Interviewing skills

Subject: Interviewing skills
From: Geoffrey Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 23 Mar 1999 08:18:37 -0500

Rowena (no relation <g>) Hart proposed a few interviewing
skills. Without attacking Rowena's position, I'd like to add to
and elaborate upon her helpful tips:

<<Knowing nothing (or only a little bit) about your subject
can be an advantage. Interviewees generally like to show off
their knowledge of a subject.>>

It's certainly true that some people can be won over if you
persuade them that they're smarter than you are and coax
them into demonstrating this superiority, but many others
(scientists in particular) are far more flattered that you took
the time to learn a bit about what they do. It shows an interest
in them as people, and gives you an instant point of
connection: "This person understands and appreciates what I
do, even if only a little. We have something to say to each

I've seen the summary that explicit questionnaires are a bad
idea, but that's not at all true. If you've got the smarts to
remember all the questions you need to ask, then by all
means show up with nothing more than a pen and a blank
notepad; if you're like me, having the questions written down
is much more likely to prove effective. It's all about
preparation: you're imposing on someone else and taking
away time that they might prefer to spend doing their own
work, so the better prepared you are, the less of an imposition
your interview will be. It shows respect for the value of the
other person's time, it makes you appear more professional,
and it gets you better answers to all the questions.

More importantly than that, strive to develop a friendly
relationship with the person, particularly if you'll be working
with the person for any length of time. You don't have to
become friends or lovers; you do have to establish a
connection that goes beyond simply "you have answers that I
need." It's easy to drop what you're doing and chat for half an
hour with someone who recognizes you as a person and in
need of human contact; it's much harder to care enough to
give good answers if you know the person thinks of you as
nothing more than a mobile, wetware database waiting to be
milked for information and then discarded like a used
kleenex... until the next question arises.

<<Silence and awkward pauses - Saying nothing
unnerves interview subjects and can cause them to
blurt out information that they would not otherwise

Though that's true, you really don't want to make a habit of
getting into that kind of mind game with a colleague; it may
come back to haunt you. ("Oh, it's Geoff... better look busy...
he's so damned uncomfortable to talk with.") I much prefer
your elaboration on this point: "Give the interview subject a
chance to reflect on what they've said and "fill in the gaps" of
their answer." What this really comes down to is developing
enough empathy to let the conversation find its own pace and
rhythm and in particular, letting the other person share in the
conversation rather than serving solely as the target of your

<<Deliberately stating or repeating information that
is incorrect... will always get an interview subject's attention,
and can be used to clarify points or "trick" the interview
subject into giving you a better answer.>>

Again, while this is true, there's a gentler technique that works
far better: "paraphrasing". Restating someone's explanation in
your own words helps you to remember the answer, shows
the person that you've been paying attention rather than
acting as a brainless tape recorder, and gives the person the
chance to correct or elaborate on your paraphrase.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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