Prep Work Is Key to Quick Interviews

Editorial

As a journalist, you rely on solid interviews to build informative pieces. But when your ideal subjects are busy and perhaps not that interested in speaking with you, your job becomes a challenge. Demonstrate that the subject's time and insight is valuable and can make a difference to readers of your alumni magazine. In order to coax them to give you space in their schedules, eliminate every extraneous task from the interview. Know ahead of time your goals and gather as much information as possible before reaching out to your subject.

1. Identify Your Purpose

Figure out the exact information you want from your subject as early as possible. If you are compiling a list of notable department alumni, you may want to know how they recall their time on campus and how it's contributed to their life after college. A profile of a specific alumnus might require more in-depth information about the subject's entire life, both before they started university and after they began their careers.

Remember, at the end of any interview you can always ask an open question that gives subjects the chance to say anything else they want to say. By targeting your questions, you are not stopping them from discussing topics of interest -- you're just maximizing efficiency.

2. Research Your Subject

Most of the nitty-gritty details about your subject are likely already available online. You should be able to find a CV, articles and other backup material that provide a starting point for the interview. This preliminary research allows you to develop pointed, specific questions to gather more interesting insight from the interview subject.

Demonstrating knowledge of your subjects also makes them less likely to express frustration during the conversation. Alumni, whether they are in academia, the private sector, entrepreneurship or engaged in something entirely different, are often asked to speak about a variety of topics on a daily basis. They may become exhausted if asked to expand upon something an interviewer should already know.

3. Reach Out and Follow Up

Reach out to your subject over email to request an interview. Include details about the proposed piece, the subject's role in that piece and the kind of information you need. To encourage a response, include a note about how the subject's participation will influence readers. For example, alumni with professional degrees who followed alternative career paths might inspire fellow alumni looking to make a change.

Don't be shy about identifying expected parameters for a future discussion. For example, "I'd love the opportunity to visit your office and discuss this more. I anticipate taking up only a half an hour of your time." If you don't get an immediate response to your email, follow up via phone in a week.

4. Run an Efficient Interview

Once you've received a commitment, hold up your end of the bargain by staying within the expected parameters. If the subject has agreed to answer questions over email, request ahead of time for the opportunity to follow up over phone or email if necessary, and don't assume your subject will make time beyond written questions. In a face-to-face meeting or phone conversation, start by giving the subject and overview of what you want to accomplish.

For example, you may say, "As I mentioned, this piece is to give some insight into alternative careers. I'd like to learn how you came to find your current career, how your degree influenced your decision and the role your education plays in your work. I have about seven prepared questions, but I am always interested to hear what else you have to say that goes beyond the script."

In order to get insight from the experts you need, try to see the interview process from the subject's perspective. Set boundaries, do your research and keep your promises to make it a successful discussion.

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