Core Traits of A Good Interviewer

At their best, an interviewer and subject are content co-creators, working together to generate new insights that neither could have thought of alone.

Here are six traits an interviewer needs to facilitate this co-creation:

1. story comprehension

The goal of interview-driven content is to tell a story. Like Hollywood blockbusters and chart-topping pop songs, marketing content often follows a standard storytelling format.

In a case study, for example, a company has a challenge, they discover the solution, and business is better as a result. Certain questions, therefore, will be part of the interview process again and again:

  • How would you describe your business and your role?
  • What was the state of X before you engaged with Company Y?
  • How did you learn about Company Y?
  • What is it like to work with Company Y?
  • What is the state of X today thanks to Company Y’s solution?
  • What do you see for the future of your relationship with Company Y?

While interviewers may not ask all of these questions every time, a case study missing too many of these answers is likely to be incomplete.

 2. active listening

An interview is a two-way exchange in which both parties react to each other in real time. An “interview" that doesn't adapt to a subject's answers is not an interview at all. It might as well be an email exchange.

Active listening means follow-up questions, requests for clarification, interesting tangents, and even good-natured debates.

Active listeners naturally adjust to what is happening in the moment, respecting their interview subject as a conversation partner rather than an information database. Since active listeners ask better questions, their subjects give better answers.

3. improvisation

Directly related to active listening, improvisation is the art of knowing when to the deviate from the script to pursue promising tangents. Sometimes, the best answers come from unplanned questions.

For example, an initial question about a subject’s role in their company may lead to a few improvised follow-ups.

“Oh, you’ve been in marketing for over ten years? You must have seen a lot of changes in that time.”

“Has marketing automation made your job easier or more complex?”

The subject’s extra answers - which might have never come up in a rigidly-planned interview - can add insights and details to the narrative.

4. repetition and rephrasing

Interviewers give subjects plenty of room to repeat themselves.

Since subjects creating responses on the fly, their first answer may not be perfectly formed. The subject may even loop back to answering a question much later in the conversation.

Interviewers may ask the same question several different ways or rephrase a concept to increase clarity.

5. focus

Interviewers must balance being in the moment with the need to move forward. Stumble too far down a tangential rabbit hole, and you’ll end the interview without covering essential topics.

Knowing when to stay with a topic and when to go on takes an intuition born from experience.

6. affability

Interviewers should put subjects at ease so that they can give authentic responses. This enables the subject to tell the story in their unique voice.