Top Ten Tips for First Time Interviewers by Joanna Kremer

My first interview was when I was ten years old and we had been asked at school to interview someone about their experience during the Second World War. I cannot remember much about the interview itself or what our homework was about, but I do remember sitting in front of our carefully chosen candidate who our parents knew (so no ‘stranger danger’ there) enjoying cakes and tea, and fiddling around with a Fisher Price microphone.

Having left the good old Fisher Price days behind me, this January, I embarked on my second attempt at interviewing people as part of my PhD thesis on citizenship, language and identity in Luxembourg. I have experienced a lot over the past year, which is why I wanted to share some thoughts for those interested in interviewing and for those wondering what I have been up to for the past couple of months. Before starting with my own list, I would like to thank those people who have shared their own interviewing experience with me over the past year(s). I am very grateful for your help and I wouldn’t have felt nearly as confident as I was without you.

I wouldn’t take this as an exhaustive list of things to think about when preparing for interviews; it is merely a list that I have thought of, so please if you have anything to add, do so.

  1. Apply for ethics approval on time and know what you need to include in your application as soon as possible. I know this seems like a pretty obvious one, but applying early and sorting out information sheets and consent forms in advance saves you a lot of hassle before you want to start interviewing, especially if you are going abroad.
  2. Before you start your ‘proper’ interviews, do some mock interviews with friends/family. This really helped me practice my questions (in French and German especially) and identify superfluous questions (For my own study I wanted to avoid questions that led to yes or no answers)
  3. Practice what you are going to say to participants to explain your study, especially if this is in a language you are not used to speaking on a daily basis. Keeping information as precise and clear as possible gives a good impression and shows that you know what you are doing.
  4. There are many different ways of recruiting potential participants. I started out by asking around in my family/friend circles and then contacted an organisation which helped me by sending out emails and handing out information sheets. Have some information sheets handy whenever you go out, you never know who you might meet!
  5. Buy a cheap pay- as- you- go phone with a new number which you can use for contacting participants. I would suggest indicating only this number and your university email address on your information sheet. Be careful not to give out too much information, you are putting yourself out there as well and you need to stay safe.
  6. Always make sure you meet in a public place and know where you want to conduct the interview. You might know a café/public place you want to go but remember that your participant might not be comfortable with meeting there (e.g. university). Always check out your meeting place beforehand, and make sure there are a couple of alternatives in case your chosen meeting place is closed.
  7. Contact participants a day before and remind them of the place and time of the interview. By framing it the right way (e.g. ‘I am really looking forward to our meeting tomorrow, see you at 3 p.m. at café Delia’) you make sure they know it’s still on and show that you are keen to meet them.
  8. If you are recording the interview, take extra batteries for your device. Even if you don’t have to use them, knowing they are there will calm you down.
  9. Don’t let yourself be discouraged if you think an interview went badly, the next one will be great! (I don’t believe there are bad interviews, you always find something interesting while re-listening to it)
  10. Chocolates! Buy some chocolates and have them either on the table during the interview or give them to your participant as a present after the interview. Everyone will remember that you gave them chocolates 😉

As I said beforehand, please don’t think of this as an exhaustive or official list. I could think of ten further tips, and I know some of these points seem ‘obvious’, but if you are nervous about interviewing, thinking about the little things and checking you have included everything helps calm you down and helps build your confidence.

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