Questions over questions: What it takes to ask them right

| August 09, 2019 | | Reading time: 3 Minutes

Interview Questions

"Gaining in-depth insights into diverse pro­fessional worlds through interviews - that’s a privilege.", finds Content Glory editor Carina. How­ever, in order to get exciting answers and interact spon­taneously with interview partners, one has to deal with inter­view techniques first.

Reacting flexibly to the interviewee and improvising when confronted with unexpected aspects are important skills for every interview situation. Asking a spontaneous question often makes the difference between a good and an excellent interview. Learn more about interview preparation and why coffee-table gossip is an opportunity to practice.

What do you keep in mind when pre­paring for interviews? 

I always try to include topics in my private conversations and picking up different perspectives. Research doesn't always has to happen purely on the Internet. 

Keeping your eyes open for different sources of knowledge really pays off. In the interview you only get 60 minutes and then it's about discovering the most interesting points. Therefore, the lead time for an interview is just as important to me as the interview itself.

Is it possible to prepare for the inter­viewee on an inter­personal level?

Yes, for sure! Before every interview, I screen the LinkedIn profiles of the interviewees and look for interviews that are already available online. This is how you come across information which you don't have to ask for later. In this respect, personal profiles are a really exciting tool, as they provide an insight into your interviewee’s interests and allow you to ask about that in the first question of the interview. A friendly basis makes the interview a lot easier.

How do you manage to ask questions spon­taneously and yet concretely?

You have to give the best you can at that moment and improvise. It sometimes happens to me during interviews that I think to myself: "Wow, there seems to be a lot of exciting stuff going in this new subject area!” And then you try to gather as much information as possible. But of course you can't prepare for every eventuality. 

Armin Wolf once said about ZIB2 interviews that about 90% of the pre-interviews he conducts are useless, because he only used 10% of the acquired knowledge in the actual interview. I can identify with that very well. As the interviewer you incorporate many different subject areas, but you will only know where the conversation is going to take you, once you are sitting in front of the interviewee.

How do you pick the right time to ask a spon­taneous question?

That has a lot to do with a feeling for the moment. Sometimes it seems as if an aspect has been depleted when the interviewee becomes silent. However, it sometimes pays off to try it again. You might rephrase an earlier question, or ask: "Is there anything else you want to add?” That’s often when exciting information or statements arise.
Sometimes it also helps to pivot. Once the person is encouraged talk more again, you can go back to the earlier topic more easily. 

What is the best way to deal with topics that arise un­expectedly in the course of a conversation?

Own interests are always a good starting point: What do I have to ask so that I personally can understand this topic? The follow-up questions then arise naturally, step by step.

Interviews about topics on which I have little knowledge feel more like conversations – just like spontaneously getting to know each other. When I am in this situation, I try to think less about the article structure, but more about the conversation’s flow.

How would you describe your approach to your question strategy?  

I tend to write down too many questions. And then trying to reduce them to ten open-ended questions for an interview period of 60 minutes. Additionally there are naturally follow-up questions that cannot be foreseen. For interview partners who are used to speaking in front of other people (as in Sales), ten questions are more than sufficient. But if you are talking to people who have less experience with external corporate communications, it is better to prepare more.

As far as open-ended and closed-ended questions are concerned, one has to think about the composition of an interview. If you want to lead people to a certain topic, it often helps to ask two or three closed-ended questions and in that way prepare them for an open-ended question. In my opinion, the dramaturgy of the question is an important tool.

How do you get someone who digresses in their answers back to the topic?

An effective strategy is to address the digression directly: "Exciting digression, let's go back to the central question". Although, in most cases the interviewees lead the conversation back to the main topic on their own. If that doesn't happen, there's nothing wrong with pointing out the script and saying: "Let's get back to the questions I prepared, the next one is...".

What tips can you give to editors who are learning to ask spon­taneous questions?

Practice, even in the private sphere. Interviewing is something you don't learn in a formal interview situation, but through having conversations with others. In the gym, at weddings or wherever you get to know people spontaneously. That's why spontaneous asking is something you can train very well on a coffee-table gossip basis in order to implement it even better in a professional environment.

Thanks you for the interview and the advice, Carina. For my next interview, I will make sure to keep your tips in mind!

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