Saturday, November 15, 2008

Interviewing Tips

The book I’m working on, TechCareers: Automotive Technicians, is due January 1, 2009. I’ve been researching, writing and interviewing. To find people to interview, I’m doing quite a bit of cold calling. No one’s said, no, I don’t want to participate -- yet. A few have been abrupt, but said I could email them information about the book -- and then they ignore my email. But most have been interested and agreed to be interviewed.

I wrote a post with tips on cold calling -- and got more tips from people who stopped by and commented. I’m going to give a few more today on interviewing.

Yesterday, I interviewed the Chair of the Automotive Technology department at Austin Community College. I had sent him a list of possible questions ahead of time, so he knew the kind of information I was looking for.
Have your list of questions printed out and handy. Have a pen or pencil ready.
I only took minimal notes, a word now and then - usually a word that made me think of a new question. By jotting down a keyword, I could continue paying attention to what he was saying, rather than formulating another question.
Trust your recorder.
Make sure before you go that you know how to work the recorder, so you’re not fiddling with it at the beginning of the interview. I use a tiny digital recorder. It’s small, which is great -- it’s unobtrusive. It’s digital, so I don’t worry about the “tape” running out. But it’s high tech with a big ol’ manual. If you don’t trust your recorder and you’re knowledge of how to use it, then you’re going to have to take copious notes.
Show your creds.
Before I ever went to the interview, I had emailed the subject. As part of my sig line, I included my website, so, if he wanted, he could check me out. In addition, I took with me to the interview a copy of the first book in this TechCareers series, which I had contributed to. All the books in this series will follow the same format. I was able to show him this book so he could get an idea of how the finished book on Automotive Technology will look.
Don’t be afraid to ask.
At the end of the interview, I let him know that if he had any students or fellow instructors he would like me to interview, I would appreciate his recommendations. He did. He introduced me to two other teachers and one student. I’ll now set up interviews with them.
Have business cards ready.
He gave me his card; I gave him mine. Then I gave one to each of the people he introduced me to.
Thank your subject.
I said thank you several times. And I meant it. He had taken time out of his day to sit down with me. He answered all my questions -- some of which he (and I) didn’t know ahead of time. He introduced me to other people. I appreciated all his help.

And, finally, we come full circle back to the beginning.
Before you leave for the interview, double and triple check.
I double -checked everything. I should have triple-checked. I’m half-way there when I look down and realize my shirt is dirty. How could I have pulled out a dirty shirt to wear? My rule from now on is take the shirt out into the daylight to check it. Luckily, I had brought a jacket to wear. Then, I pulled into the parking lot at ACC and realized I’d picked up purse, notebook, and book -- and left my pad and list of questions, and favorite pen. I may have had a dirty shirt hidden under a jacket, but I’m smart enough to carry double copies of questions. I had a copy of the list in my notebook, although not a couple of extra questions I’d jotted on the original list.

So, there you have it. Tips for interviewing. I’ve got two interviews done, only about 15 more to go.

Here’s an extra tidbit. A thirty minute interview takes me about 4 hours to transcribe. (Multiply that by 15, then figure in writing and research, and tell me if there’s any sleep time between now and January 1st.

If you live in the Houston area, I’m driving your way next week to spend a couple of days interviewing the smart folks at San Jacinto College. Then the first week in December, I’m heading out for two days at TSTC Harlingen. Have recorder, will travel.


  1. Good advise, Helen, and NEVER trust your tape recorder! I wrote an article recently about the bloopers that happened with tape recorders when I interviewed Louis L'Amour, Kurt Gowdy, Gerry Spence and several others. I always take notes while the tape machine is hopefully recording. Not everyone is willing to do another interview because your recorder screwed up (or you pushed the wrong button). :)

  2. Sound advice again, and helpful reporting on your interview, Helen. I'd err on the side of caution like Jean myself and take notes as well. But you DID include in your checklist to check your recorder and KNOW it well enough to be able to trust it and be assured you hit the right button (smile).

  3. Sorry, Marvin, I should have explained. Sometimes your recorder batteries run down and you miss some of the interview or, if you change the batteries before the interview and don't get the bottom flap closed tightly, it can open and the batteries roll under a massive desk, which happened to me with sportscaster Curt Gowdy. My recorder was stolen at LAX when I flew out to interview Louis L'Amour and I hurriedly stopped by a discount store to buy another one, not realizing that it was voice activated and much of the interview was garbled. It's doubly embarrassing with a well-known person because they expect you to be more professional. :)

  4. You're right, Jean, you can always have bad things happen with a recorder. Guess I should have put a disclaimer on that one.

  5. Hi Marvin. I find it difficult to take notes and pay attention. I can do one or the other. Wish I remembered my shorthand.

  6. That one about double and triple check is very important, but a real pain!

    Morgan Mandel

  7. That's true Morgan. It's a pain but less painful than getting home and finding out you've made a non-fixable mistake!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...