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Tips for a Difficult Interview


It is always good to use quotations from sources whenever possible. If you are writing a news article, this will add greatly to the validity of your piece. But it's always possible that will run into someone who is not easy to interview.

Most people have no problem being interviewed and are happy to open up about a subject they are familiar with. But you will come across individuals who are awkward or just plain difficult. So What happens if you start an interview and discover you’re talking to someone who is too quiet, arrogant, or confusing? It depends on the situation.

1. Professionals and Celebrities

This category includes performers (dancers, actors, writers, and sportsmen and women) who might be visiting your campus. The majority of this group will be happy to give an interview and will talk freely. However, a sportsman who has already given five interviews in the last hour and wants to catch a flight will not be forthcoming.

It is important in this later case to go prepared with a list of questions, but make it clear at the outset that you understand their dilemma, and the pressure they are under, and suggest that you email the list to him or her to complete the answers when they have more time. However, it is very important to get a few quotes while you are face to face (the email may never come back!).

Some professionals may not want to talk about a subject that you are trying address. In this case, a sensitive approach is essential, and an opening question that is directly related to a sensitive subject may bring the interview to an early close.

It is far better, therefore, to start with general questions (background details, checking of spellings, etc.). Once a dialogue is established, most interviewees will give longer answers. Is at this point when an interviewer must adapt the old adage of having two ears and one month.

2. Nervous or Troubled Individuals

You might find yourself interviewing a student or teacher who has been accused of misconduct. How a question is formed will put a nervous person at ease or make them retreat from further dialogue.

For example, if you are asking someone why he or she was suspended, you may easily come across as making an accusation. Far better to ask a very open question such as “can you tell me in your own words what happened yesterday?”

3. Authority Figures

If you have to interview an authority figure such as a teacher or a professor, it is important to show respect at the outset. For example, start by saying how much appreciate their time, and you that you will keep questions to the point. This last statement can, to a certain extent, prepare them for very direct questions.

4. Tricky Situations

If you are asking questions that the answers may have legal ramifications (Where did you learn how to cheat with a cell phone?) you may not get a direct answer. At times, in the latter case, it is best to encourage the interview to talk openly as much as they feel comfortable with—they will often say more than they should and ask that you do not publish something--do not break that trust by doing so!

If you are tape recording, or using some device to record an interview, it is very important to let the interviewee know at the start. However, sometimes (when the person is nervous at the start) it is best not to start recording straight away you will after all be taking written notes that you can publish.

Once the interviewee settles into the interview, you can casually ask if you can begin record as you want to make sure you remember everything they have said.

Some interviewees will request a copy of the rough draft you intend to publish before it goes public.

Try at all cost to avoid this. Typically, they will want to change anything they see that doesn’t paint them to be perfect in every detail, and they will also argue with you about the prose and want to make a number of changes.

This can become a quagmire. Just say no.

To help you elicit as much information during an interview as you can, and when all else is failing, it is good practice to keep in mind the old journalists trick of ensuring each answer satisfies the five Ws: who, what, when, where, why.

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