Thursday, October 22, 2015

Developing Effective Interview Questions

Photo credit: asgw / Foter / CC BY
While I was still in college (eons ago), I worked for the college paper first as a reporter, then a section editor, advertising manager, and finally as the editor in chief. During that time I interviewed everyone from the police chief (because he wouldn't let his officers talk to me) to the Dean of the college. I learned a ton about developing interview questions while I was there, but as I approached the next evolution in this blog, I found myself stymied.

I want to begin a series of author interviews, but, given that I went to school (as I said) eons ago and haven't interviewed anyone for anything other than a job for quite some time, I was at a bit of a loss as to where to begin.

Being a part of the 2015 #platchal, Robert Brewer's blog pushing us in the direction of interviews was a huge help (check it out), but I felt that I wanted a little more.

I hit the web for a little down and dirty researching and here is the basics of what I found.

1: Simple

My high school English teacher used to always tell us that when we wrote stories we needed to kiss (not kiss as in smoochy-smoochy, but KISS as in the acronym Keep It Simple Stupid). In honor of her, I'll keep this list simple too . . . just three things to keep in mind.

We're not talking ask stupidly simple questions like "What did you have for breakfast this morning?"

(Well, I guess if you're a fitness blog that could be a solid question . . . but I'm not, so for me that'd be pointless)

When I say simple, I mean you need to make sure that you're interview questions are specific, meaningful, and few. Yup, don't ask a ton of pointless questions unless you want to be annoying, then I guess ask all the pointless questions you want . . . just don't ask me to be interviewed.

Most places I've read say to keep the interviews between 5 and 10 questions long. Remember that the people you're interviewing have lives and work too. They can't spend all day dealing with your questions despite the fact that you know all 55 questions are interview gold . . . like the Best! Questions! Ever! Keep in mind you might be just a little bias.

Five fine tuned, pointed questions are so much better than a slue of slop spooned out of the google fueled internet interview question generating machine.

Which leads me to my next point . . . 

2: Interactive

Not like full contact interviewing on the gridiron or chasing them down the street like some demented track star interviewer as they flee from you and your crazy notepad. People don't like that . . . How do I know? . . . eh, er . . . let's not go there right now . . . where was I?

Oh yah, interacting with people is important. *News Flash* Right?

Too often you see interview questions that are stock questions sitting in the little bag of interview tricks (especially in this day and age of internet interviewing). Email the interview questions, the other person types out their answers, then you just put that slop up there.

I have nothing against interviewing online. Email and the web have allowed us to connect and contact so many more people. That's awesome, really truly awesome. Just because the interview can't happen face to face doesn't mean it has to sound that way. Make your interview questions conversational. Provide a little of the reason, as if you were sitting down in a bar or coffee shop somewhere talking face to face. This can help you interviewee feel more at ease with the process and lead to longer, more involved answers.

You're setting a tone for the interview. Make it a comfortable one. Also, that opens up for a follow-up question or two down the line if needed.

3: Purposeful

Have a direct purpose in mind when asking for an interview. Even better, have questions already developed (or at least drafted) before asking for the interview. 

What I mean by have a direct purpose is simply know why you're interviewing who you're interviewing. If you're interviewing an author for a writing blog (as is my goal), then you want to focus on . . . *spoiler alert* writing! 

Shocking I know, but it's not always that simple. You could interview someone on their writing, writing in general, advice to writers, a specific book or series, a specific aspect of their writing . . . the list goes on. 

What you don't want to do is ask all of it (that simplicity thing again) or ask about something wicked controversial . . . like say their stance on the upcoming presidential election. You may be curious, but it has nothing to do with your blog (unless you blog about politics or some weird blog about random people's political leanings)


developing effective interview questions
Photo credit: m_shipp22 / Foter / CC BY
Looks like I accidentally I made the list into an acronym, SIP (Simple, Interactive, Purposeful). How many bad puns can I make out of that . . . let's see . . .

SIP with your interviews.
Take a SIP from the knowledge of experts.
Dip into the pool of experience and SIP.
Drink coffee, SIP your interviews.

Okay, okay . . . that's enough. I'm done. 

(Minor confession: I rearranged the list after I wrote the post to get it get the acronym, so it was kinda by accident)

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