The art of interviewing

An interview – one person asks a question, the other responds, then you move onto the next question. Seems simple, right? Well, when it’s done well, this is how interviewing does appear, but anyone who’s ever interviewed before will know that a lot more goes into interviewing than meets the eye.

We learned just how much in a recent two-part interview skills workshop, run for the Australian Evaluation Society by two of our consultants and expert interviewers, Jade Maloney and Kerry Hart.

Creating a good interview experience

As an introduction to the workshop, Jade and Kerry asked us to choose a picture card that illustrated a ‘good’ interview experience. Two things became immediately obvious: first, everyone sees things differently (which is why dialogue is so important). Second, a good interview experience encompasses many aspects. Our views of ‘good’ included:

  • taking time to understand someone’s culture or context and considering the influence it may have on how they respond.
  • focusing on rapport building to create a safe, relaxed environment for the interviewee
  • taking care with the process, having the right skills and techniques to achieve a successful interview
  • ‘diving in’, approaching the interview without biases or pre-conceived ideas and being open to learning and embracing diverse opinions
  • starting out with broad questions, before focusing on specific topics.

Putting the skills into practice

The workshop covered all stages of the interview process – from deciding on the type of interview (e.g. structured, semi-structured guide, explorative) and developing a discussion guide to tips for preparing for an interview, key interviewer competencies (e.g. listening, focusing, maintaining flow) and the steps to follow after an interview – all in preparation for the ultimate test: putting these skills into practice.

Key to practicing these skills is the competency framework, which details the range of interviewer skills and attributes. My colleagues have developed this framework over the years, and it can be useful in several ways. People new to interviewing can use it as a self-assessment tool for professional development, or when observing more experienced staff do interviews. Equally, experienced interviewers can use it to provide structured feedback when observing interviews.

Participants worked in pairs, taking turns to interview each other. ARTD consultants observed them, providing feedback against the key domains of the competency framework. To make the exercise more challenging, interviewees could adopt a challenging persona (e.g. a reluctant participant, a tangential talker or a person who becomes emotional or distressed).

Reflecting as a group afterwards, it was clear that interviewing is a complex skillset to master. Finding the balance between maintaining the flow of an interview and allowing people time to respond (i.e. not jumping in if they are hesitating) was a challenge many of us grappled with. And we all agreed that refraining from expressing judgement is hard! How do you acknowledge what someone is saying and make them feel comfortable and willing to share without saying words like ‘great’ or ‘interesting’? One tip: come prepared with some neutral words that feel natural to you.

So, what did we take away?

Having done many interviews in my time at ARTD (and having grappled with the challenges I just discussed), this workshop was a great reminder that a good interview requires preparation and care, and a great deal of skill.

For more experienced participants, the workshop put a structure to what they had learned and confirmed what they were doing in practice. For those less experienced, the workshop was a good introduction to the interview process and the challenges that can arise. And while hearing each other’s experiences taught us many lessons and reinforced for us all just how challenging interviewing can be, learning what to be aware of and how to avoid these challenges provided us with more confidence going forward.

ARTD regularly runs a range of applied workshops, including interview skills training. You can find more information on our website.

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