Let’s begin with a fact: It’s 2016, and anthropologists have cornered the interview market. I mean, under what other guise can you invest a decade in a degree and come out arguing that you specialize in interview technique?
In truth, you can learn to interview in an hour. But equally true, you will find, each time you interview, that you’ve gotten just a little bit better at it. Which is to say, there really is merit in the decade of up front investment some call grad school. Without a decade to spare, however, we decided to go straight to the anthropologists.
Here is their advice on how to interview (as in conduct an interview) effectively:
- “Ask how and not why.” Howard Becker made this an anthropological mantra in the 1990’s. How invites answers that illuminate, while why invites defensiveness, he explained. Compare: How did you leave (or come to leave) your last job? vs. Why did you leave your last job?
- Avoid leading questions, especially if you seek your interviewees’ understandings and convictions rather than your own.
- Invite answers in narrative form. In fact, how an interviewee thinks is, frequently, more important than what an interviewee thinks if you are looking to make long-term hires (also, if you are looking to understand a community of people). So provide fodder for thinking aloud.
- Related to the above, ask questions that are unexpected, or that draw the interviewee into conversation. Again, and as every linguist will tell you, how can matter far more than what when interpreting an answer. Think of this as collecting data.
- If sincerity matters to you, build rapport, albeit fast. Cross-culturally, human beings open up, in the face of understanding and empathy. In short, you’ll get more truths and less BS from your interlocutors when you play nice.
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