Interviewing Skills for Content Creators: 10 Huge Mistakes to Avoid
Polish your skills and look like a pro by avoiding a few interviewing pitfalls.
Over the past decade, I had the opportunity to conduct hundreds of interviews. The reason why this is good news for you is that I did everything the wrong way.
Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes and you can be the beneficiary of my misfortune. If you can avoid some of these same mistakes you’ll save your future self from experiencing such cringe-worthy events.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for the big interviews.
You sell yourself short when you assume people won’t want to speak with you especially if you are just starting out. You’d be surprised. When I first started, I had to work hard to put the awkwardness of approaching strangers aside.
I also had to stop acting like they were doing me a favor. I wasn’t paying for interviews so whoever I was going to pursue was going to reap the benefits of my hard work to promote them and their interests.
Free publicity! Who doesn’t love that?
Don’t be needy. If you assume the position of an expert, even if you aren’t one yet, people respond to that confidence. Please note I said confidence and not arrogance.
A lot of people said no to my requests but I was surprised at how many said yes. It’s okay to put yourself out there in the beginning as you are building your body of work.
And don’t be afraid to use your connections. You may know someone who knows someone, who knows someone else.
2. Don’t be late.
I know this one sounds like something your mom would say but I cannot express how much it will damage your interview.
If you arrive late to an interview, you have wasted your subject’s time and they immediately feel disrespected. I can promise you a wall will go up that won’t easily be broken down.
If it’s an in-person interview, show up ridiculously early. Whatever time my subject would give me, my film crew and I would still show up a half-hour to a full hour earlier.
Most of the time we were allowed to come in and to set up our cameras to avoid any potential technical delays.
Also, by showing up early we didn’t have to stress over parking or entering secured buildings which caused issues on more than one occasion.
One day, I had a governor’s office call me in a panic because the person who was on-site doing the interview in lieu of me had not arrived.
Being three states away I was in a panic scrambling to my phone trying to locate him. It was unnecessary stress for all parties involved.
It’s difficult to shake those first impressions.
If it’s an online interview, then sign on to whatever platform you are using early as well. It’s nice if they don’t have to wait on you to let them into the virtual room.
It’s also a great idea to practice using your online platform the day before your interview with a friend or relative.
Call your great Aunt Stella. (Do people still have Great Aunt Stella’s?) She’ll love seeing your face and might even include you in the will.
I’ll warn you now, however, this isn’t’ always reciprocated. If your subject is late, just be patient and gracious and punch something later.
You’re building a relationship and it’s best not to burn bridges even if you aren’t the one holding the matches.
3. Don’t show up unprepared.
I’m back to sounding like your mom again but do your homework. Don’t assume anything and fact-check everything. You likely don’t know as much as you thought you knew about your interviewee.
I’ve been caught off guard more than once.
When you’ve done your due diligence and prepared well-thought-out questions, you build a great rapport. They will appreciate the time and thought you’ve put into your preparation.
And even if they don’t appreciate it, they’ll silently be impressed.
Know your questions inside and out.
One of my favorite things to do is to find some personal interest they may have.
If they love college football, ask a question about college football early on in the interview even if your interview is about finding clean water sources for third world nations.
Watch how much their energy changes for the better. That energy looks great on camera.
4. Don’t have a thoughtless robotic response.
This is nails on a chalkboard my friends, nails on a chalkboard.
I was the producer on the set of a filmed interview with a governor. For this particular interview, we had one of our staff members who reside in the state asking the questions.
We felt it would be a good face time for him with the governor to build a relationship.
My coworker was so busy thinking about his next question he wasn’t listening to the governor’s current answers. As soon as the governor would stop speaking, he would utter an underwhelming, “That’s great.” Then move on to the next question.
He wasn’t listening.
The magic in interviews happens when the interviewee reveals something you didn’t anticipate and leads to additional questions you hadn’t considered.
This is a good thing. Because then it becomes a conversation and not a one-sided grilling. The more back and forth you have the better the interview.
5. Don’t break eye contact.
This goes along with the above don’t. I’m not saying stare creepily at your subject without blinking and risk a restraining order.
I’m saying it’s a matter of respect to look at them when they are kindly answering one of your questions.
Look at them. Listen to them. Have a conversation. The best interviews happen when the subject is at ease and is made to feel that what they are saying is important. Because it is. It’s why you are there in the first place.
If you’ve done your homework as I mentioned above, then you know what question is up next and won’t have to continually bury your face in your notes.
Take quick glances as a reminder of what’s next.
6. Don’t talk about yourself.
I think it’s a good thing to be relatable and find some common ground with your subject.
“I grew up in the same hometown!” You may say.
“Oh wow. That’s cool.” They may say.
Then, read the room. Did they ask you if you had Mrs. Miller for sixth grade? No. Then leave it at that. Don’t go into a five-minute diatribe about your life hoping they will become your new BFF.
Let them have the limelight and let them steal the show. It’s a good idea to check your ego at the door anyway.
I love finding common ground with any interviewee. I definitely have had the penchant to start telling them a long story about God knows what only to see their eyes glaze over and a silent cry from their soul begging for the Universe to abruptly end the interview with a fiery comet.
I like to build rapport or common ground just don’t take it too far.
7. Don’t be a dolt.
In one of my favorite books on interviewing, Talk to Me by Dean Nelson, he writes about a particular cringe-worthy interview.
In 2015, David Greene from NPR interviewed rock legend, Chrissie Hynde. Hynde had just published her new memoir and Greene refused to pay attention to anything she was saying.
“Hynde didn’t just hint that she didn’t want to continue a certain line of questioning–she came out and said it. And yet he persisted.” Nelson wrote about the interview.
What bothered me the most upon listening to it was also how the interviewer asserted his own ideology. He tells, not asks, that Brass in Pocket is a song that “empowers women,” much to her surprise and anyone that’s ever heard the song.
“It’s just a three-minute rock song.” She replies.
David Greene wrote her off as simply being a “difficult interview” instead of understanding the role he played in it. He brought his own assumptions and agenda to the table. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of an a-hole move.
If you’d like to bask in his awkwardness you can listen to this cautionary tale here.
8. Don’t panic.
Sometimes things go poorly no matter what you do. If you are prepared and you’ve done your homework, finished all your spinach at dinner, showed up on time, asked great questions and the interview still goes off the rails, don’t panic.
It happens to the best of us.
One thing that has unnerved me over the years is when I’ve prepared great open-ended questions and the interviewee still has found a way to respond in the shortest way possible.
You try to pivot and re-ask the question in a way where you hope they will expand on it, yet still, they respond with two to three words and shut it down.
I hate that.
Sometimes when people have done this I’ve found, cameras make them nervous. They may have been chatting up a storm until the camera guy yells “We’re rolling!” Then they crawl into the abyss of their soul and hide for the duration of the interview.
This is one reason why I always suggest running the camera, or audio recording, for some time before and after your interview.
One of my favorite videos that I’ve created using a comment from the then speaker of the house. He was chatting before our interview and it was such a great and endearing comment that I edited it in and of course, sent it to him for approval before its release.
He loved it. I loved it. It set the tone for the entire video.
Other times it may be that your interviewee just isn’t that interesting. Take the interview for what it is and move on.
9. Don’t forget it’s NOT about you.
I learned a valuable lesson from one of my previous work colleagues. She is a profound empath which plays well in interviews. We were on-site for an interview with a high-level official. I was producing it and had a film crew with me and she was going to ask the questions.
Her questions were thoughtful and amazing. I asked her about her methods later and she made an impactful comment to me.
“We need them a lot more than they need us.” She said. “Something has to be in it for them.”
When conducting your interviews remember as far as they are concerned, it’s all about them.
10. Don’t forget it IS about you.
But then again, you also have a job to do. You obviously are conducting an interview to get something out of it. Sometimes we can forget our own needs and agenda and we swing too far into making it all about them.
Ask the questions you need to ask to get what it is you need. There is a way to make them feel like it is all about them while also soliciting answers that meet your needs and goals.
It’s been my experience that when I humbly ask them for what it is I need, nine times out of ten, they’ve obliged me.
Just to wrap it all up in a tidy package. Here’s the rundown.
- Always make an attempt to ask for the interview you really want.
- Show up on time and be prepared.
- Practice getting rid of your automatic responses. And “umm’s” while you’re at it.
- Make eye contact and really listen to what they are saying.
- Don’t talk about yourself too much.
- And please, don’t be that guy. Don’t be a dolt.
- Never panic if it’s not going well and do your best. A lot can be fixed in editing.
- Make the interview about them but include your own interest in a humble way.
That’s it! That’s the rundown and the best advice I can give after making literally every mistake on this list.
I write on content creation and also self-development. If you like what you read, please let me know and follow me here on medium or social media.
Thanks for reading and happy interviewing!