How to Interview Someone — and What Questions to Ask

By Paula Felps


When it comes to creating great content, outside voices deliver extra credibility and authority to blog posts, white papers and stories. Bringing in experts to explain a topic has several benefits:

  • It can add new perspective to a topic
  • It gives you an excellent reason to reach out to influencers and leaders in your space
  • It can help expand your reach, as the individuals you interview will share the content with their followers

The key to getting great content every time comes from interviewing individuals who are knowledgeable and have something valuable to say on whatever topic you’re discussing. But it also must be engaging and interesting to your audience, which is where you the responsibility for a great interview falls on you.

Some people will naturally be more engaging interview subjects, while others will make you work a little harder to get the quotes, comments and information you’re looking for.

However, with proper preparation and a little practice, you can turn every interview into strong content.

Planning and Prepping for a Powerful Interview

 WritingToolsEvery interview requires some preparation, and the more prepared you are, the better it’s going to go. Invest some time in researching not just the topic you’re interviewing someone about, but dig into their background to familiarize yourself with them. This can lead to better questions or even just help create a more relaxed environment during the interview itself.

For example, noting the interviewee’s love of horses or their collection of music memorabilia as you’re beginning your interview can help them feel more at ease, and it also lets them know that you’ve done your homework.

Prepare your questions before reaching out for an interview so that you already know what you’re going to discuss with them. That has a two-fold benefit; you can be more clear in what you’re asking them for, and you’ll be prepared in case they respond to your interview request by saying, “Great! Let’s do it now!”

Know the direction of the piece you’re writing and have a full outline of questions ready before reaching out to set up the interview. Coming up with the questions you want to ask begins with knowing where you want the story to take you.

Asking Great Questions Begins With Knowing What Answers You Need

Approach your interview sort of like you approach your GPS: You know where you want to end up, you just need it to tell you how to get there. If you’re interviewing someone on “How to encourage creativity in the workplace,” you know that you want your ending point to be solid, actionable advice on building a more creative workplace. Now you just need your expert to give you the “map” to get there.

 question-iconAll of your questions should be designed to accomplish that goal. While the interviewee might take a few detours, your questions should always bring them back to the main road. Preparing your questions in advance will help keep you from getting sidetracked, even if/when the person you’re interviewing goes off topic.

After you’ve brainstormed the questions that you want to ask, organize them in a logical way. You’ll probably only need to have seven to 10 questions prepared; depending on the amount of time you have with the interviewee and how much they elaborate on a single point, you may not get to every question. But having more questions that you need is better than running out of questions, and the more questions you’ve prepared, the more familiar you’ll be with the topic.

To get the most specific answers and best information, you’ll need specific questions. Avoid asking open-ended questions; instead, make sure your question makes clear what kind of information you’re looking for.

For example, ask questions such as, “Can you tell me three ways that encouraging creativity in the workplace is beneficial for employers?” rather than asking “Is creativity in the workplace beneficial for employers?”

If you develop your questions with a basic idea of what you want to get from the interview, you’re helping guide your interviewee down a clear path, which ultimately makes it easier for both of you to get to where you want to go.


Setting Up the Interview

 how to interview someoneEmail can be a great tool for saving time, but for a truly great interview, there’s no substitute for one-on-one interaction. While you may not be able to do the interview in person, it’s better to do it by phone or video (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype) than by email. Interviewing someone by phone or video makes the interview more personal and interactive, which generally leads to better quotes and comments. If you can be flexible with the type of technology you’re using, let the person you’re interviewing choose which they prefer. The more comfortable they are, the better the interview.

Likewise, when you’re asking for an interview, you can suggest some days and times that work, or ask the interviewee to let you know what works best for them. Work around their schedule as much as possible; they’re providing you with information and you want to show your appreciation by being flexible and available.

Once you’ve agreed on a time and format, follow-up with a calendar invitation via email to make sure that you both remember.  

The Art of a Great Interview

 how to interview someone 2A really good interview begins by getting in the right mindset several minutes beforehand. Go over your questions to remind yourself of what you’ll be discussing, and if you’re doing the interview at your computer, shut down other files and browsers that could distract you during your call or video chat.  

Always make sure you’re on time and remember to give your interviewee plenty of time to answer the questions.

While you need to have an organized set of questions, if your subject brings up some points that are unexpected but could be beneficial to you, don’t hesitate to go off script. The idea is to be well-prepared and organized, but also to be flexible enough to allow for new and unexpected information.

When doing an interview, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what question you’re going to ask next — and miss what the person you’re interviewing is saying. Stay engaged and practice active listening to make sure you end up with the information you wanted.

After the interview, if you need to ask additional questions or want clarification, you can send follow-up questions by email if needed. However, avoid doing this more than once; you’re trying to make it as simple as possible for the other person, so wait until you’re absolutely certain you won’t need any more information before sending that email.

Great interviews and great content go hand in hand. Taking time to develop thoughtful questions around topics that are important to your reader can make your content stand out from your competitors and help make you a trusted, go-to resource.


Paula Felps

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