The art of the interview—Reflections on how to prepare and conduct interviews for a corporate history book with confidence – Part 2

In our last post, we shared some thoughts on how to interview organizational stakeholders with confidence, effectively and efficiently while gathering the information needed as a source base for a company history book. We explored these three imperatives:

  1. Be genuine and establish a relationship regardless of the interview setting
  2. Be prepared but don’t let your list of question limit your ability to engage
  3. Don’t interview—just have a conversation

In today’s post, we want to share a few more lessons we have learned in the hundreds of interviews we have conducted over the years with company founders, executives, employees past and present and many other business and community stakeholders from a wide range of industries.

Listen closely and let your interview partner take you on a journey

The common perception is that a productive interview is about asking the right questions and the interviewer always being in control of the interview dynamics. While this is generally true, it is also an oversimplification that distracts from the fact that a great interview is more about listening and picking up on queues than about establishing control over the process. Some of the best stories are shared when the interviewer lets the interview partner run with a thought while keeping in mind that the way they remember certain events, people or themes might be entirely different from how the questions are structured on the interviewer’s prepared list of questions.

“I like to call it associative remembering. It might feel a bit disjointed at first, as if your interviewee partner is jumping around between seemingly unrelated themes and topics. But in nine out of ten cases, the connection between the thoughts expressed presents itself eventually if you allow your interview partner to associate and tell things the way they remember them instead of trying to push them into a rigid format by following a prepared list of questions.”

Dr. Ulrich Frisse, founder and president of Historical Branding Solutions Inc.

Be comfortable with breaks in the conversation and allow your interview partner time to think without interruption

An integral part of the interview process is the interviewer’s skill to know how to deal with silence. It is not always clear whether a break in the conversation means that the interviewee is thinking or might have exhausted the theme and needs direction from the interviewer. Inexperienced interviewers and those who rush through the interview are typically not comfortable with moments of silence as they associate it with losing control over the process.  Instead of ending the silence prematurely by changing the topic, even if it feels uncomfortable, wait a moment. In most cases, your interview partner is preparing another round of thoughts in their mind and, if you jump in too early, you will most definitely lose out on some great contextual information and stories. If you are patient, your interview partner will let you know once they have fully exhausted their train of thought and are looking for direction from you,

And finally, don’t be too hard on yourself

Like everything else, becoming a great interviewer requires times and practice. Keep in mind that preparation only takes you so far, as you are dealing with people and no two interviews are the same. The best list of questions does not help if your interview partner is having a bad day or walks into the meeting feeling they are wasting their time while their immediate attention is needed on a more urgent matter in their business. Rely on your people skills. Be empathetic. Accommodate if necessary. And if you find yourself halfway through the interview and the conversation is not going the way you intended, take a step back, recalibrate and keep going.

About Historical Branding Solutions

The team at corporate storytelling agency, company history book publisher, and corporate history books publishing house Historical Branding Solutions Inc. - 2019 company anniversary book article

As North America’s leading corporate history agency and company history book publisher, Historical Branding Solutions Inc. is the provider of choice for the most distinguished family businesses, corporations and not-for-profit organizations when looking for a team of content creation and design professionals to create the finest corporate history books, company history books, business anniversary books, franchisee story books, foundations and start-up story books and entrepreneurial legacy books for legacy preservation, milestone anniversary celebration, and customer, employee, franchisee and community engagement. The HBS team serves clients across Canada and the United States.