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Conducting a good interview, how do you do that?

Interviewing is a profession in itself. It is not a matter of reading questions and raming answers on paper; it is knowing what to ask, how to ask and when to ask. In this article you will read everything you need to know to prepare for an interview. From the right preparation to efficient implementation; we share our favorite tips & tricks.

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Why an interview and not a survey?

During an interview you speak one on one with a respondent. This can be done by telephone, face-to-face, in a furnished interview room, by means of a video call; you name it. An interview can take place anywhere. Whatever location or form you choose, personal contact is guaranteed (and essential). Two other advantages of an interview over a survey:

  • Draught
    During an interview you can ask further questions, where you will receive less extensive answers within surveys. Why was… important? How did that moment come about? What effect did it have? How do you mean, exactly? What went through your mind? Can you explain that? Interviewing gives depth to your research data, and if you need that depth, a survey usually drops out.
  • Size and representativeness
    If your population is small, a survey is not an obvious choice. Surveys are often non-responsive, making survey results insignificant among a small population. Interviews are therefore recommended for a small group! 

Different interview methods

Once you've decided that you're going to conduct interviews, you'll soon be faced with the following decision: what type of interview are you going to use? The main interview formats are the structured, semi-structured and unstructured interview. Other interview formats are often based on this:

  • Structured interview
    In a structured interview, also called a standardized interview, you stick to a fixed interview schedule. This contains the questions and the order of the questions. The aim is to ensure that all interviewees are interviewed under the same circumstances and that you ask the same questions in the same way. This increases the reliability of the interview.
  • Semi-structured interview
    Semi-structured interviews are also known as qualitative interviews or in-depth interviews. You use a general interview schedule with predetermined, somewhat more generally formulated questions, but you may deviate from this. For example, you can ask questions if your respondent says something interesting or if you do not fully understand what the respondent means. This gives you more detailed information, which is often the goal in qualitative research.
  • Unstructured interview
    In the unstructured interview, which is also called an intensive, qualitative interview or in-depth interview, you as a researcher often use a list of topics (topic list) instead of questions. These topics should in any case be discussed in your interview, but how you ask them and in which order you do that is completely up to you. This interview style is usually informal.
  • Focused interview / focus group
    With a focused interview, you mainly ask respondents open-ended questions about a specific situation or event that is relevant to them. This is the same in a focus group, but in that case a group of respondents discusses this event with each other. In a focused interview or focus group, the interviewer usually asks a small number of general questions that guide the interview or discussion. In terms of interview style, a focus group therefore resembles a semi-structured interview.
  • Group interview
    A group interview is very similar to a focus group, but the difference is that with a group interview often several topics are covered in an interview, while a focus group (or focused interview) focuses on one specific topic or one specific situation.
  • Expert interview
    An expert interview is usually used in qualitative research. The aim is to collect very specialized professional knowledge that you often cannot obtain by doing literature research. It is difficult to use expert interviews for quantitative research because you usually cannot find a large group of experts to interview. Instead, opt for a qualitative in-depth interview to gather as much information as possible.

Preparing an interview

Once you've decided which interview method you're going for, it's important to prepare for your interview. Good preparation ensures a professional appearance towards your respondents. Depending on the chosen method, it helps to prepare a topic list / questionnaire beforehand. This way you have some outlines that you can fall back on and you know that you are offering all interviewees the same topics or questions. It is also useful to practice your interviewing skills. Ask a fellow student, family member or acquaintance as a test subject and especially try to get feedback on your way of asking questions, your attitude, and the comprehensibility and structure of your interview. 

It is important to record your interview. You can take written notes, but it is better to record or film the interview. This way you can hear (or see) exactly what has been said and you can fully focus your attention on your respondent during the interview. Afterwards you can transcribe, code and analyze the interviews. When recording your interview, it is important that you:

  • test your recording equipment beforehand;
  • the respondent requests (written) permission to record;
  • checks several times in between whether the recording is still running;
  • save the files so that you can find them easily.

More preparation tips:

  • Think about what information you need from your interviews and put the questions in a logical order, so that you have a pleasant and logical conversation;
  • Choose a place with a nice atmosphere and easily accessible for your respondents (make it as easy as possible for them). For example, think of our soundproof interview spaces right next to Utrecht Central;
  • State clearly how long the interview will last and why you are doing the interview. If necessary, you can email the questions in preparation so that your respondents can prepare.

Different interview techniques

There is no gold standard for the "perfect interviewer" and practice makes perfect. This should certainly work with these three points of attention:

  • Listen carefully and ask clear questions
    Your respondents are central; let your guests speak and don't put words in their mouths. If respondents feel that they have to defend themselves, there is little chance that you will get valuable information. Therefore try to have an open attitude and do not judge the statements of the interviewees.
  • Tune in to the interviewee
    Certain questions may be sensitive, respondents may feel uncomfortable or may even be bored. So pay close attention to verbal and non-verbal communication (wiggle, look away) and respond to this if possible.
  • Watch your own body language
    Your body language is also very important during the interview. Show that you want to hear what your respondent has to say. Respondents often want to tell you things, but they must have the idea that you find it interesting. Look at your respondent and/or nod yes or no, for example, when the respondent is speaking. With your body language and your way of speaking you can make respondents feel comfortable, which will make them more open during the interview.

Interview questions: fun questions to ask

In a personal interview it works well to start with small talk and then one softball to throw in. A question that gives someone the space to talk about their business or successes. It is mainly meant to loosen someone up and make them feel comfortable with you. Think of questions with which you can quickly break the ice and have an accessible conversation with nice to the point answers. 

For example:

  • Would you rather always say what you think or never speak again?
  • What is your most unusual talent?
  • What is something I would never guess about you?
  • What's your craziest plan for your dream job?
  • What made you laugh the hardest last week?

Which interview questions are always good?

  • Asking for clarification: “I don't think I fully understand what you mean. Could you perhaps clarify this?”
  • Ask for examples: “Can you name a situation where… was expressed?”
  • Asking for the whole story: “What happened then?”
  • Questions based on non-verbal communication: “I see you're nodding. Would you approach the situation in the same way?”

Which interview questions should you avoid?

  • Long questions: respondents often only remember part of the question and therefore give incomplete answers.
  • Questions with technical terms: In general, you should avoid jargon in your questions (except for expert interviews). Try to think in advance which terms are or are not generally known to this target group, so that you do not have to interrupt the interview for explanation and the interviewee does not feel uncomfortable.
  • Guiding questions: the question “What do you like about Utrecht?” steers your respondent in a certain (positive) direction. With a question like “What do you think of Utrecht?” the respondent is more likely to give a more authentic answer. This increases the validity of your research.

Unsubscribe your interview

Transcribing an interview allows you to code and analyze the text. Handy, but transcribing is a time-consuming and sometimes difficult job. The transcribing takes on average five to ten times longer than the length of the audio file. Therefore, follow our four tips to transcribe as quickly and effectively as possible:

  1. Ensure good audio quality;
  2. Ga as quickly as possible get started with transcribing after the interview;
  3. Use any transcription software to speed up the process;
  4. Read the transcript carefully and correct any errors.

Types of effects:

  • transcribing verbatim
    Verbatim transcribing is the most commonly used form of transcribing. You write down everything that is said, but you can ignore hesitations, safe words, and stuttering. Also add punctuation to improve readability. The disadvantage of this method is that information is lost about how someone says something.
  • Transcribe literally
    Literal transcribing is the most accurate form of transcribing. You literally write out everything you hear. This means that dialects, stuttering, catchwords and hesitations, such as “uh”, are also written out. This form of transcribing is really only interesting if you don't just want to analyze what someone also says how someone says something. This is done, for example, when investigating behavior or for legal purposes.
  • Transcribe summary
    Summary transcribing is similar to taking minutes and is mainly used for meetings. You don't type everything out word for word, but you summarize everything. This method is not recommended for research because the objectivity is low. By summarizing you are interpreting a lot and the method is not accurate.

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Conducting a good interview, how do you do that?

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