Interviewing / Journalism skills

Tricky phone interviews: the ones who don’t want to talk.

It’s never going to go well is it, when you’re doing a phone interview, and your interviewee just doesn’t want to chat.

“So tell me a bit about [insert topic of feature here]”…

“It’s great.”

“And what do you enjoy about it?”

“I just, erm, like it.”

“Fantastic, and, what about your family?”

“Yep, them too.”

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Taking away the subject of my feature, this is pretty much how a phone interview went that I completed last week. I’ve been quite lucky recently, because the majority of interviews have gone really well. The interviewees have loads to say (often too much), give me those fantastic quotes that I just KNOW are going to be pull-outs as soon as they’re spoken, and I’ve never been short on the 800 words I have had to write. Until last week.

It’s never going to go well when you call at the agreed time and no one answers. Do you call back straight away? Or does that look too desperate? Perhaps they’re on the toilet? I wait five minutes, try again. No answer. When you’ve got a deadline of 24 hours after the interview, it’s kinda important to get it done. She called me back ten minutes later. Don’t get me wrong, she was lovely, but she just didn’t want to chat.

At all.

I called her up to arrange the interview the previous week, and had sent over the questions I was likely to ask by email so that she had time to think about her answers – although looking back, this obviously didn’t help. My 15+ questions are rarely always discussed, because I’ve got so much from them by then, that I don’t need to carry on chatting. This time, it was the opposite.

When someone isn’t willing to expand on answers, the easiest thing to do is to quit the conversation. This is what I wanted to do, but knowing I had to get off the phone to sit down and write a feature meant that no matter how little she said, I had to keep going! Don’t come off the phone thinking ‘Oh that’ll do…’ when realistically, you know it won’t.

I kept going, asking really open questions to try and get something out of her. And it worked, and I wrote the feature – although it went in a completely different direction than I thought it would, and might have been padded out with a bit more ‘facts’ than usual. Dealing with tricky interviews has only made it easier for me in the future, because you learn how you dealt with it, and perhaps what you would do differently if it happened again.

It also made me really appreciate those who go off on a tangent, yet give you SO MUCH content to write about.

2 thoughts on “Tricky phone interviews: the ones who don’t want to talk.

  1. I’ve been dreading the thought of an unresponsive interviewee! I think going very specific with questions could work too, but it’s so good to have an extra tool in the box (really open questions) in case it ever happens. Thanks!

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