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Conducting a great interview


June 16, 2016
By Mitch Joel

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“Just write out some questions and ask them.” That could well be one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to conducting an interview.

A friend shot me an email and asked for my opinion on how to conduct a great interview. Instead of letting the response die in a personal email chain, here are some tips for conducting a great interview.

Don’t conduct an interview, have a conversation.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in the interview setting is to conduct it as if it appears in a magazine (question and answer). Don’t make that mistake. Forget about the questions and just have a comfortable conversation. Keyword: comfortable.

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Do your homework.
The only way to avoid getting stuck asking questions is to do so much research that you don’t need them. Know your interviewee, know the issues and know what the public would want to know if they could sit down with the candidate.

Don’t stick to your agenda.
Most interviewers follow the questions that they have lined up in the order they wrote them, instead of letting conversation flow based on what the interviewee is saying. I’ve seen many great follow-up conversations lost because the interviewer was following their flow instead of the flow of the conversation.

Have notes, not questions.
It’s OK to have some notes about concepts you would like to discuss, but don’t hold it in your hand and look down at it – that will break the conversation and turn it into an interview.

Watch the clock.
Try not to go over 30 minutes. You should be able to capture everything you need in 15 minutes or less.

Ask open-ended questions.
Always start your questions or commentary with words like “how” and “why.” Those two words can never be responded to with the words, “yes” or “no.” If you want something more than one- or two-word answers, use “how” and “why” whenever possible.

Don’t say anything.
This is an old journalism trick, but it works wonders. Many people have been interviewed many times and they know the questions they are most likely to be asked, so their answers are practised and canned. If you want to get a little bit more out of them or something original, wait for five seconds after they finish their last sentence and do not say anything. More often than not, that moment of silence will get them thinking and they’ll start speaking from their heart (and with a whole other perspective than their standard canned answers).

Be the ambassador for your audience.
Don’t forget that your role as the interviewer is to ask the questions that your customers would want the answer to if they could be in that room. They can’t be there. You are. Be their ambassador. Ask the questions they want answered.

Have fun.
If you’re stressed or focused on your notebook and the questions in it, your candidate will “feel it” and will pick up on your nerves or apprehension. Remember that the best conversations are the fun conversations. Have fun.


Mitch Joel is president of Mirum – a global digital marketing agency. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his successful blog and podcast, is a business and marketing bestseller. His latest book, CTRL ALT Delete, was named one of the best business books by Amazon in 2013. You can find him at www.twistimage.com/blog.