Basic Interview Fundamentals

“In this interview I have given you a lot, you have taken something out of me, you’ve interrogated me – according to me”Kamal Haasan- Popular Indian film star

 “Was this an interview? I felt like talking to a classmate of mine, though you are not even half my age”. A 65 year old political leader from North India.

 “Are you a counsellor? I feel more relaxed after this interview. – Thank you”. A 20 year old girl who had attempted suicide twice.

 These were some of the reactions I got after I interviewed them. I believe every interview is an event, which leaves an impact on both the interviewee and the interviewer.   However this would happen only if the interviewers get involved and make the interviewee think and react. I have interviewed hundreds of people from varied walks of life.  Based on these experiences I have categorized theinterviews and  put together steps to improve interviewing skills.  But before I write any further I wish to mention that Mr. Ian Masters of Thomson Foundation, Wales, UK during his lectures demonstrated that there is scope for me to learn a lot more on this subject.  So even as you utilise these steps, keep your eyes ( or more correctly ears) open to learn from your own mistakes and triumphs while interviewing.

I broadly categorise interviews for News and Current Affairs programs into two parts:

1) Interviews for getting Sound Bites and

2) Face to face interviews.  

 Before going into these categories some common fundamentals.


For good interviews the need for in-depth Research cannot be over-emphasized.  Such Research makes the interviewer confident & focused and the interview interesting.


Research however has to be carefully utilised.   Just because you know a lot does not mean you’ve to ask everything.  In fact, Research should be used to filter out the irrelevant part.  I know of many TV Reporters who complete their research during the Interview.   This not only results in waste of footage but also allows the interviewee to sell his point of view (Which may not necessarily be the objective one). So be sure of what you require from your interview before you start.

 Open Ended Questions:

A question which elicits an explanatory answer is an Open Ended Question. Ask the interviewee questions which will get such answers. The answer from the interviewee should be complete in itself.  A question that gets just a “Yes” or “No” answer is to be avoided. Sometimes it helps to add a why, how or what to your question to get such a quote.  Some interviewers even go to the extent of briefing an interviewee about what they are looking for.  But I don’t like to do that because the spontaneity in the interview is lost.


Closed Ended Qn: Are you against your party leader’s new economic policy?

Answer: Yes.

Open Ended Question: Why are you against your leader’s new economic policy?

Although in most cases with Open Ended Questions you would get good answers, with a reluctant interviewee closed ended questions work better.  This is also true for children.


Leading questions

A leading question will give an obvious answer. They could be used to corner a interviewee who is avoiding to give a direct answer.. eg, “Don’t you think this is too trivial an issue to have an internal squabble in the party?”

Hypothetical questions

A hypothetical question can be used to explore an organisation or a person’s thoughts or ability in an unforeseen situation. eg, “How prepared is your government in case an earthquake occurs again?”

Probing questions

A probing question will help tease information and thoughts from the interviewee.  This tye of question is helpful while covering an investigative story.  eg, “What do you mean by helping the family of the kids when you are actually forcing them to work for such a meagre salary?”

Prompting question

A prompting question is a sympathetic one and helps the interviewee in formulating and answer as per the interviewer’s requirements eg, “Tell me a bit about it, how you got here, how long it took and what you thought of the transport system?”

Using the right question format at the right time will obtain more information and make the other party more relaxed. It leads to constructive interchange and gives the person asking the questions more control over the situation. Careful structuring also prevents others from avoiding answers.

 Formulating the questions

Always be clear about the objective of the interview

Choose the right question format.

If the answers are not developing properly, change the format.

If the interviewee is nervous or anxious use prompting questions.