An interview is a conversation between two or more people where questions are asked by the interviewer to elicit facts or statements from the interviewee. Although interviews are a standard part of journalism and media reporting, the focus of this piece is on how interviews can be used as a tool for psychological research.
Interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant’s experiences. The interviewer can pursue in-depth information around a topic. Interviews may be useful as follow-up to certain respondents to questionnaires, e.g., to further investigate their responses. Usually open-ended questions are asked during interviews.
Before you start to design your interview questions and process, clearly articulate to yourself what problem or need is to be addressed using the information to be gathered by the interviews. This helps you keep clear focus on the intent of each question.
Preparation for Interview
1. Choose a setting with little distraction. Avoid loud lights or noises, ensure the interviewee is comfortable (you might ask them if they are), etc. Often, they may feel more comfortable at their own places of work or homes. 2. Explain the purpose of the interview.
3. Address terms of confidentiality. Note any terms of confidentiality. (Be careful here. Rarely can you absolutely promise anything. Courts may get access to information, in certain circumstances.) Explain who will get access to their answers and how their answers will be analyzed. If their comments are to be used as quotes, get their written permission to do so. 4. Explain the format of the interview. Explain the type of interview you are conducting and its nature. If you want them to ask questions, specify if they’re to do so as they have them or wait until the end of the interview. 5. Indicate how long the interview usually takes.
6. Tell them how to get in touch with you later if they want to. 7. Ask them if they have any questions before you both get started with the interview. 8. Don’t count on your memory to recall their answers. Ask for permission to record the interview or bring along someone to take notes. Sequence of Questions
1. Get the respondents involved in the interview as soon as possible. 2. Before asking about controversial matters (such as feelings and conclusions), first ask about some facts. With this approach, respondents can more easily engage in the interview before warming up to more personal matters. 3. Intersperse fact-based questions throughout the interview to avoid long lists of fact-based questions, which tends to leave respondents disengaged. 4. Ask questions about the present before questions about the past or future. It’s usually easier for them to talk about the present and then work into the past or future. 5. The last questions might be to allow respondents to provide any other information they prefer to add and their impressions of the interview.
Wording of Questions
1. Wording should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions. 2. Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental wording. 3. Questions should be asked one at a time.
4. Questions should be worded clearly. This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or the respondents’ culture. 5. Be careful asking “why” questions. This type of question infers a cause-effect relationship that may not truly exist. These questions may also cause respondents to feel defensive, e.g., that they have to justify their response, which may inhibit their responses to this and future questions.
1. Occasionally verify the tape recorder (if used) is working. 2. Ask one question at a time. 3. Attempt to remain as neutral as possible. That is, don’t show strong emotional reactions to their responses. Patton suggests to act as if “you’ve heard it all before.” 4. Encourage responses with occasional nods of the head, “uh huh”s, etc. 5. Be careful about the appearance when note taking. That is, if you jump to take a note, it may appear as if you’re surprised or very pleased about an answer, which may influence answers to future questions.
6. Provide transition between major topics, e.g., “we’ve been talking about (some topic) and now I’d like to move on to (another topic).” 7. Don’t lose control of the interview. This can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that times begins to run out, or even begin asking questions to the interviewer.
Immediately After Interview
1. Verify if the tape recorder, if used, worked throughout the interview. 2. Make any notes on your written notes, e.g., to clarify any scratchings, ensure pages are numbered, fill out any notes that don’t make senses, etc. 3. Write down any observations made during the interview. For example, where did the interview occur and when, was the respondent particularly nervous at any time? Were there any surprises during the interview? Did the tape recorder break?
Types of Interviews
1. Informal, conversational interview – no predetermined questions are asked, in order to remain as open and adaptable as possible to the interviewee’s nature and priorities; during the interview, the interviewer “goes with the flow”. 2. General interview guide approach – the guide approach is intended to ensure that the same general areas of information are collected from each interviewee; this provides more focus than the conversational approach, but still allows a degree of freedom and adaptability in getting information from the interviewee.
3. Standardized, open-ended interview – here, the same open-ended questions are asked to all interviewees (an open-ended question is where respondents are free to choose how to answer the question, i.e., they don’t select “yes” or “no” or provide a numeric rating, etc.); this approach facilitates faster interviews that can be more easily analyzed and compared. 4. Closed, fixed-response interview – where all interviewees are asked the same questions and asked to choose answers from among the same set of alternatives. This format is useful for those not practiced in interviewing.
Types of Topics in Questions
Patton notes six kinds of questions. One can ask questions about: 1. Behaviors – about what a person has done or is doing
2. Opinions/values – about what a person thinks about a topic 3. Feelings – note that respondents sometimes respond with “I think …” so be careful to note that you’re looking for feelings 4. Knowledge – to get facts about a topic
5. Sensory – about what people have seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelled 6. Background/demographics – standard background questions, such as age, education, etc. Note that the above questions can be asked in terms of past, present or future.
Kinds of Interview
1. Informational Interview
The objective of this interview is to ask for advice and learn more about a particular career field, employer or particular job. Interviewing experts in their field is one more way to become more occupationally literate. The knowledge that you gain here will make you a sharper and more informed. You will also make a contact and further develop your network.
2. Screening or Telephone Interview
A phone interview is a very cost effective way to screen candidates. These can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. You should prepare for it like an open book exam. It is recommended that you have in front of you your resume, the job description, a list of references, some prepared answers to challenging questions and perhaps something about the company. The vast majority of communication is non-verbal. Because they can’t see your body language, it is critically important to have positive and polished answers with energetic tone and inflection. Be sure to ask what the next step is.
3. Individual Interview
This is the most common type and often called a “personal interview.” It is typically a one-on-one exchange at the organizations offices. In order to best prepare you will want to know the length of the interview which can usually range from 30 to 90 minutes. If the interview is 30 minutes you have to be concise and have a high impact with your answers. If it is 60 or 90 minutes you will want to go into much more depth and use specific examples to support your generalizations.
4. Small Group or Committee Interview
This is where you will be meeting with several decision-makers at once. This can be an intimidating experience if you are not prepared. It’s an efficient way to interview candidates and allows for different interpretations or perceptions of the same answer. Be sure to make eye contact with everyone, no matter who asked the question. It’s important to establish rapport with each member of the interview team. Try to find out the names and job titles of the participants.
5. The Second or On-Site Interview
After your first interview, you may be asked back again for a “second date.” They like you enough that you made the first round of cuts, but they would like to know more about you before making their final decision. Second Interviews can last either a half or full-day so it is best to check again and get an agenda. You may be meeting with three to five individuals. This may include a representative from Human Resources, the department head, the office staff and the department head’s supervisor. Be alert and enthusiastic at all times! The more you know about the structure of the process, the less anxious you are going to feel and the better you will perform. This is the last step before an offer is made.
6. Behavioral-Based Interview
The theory behind Critical Behavioral Interviewing (CBI) is that past performance in a similar situation is the best predictor of future performance. CBI probes much deeper than traditional interviewing techniques. You should prepare by thinking of specific examples that demonstrate your competence in core behaviors such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication, creativity, flexibility and organizational skills. You will want to tell your story and structure it by stating your answers in terms of the situation, the task, what action you took, and what was the result or outcome.
7. Task Oriented or Testing Interview
This is a problem-solving interview where you will be given some exercises to demonstrate your creative and analytical abilities. A company may ask you to take a short test to evaluate your technical knowledge and skills. Sometimes a presentation to a group is necessary to determine your communication skills. Try to relax as much as possible.
8. Stress Interview
During this rare type, the interviewer tries to bait you, to see how you will respond. The objective is to find your weaknesses and test how you hold up to pressure. Such tactics as weird silences, constant interruptions and challenging interrogation with antagonistic questions are designed to push your boundaries. The question you have to ask yourself is: Do I want to work for a company that treats me this way even before the offer is made? Rethink the corporate culture.
Different Types of Interviews
This is the most common type of Interview. In the One-to-one interview the candidate for employment meets directly with the interviewer.
Phone Interviews are becoming increasingly popular among large corporations who are conducting a mass-hiring of employees. These interviews are conducted entirely over the phone and eliminate bias that may arise from a candidate’s appearance, mannerisms, or ethnicity. Often times, phone interview questions are structured and the question are behavioral in nature; to further eliminate bias. When preparing for a phone interview you should follow all of the steps listed above including getting dressed for the interview. Studies have shown that people who dress professionally for a phone interview will perform better than those dressed casually.
In the group interview style you will be interviewing simultaneously with two or three other candidates all vying for the same position. In this interview style one or more applicants may be asked the same question or the pool of applicants can be broken into teams to determine a solution to a problem posed by the interviewer. This style of interviewing is most common in the technology fields or any field where group cohesiveness is of extreme importance. The best way to prepare for a group interview is to follow the steps listed above.
A panel interview involves three or more members of the hiring organization meeting simultaneously with the person being considered for the position. This interview style is most common in academia or when hiring a senior level corporate executive. The term “search committee” is commonly used to describe a Panel Interview. In preparing for a panel interview it is best to understand an organization from every point of view. For example, if you are going to be interviewed by an organization’s Customer Service Manager, Finance Manager, and Human Resources Manager; you should familiarize yourself with current information about the organizations customer service policies, finance policies, and HR policies.
The Mock Interview allows prospective job candidates to practice their interviewing skills in a simulated interview environment. Mock interviews provide constructive feedback to the participants to enhance job prospects by improving interview skills.
Career fair interview
A conversation during a career fair can be considered a screening interview. It is generally, 2-10 minutes in length with a human resources representative or a technical manager in your field. If mutual interest is established, it is likely you will be invited for further interviews.
Because your meeting is brief, you will need to make an immediate positive impression. Research the employer and be prepared to match your background and interests to their needs.
The site interview takes place at the employer’s site. It is a selection interview, following a successful screening interview (phone, career fair, on-campus). This is very good news for you since you are now 50% closer to a job offer. There is however, still work to do!
Clarify the details of the visit in advance (date, location, length of visit, travel arrangements, suggested attire, expenses.) You may be scheduled for a half or full day of interviews, which may include a meal, a tour of the facility, and an overnight stay.
To prepare for a site visit, conduct in-depth research on the employer and their location. Dress professionally and arrive 15-20 minutes early. Bring ten copies of your resume, reference list (graduating students), and unofficial transcript. If you have a portfolio or sample of your work, bring it with you. Behavioral Interview (Behavior based Interviewing or Structured Interviews) A structured interview is a type of interview that is utilized by many larger organizations.
This interview is especially popular when there is more than one of the same position available within the organization. In a structured interview every applicant for the position is asked the same questions as every other applicant applying for the position. A structured interview may contain standard interview questions, behavioral interview questions, or a combination of the two.
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