Interviewing Is an Art … and a Science

I think I’ve grown so much as an interviewer this semester, especially in the past few weeks.

“Think Like an Editor” describes interviewing as both an art and a science — an art in terms of technique, but a science in terms of research and preparation. The more I think about it, the more I agree with this definition.

As a logical thinker and former science kid, I’ve had the “science” part down for a while, I think. I prepare for each interview by doing background research — mainly by Googling and asking around — and write a list of questions. I don’t adhere strictly to this list, but it helps provide an outline so I don’t forget to ask anything important. If I do come up with additional questions later (which, let’s face it, happens all the time), I can always call them back and ask.

The “art” part hasn’t come so easily to me. I’ll never forget my first interview for a newspaper article, when I called MU’s vice provost for undergraduate studies about the Honors College director stepping down. (This was in June, before I had stepped foot onto campus, so I also had no idea how important he was at MU.) I nervously explained what I was doing, then jumped into asking questions. I kept apologizing as I stumbled through my list and backtracked thoughts, and my confidence waned with each question. At the end of the longest 30 minutes of my life, when I was mentally reconsidering my decision to go to journalism school, I was in the middle of saying a quick goodbye when he stopped me.

“Are you an incoming freshman?” he asked.

I was almost positive he could see my dark red face through the phone as I responded: “Yes, I am. This is my first interview ever. I’m really sorry it was so rough.”

“I’m going to give you two pieces of advice,” he said. “First, never apologize during an interview. Ever. Second, be confident in what you’re asking. You asked some good questions, and as a journalist, you need to be confident in what you’re doing.”

I thanked him, and after hanging up, I knew he was absolutely right. So, since that day, I’ve worked on my confidence and rapport as an interviewer.

I know I’m not close to perfect, but after what I’m sure has been at least a few hundred interviews in the past two years, I know I’ve gotten better, and I’m continuing to do so — even in this past week.

Jacqui Banaszynski came to our reporting lecture Tuesday and talked about interviewing. She talked about the importance of being conversational but not having a conversation. She emphasized the importance of a second and third interview with a source. She relayed the importance of being human — stumbling and all — and of just listening.

And when I employed these tips in an interview Wednesday, I got some excellent information. (Who would’ve thought, right?)

As I finish out the semester, I’ll be sure to keep work on refining this art-science hybrid of interviewing.

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