What I learned from my first interview

Last week I conducted my first research interview for my PhD.

It wasn’t exactly for the main body of my thesis, although it may end up being useful for that too. Rather, this interview was for a paper that I am writing for a separate conference which is based on a previous version of my PhD proposal, and won’t fit into the topic I finally settled upon. So the interview wasn’t the most important one that I will do, which is probably a good thing.

As far as first interviews go, it didn’t go too badly. Especially considering that it was a phone interview, which are generally acknowledged to be more difficult/awkward than face-to-face interviews – and probably especially so for people like me who hate phone conversations.

It didn’t start so well: my interviewee was stuck in another call and 45 minutes late to our skype appointment, so by the time he arrived I had almost abandoned hope and was maybe less focused than I had been at the scheduled time – although on the bright side, I was also much less nervous!

The actual interview was quite stilted and full of pauses because my computer kept freezing, followed by ‘can you hear me?’s (much like my weekly Facetime with my parents, honestly). What we talked about was definitely interesting, so that maybe saved the lack of fluidity and my pretty poor interview skills (but hey, gotta start somewhere). Although the interview only lasted a quarter of an hour, I still found out everything I wanted to, and the overwhelming feeling afterwards was relief rather than regret or embarrassment.

What will I work on next time?

First (and pretty obviously, in hindsight), I’ll have a better explanation of what the research based on the interview is about. This time, partly because the paper isn’t really related to my actual PhD topic, I didn’t have a good explanation prepared and ended up giving some lame, vague response, which didn’t help the interview to get off to a good start.

Second (and this is something that I’m sure will come with time), I’ll make sure to have interesting follow-up questions, and make them sound natural and well-timed. Maybe it was difficult on the phone, but I had trouble knowing when my interviewee was finished talking and when I should ask the question. I’d also probably prepared too few questions/possible directions the conversation could go, which meant that I didn’t get as much out of the interview as I could have.

Finally, I will definitely work on building more rapport before the interview. Again, it’s definitely easier in person, but I also rushed into the questions for this interview – I don’t know, maybe I thought it was a race? – and so it meant that it took us both a while to ease into the interview and really feel comfortable, by which time it was almost over.

Anyway, with many more interviews to be held over the next three years and potentially beyond, I’m sure that it’s something I’ll be getting better at! Anybody else have any interview tips?

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