In my line of work (construction :P) I, at times, get to interview people for profile articles. I have had a few interesting experiences as a result of this, which I suppose may warrant a blog entry or two. This is not one of those ‘How to’ pieces. Well, maybe it is. You decide.
Interviews are great! Mostly. You get to meet many interesting people and get to know many intimate details of their lives without having to tell them yours. It’s quite fascinating really, the amount of information you can get people to give you about themselves in the name of an interview. It is, in a sense, a polite form of snooping. Professional snooping.
But I digress…disregarding my previous sentiments about interviewing, what you need to know is that it is getting people to tell their story through you, and hopefully inspire others or solve a problem somewhere, depending on the needs of the reader. Don’t only think of big shot celebrities here. One of my lecturers rightly said that everyone has a story to tell, so it could be anyone from Jeff ‘All Kenyan’ Koinange to the guy who roasts maize by the roadside. In my course of interviewing, I have made several observations.
I have met a good number of my interviewees in restaurants and have resolved never to say this “Do you want to order first?” Never say this. Seriously, don’t. It is a vague and ambiguous statement that you may have to pay for. Literally. I once interviewed someone, let’s call him 4d (X gets old) and I made the aforementioned statement. When the bill was brought he said, “Thanks by the way.”
I could not bring myself to tell him that when I said that I did not mean that I was going to pay. Plus he’s a really nice guy…a real nice guy…*staring into space*…anyway, I paid for his drink. Thank God he had the heart not to order something expensive. That’s not even the worst part. It happened again! Yeah, I know :|. The second time was with someone else who I will call 7r (I really had no problem with algebra so allow me to use these abstract labels). I was very careful not to make THE statement but somehow I ended up paying for his beverage, and I realized it two days later after finding the receipt in my wallet. I must’ve been quite moneyed (I’m avoiding the term balling here) at the time. I don’t know how that happened. Thankfully, both of these really nice guys never ordered anything expensive. I still laugh at myself when I think of those two incidents. Point is, be very clear that you are not going to pay for anything. Unless you want to.
Still on the restaurant vibe (I hate to use these expressions but sometimes they seem so fitting) ensure that you finish your food before the interviewee gets there. In essence, get there well in advance, more so if a restaurant is your rendezvous (oh yeah! I cannot quite tell you how great it feels to use that word in a sentence 😀 )
If you, like me, love to enjoy your food, and sometimes close your eyes as you chew and swallow…as the chocolatey goodness of that warm chocolate croissant melts in your mouth and your taste buds explode with…sigh…I digress for the umpteenth time, what I’m saying is that you will at one time or another meet for an interview in a restaurant and you will want to order that chocolate croissant you have heard so much about. You will want to enjoy that croissant with that creamy café latté…and you will not be able to do this with a complete stranger sitting across you. Getting there early (enough to eat) is always a good thing.
Sometimes, you’ll interview someone who has similar interests and you will be tempted to talk about yourself. Trust me, you will get the urge to say stuff like, “Me too!!”, “I thought I was the only one who did that!” or even “You too?!” Don’t do it. It’s not cool. If you really have to, don’t do it more than twice.
Maybe it’s just me, but at times there seems to be this…uh…gesturing with my hands here but you can’t see it 😦 …let’s call it date-like awkwardness that accompanies interviews, more so when they involve people of opposite sexes (I refuse to be dragged into the pettiness of including the ‘other’ option :P). You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’m here to tell you about myself. That situation comes with a bit of awkwardness and tension. Don’t crack jokes if they are not your forte. You WILL make it more awkward. On the other hand, the interviewee may be kind enough to give a polite “ha ha” so you may try it I suppose. Small talk is great. I’m great at small talk and it seems to have worked for me so far. I will go on and on about how great the chocolate croissant I had earlier was and how you should try it…and no, I will not pay for it.
Last observation, people will always be curious about you. Don’t expect to get away with all that info about someone without giving him or her some of your own (I know what I said earlier, but it’s not always the case). I’ve been asked how long I’ve been writing, how long I’ve worked, do I like dogs (that’s not really true) et cetera. Don’t be shy. Give appropriate answers. Don’t be stingy with information, but also don’t go on and on about yourself.
All in all, my interview experience has been great. I have made great contacts, met remarkable individuals, been inspired, and had one too many chocolate croissants, and for that I am thankful. 🙂