Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Two Tips on Interviewing

No blog post yesterday. I was off the grid. Or, more specifically, I was in the car. Left at 8:30 in the morning and got back around 4:30.

I’m working on an article for Texas State Technical College. It’s about employers of biomedical equipment technicians. So, as you might surmise, I need to interview some of those employers. This explains my day-long trip to St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan, Texas. Now I have two hours worth of tape to transcribe. Then, Friday, I’ll be in Dallas doing another.

Which brings me to two things I learned (or were reinforced) during this interview process.

Be prepared for the unexpected.

Of course, that’s difficult since the unexpected is, well, unexpected. After interviewing the Director of Clinical Engineering Services at St. Joseph’s, he asked if I’d like to interview a couple of the BMETs (Biomedical Engineering Techs). Heck yeah, I’d come all that way; couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

But had I prepared questions? Not really. I had a few, but … I had brought my notebook on this project, so I quickly pulled out the questions I did have, then winged it from there. Luckily, I’d been doing my research on the field, so I wasn’t totally in the dark and could come up with things to ask. Plus, a big part of interviewing is listening and giving the subject room to explore ideas.

That’s why I like to tape (or in this case, digitally record). I can take only a few notes and spend the time listening. If would be nice if I remembered my shorthand. But I don’t. And I just can’t write fast enough to get things down word for word. I have a friend who takes her laptop and types while the person she’s interviewing talks. I don’t know if I could even type that fast. Which leads me to the second thing to remember before you interview:

Check your tape recorder and know how to use it.

I had gotten a new recorder before going to Bryan. A teeny little digital voice recorder that came with a manual four times its size. My other recorder was too clunky, plus I didn’t want to finish the interview and realize it’d run out of tape an hour earlier. This one, depending on what recording mode you set, can record up to 138 hours. I’d practiced beforehand, but once you’re in the chair sitting across the desk from a subject, you can only hope you’re setting it right. Once you do it, there are no do-overs. Once I got back home, I hit the play button and held my breath. And cheered when it worked.

I said there were two things I learned or were reinforced. Actually there’s another.

Go to the bathroom before starting the interview.

I estimated it’d take two hours to drive to Bryan, so I allowed two and a half. But the traffic between Austin and Bastrop was so heavy that by the time I parked at St. Joseph’s, there was no time for a stop without making me late. And I hate to be late. Then the interview took two hours. So let me amend that “Go to the bathroom” statement to say: Go to the bathroom before starting the interview or don’t drink water during the drive there.

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