Many people worry about the decline of reading in the modern world — but the truth is, the written word is alive and well. And one of the most beloved things to read in a paper or on a website remains a well-written interview.
If you’re a writer, you’ll almost certainly need to conduct phone interviews with your sources. You’re often speaking to people all over the world, and meeting in person just isn’t practical.
But while a phone interview lets you connect with the sources you need, it can also be intimidating. How can you prepare the right questions to get the information you need? What should you have prepared beforehand?
We’ve put together this guide to take away your worries about how to conduct a phone interview. Keep reading for our top phone interview tips!
Before the Call: How to Prepare for a Phone Interview
Getting ready is one of the most important parts of how to conduct a phone interview successfully.
Your first step should be doing the appropriate amount of research for the call. The more crucial this source is, the more research you should do.
The internet is your best friend as a journalist, and this is no exception. A simple Google search of your source’s name can be a great place to start. Check their social media sites, published work, credentials, and more.
You can also ask your editor for any information they have about your source. They might have knowledge that you don’t have access to.
Now, you can use this information to put together a great list of interview questions. You never want to go into the interview without questions: you won’t get the information you really want, and your source will be able to tell that you’re unprepared.
Putting together the right questions also helps the interview go much faster. You can stick to the essential questions, rather than getting caught up with information that’s not critical for the story.
It helps if you can start to frame your story a little bit in this step, too. For example, if you know you’d like to open with a personal anecdote, you can ask your source for a compelling story that will fit well in that section.
Right Before the Call
About a half hour before the scheduled call, get your pen, paper, call recorder, and everything else you might need ready. That way, you won’t be frantically scrambling for what you need when you’re supposed to be dialing the number.
Make sure your phone is charged, and that you’re in a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t get interrupted or distracted. It often helps to change into “work” clothes before the call. Even if you’re at home, this will get you into the right professional mindset.
During the Call: How to Conduct a Phone Interview
Now, it’s time for your interview call. Here’s how to make it a success.
The tone of the call can help this flow better, or worse.
When in doubt, always be friendly. Although it’s also important to be professional, take care that your professionalism doesn’t start to become curt or harsh-sounding. Many sources open up more if your tone is a bit more casual, without being unprofessional.
You may not want to dive right into the questions. Start by asking them how they are, and creating a connection over the phone. You’ll get your best answers from a relaxed source that feels comfortable talking to you.
Before the call, you’ll already have decided how to record your source.
A call recorder is a great tool for getting every single word from a source. If you’ve decided to use this tool, you can just set it and forget it.
But you’ll almost certainly still want to use a pen and paper to make notes the old-fashioned way. This will help you highlight important quotes or answers so you can go back to them faster later.
If you only need a few short quotes from this source, you might not record the call, but just take notes by hand. If this is the case, be selective with what you write down. Unless you know shorthand, you won’t be able to capture large blocks of conversation. Focus on getting stand-out quotes verbatim instead.
You can also type out your notes — most people type faster than they write by hand.
When to Talk
Finding the right balance between speaking and silence is one of the most important parts of a phone interview.
When your source falls silent, sometimes that’s a good time to jump in and ask the next question. But sometimes, they’re just pausing before giving you more excellent information.
Try to read their tone of voice to see if they’re quiet because they’re thinking of what to say next, or if they’ve finished their entire statement. Learn to be comfortable with short silences — don’t jump in every time.
How to End
When you’ve asked all your questions, don’t wrap up the interview just yet. Ask something like “Is there anything else you’d like to share on this subject before we wrap up?”
This gives your source a chance to share anything that wasn’t covered in your questions. Sometimes, this final question gives you your best answers.
Once you’ve completely finished talking and are ready to go, don’t forget to thank your source for their time. You should also let them know what to expect next, such as the possibility of a follow-up call, or when they can expect the article to run.
After the Call: How to Follow Up a Phone Interview
Figuring out how to conduct a phone interview is no small task. Hopefully, you’re proud of your work and ready to start writing at this point. Once you have this information from your sources, the article often becomes very easy to write.
The follow-up depends on the exact nature of the article. You might need to ask your source for some clarification, or simply send them the article when it’s published out of courtesy.
Of course, the phone interview is just one small part of all the tasks you have to accomplish as a writer. Want to learn how to be more productive? Don’t miss this post.