6 Ways to Write Better Interview Questions

From The Write Practice:

Interviews are far more than a tool for a hiring process. For writers, interviews produce ideas, voice, and more. But in an interview, you want to have a conversation, not an interrogation. A good interviewer makes their interviewee comfortable.

Going back to your list of interview questions all the time can rattle the person you’re interviewing. Your interview shouldn’t be something the person could have answered via email. The questions should prompt a conversation that extends beyond the prepared questions.

So how do you get your interviewee comfortable? How do you prep questions that prompt conversations?

I love this story from Porter Anderson:

I interviewed Cokie Roberts (the Emmy-winning journalist) once for a magazine. I asked her about all the needlepoint she had in her office. She grabbed a piece she was working on, a duck, and worked on it as we chatted. We found out her favorite vacation spot wasn’t far from my home sea island off the South Carolina coast.

Your ability to be present, to keep your nose out of your notebook, will make your interviews shine with life.

To be more present, I always write out about a dozen questions before going into a face-to-face or phone interview. President Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Your questions are your battle plans. You might not use all of them, but they prepare your mind for the task ahead and set you up for a more effective conversation.

. . . .

1. Ask about the person’s actions.

“It depends on the person, but usually I ask them about their specific habits and practices,” says Jeff Goins. “I’m less interested in what they would write in a book and more interested in how they try to apply the ideals they write or speak about.”

Jeff is trying to get under a person’s rhetoric to see the routines they’ve cultivated to be successful. If you can get people to describe their actions rather than their beliefs about themselves, you’ll see a clearer picture of them, one unmarred by slogans.

2. Ask “forward” questions.

“Never ask, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ Ask ‘What’s going to keep you up tonight after this interview?’” says Porter.

“The past, unless your interviewee is relatively unknown, is research-able. Keep in mind that as much as we all may like our laurels, resting on them is never as interesting as diving off them into a new pool. The reminiscence interview is never as cool as it sounds.”

“The ‘What’s the best part of the next thing you’re doing?’ question will engage your subject’s current, forward-looking energy. You get a more excited interviewee, who wants to tell you what she or he is into.”

Asking about a future position or prospect lets your interviewee know you’re interested in more than what they’ve accomplished in the past.

Link to the rest at The Write Practice