A Good Interviewer

I’ve been wanting to write about good vs. bad interviews for a while now. My recent interview for the WP Engine blog gives me a good positive example to point to – that probably puts this post in a better light than a frustrated rant would. :)

I’ve participated in written, remote (audio and video) and in-person interviews. I’ve read, listened to and watched countless more. From these there are a few gems, but the vast majority fail to realize their potential.

Doing a good interview isn’t easy. You want to approach it the same way you would a presentation. You should:

  • know the topic
  • have a perspective
  • have a few areas you plan to cover
  • ask initial questions with some planned follow up
  • listen to the responses
  • don’t settle for surface answers
  • deviate from your outline when something interesting comes up
  • chase the story (you should already know what the story you’re chasing is)

It’s OK not to know the answers when you ask the questions, but you should be able to keep asking related questions on a topic until you get the overall information you’re looking for.

Someone interviewing me might ask things like:

  • Why did Alex choose to build a team rather than remaining an independent developer?
  • What was Alex’s motivation for his early contributions to the WordPress community (free plugins, theme competitions, etc.)? Was there always a plan to create a commercial WordPress-based venture?

These are not questions with simple and easy answers. The initial responses should lead to additional related questions that ultimately lead to a well-rounded and interesting answer.

I enjoy doing interviews but I only do them now if I feel like the result will be interesting and beneficial to the audience. Part of that is on me, to share enough interesting information that I am pulling my weight, and part of it is on the interviewer.

There are few things I enjoy reading/watching/listening to more than a really well done interview. People’s stories are fascinating and a good interviewer knows how to bring those stories out. Conversely, there is little more boring than someone asking a list of tangentially related questions, regardless of the responses.