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10 Interview Tips

What Makes Them Tell?

  1. Always write out the questions in advance. (Yes, on paper/PC/iPhone.)

    • Even if you only have 30 seconds to prepare.

  2. Rarely look at those questions once you start.

  3. If you followed the questions more or less in order, you failed.

    • It means every time they spilled something more interesting, you brushed it off and stuck to your agenda.

  4.  The best things they have to tell you are the secrets they are holding onto. Those are not on your paper.

    • All the other reporters will ask the stuff on your paper. Your story will be unique if your sources answered the invisible “questions” no one knew to ask. (If it’s a question/answer format, you failed.)  

  5. First hurdle, and the biggest: trust. (“Safety” also works.)

    • How do you make them feel safe? Have you thought about it? (About all subjects, and about this dude or old lady in particular?)

    • If it came down to hurting them vs. a better story, which would you choose? Are sure? You can fool yourself, but not them. They will smell it on you.

  6. Ultimate hurdle: Did it feel like a conversation?

    • If it ended feeling like a great interview, it was not. People don’t confide secrets in “interviews.” They spill shit in conversation every day. 

  7. Empathy. Empathy empathy empathy empathy empathy empathy empathy empathy.

    • It’s all about listening. (Much harder than it sounds.)

    • When they wince, or get nervous, or sad . . .  shut the fuck up. They want to tell it: give them the floor. Then acknowledge, in some way, what just happened.

    • Let go of your needs (temporarily) and get in their head. What’s bugging them? Why? If their point seems trivial, you don’t get them yet.

  8. Method writing / method interviewing

    • Not for everyone, but the core of what I do.

    • “Objective” does not mean “keep your distance.”   

  9.  Get on their wavelength. They are in charge of the tone.

    • Are they skittish, reverential or cracking jokes about their concentration camp time? (That happened to me.) If your mood is out of whack, conversation will not gel. At least demonstrate respect for their approach. (It’s their approach to the experience—not just to the interview.)

  10. Every interview should be part of your lifelong research project to answer two questions: Why do people tell me their secrets? What are they getting out of it?

    • If you can’t tell that those are the same question, you will never answer either.

    • If that’s not your lifelong research project, select a new career.

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