Interviewing reminds me of fishing. Asking a question is like throwing a line into the sea of someone’s experience and hoping you’re going to reel in the big one.

As all good fishermen will tell you, there’s more than just blind luck at play.

And so it is with interviews. With a bit of know-how, you can dramatically boost your chances of success.

Start by considering what you want from the interview, conducting some thorough research and a pre-interview.

Once you’re ready to design your questions, these tips will act as your depth sounder, tackle box and bait to help you hook the story.

Now for our top 10 tips:

1. Lay your foundations
The foundation blocks of a question are the 5Ws and H: who, what, when, where, why, how. If your question doesn’t contain one of these six words, reconsider the wording. There may be some rare instances where you’re justified to use question makers such as: ‘aren’t they?’ and ‘don’t you?’ (such as an accountability interview where the evidence is clear yet the interviewee continues to deny) but it’s cheating to add a question mark to a statement.

2. Use the right tool for the job
Consider whether you need specifics, information, opinion, an anecdote, or a long, descriptive tale. Closed questions require yes or no answers. Closed-ended (aka specifying) questions require specifics such as a location, a name or title. Open questions encourage anecdotes, descriptions and opinions. Each has its place. Hint: closed questions are usually best placed in accountability interview situations, closed-ended questions shine in information interviews and open-ended questions rule discovery interviews. (If you don’t understand these three interview types check out my previous blog on tips for interviewers.)

3. Each question deserves its moment to shine
A question is one question. When you ask double-barrelled questions (or worse, three or four part questions) you leave your interviewee the option, and likelihood, of answering only one part.

4. Give it a KISS
KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. Clarity is important to help your interviewee understand what you’re asking him or her. It also helps you to avoid that slightly embarrassing response ‘what do you mean?’.

5. Focus
Know what you want to get out of your interview and let that guide your question design. Your interviewee may have a great many thoughts, feelings or anecdotes to draw on and so, to elicit the one you want your question needs to be well targeted.

6. Offer an open invitation
Open questions are critical to creating the conditions for those long, captivating interviews you can’t walk away from. Such questions have a clear focus yet allow room for the interviewee to provide an authentic tale, anecdote or opinion. To create an open question you must not put words into the interviewee’s mouth (by putting the answer in the question), make assumptions (which force the interviewee into a reactive response), limit the response (by asking closed or closed-ended questions), or use a statement instead of a question (in which case you’re not actually asking a question). Instead of asking whether the interviewee whether he or she felt sad (or worse, how sad he or she felt) ask how he or she felt. Some standard open questions include: What was it like? What made you change your mind? How did you do it? What’s your opinion of …?

7. Get rid of choices, open up the possibilities
If you ask an either/or question, one with simultaneous opposites (what’s the best and the worst…? or the right and wrong…?), you are limiting your interviewee’s response and placing him or her in a reactionary mode. Re-word your question or split it into two questions.

8. Say it loud and proud
If you’re going to ask a question, do it with confidence and decisiveness. Eliminate crutch words such as ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘so’ and ‘I mean’ from your questions because your ability to be assertive is reduced when you give away your nerves. This is especially important in accountability interviews where you need all the power leverage you can get.

9. Keep it real
We humans are exceptionally skilled at reading when someone is disingenuous. Don’t fake understanding or interest. If you’re struggling just remember to go back to the basic rule of respect (I wrote about this in a previous blog).

10. Dig deeper
When your interviewee answers a question, he or she doesn’t necessarily give you the whole story. Always be ready to ask how and why follow up questions.

Good luck and happy fishing!

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.

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