The Art of Yearbook Interviewing, Part II: Top 7 Tips for Conducting a Great Interview

Image source: Flickr CC U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Image source: Flickr CC U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Interviews are probably as old as the written word- some Mesopotamian journalist wanted a scoop on how the ziggurat was coming. From big cities to small towns, from high-society to underdeveloped countries, it is safe to say that a wide range of topics has been covered.  We have been well informed on everything from Beatlemania to Watergate, from Tom Cruise’s thoughts on psychiatry to Charlie Sheen’s Tiger Blood.

And yearbook interviewing is no different.  With all of these in-depth conversations, pressing issues, and thought-provoking questions it’s hard to one-up what has already been done.  In addition, you are interested in learning more than just what a student’s favorite class is, or how teachers keep their students awake.  You are out to conquer more interesting, captivating material that will make the yearbook something people want to actually purchase and read… ok great, no pressure right?

How can you, the interviewer, set yourself apart?  Yesterday, we learned that by defining your interview style and approach, you are already putting yourself in a good position for developing your interview skills.  Now, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.  It’s time to learn how to successfully manage an interview and make it your own.

Interviewing can be a game of sorts.  It is like combining the skills of an investigator, a writer, and a psychologist (not to mention just a nosy person).  You are able to brush up on your analytical skills by listening, taking in what the person is saying, and developing your questions from those topics.  You can’t be afraid to pry, be inquisitive, and take the hits as they come.

Not enough?  Still looking for in-depth interview help?  Well look no more; we’ve laid out the top 7 tips for conducting a great interview.  Why 7?  Why not…

  1. Know the story you want to tell.  Don’t just ramble on and on with a list of misguided questions.  Before starting your interview, you should sit down and write down all of the questions you would want to know.  Pour your heart out.  After you think you’ve covered everything, now cut the list down to three core questions.  Sorry… but this is important.  While this may not seem like a lot, concentrating on three central topics will initiate further questions.  Make sure each are open-ended questions that can provide room for growth.
  2.  Start off slow.  Once you have narrowed down your question selection and know your story, it is time to move onto the interview.  Think of it like a football game, you’re not going to be successful if you just grab the ball and dart toward the goal line on the first play.  Chances are you’re going to get tackled and beat down.  You have to start off slow and be strategic.  You first want to get acquainted with your interviewee.  While the interviewee will most likely be one of your peers or even a friend, there may be some things you don’t know about them.  Start with a broad topic about what they have been working on lately in school, or what sports/activities they are involved in.  Then, slowly move onto your core questions.
  3.  Don’t be chatty.  This isn’t a job interview for a new best friend.  You aren’t there to impress the other person; you are there to facilitate a conversation.  This is your chance to craft a skill that you can use for the future, while simultaneously (and more importantly) gaining some great insight for the yearbook.  While you want to put a person at ease, don’t carry on and on – you may bore the interviewee, or turn them off completely.  Talk first to initiate the comfort level, and then get down to business.
  4.  Ask what you don’t know.  Often interviewers concentrate on asking questions they already know the answers too.  This could be out of fear of response, or not having enough confidence in themselves to expect the unexpected.  You are there to learn something as well, so don’t be afraid to take a chance and ask some questions on topics you may be clueless on.  For example, your school has had some expansion that everyone is positively raving about.  Don’t simply ask what the interviewee thinks of the new expansion – because you probably already know.  Try asking something like, “if we hadn’t decided to do the expansion, how do you think the school would have been impacted in a positive or negative manner?”  More likely than not, you will be pleasantly surprised by the answers to these unexpected questions.
  5. Don’t let them know the questions ahead of time.  The element of surprise is important for you, as well as for the interviewee.  Some think that sending the questions out ahead of time will help the interviewee think of better responses, but the opposite may be true.  If they interviewee has time to “practice,” their responses may come off as rehearsed or unauthentic.  This is an interview, not a film script
  6. Let the interviewee talk.  While it is important to stay on topic, you are conducting a yearbook interview, not an episode of 60 Minutes.  If the interviewee is chatting on a bit or getting slightly off topic, that is okay.  Let them talk.  The more comfortable they are and the more they can express themselves, the more information you will have to find some great content for the yearbook.  If you are constantly pushing the interviewee onto a particular subject, they may become bored or disinterested with the interview.
  7. Listen.  This seems like a “duh” tip, but honestly it is the one most often overlooked.  Don’t just think about what you want to say next, actually hear what a person is saying and work from that.  People will have good responses, which can help you formulate further questions.  If you are not listening, chances are you’re more opted to ask “dumb” questions, or (horrifyingly) may ask a question they have already answered inadvertently.  Also, don’t do the active listening thing with the “mmhmms” and the “oh okays” – that is the first indication that a person is not actually listening.  It makes the interviewee feel undervalued, awkward, and is honestly just plain rude.

Now that you’ve nailed down your interviewing tips, crafted your skills, and defined your style… it is time to think up what questions you want to ask.  Come back next week where we’ll explore some of the best, most thought-provoking yearbook interview questions in Part III.