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When we hear the word interviewing, we are likely to think of a journalist asking questions at the scene of an accident or a recruiter asking questions of an applicant. It is a simple one-way contact in which one person, usually a professional of some sort, asks questions and the other, usually a witness, sports fan, job applicant, or patient, answers them. This narrow and simplistic view of interviewing resulted historically in few interviewing courses in colleges, a handful of textbooks on interviewing, and little research beyond the study of recruiting and counseling interviews.
Fortunately, as times have changed and our understanding of human communication has become more sophisticated, interviewing courses have become commonplace, textbooks and articles treating many types or special types of interviews vie for our attention, and research has become abundant in areas such as health care, journalism, counseling, recruiting, performance review, and surveys. We have come to realize that interviews are the most common form of serious, purposeful, planned interpersonal communication that ranges from formal to informal, simple to intricate, minimally structured to highly structured, brief to lengthy.
This research paper begins with a definition of interviewing so that we can develop a firm understanding of what is and is not an interview. The definition is followed by a focus on the interview as a deceptively complex communication process. This leads to a discussion of the methods interviewers and interviewees employ in interviews, including approaches, questions and answers, and structure. The paper closes with a discussion of growing areas of concern and focus, examining the increasing use of electronic means of interviewing (cell phones, the Internet, and videoconferencing), and a summary. Reading suggestions are offered to those who wish to delve more deeply into the types and uses of interviews.
Writers and researchers have defined interviewing in a variety of ways, but regardless of the specific wording, there are essential terms or concepts that distinguish the interview from other forms of communication. Let us start with perhaps the most important.
Each interview is a dyadic form of communication between two parties. Although one or both parties may consist of two or more people (two recruiters from an organization interviewing a college senior or one reporter interviewing three family members at the scene of an accident), there are two distinct parties, an interviewer party and an interviewee party. If three or more identifiable parties are present, they are taking part in small-group communication, not an interview.
The interview is interactional in nature, meaning that it is a process in which both parties are interdependent and communication is reciprocal. It is a mutual activity done with, not to, another party. If one party does all the talking and the other all the listening, a speech to an audience of one is taking place, not an interview. The parties both speak and listen from time to time; share feelings, beliefs, and attitudes; and exchange information and responsibilities. Each party brings something of importance to the interview and must be an active participant.
At least one of the two parties in each interview has a predetermined and serious purpose other than mere enjoyment in the process and outcome. This characteristic denotes a degree of seriousness, advance planning, and structure, which sets the interview apart from social conversation.At the same time, however, a good interview has many of the qualities of conversations, such as friendliness, sharing, listening, ease of speaking, and mutual satisfaction.
The use of questions is an integral, often dominant feature of most interviews. It would be difficult to imagine an interview without questions and answers. A question is any verbal or nonverbal expression that invites a verbal response and need not be an interrogatory and formally worded sentence. “Uh-huh,” “Um-hm,” “And?” or “Then?” may be effective questions that elicit important responses. A simple head nod or silence may encourage a party to continue with or modify an answer. Most interviews (particularly surveys, and recruiting and journalistic interviews) cannot exist without questions and overt responses. They are the tools both parties use to obtain information, check for accuracy, verify understanding, and provoke or challenge feelings and thoughts.
The interview is relational because both parties are connected interpersonally with varying degrees of interest in the outcome of the interview. They are interdependent because the interview is done with, not to, another party and neither can go it alone. John Stewart and Carole Logan (1998) and Stephen Littlejohn (1996) write that parties in interpersonal interactions have a relational history and memory created or re-created prior to, during, and following each interaction, which may be close or distant, formal or informal, casual or professional, friendly or hostile. Our relationships change over time and are essentially altered (created or re-created) in important ways each time we interact with one another. Important relational dimensions include perceived and real similarities between the parties; how much each desires to take part in an interaction; the degree of liking or affection; how the parties share control; and, perhaps most important, how much they trust one another, particularly at a specific time, during a specific situation, and in a specific setting. The degree of trust may determine if, when, where, and how an interview takes place and its outcome.
The Interview as a Communication Process
This definition of interviewing indicates that each interview is a deceptively complex communication process. As a process, the interview is a dynamic, ever-changing, continuing interaction of many variables, not merely asking and answering questions, giving or getting information. The word process also denotes a degree of structure and progression toward a chosen end or goal. Like processes, once an interview commences, it is impossible for the parties not to communicate as long as they are in sight and sound of one another.
Two Parties in Interviewing
John Stewart (2006) writes that interviewing is a process of “sending and receiving simultaneously” between two unique and complex parties. Members of each party are unique products and sums of their culture, environment, education, training, and experiences, and they adhere to specific beliefs, attitudes, and values. They have unique personalities and personas that they project in public arenas and are motivated by expectations, desires, needs, motives, and interests.
Somehow, these unique parties must interact together to bring about results that are satisfying to each: a filled vacancy and a position, an item for the evening news and an opportunity to tell one’s side of the story, helping and being helped in a counseling situation, selling and purchasing a computer. Both parties must be active participants from start to finish.
Exchanging Roles in Interviewing
Working together means exchanging roles of interviewer and interviewee during the interview when it is appropriate for the status and expertise of the parties, the interview in which they are taking part, and the atmosphere of the interaction. Although the setting—a journalist questioning an eyewitness, a physician giving information to a patient, a recruiter meeting with an applicant, a counselor discussing a problem with a student—may determine the primary role of interviewer or interviewee, the parties usually switch roles from time to time. They will speak and listen, question and answer, challenge and be challenged, motivate and be motivated. For instance, if a counselor asks a question and the counselee seeks clarification or objects to its wording, the counselee takes on the role of interviewer for the moment. When a recruiter invites the applicant to ask questions, the recruiter becomes the interviewee. How often and to what extent roles are exchanged depends on the interview type and setting. A survey taker may play the role of interviewer 90% of the time, while a physician may play the role of interviewer only half of the time. A job applicant may spend 70% of the time answering questions, while a person purchasing a suit may talk only 10% of the time.
Levels of Interactions in Interviewing
The nature and frequency of interactions are significantly affected by each party’s perceptions of self, the other, and the situation. How does each party see itself (self-concept) and value itself (self-esteem) and its possibility of success (selfconfidence)? How does each party see itself in this situation as patient, subordinate, student, or client? Poor or exalted self-perceptions can do harm to or enhance the outcome of an interview. Perceptions of the other may be influenced by similar and different associations, cultures, genders, ages, ethnic groups, dress, and personal attractiveness. How the parties view the situation (threatening or supportive, rewarding or punitive, constructive or destructive, safe or dangerous, pleasant or painful) will have a major impact on the communication interactions that take place.
Charles Stewart and William Cash (2006) identify interactions as levels of communication that take place during interviews. For instance, Level 1 interactions tend to be safe, nonthreatening, socially acceptable, comfortable, and ambiguous, much like the following:
Interviewer: How are you doing?
Interviewee: Okay, thanks.
Level 1 interactions are common during the opening minutes of interviews, when both parties are sizing up one another, there is little relational history to serve as a guide, and the interview is between a superior and a subordinate.
Level 2 interactions tend to be half-safe and half-revealing because at least one party is willing to take some risk and the parties have a generally positive relational history. How an interview is arranged and by whom may determine if Level 2 interactions take place. A Level 2 interaction might go like this:
Interviewer: How’s the project coming along?
Interviewee: Not bad, but we’re a little behind schedule.
The interviewee is willing to disclose a little but not enough to pose serious risk, at least not yet.
Level 3 interactions are open, with full self-disclosure of feelings, attitudes, and perceptions. Trust is high, perhaps because of a strong and lengthy relational history between the parties, so the interviewee feels safe to interact openly. A Level 3 interaction might go like this:
Interviewer: How are things at the Summerville facility?
Interviewee: Not very good at the moment. I’m having trouble between design and engineering on the new transmission and may have to make some difficult decisions about replacing some long-time supervisors.
Levels of interaction are critical to interviews. If an interview starts and remains at Level 1, the parties will share little information and few insights into attitudes, perceptions, problems, or solutions. It may be a pleasant but ineffective exchange of safe and ambiguous thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Both parties must strive to reach Levels 2 and 3, but their ability and willingness to do so may depend on their status in the interview (superior or subordinate), the climate of the interview (threatening or supportive), and their demographic makeup. For instance, women tend to disclose more than men, are better listeners, and are more responsive, particularly in woman-to-woman interactions. European Americans tend to disclose more about a wide range of topics, particularly about their careers, than do those of Asian descent. Older Americans tend to be more reluctant to challenge authority and tend to respect status and place in the social or professional hierarchy. Disclosure is often difficult in the intimate interview because, as Laura Guerrero, Peter Andersen, and Walid Afifi (2005) write, “People face a constant struggle between wanting to do whatever they want . . . and wanting to do what makes them look good to others.” (p. 35) Interviews tend to involve our actions, thoughts, feelings, careers, and futures.
Verbal Interactions in Interviewing
Verbal symbols, although merely arbitrary connections of letters into words, form questions, answers, and information exchange that enable both parties to identify, describe, and frame people, places, things, attitudes, ideas, and points of view. There can be no interview without them, but they often pose as many problems as solutions. For starters, many “English speakers” do not know the meaning of simple or apparently well-known words such as impetus, lucid, advocate, overt, tumor, and brevity.
Words tend to have many meanings. For instance, to apologize may mean to express sorrow or to defend oneself, retreat may mean to withdraw or a private place, and silence can mean the state of being reduced to silence or restraining from expression. Other words are ambiguous and allow us to assign different meanings according to our experiences and attitudes.An adequate salary to one may mean $25,000 and to another $250,000. Middle-aged may mean 35 to one person and 55 to another, depending on their ages and knowledge. A small high school may mean less than 100 students to one and less that 1,000 to another. Not only do identical words have many meanings, but they may confuse because they sound alike, such as to and two, there and their, and be and bee. Other words have positive and negative connotations. Years ago, many car dealers stopped using the word used, which connoted secondhand and wear and tear, and substituted pre-owned, which emphasized ownership and a like-new auto. What were known as “row houses” for decades became “town houses” in the 1970s and are now advertised as “town homes,” with an emphasis on ownership and comfortable living. We are more disposed toward inexpensive products than cheap products. While the word persuasion has positive connotations, such as inspire and motivate, many see only negative connotations. For instance, some claim that persuasion connotes violence and should not be taught in colleges. A physician recently asked the author if his persuasion course taught “spin-doctoring.”
Verbal symbols are often confusing because we create them for social, professional, and persuasive purposes. Nearly every profession creates jargon that only its members or “educated” others fully understand. For instance, “invasive procedure” means surgery, a “wood interdental stimulator” is a toothpick, a “vehicular control device” is a stoplight. Slang is a kind of unofficial jargon used to communicate primarily with the in-group. When a sportscaster excitedly proclaims that “Jones just hit a tater” or a basketball player was “dialed in,” baseball and basketball fans may know exactly what the sportscaster means, while others think he is talking a foreign language. Euphemisms are better-sounding substitutions for common words, such as “powder room” for toilet, “gone to heaven” for death, “lifelike” Christmas tree for artificial Christmas tree, and “discomfort” for pain. Naming or labeling attempts to change the way we see reality. In our history books, we learn about the “Boston massacre,” not the Boston shooting or incident. In supermarkets, we see meat that is 85% lean, not 15% fat. We no longer speak of policemen but police officers, to signify that many members of police departments are now women.
Obviously, language can confuse as easily as communicate effectively. There are a number of ways to reduce language problems and enhance communication between interview parties. Each party should choose and adapt language carefully. The goal is to communicate with not past one another. Each should work at expanding vocabulary, including common euphemisms and slang, professional jargon, and connotations. Look for slight changes in words that change meanings and implications. Be aware of how those of different sex, age, race, culture, and ethnic group use and understand language. We may insult the other party and not know it.
Nonverbal Interactions in Interviewing
Most interviews take place face-to-face, with the parties only a few feet apart, so nonverbal communication is pervasive. Dress and appearance, touches, handshakes, silence, posture, and head nods may send intended or unintended messages. The extent of and changes in eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and glances away or at another person in a party may alter the interactions between the parties and affect their relationship.
Be aware of the messages you may be sending nonverbally and how you can avoid unintended signals and misunderstandings. We often indicate positions of power or authority and who will direct and be in charge during an interview through our dress, physical appearance, the place we select for the interview, where and how we sit or stand, eye contact, body movements, and touch. Research indicates that nonverbal communication (how we say something) may be more important than verbal communication (what we say in words). If the verbal and nonverbal seem to conflict, we are likely to focus on the nonverbal as more accurate and honest. Often, of course, the two are so intricately bound to one another that it is nearly impossible to separate them.
When interpreting nonverbal communication with another, be aware of differences in how genders, races, ethnic groups, and cultures communicate. For example, women place more importance on facial expressions, pauses, and gestures than do men. The deeper voices of males tend to be seen as more credible than the higher-pitched voices of women. Black Americans tend to be more animated than white Americans. Africans are taught to avoid eye contact while listening to another. Japanese are taught to mask negative feelings with smiles and laughter. Those living in Mediterranean countries encourage direct physical contact. Arabs tend to speak louder than do Westerners.
Feedback in Interviewing
Feedback is emphasized in all forms of communication, but it is often indirect or delayed, such as replies to e-mail messages, letters to the editor, applause or questions after a speech is completed, and written reports or evaluations. The proximity of interview parties means that feedback is magnified, immediate, two-way, direct, and continual in the form of questions, answers, stated agreements or disagreements, gestures, facial expressions, head movements, and sitting up straight or leaning forward. It is important to detect and assess feedback by observing and listening to verbal and nonverbal signals without allowing an overactive imagination to read what is not there.A person may fidget not because of boredom or disagreement but because of an uncomfortable seat or nervousness about events that are to take place following the interview. Poor eye contact may indicate shyness or deference to an authority figure rather than evasiveness or dishonesty.
Listening is critical in every interview, and there are several forms of listening from which to choose. Listening for comprehension is best when receiving, understanding, and remembering messages accurately and completely for future recall and use. It requires keen concentration on what, how, and why information, beliefs, and feelings are exchanged. Be patient, take notes, ask questions, and observe nonverbal cues.
Listening for empathy is best when trying to communicate concern, feelings, understanding, and involvement. Its traits are reassurance, comfort, warmth, and regard. It is expressing not merely sympathy but also true understanding. Express concern or empathy verbally and nonverbally, do not interrupt, be tactful, and avoid being judgmental. Empathic listening requires us to be comfortable with displays of anger, fear, sadness, and affection.
Listening for evaluation is best when it is necessary to evaluate, assess, or judge what is being said and how. If we are to evaluate accurately and fairly, however, it is essential that we comprehend “the what” and “the how” and be able to feel empathy for the other party. Listening for evaluation requires us to listen carefully and insightfully to every question and answer, observe nonverbal signals perceptively, ask for clarification, seek feedback, and try to avoid defensiveness or anger.
Listening for resolution, what John Stewart (2006) calls dialogic listening, is best when the intent of both interview parties is to resolve a mutual problem. Stewart likens it to adding clay to a mold to affect the shape and content of the end product, such as a production, group homework, sales, or a health care course of action or solution. Listening for resolution requires each party to encourage interchanges, trust in the competency of the other, focus on the present rather than the past, and focus on the problem rather than personalities or hierarchy.
Situational Variables in Interviewing
We have been focusing on the two parties in the interview, but they do not interact in a vacuum devoid of time and space. Every interview occurs at a specific time; on a specific date; in a specific place; and in proximity to immediate surroundings such as objects, pictures, decorations, furniture, and models. The time of the interview, such as morning, afternoon, or evening, may affect how each party communicates and their energy and motivational levels. For instance, few sales associates are happy to see customers just before closing time. An interview may commence at 7:30 a.m., with one party being a morning person and the other being an afternoon or late-night person. Dates such as early in a semester, just prior to spring break, or right after final examinations may affect interview focus, content, and motivation. Place brings in territoriality. On whose turf will the interview take place? Sarah Trenholm and Arthur Jensen (2004) use the term personal space to describe the “imaginary bubble” in which we operate and consider “almost as private as the body itself.” Pictures portraying tooth decay, neck or back models, and large charts showing the intricacies of the eye may interest or frighten a patient. Seating arrangement is a way to make a person feel at ease or comfortable, establish hierarchy and authority, and enhance communication.
Noise can disrupt an interview or make it very difficult for parties to hear, listen, or concentrate. At the very least, noise such as cell phones, foot and auto traffic, machinery, others talking, loud music, and doors closing can be distracting. Limit distractions by selecting private and quiet locations or turning off telephones, television sets, and CD players; closing doors and windows; and preventing interruptions by others. Avoid a physical or psychological kind of noise by not coming to an interview tired, angry, hungry, depressed, or focusing on the next interview or task.
Be aware that both parties may not see (perceive) the situation in the same way. Some supervisors may see their offices as safe, neutral locations, while their subordinates may see them as threatening, places where people are reprimanded and fired. One person may see Thanksgiving as a great family time, while a single or elderly person may see it as a lonely time or one that holds sad memories. Simple seating arrangements may signal superiority or equality, perhaps depending on which party is sitting in the big chair behind the big desk. Some individuals, such as recruiters, physicians, or police officers, may see a situation as routine (something they do every day), while others may see the same situation as a major event (one they do infrequently and with positive or negative consequences).
Interview parties have a variety of methods at their disposal to make each interview a success, including approaches, questions, openings, closings, guides, schedules, and sequences.
The first decision concerns how much control each party will have over the interview.
Directive and Nondirective Approaches to Interviewing
After carefully analyzing self, the other party, the interview type, and the situation, the interviewer must determine whether to employ a directive, a nondirective, or a combination approach. A directive approach enables the interviewer to determine the purpose of the interview and its subject matter, structure, pace, interactions, and level of formality. The interviewee is mainly a respondent, provider of information, and reactant, with a modest amount of control.This approach is most appropriate for information giving, surveys and opinion polls, employee recruiting, and sales interviews, in which the interviewer must be in charge.
In a nondirective approach, the interviewer enables the interviewee to control the structure, topics, length of answers, formality, and pace of the interview. The interviewer listens, observes, and encourages. This approach is most appropriate for interviews such as information-getting interviews (journalistic interviews, oral history, and investigations), counseling, performance reviews, and problemsolving interviews.
In a combination approach, interviewers alternate directive and nondirective approaches when most appropriate for what is taking place during the interview. For instance, a recruiter may begin with questions, proceed to giving information about the position and organization, and then answer the applicant’s questions. A counselor may begin with a nondirective approach to encourage the counselee to talk and reveal concerns and then move to a more directive approach when giving information or advice on courses of action.
Question Types and Uses
Questions are the tools of the trade for interview parties. Jamie McKenzie, an expert on the uses of technology, claims that “questions may be the most powerful technology we have ever created” because “they are tools that lead to insight and understanding.” These question tools have names and perform unique and important functions for both interview parties.
There are a few fundamental types of questions. They may be open-ended, such as “Tell me about your trip to New Zealand,” or closed-ended, such as “When were you in New Zealand?” These are comparable to large and small screwdrivers or wrenches. Open questions encourage interviewees to talk, and their lengthy answers reveal what interviewees think is important and encourages them to volunteer information. They are also easier to answer and are less threatening. On the other hand, closed questions enable the interviewer to control the length of responses and lead to desired information. Interviewers can ask more questions, and interviewees expend little energy in providing short answers.
Questions may be initial or follow-up. Initial questions begin interviews, topics, issues, or concerns and can make sense when they stand alone, such as “What interests you in this position?” or “Tell me about the courses you are taking.” Questions may be follow-up in nature if they probe into a response and do not make sense out of context, such as “Why does that interest you?” or “Explain that to me in lay terms.” These questions may be lengthy or simple, such as “And?” or “Uh-huh?” Silence may provoke an interviewee into replying further or amending an answer. Followup questions probe deeper into areas of interest; encourage interviewees to elaborate on and explain answers that may be vague, superficial, or unclear; and elicit more meaningful answers from respondents who are reluctant or being purposely vague or obscure.
Questions may be neutral, in that the interviewer does not indicate the answer desired, such as “What did you think of the concert?” The intent is to avoid any influence on how the interviewee will answer. Or a question may be leading, suggesting the desired answer, such as “Don’t you think the concert dragged on too long?” Leading questions are most useful in persuasive interviews, in which the interviewer is more interested in obtaining agreement than in getting accurate, uninfluenced answers. The interviewer may want to see how a person answers under stress or how easily the person can be swayed by simple words or nonverbal cues. Counselors and others may use a strongly worded leading question, often called a loaded question, to reveal that all answers are acceptable, such as “Under what circumstances have you cheated on exams?” or “When was the last time you were legally drunk?”
There are a number of special types of questions, most of them follow-ups or probes, designed to fulfill specific purposes. For instance, a clearinghouse probe is designed to make sure all important information has been covered, such as “Is there anything else I need to know about the trip to Kenya?” Informational probes are designed to obtain further information or explanations, such as “And then what did you do?” A restatement probe basically repeats a question because an interviewee did not answer it directly or satisfactorily. A reflective probe reflects an answer and attempts to clarify or verify the information received, such as “Are you saying that you’re quitting as coach?”A mirror probe summarizes a series of answers to ensure accurate understanding between the parties. The ability to ask insightful and appropriate follow-up questions separates the skilled from the unskilled interviewer. Anyone can ask a series of initial questions and note the answers, but it takes skill to listen carefully and know when follow-up questions are needed and the most appropriate type to use.
Interviews, unlike conversations, must have a predetermined purpose and a degree of structure. The degree of structure will depend on interview type and purpose. For instance, a survey interview will be highly structured, a recruiting or journalistic interview moderately structured, and a counseling interview minimally structured. Regardless of degree of structure, the opening is a critical first step in every interview.
The opening of interviews is critical, first, because it sets the tone and climate of the interview. It signals whether the interview will be serious or lighthearted, formal or informal, relaxed or tense, professional or nonprofessional, friendly or hostile, nonthreatening or threatening. What we say and do not say at the opening directly affects whether an interview will continue or end abruptly and the willingness of both parties to communicate beyond Level 1, superficial interactions. Small talk, humor, and compliments may help to establish a relationship or build on a relational history, but all three should be used in moderation. Too much, and they may “turn off” the other party, particularly if the talk, humor, and compliments seem forced or insincere. If a relationship is just beginning, beware of using the other party’s first name or nickname or touching beyond a handshake, particularly in a formal setting. Nonverbal actions such as voice, eye contact, facial expressions, handshaking, and dress may communicate the tone of the interview, while territoriality, seating arrangement, and physical setting may communicate the climate of the interview. Be aware of differences in the way sex, age, culture, and ethnicity may affect how the parties interact nonverbally. For instance, Lillian Glass has identified 105 “talk differences” between men and women in the United States, including touch, facial language, and voice patterns.
Second, the opening serves an orientation function, essential in motivating both parties to communicate freely and accurately. Orientation is critical when there is little relational history or the purpose and nature of the interview is unclear, particularly when interviews are taking place over the telephone.As interviewers, we might state our purposes; identify ourselves and who we represent; and indicate what we want, why we want it, and what will happen following the interview. We might explain the nature of a problem, how it was discovered, and both why and how we selected this interviewee at this time. An important goal of orientation is to reduce relational uncertainty so that interviewees come to understand their roles and purposes and to trust the interviewer to conduct a nonthreatening exchange and to use the information received for the stated purpose.
The opening must be a dialogue between two parties, not a monologue the interviewer recites. The less the other party is involved in this all-important stage, the less likely this party will be to communicate freely and accurately at Levels 2 and 3. Do not rush through the opening; be sure that the interviewee is ready to communicate. Some 90% of “cold calls” over the telephone fail because of a failed opening.
Too often, the closing is seen by both parties as merely a stopping point or way of saying goodbye, an unimportant appendage to the interview. The closing, however, is as important as the opening.An abrupt, brief, seemingly uncaring closing may destroy the relationship established or enhanced during the interview and affect future interactions, assuming that there will be future interactions. An interviewee may feel unappreciated or used, only important until the interviewer obtains information, a sale, or help.
Both parties should know when the interview is coming to an end. Signals may be simple verbal cues such as “Well” or “Okay.” Mark Knapp and his colleagues cataloged a variety of nonverbal ways to communicate the closing of interviews. These include straightening up in our seats, leaning forward, breaking eye contact, standing up, or offering a handshake. Obviously, the interview parties must be aware of what each is saying and how each is acting to detect when a closing is commencing, but they must not read too much into simple nonverbal actions. For instance, a person may straighten up to become more comfortable, lean forward because of interest in what is being said, or break eye contact to think of a follow-up question or a carefully reasoned-out response.
The function of the closing is to end an interaction effectively while not precluding or harming future interactions. Be sincere in what you say, express appreciation, and be supportive. Like the opening, closings must be dialogues, not monologues. The interviewer might offer to answer questions, make personal or professional inquiries, or state satisfaction. If this interview is one in a series (a screening interview for a position, a performance review, a health care checkup), summarize agreements, explain the next step, and set a date.
The Body of the Interview
The body of the interview must be carefully structured and adapted to the purpose of the interview and the other party. It is tempting to begin preparation by jotting down a series of questions to ask, but we cannot prepare insightful questions if we have yet to determine what information, input, or reactions we want from this interaction. After all, it may be merely one of several planned contacts with this party. Many purposes are achieved only after several interactions between recruiters and applicants, physicians and patients, performance reviewers and employees, counselors and those with problems, sales representatives and clients.
With a clear purpose in mind, begin preparation by developing an interview guide, an outline of the information, data, and actions needed. First, list the major areas, then list subareas under each, and finally subareas under subareas. Draw on previous training in outlining to create a well-organized, logical list that will serve as a guide. Common patterns or sequences include topical, time, space, cause-to-effect, and problem-to-solution. The traditional journalistic guide will work for many interviews: who, what, when, where, how, and why.
If the interview is to be simple and brief, such as an exchange with a professor concerning a field project or internship, we may operate from a guide or nonscheduled interview. The major problem with this simple format is that we will need to create every question on the spot, a difficult task for an inexperienced, emotionally involved, or nervous interviewer. A moderately scheduled format turns the major areas in a guide into carefully phrased questions and may include a few planned follow-up questions. A highly scheduled format turns all parts of a guide into questions and requires little deviation or instant creation of follow-up questions. A highly scheduled standardized format includes all questions, including planned follow-ups, and answer options for ease of recording answers. This format is used most often in surveys and polls, in which each interview must be identical to the previous one. Choose the format most suitable to purpose, skill level, situation, and interviewee.
Future Directions of Interviewing
Continuing theory, research, and practice in critical areas of the interviewing process focus, for instance, on the relational and interactional nature of interviewing and the sharing of roles. It is no longer acceptable to address only the interviewer. In the performance review interview, referred to not long ago as the “appraisal” interview, the emphasis is on interviewers as “coaches” who enable interviewees to succeed and reach their potentials by helping rather than evaluating or judging, focusing on the future rather than the past and on mutually agreed-on courses of action rather than problems. With the aging of American society and the emphasis on preventative medicine, the health care interview has become the focus of much study and research. Health care professionals and patients alike are addressing the need for effective interpersonal communication, including information gathering, information giving, and compliance with prescribed medications and regimens. “Behavior-based” interviewing, in which the questions require applicants to exhibit position-related skills and experiences, is dominating the literature on employment interviewing. There is a growing concern over ethics in all types of interviews, particularly in employment and persuasive interviews, in which there is growing evidence of dishonesty in resumes, answers by recruiters and applicants, and sales tactics.
While research continues to be done on the interviewing process and on specialized forms of interviewing such as opinion surveys, recruiting, performance review, counseling, and health care, important new research is focusing on electronic interviews via the telephone, cell phones, videoconferencing, and the Internet. Electronic devices may revolutionize the setting and the interactions in interviews.
Although the interview has traditionally indicated a face-to-face interaction with parties being in close proximity, the invention of the telephone more than a century ago made distance interviewing possible. The use of the telephone has become widespread, particularly in surveys, sales, and recruiting, because it is less expensive, is easy to use, saves time, reduces staffing needs, and covers long distances. But users of the telephone note the lack of presence of the parties and the limitation of critical nonverbal communication to voice. The interview becomes ear-to-ear instead of face-to-face. Many interviewers do not like the impersonal nature of the telephone interview, while many interviewees do not trust interactions with someone they cannot see. Turn taking, so important in the interactive interview, is often difficult because the parties cannot see cues such as leaning forward, facial expressions, and gestures, which have traditionally aided turn taking. John Stewart (2006) calls turn taking “nexting” and claims that it may be the most important communication tool.
The advent of the cell phone has created a new world of possibilities for the telephone because interviews can take place anywhere at any time, including airports, classrooms, theaters, and restaurants. Interview parties are no longer tied to places such as the office, home, medical facility, or recruiting center. The cell phone also has video capabilities, which will add an important nonverbal dimension to telephone interviews. Privacy concerns will grow as parties carry on important interactions in public places, often where noise interrupts or interferes with hearing and listening. In fact, as we observe people walking down streets talking seemingly without pause, we wonder if it is not a one-way process rather than a true interaction.
Videoconferencing technology became widely available in the 1990s and is growing in use because multiple people in distant locations can both see and hear one another. It is particularly popular in recruiting, where several members of an organization can interview an applicant at the same time, and in problem-solving interviews, in which staff from around the country or globe can discuss a problem. Many of these interactions are small-group rather than interview interactions. While parties can see one another, the shots tend to be head, upper-body, or group shots, which are not nearly as helpful as face-to-face exchanges. Since there are fewer nonverbal cues, there tend to be fewer interruptions and less frequent turn taking. Research indicates that both parties prefer the traditional interview to the videoconference.
With the advent of the Internet, some interviews have gone from face-to-face or ear-to-ear to finger-to-finger. The electronic exchanging of messages can take place at any time of the day or night, can reach parties thousands of miles apart, and provides a record of messages sent and received. On the other hand, such “interviews” have no nonverbal element and are not interactions in real time. The Internet is no more interactive than e-mail or letters, and parties are unlikely to reply at length as they do easily in face-to-face interviews.
The interview is a dyadic form of communication between two distinct parties, at least one of whom has a predetermined and serious purpose. It is interactional in that both parties speak and listen from time to time and may share roles of interviewer and interviewee. It is relational because both parties are connected interpersonally and have varying degrees of interest in taking part and influencing the outcome of the interview. It typically involves questions designed to elicit information; verify accuracy and understanding; heighten self-disclosure; and influence feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. It is a communication process that is a dynamic, ever-changing, and continuing interaction of many variables between two complex parties, often with differing backgrounds, motives, and goals. The close proximity of parties in interviews magnifies the verbal and nonverbal messages, sent and received, and enhances the importance of situational variables such as time, seating arrangement, physical surroundings, and noise.
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