I’ve interviewed a lot of people. And from my first interview to my most recent one, I’ve noticed a huge change.
My first time, I relied heavily on a list of questions. What was on the paper was what I thought I needed. But when I went to write the article, I usually found out huge information gaps to the story. Perhaps I was missing the solution to an obstacle, a defining “eureka” moment, or even a proper way to end the article.
As I’ve gotten better at conducting interviews, I’ve fixed a lot of those problems I originally had when writing, and it’s made a huge difference. Here are my top three tips for acing your interview.
1) Fill in the gaps with followups
This is the truth: your standard list of questions will never be enough for an article. That starting set should, instead, act as a framing tool for the interview, a way to dig around and figure out what you want to learn more about. Say you ask about someone’s business model. If they provide a really interesting response on their unique marketplace freemium model, then go ahead and ask more!
Dig deep. Focus on the things you want. This way, when you get to write your article, you’ll always have enough to write about. Here’s an example of how this conversation may go:
What was a defining moment in your early entrepreneurial career?
[Response about how they snuck into a VC meetup and made connections there]
Wow, that’s incredible! How did you get in?
It can be that simple, but it makes all the difference.
2) Start from the end, and go backwards
Often, first-time interviewers think of a large list of questions and dive into a conversation without knowing what they want their article to look like. Before you go into an interview, especially if this is someone big, make sure you have a general idea of how you want your end product to look like.
For me, I write stories, so I focus on building out each plot piece: theme, exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, etc. Therefore, when I make questions, I look for ones that will give me answers that will help me achieve my goal. If you’re interested in interviewing someone about their investment strategies, then do some research and figure out what exactly you want to come out of the interview with.
This has a major benefit of saving you time and making it easier to clean up the transcription later.
3) Ask quirky questions
From the interviewees side, it’s really easy to get bored of droning on about yourself, especially if you’ve told this same story to several other writers. A key to help you stand out among all other interviewers is to ask interesting, quirky questions that the subject may have never heard about before.
Tim Ferriss has a great list of these questions that he asks, and they can really liven up the interview. My personal experience is that when you ask idiosyncratic questions, the person will generally offer much better responses to proceeding topics.
Overall. These three strategies are some of the best things in my toolkit when I interview people, and I highly recommend them.