5 Steps to Prepare for a Great Interview

Interviews aren’t just for people on the news. You need to interview people sometimes, too, even if you don’t think of it that way. Maybe your teacher wants you to talk to your grandparents about something for history class. Or maybe you’re supposed to write an article for the school newspaper about the new basketball coach.

QAHowever you look at it, you have questions and that other person has the answers.

Find the answers for yourself – and make sure it’s a success – by following these 5 steps to prepare for interviewing the person.

1. Research things ahead of time. Learn about the person you’ll be interviewing and some basic things about the subject you’ll be discussing. You don’t have to know everything (that’s what the person you’re interviewing is for), but you need to know enough to feel comfortable asking questions.

2. Remember the point. Know why you want to talk to this person – what you want to learn – and keep the interview focused on that. Be sure the person you’ll interview also knows the purpose so they won’t talk about everything else. The other stories might be interesting, but if they don’t relate to your assignment, they won’t do you any good. If you’re supposed to write about your grandfather’s experience as a pilot during World War II, talk about that. Save the recap of last week’s fishing trip for another time.

3. Create your list. As you decide on the questions to ask, write them down – preferably all in the same place, so you can keep track of everything. The list will grow and change as you prepare, and that’s OK. Try to write questions that can’t just be answered with “yes” or “no,” because that will give you much better information to work from when it’s time to write.

4. Prioritize. Once you have all your questions written, prioritize them so you’ll always be able to cover the most important points. Years ago, I scheduled an interview with a retired professional athlete for an article promoting things for a local hospital. We scheduled a 30-minute time slot and I researched and organized things again and again to prepare. When I called for the interview, I learned that my time had been cut from 30 minutes to 10 minutes because some other commitments had filled the athlete’s calendar. Oh no! I didn’t even have enough time to panic. But I had prioritized my list, so I was able to get answers to my top three questions before our time ran out. If I hadn’t rewritten my questions in order, I would have wasted precious minutes trying to figure out a game plan.

checklist5. Confirm details. When you schedule the interview, confirm all the details before ending the conversation. Verify the time and date you’ll be talking and whether you’ll talk over the phone or face-to-face. If you’ll be calling, get the best phone number to use. If you’ll be interviewing in person, get directions to the place you’ll meet (unless you’re absolutely sure). Also write down the person’s email if possible, so you have a back-up way to contact him or her if needed.

Your turn: Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever interviewed? Or, who would be the one person you’d love to interview more than anyone else?

Next time: Now that you’ve done the prep work, make sure the actual interview goes smoothly. I’ll share 5 ways to make that happen – including my best interview question, no matter who the person is or what we’re talking about.

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