Former Boston Consulting Group Principle, Arthur Jones offers his thoughts on interviewing.
Do you need to conduct a series of bespoke interviews for a due diligence, a potential market entry or simply to get a greater understanding of your customers’ business needs? Here are ten tips towards becoming an expert interviewer.
1. Know what the output will look like before you start
This is about being clear about what the survey is designed to achieve. Understanding your objectives is crucial to success, and having a clear idea of the output is an excellent way to clarify this. It also helps in setting expectations with your client or manager and ensures the survey does not miss issues or raise more questions than it answers.
2. Do your research
The more you know before the interview the more productive it will be. If you don’t know the market intimately then research it thoroughly; the players, the products, the competitors, trends and industry developments as necessary. Make a list of industry acronyms and terminology and keep it close. People appreciate discussing their business with someone who is knowledgeable. You will gain credibility, goodwill and be able to gain greater insight. Remember also to understand the profile of the person you are interviewing as people’s backgrounds inform their views.
3. Have a script but let the conversation flow naturally
People express themselves best when they tell the story in their own terms. What comes ‘top-of-mind’ can provide important information such as relative significance and linkages between issues. Use the script to guide the interview and ensure all the bases are covered but otherwise let people talk. The information you glean will be richer. Which leads to the next point…
4. Don’t be afraid to go ‘off-piste’
Different industries face different issues and the overarching objective is deep customer and industry understanding. If something comes up that expands or explains something that is unique to the sector or the company’s particular situation then this is important insight. Aim to produce an interview that is ‘information rich’. But by the same token…
5. Keep track of the time
A simple point. You don’t want to be coming towards the end of your time with half the survey still to complete.
6. Tidy up your notes immediately afterwards
Few people can capture all the fine detail of an interview in real time. Take time to flesh out and clarify your notes while your memory is fresh. Leave it a day and you will lose information.
7. Do the analytics as you go
If you are collecting customer satisfaction ratings or net promoter scores, do not leave it to the end to crunch the numbers. Trends may start to emerge which you will perhaps want to explore in subsequent interviews. It also will identify if there are any segments such as company size or geographical location underrepresented in your survey and give you time to address this.
8. Try not to schedule interviews back to back
If you come to the end of your time and the interviewee is willing to continue you don’t want to have to cut the interview short because you have another one scheduled. A break also keeps you fresh and allows time to tidy your notes.
9. Be sure to update your contact database
This is a simple point but easy to forget. Log all phone calls, voicemails, emails, next steps and other information.
10. Consider the interview from the interviewee’s perspective
Interviewees have their own situation and interests. Think about how you will approach asking them for what they might consider commercially sensitive information. You may be asked who will have access to the report and on what basis. They may ask to see the report or ask for information in return. Anticipate these and other questions and have answers prepared.
Understanding your market is a fundamental requirement for any successful venture and effective interviewing is an important component of that. Done properly it can also enhance and deepen relationships with key people and be an enjoyable experience for both parties. Happy interviewing!
About the writer
Arthur Jones is an independent strategy and management consultant with deep experience in strategy, organisation, operations and change management across a range of sectors. He has been conducting interviews for more than ten years.
Thank you Arthur.