Lessons From An Editor: 5 Tips for Phone Interviews

This is a new series here on Jargon Writer. I announced recently that I’m heading into the world of freelancing full time–but I learned a lot while working full time as a trade editor, and wanted to share those lessons and tips with you. 

In the last three years I’ve done more phone interviews that I could count for more articles than you’d want to read. During that time I’ve picked up some tips and tricks for keeping the interview process smooth, your information organized and to ensure you come off as professional as possible.

1. Send Questions Beforehand

Generally when you talk to someone who isn’t a professional public speaker they say “like” and “um” a lot. They use filler words while they think. By providing your interviewee with the questions ahead of time they can prepare their responses–or at least think a bit about them, which will make for smoother responses that they have to think about less–and therefore fewer “um” and “likes.”

2. Ask: Is this still a good time for you?

Once you get the person on the phone immediately ask them if it’s a good time for them to talk–even if it’s a time of their choosing. Sometimes things come up and if it’s no longer a good time they will rush the interview or be distracted. In either case, it’ll be a less informative interview. If they need to reschedule set up another time to talk. They’ll appreciate your courtesy.

3. Re-state What the Piece Will be About

Turn on your voice recorder, then briefly explain what your story will be about, who the audience is and the angle you’re planning to take. Likely in your initial point of contact (whether on the phone or via email) you told the person what your article was going to be about, but it’s always a good idea to rehash this information so that it’s fresh in their mind. And by doing it after you turn on your recorder, you have that information up front so that when you begin playing back interviews, you can immediately tell what piece that interview was for.

4. Ask the Interviewee For Their Vitals

Ask the interviewee to spell out their full first and last name, get their job title and their company name right at the beginning of the interview. If the company name is more than one word, confirm that they use a space between them (horror story–I once forgot to do this and we had to pay extra to pull the page back from the printer at last minute to fix a company profile where I had inserted a space and it didn’t belong). As with my tip in rehashing the topic, doing this before asking questions means when you go through your interviews later you can easily identify who each interview was with–and you can check final citations after writing your story without having to re-listen to the entire interview again.

5. Take Typed Notes & Don’t Transcribe

Transcription is definitely the most time consuming (and in my mind, least fun) part of the writing process. Fortunately, if you take good notes during the interview you may be able to avoid it completely. Instead of transcribing an entire interview, I generally go back and just listen to the interview a second time while re-reading the notes i took. When I come across a good point or a statement that would make a good quote, I transcribe just that section. This alone has saved me hours when writing pieces.

Do you have any interview tips? Disagree with one of my points (like that you should send questions before hand, which I know is controversial)? Ever accidentally add a space to a company name where it didn’t belong? Tell me about it! 

[Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae]

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