Create Effective Ambience

Learn how to manage the interview successfully.

Since the interviewee is kind enough to set some time aside to meet with you, you in turn need to be flexible about where and for how long you meet and whether or not it is acceptable for you to tape-record the session. In general, you should try to conduct the interview away from as many distractions as possible. Establishing a climate of trust and support is difficult when the interviewee is bombarded with the daily distractions of professional life—such as phone calls, piles of messages, and pages of “to do” lists.

The Receptive Interviewer

Recognize that when people are “put on the spot,” many tend to freeze up. When they realize that their words are being put down “on the record,” even talkative people may tend to tighten up and withhold information. As a result, you need to be calm and relaxed and do more listening than talking. Remember, also, that your body invariably sends clear messages about whether you are bored or frustrated or annoyed by the interviewee’s comments. Rather than being quick to judge the interviewee’s comments and their usefulness to your report, try to focus your energy on being a receptive listener. Show tact in your responses and interject humor to put the interviewee at ease.

Tape Recording Interviews

If the interviewee doesn’t mind having the session taped, then you would be wise to pretest your recorder and insert fresh batteries. (Incidentally, some interviewers use two recorders to avoid the embarrassment of discovering too late that one didn’t work.) A second useful tip is to use microrecorders—that is, small recorders that use minicassettes—rather than obtrusive “boom boxes.” Finally, try to place the recorder out of the interviewee’s eyesight and avoid looking at it, discussing it, or checking to see whether or not it is working, so that it is forgotten as soon as possible. If you notice the interviewee appears distracted by the recorder, even though he or she has said it’s okay, you would be wise to stop using it and take careful notes instead.

When you begin the interview, it is important to shake the interviewee’s hand and greet him or her warmly. Smile and thank the person for his or her time and clarify the focus of the interview:

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Wilson. I appreciate your willingness to spend some time with me so that I can learn more about a career in mass communications.”

“Hi, John, it’s really good to see you again. Listen, I appreciate your help on this report I’m doing for English. Anyway, as I told you on the phone, I’m writing the report on how to select growth stocks, and since you’re an expert in money management, I was hoping that you could give some advice on handling money. Say, do you mind if I tape this session? If it bothers you, we don’t need to tape it, but it would help me write the report. In any case, if you like, I don’t have to use your name.”