Interviewer: “How are you?”
Interviewer: “So, where did you grow up?”
Interviewer: “How long did you live there?”
Interviewee: “Five years.”
I know, riveting stuff, right? The problem is that the interviewer only asked closed-ended questions, which didn’t allow for any interesting answers.
Good interviewers know to use open-ended questions instead, which tend to elicit much more interesting answers. Words and phrases such as “How,” “Why,” “What do you think,” “What was it like,” and “Tell me about” are good open-ended question starters. Here’s another example:
Interviewer: “Tell me about where you grew up?”
Interviewee: “I grew up just outside of Boston in Newton Center, Massachusetts. We lived in a two-family home – we had the bottom floor, and the owners had the top floor. It was a great place to grow up – we had a backyard to run around in and a big, spooky basement where we played for hours.”
Interviewer: “What was it like to have your landlords living above you?”
Interviewee: “I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I guess my parents knew they had to be on their best behavior – the Furmans were an older couple and liked it when things were quiet.”
Interviewer: “Why did your family leave Boston?”
Interviewee: “My Dad got a promotion, so we moved to Washington, DC when I was 11.”
Interviewer: “What was that like for you, entering a new school when you were at that age?”
Better, right? So here’s your exercise. Have a conversation with someone and begin every question with “How,” “Why,” “What do you think,” “What was it like,” or “Tell me about.” Please let me know how it goes by leaving your comment in the comment section below.
Chris Farley: “Wow…wow…um….wow!…so…this is great..this is really great…wow…Paul McCartney….so…um….remember…um….remember when…remember when you were in that band, the Beatles?”
Paul McCartney: “Yes. Yes I do.”
John – That’s one of my all-time favorite Chris Farley moments (that, and Matt Foley). Thanks for the laugh!
Same here Brad! Matt Foley has to rank No. 1 – but his bad interview guy comes in a close second!
Good tips. However, on air you frequently have to keep a guest from talking too much because are watchng the clock and she/he is not. I hate to interrupt, but often have to. Any thoughts?
I have a few ideas:
First, tell the guest in advance that he or she should keep answers to 30 seconds or less. Prepare them in advance that you might be jumping in.
Second, try to use your body language to signal that the guest should wrap up. For example, you might lean in a bit, nod a little more vigorously while raising your hand, or open your mouth as if you’re about to speak. A savvy guest will pick up on those cues.
Third, you can use more obvious cues. For example, if a guest is in middle of filibustering, you might only say: “10 seconds” to let them know the segment is coming to an end. Alternatively, you can gently apologize for cutting in, “Jane, I’m sorry to jump in here — you’ve shared some wonderful information — but we have to leave it there. What is the website address where people can go for more information?”
Do those ideas help?
Thank you for reading!