Conduct an In Person Interview

Conducting an interview in person can be fun and enlightening if you go about it the right way. If you want to conduct a stellar in person interview, then you have to prepare well in advance, make your subject feel at home, and ask the right questions at the right time. If you want to know how to conduct an in person interview in a way that meets your objectives and feels natural, just follow these steps.


Prepare for the Interview

  1. Research the person. You should know as much as possible about the person you're interviewing so you go into the interview feeling prepared and in control. Look up as much relevant information about the person as you can, and try to find some recordings of in person interviews with that person if possible. This will help you have a sense of the person's personality and interview style, and to adjust your interview accordingly.
  2. Clarify your objective. Before you prepare your interview questions, you should understand your objective for interviewing the person. Is it simply to give readers more insight into that person's personal life, to discuss one aspect of that person's career, or to discuss that person's perspective on a certain political situation? Whatever your objective, your questions should help you meet your objectives.
    • If you're very clear about your objective, you'll also be able to keep your interview more focused and to make sure you don't drift off-topic.
  3. Prepare questions. You should prepare questions that are flexible, open-ended, and which all come equipped with at least two or three follow-up questions that you can ask depending on the answer to the original question. Here are a few general rules for preparing questions for an interview:[1]
    • Don't ask any "yes" or "no" questions or questions that can be answered in just a few words.
    • Ask questions that allow the person you're interviewing to expand.
    • Ask just one question at a time. Asking more than one at a time will overwhelm your interviewee.
    • Ask questions that are relevant to your objectives. This is an important point. You can make them creative as long as they meet your needs.
    • Don't ask questions that are so broad that your subject doesn't know how to answer them. Your subject should be directed enough to know what type of an answer you're looking for.
  4. Prepare some topics for small talk. That's right. You should even prepare the small talk you'll be making at the beginning of the interview. Even if you've only decided to talk about the weather or traffic, you should have this prepared in advance so you start the interview off on the right foot and make your subject feel instantly comfortable.[2]
    • If you know something about the hobbies or side-interests of the person you're interviewing, you can casually bring them up. The subject will feel more at ease if he can talk about something that makes him comfortable, especially if it has nothing to do with the interview.
  5. Check your recording equipment (optional). If you're using a recorder, make sure it works and has fresh batteries before the day of the interview. You don't want your interview to be doomed before it starts.

Conduct the Interview

  1. Introduce yourself. Have warm and open body language as you shake hands with the person and introduce yourself. Tell the person a bit about yourself and show that you're just a regular person instead of an intimidating interviewer. Tell the person whatever will help him understand who you are and why you're conducting the interview.
    • After you introduce yourself, you can say a bit about how the interview will go -- say how long it will be, if there will be time for more casual conversation at the end, or anything else the subject will need to know beforehand.
  2. Make the person comfortable. This is the most important thing you can do before you officially give the interview. After you've introduced yourself, you can make the person comfortable with some small talk, some light jokes, and by making eye contact and using your hands to gesture or keeping them at your sides. Keep your body open and posed toward that person without invading his personal space.
    • Before you even start the interview, thank the person for taking the time to meet with you.
    • If you're at the person's home or office, look around the room for some objects, such as paintings, photographs, or souvenirs that are displayed. The person put them up because he's proud of them, so ask some basic questions to make the person open up.
    • If the person is meeting you in your home or office or even a coffee shop, make sure the environment is comfortable by providing comfortable seating, relative privacy, and some tea, coffee, or snacks if you can. Make the person feel at home.
  3. Ask your questions. Maintain eye contact as you ask the question and listen intently to the answer. Don't say, "My first question is..." or "My next question is..." Make the person feel like you're just having a natural conversation, not firing questions at him like a detective.
  4. Listen intently. Don't say "Uh huh," every two seconds in an exaggerated manner. Just nod intently from time to time and really focus on what the person is saying at that moment instead of thinking about his previous response or about the next question. If your mind wanders, the person you're interviewing will be able to tell right away.[3]
    • Pick up on important words or phrases that the person says. If they trigger something, you may be able to ask a completely new question that you hadn't planned on.
    • Listening intently will also make it easier for you to notice when the person is veering off track.
    • If you don't understand something the person says, don't be afraid to ask. Getting back on track is better than having a potential miscommunication.
  5. Stay quiet. Don't dominate the conversation. While occasionally interjecting relevant personal information can make the person feel more comfortable, you should only talk 20-25% of the time. After your all, your goal is to interview the person, not to talk about yourself as much as you can.
    • You should also be comfortable with some pauses or moments of silence. Let the person think for a minute before you jump in with more talk.
  6. Let the person be natural. Wait out the person's nervousness and canned phrases and keep digging until you get the person to open up and say something informative and maybe even surprising. Remember that you want to walk away from the interview with information that you didn't already know and a new insight into that person's character or ideas.[4]
    • If the person just isn't giving you a real answer, keep rephrasing the question or find a new mode of attack until you start to seeing the person being honest and forthcoming.
  7. Stay focused. Remember your original questions and your list of questions. Though your questions shouldn't be read like a shopping list and you can ask similar questions based on how the interview is going, you should always meet your objectives. If you notice that the person is drifting off and completely avoiding your real questions -- whether it's intentional or not -- you'll need to veer the person back on track.
    • If the person doesn't respond much to a question, you can rephrase it a bit by saying, "Can you think of another example to illustrate what you mean?"
  8. Stay in control. Though the person should do most of the talking, don't let him take over your interview. Make sure that you're still in the position of asking questions and directing the conversation without being obvious about it. If the person is talking so much that you can't ask your questions, or even asking you questions instead, you should politely but firmly steer the person in the right direction.
    • Remember to keep things professional. Don't get angry if the person is gaining control of the interview; just be calm and collected and you'll be more likely to get things back in control than if you're visibly upset.

Wrap Up the Interview

  1. Wrap up the interview professionally. Don't say, "Well, I've run out of questions for you" or "I guess that's it..." This will make things feel awkward and like you couldn't hold up a stimulating conversation. Instead, say, "We've covered quite a bit in this conversation. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to chat about?" This makes the person feel like you were in the conversation together, instead of just in a question-and-answer situation.[5]
  2. Thank the person. You should sincerely thank the person for taking the time to chat with you and for being so patient and answering your questions. Make sure your words and body language indicate that you really mean it and are truly grateful for the person's time and efforts. Don't become withdrawn the second the interview is over. Instead, continue to be warm and welcoming even after you've put your recorder or notebook away.
  3. Follow up with a thank-you note (optional). You can also send the person a thank-you card or email depending on your relationship with the person. This will make the person feel that his efforts were truly appreciated.


  • Keep your interview on track. If you feel like you are losing your focus, it's acceptable to redirect your conversation.


Quick Summary