interview skills

Interview Skills

Whenever you are conducting a data-gathering interview – or any other kind of interview – you’ll need to take into account a number of issues in preparation for the interview. This article will help you get it right first time, every time, with the best interview skills.

There are six key areas to consider to equip you with the best interview skills:

  1. Structure
  2. Preparation
  3. The Beginning
  4. The Middle
  5. The End
  6. Afterwards

1. Structure

What level of interviewer control is appropriate? In a data-gathering exercise, you need to stop your respondent drifting off the point while giving sufficient freedom to allow the development of important issues. Probably you should not be contributing more than 10% to the discussion.


2. Preparation

When carrying out your preparation for the interview, you need to consider the following:

  • What are your objectives?
  • What has led you to interview this particular person?
  • What do you hope to achieve in addition to your objectives?
  • Write down six things you hope to find out during this interview.
  • How will you open the interview? Write down your opening remarks.

Data collection interviews: guiding steps

1.     Say what the discussion is about and how long it will last.

2.     Ask the interviewee about their job and their degree of experience.

3.     Explain the process of the discussion.

4.     Discuss the issues within a framework.

5.     Summarise the issues arising from the discussion and check your understanding.

6.     Ask the interviewee about any other issues they are concerned about.

7.     Explain what will happen to the data, and the feedback process.


An essential part of your preparation is the administrative arrangements

  • Have you booked a room?
  • Check there are two chairs
  • How do you want the seats placed?
    Facing across a table? This gives the feeling of a police interrogation – OK if that’s what you want.
    Side by side? Eye contact is difficult and can feel overfamiliar and threatening.
    At ninety degrees to one another so that you can both make and escape from eye contact and yet get the maximum advantage from unconcealed body language.
    Avoid status symbols such as expensive notepads and pens.
    It can help if you can both see a clock.
  • Make arrangements for the reception of interviewees, or for your reception if you are going to them.
  • Does the interviewee know where to go?
  • Make sure you have all the information you’ll need. Even at a data gathering interview, the information flow isn’t all one way. You’ll look silly if you don’t know something about what goes on in this person’s area.
  • Block out the time in your time manager so that you don’t double book.
  • Prepare yourself by looking at your own prejudices so that you are able to resist them coming into play.
  • Have you done all your homework? Things you might have overlooked are:
    How is the interviewee going to regard the interview?
    How will you deal with that?
    How do you regard this person?
    How are you going to neutralise your feelings?
    How are you going to enhance their self-esteem?


3. The Beginning

  • Smile.
  • Adopt an open body posture.
  • Start with your opening remark.
  • It’s always important to raise people’s self-esteem. How can you do this right from the start? One way is to ask a general question about their job; everyone likes to talk about their job.
  • Tell the interviewee about the framework you are using to guide the discussion and ask if there are any additions to it that they would like to make. If there are, they may be pertinent to the discussion from the interviewee’s perspective, and you may gain a valuable insight just by asking this question. If it is totally irrelevant, you can always ask a question or two around this issue to maintain self-esteem.
  • If you are considering taking notes it is polite to ask permission – if it’s refused, don’t take any. Don’t take a note of anything controversial. Use questions to explore the situation and delay your note taking until later.
  • Ask what the interviewee would like to achieve from the interview.

4. The Middle

  • Ask mainly open questions.
  • Make sure you keep to the framework you have set.
  • Use frequent summaries to check your own understanding and to raise the interviewee’s self-esteem by showing that you are listening.
  • Ask one question at a time and follow it through.
  • If no answer is received, rephrase your question. Don’t try to be clever and approach the issue from the side – you’ll be detected.
  • Make sure the interviewee understands the question but don’t say “Do you understand the question?”
  • Watch for changes in expression, gestures, or tone of voice as they convey meaning, too.
  • Remember that sudden changes of body posture mean something, so check it out by lingering on that subject area unless other signals are showing that the interviewee is becoming distressed.
  • Don’t look at your watch.

5. The End

  • Remember to thank the interviewee.
  • Summarise the interview and ask if the interviewee agrees with what has been said.
  • Say what will happen as a result of the interview.

6. Afterwards

  • Make sure you have a method of reviewing your performance.
  • Plan to do one thing differently next time to improve your interview techniques.
  • Do whatever you said you’d do at the interview – right away.
  • If appropriate, let the interviewee know what has happened since the interview.

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