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Conducting the Information Interview

Module 5: Conducting the Interview

2 people in an information interview

Stage 5: Conducting the Interview.

Central to conducting the information interview is establishing a productive interview climate. A productive interview climate does not happen magically; it develops in the interactions between interviewer and interviewee.

Like speeches, interviews have an opening, body, and closing. As the interviewer, you want to begin the interview in such a way that facilitates the interview process, ask questions that assist all parties in achieving their goals, and end the interview on a positive note.

  1. OPENING--"breaking the ice"
    The interview opening usually sets the tone for the remainder of the interview. Your goal is to establish a productive climate so both you and your interviewee will participate freely and communicate accurately.

    1. Climate issues contribute to the mood or tone of the information interview; both interviewer and interviewee are responsible for establishing the interview climate

      1. Formality level reflects differences in status between interview participants; evolves and can change during the interview process
        1. Nonverbal indicators of status include dress, proximity, location of interview
        2. Verbal indicators of formality level include how participants address each other (titles or first names), how much "small talk" participants engage in, use of slang

      2. Rapport is the process of creating goodwill and trust between interviewer and interviewee
        1. First impressions greatly influence how rapport is established; avoid jumping to conclusions about others based on little information
        2. When you and the interviewee share a similar frame of reference or worldview, it is easier to establish rapport
        3. The interview's formality level influences how rapport is established; for example, in more informal information interviews, there is more "small talk" at the beginning, while in more formal interviews, the interviewer will tend to take a more direct approach

    2. Orientation sets the groundwork for the body of interview

      1. At minimum, the orientation statement should include:
        1. description of the interview's purpose
        2. topics to be covered

      2. In addition, orientation commonly includes:
        1. indication of the interviewer's preparation for the interview
        2. projected length of time
        3. how the information will be used/confidentiality statement

      3. The orientation may also include:
        1. request for the interviewee's cooperation
        2. statement of the importance of the interview
        3. mention of any financial reward or other benefit to the interviewee
        4. explanation of how interviewees were selected
        5. reference to sponsoring organization

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  2. BODY--asking questions
    This is the main part of the interview. In
    Module 4 you learned what kinds of questions you can ask in the information interview. Here we'll look at the order or sequences in which you might ask those questions.

    1. Funnel
      Use this question sequence when the interviewee knows the topic well and feels free to talk about it, or when the person wants to express strong feelings. This is the most common of all question sequences for all types of interviews. In this sequence, the interviewer begins with broad, open-ended questions and moves to more narrow, closed-ended questions. The interviewer may also begin with more general questions and gradually ask more specific questions.

    2. Inverted Funnel
      This question sequence is effective when an interviewee needs help remembering something or to motivate an interviewee to talk. In this sequence, the interviewer begins with narrow, closed-ended questions and moves to more broad, open-ended questions. The interviewer may also begin with more specific questions and gradually ask more general questions.

    3. Diamond
      The Diamond question sequence combines the Funnel and Inverted Funnel sequences. Use this sequence when dealing with topics interviewees may find painful or difficult and therefore are reluctant to discuss. Begin with specific, closed-ended questions about a situation similar to the interviewee's, then ask general, open-ended questions about the interview, and finally ask specific, closed-ended questions about the interviewee's particular circumstances.

    4. Tunnel
      In this sequence, all questions have the same degree of openness. Also called the "string of beads" questions sequence, the Tunnel sequence allows for little probing and variation in question structure. It can be useful for simple, surface information interviews, but not for in-depth interviews.

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  3. CLOSING--concluding the interview
    The closing brings the interview full circle. Your goal is to leave the interviewee feeling positive and satisfied with the interview.

    1. Closing issues

      1. Closing often neglected in preparing for interviews

      2. Interview termination forecast in the opening

    2. Stages

      1. Conclusion preparation: the interviewer is responsible for signaling upcoming conclusion, as with, "My final question. . ."

      2. Final summary: is a consolidation of entire interview and provides a test of your listening and notetaking skills
        1. highlight key aspects and overall conclusions
        2. point out areas of agreement and disagreement
        3. ask the interviewee about the accuracy of your summary

      3. Post-interview discussion: informal; not part of the formal interview; the interviewer and interviewee engage in "chit-chat"
        1. signalled when you close your notebook, turn off the tape recorder, etc.
        2. you should not introduce any new information at this point
        3. if necessary, you can reassure the interviewee, restate confidential nature of interview, purpose and use of information
        4. the interviewee often relaxes and may relay important information
        5. farewell marks end of post-interview discussion

In conducting the information interview, you want to be prepared, yet flexible, and create a communication climate in which the interviewee will feel comfortable. Balance note-taking with maintaining eye contact with the interviewee. If you record the interview, be sure to ask the interviewee's permission before the interview. Don't rely solely on the audiotape for recording the interview as tape recorders can fail. Signal your interest, but avoid leading the interviewee to respond in particular ways. Listen carefully, ask secondary/probing questions, and use your Interview Guide to keep you on track.

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