Performance Interview

Select one of the following scenarios and prepare and submit your performance interview guide to address the selected situation. Based on Chapter 9 of the textbook. (Use a Performance Review Model). BOOK and ASSIGNMENT IS IN LINK PROVIDED.


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Module Instructions

Performance Interview Assignment

Select one of the following scenarios:


. An Aircraft Maintenance Specialist The interviewer is the Maintenance Supervisor
at the central maintenance repair facility for Mid-American Airlines, a regional carrier. He
is conducting a quarterly performance review interview with a maintenance specialist
who joined the airline three years ago right out of a university aviation technology
program. His record has been excellent with only a few minor problems that appear to
have been resolved. Unfortunately, the airline has suffered from a great deal of bad
publicity following two recent incidents in which rows of seats came unbolted during
flights. No injuries have occurred, but the FAA and consumer advocacy groups are
demanding answers. Since the interviewee is primarily responsible for checking and
repairing passenger seats, the interviewer will probe into reasons for these potentially
deadly occurrences and discover what the interviewee has done and plans to do to
make certain no seats come loose in flight again.


. A Volleyball Coach The interviewer is the Athletic Director at Forbes College and
reviews the performance of all coaches prior to the start of their seasons in late August
and when seasons end from January to May. The interviewee is the head coach of the
women’s volleyball team that has won 54 percent of its games each of the past three
years. This year is expected to be the break-out year because the team is loaded with
experience and has two highly recruited players. This interview will focus on the
prospects for a stellar season and how the coach is working at motivating the team
individually and as a whole. Her teams traditionally start strong and then fade near the
end of the season. Degree of success this season may determine the coach’s future at
Forbes College.

3. A Retail Manager The interviewer is the manager of a large department store and
conducts performance reviews with the departmental managers semi-annually. The
employee is the Women’s Department Manager. She is forty-two years old and a single
mother of four children ages thirteen to nineteen. The interviewee does an excellent
job. She anticipates problems, thinks of a variety of appropriate solutions for every
problem, and is highly professional in manner and dress. Unfortunately, she is starting
to come in late for work rather frequently and seems to have ready-made excuses for
each occasion, some of which are barely believable. The interviewer must determine


Module Instructions

how to approach this manager about the effects her tardiness are causing in her
department without affecting her outstanding work. She does not want to lose this
manager, but she must help her to correct this problem.

4. A Troubleshooter The interviewer is the vice president of a large paper products
manufacturer that has plants throughout the United States and in several other
countries. He oversees plant managers and engineering troubleshooters who travel
weekly to different plants to resolve production problems, set up and troubleshoot new
computer systems, and train personnel in operating new production equipment. The
interviewee, a former plant manager, is an excellent troubleshooter, but he is becoming
unhappy with the constant travel and being away from his family. This performance
interview is aimed at keeping the interviewee happy and on the job as well as reviewing

Assignment Instructions

You are to take on the role of the interviewer for the scenario you selected. Set up an
interview guide and schedule for that specific scenario. Submit the schedule and guide as
well as one to two support pages that includes the following sections:

1. How you plan to open and close the performance review interview. Write out the

2. What goals you would plan to set up in this scenario for the interviewee.


Submit in the appropriate folder inside the module.


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P r i n c i p l e s a n d P r a c t i c e s
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P r i n c i p l e s a n d P r a c t i c e s
Charles J. Stewart
Purdue University
William B. Cash, Jr.
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Published by McGraw-Hill Education, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Copyright © 2018 by McGraw-Hill
Education. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Previous editions © 2014, 2011, and
2008. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a
database or retrieval system, without the prior written consent of McGraw-Hill Education, including, but not
limited to, in any network or other electronic storage or transmission, or broadcast for distance learning.
Some ancillaries, including electronic and print components, may not be available to customers outside the
United States.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 LCR 21 20 19 18 17
ISBN 978-1-259-87053-8
MHID 1-259-87053-7
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All credits appearing on page or at the end of the book are considered to be an extension of the copyright page.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stewart, Charles J., author. | Cash, William B., author.
Interviewing : principles and practices / Charles J. Stewart, Purdue
University, William B. Cash, Jr.
Fifteenth Edition. | Dubuque : McGraw-Hill Education, [2017] |
Revised edition of the authors’ Interviewing, [2014]
LCCN 2016042444 | ISBN 9781259870538 (alk. paper)
LCSH: Interviewing—Textbooks. | Employment
interviewing—Textbooks. | Counseling—Textbooks.
LCC BF637.I5 S75 2017 | DDC 158.3/9—dc23 LC record available at
The Internet addresses listed in the text were accurate at the time of publication. The inclusion of a website does
not indicate an endorsement by the authors or McGraw-Hill Education, and McGraw-Hill Education does not
guarantee the accuracy of the information presented at these sites.
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To the memory of William “Bill” Cash, Jr., student,
co-author, and friend
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Charles J. Stewart
Charles J. “Charlie” Stewart is the former Margaret Church Distinguished Professor of
Communication at Purdue University where he taught from 1961 to 2009. He taught
undergraduate courses in interviewing and persuasion and graduate courses in such areas
as persuasion and social protest, apologetic rhetoric, and extremist rhetoric on the Inter-
net. He received the Charles B. Murphy Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching
from Purdue University and the Donald H. Ecroyd Award for Outstanding Teaching in
Higher Education from the National Communication Association. He was a Founding
Fellow of the Purdue University Teaching Academy. He has written articles, chapters,
and books on interviewing, persuasion, and social movements.
Charlie Stewart has been a consultant with organizations such as the Internal Rev-
enue Service, the American Electric Power Company, Libby Foods, the Indiana Univer-
sity School of Dentistry, and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. He is
currently a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children.
William B. Cash, Jr.
The late William “Bill” Cash began his work life in his father’s shoe and clothing store
in northern Ohio. While still in high school, he began to work in broadcasting and adver-
tising, and this led to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in broadcasting and speech com-
munication at Kent State University. After completing his academic work at Kent State,
he joined the speech communication faculty at Eastern Illinois University and began to
consult with dozens of companies such as Blaw-Knox, IBM, and Hewitt Associates. Bill
took a leave from Eastern Illinois and pursued a PhD in organizational communication
under W. Charles Redding. He returned to the faculty at Eastern Illinois and created and
taught a course in interviewing.
Bill Cash left college teaching and held positions with Ralston Purina, Detroit
Edison, Baxter, and Curtis Mathis, often at the vice president level. After several years in
industry, he returned to teaching and took a faculty position at National-Louis University
in Chicago. He became the first chair of the College of Management and Business and
developed courses in human resources, management, and marketing.
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Preface xvii
1 An Introduction to Interviewing 1
2 An Interpersonal Communication Process 9
3 Questions and Their Uses 33
4 Structuring the Interview 49
5 The Informational Interview 71
6 The Survey Interview 99
7 The Recruiting Interview 129
8 The Employment Interview 155
9 The Performance Interview 193
10 The Persuasive Interview 215
11 The Counseling Interview 253
12 The Health Care Interview 275
Glossary 305
Author Index 319
Subject Index 323
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Preface xvii
1An Introduction to Interviewing 1
The Essential Characteristics of Interviews 1
Two Parties 1
Purpose and Structure 1
Interactional 2
Questions 2
Exercise #1—What Is and Is Not an Interview? 3
Traditional Forms of Interviewing 3
Information-Giving Interviews 3
Information-Gathering Interviews 3
Focus Group Interviews 4
Selection Interviews 4
Performance Review 4
Counseling 4
Persuasion 4
Technology and Interviewing 4
The Telephone Interview 5
Two-Way Video Technology 5
E-Mail 6
Webinars 6
Summary 7
Key TermS and ConCepTS 7
STudenT aCTiviTieS 8
noTeS 8
reSourCeS 8
2An Interpersonal Communication Process 9
Two Parties in the Interview 9
Relational Dimensions 10
Global Relationships 12
Gender in Relationships 12
Interchanging Roles during Interviews 13
Directive Approach 13
Nondirective Approach 14
Perceptions of Interviewer and Interviewee 14
Perceptions of Self 14
Perceptions of the Other Party 16
Communication Interactions 16
Levels of Interactions 17
Self-Disclosure 17
Verbal Interactions 18
Nonverbal Interactions 20
Verbal and Nonverbal Intertwined 20
Gender and Nonverbal Interactions 21
Culture and Nonverbal Interactions 21
Nonverbal Interactions in the Global
Village 21
Feedback 22
Listening for Comprehension 23
Listening for Empathy 23
Listening for Evaluation 23
Listening for Resolution 24
The Interview Situation 24
Initiating the Interview 24
Perceptions 24
Timing 25
Location and Setting 26
Territoriality 26
Seating 27
Outside Forces 28
Summary 29
Key TermS and ConCepTS 30
STudenT aCTiviTieS 30
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xii Contents
noTeS 31
reSourCeS 32
3Questions and Their Uses 33
Open and Closed Questions 33
Open Questions 33
Closed Questions 34
Primary and Probing Questions 37
Types of Probing Questions 37
Skillful Interviewing with Probing Questions 40
Exercise #1—Supply the Probing Question 40
Neutral and Leading Questions 41
Exercise #2—Identification of Questions 42
Common Question Pitfalls 43
The Unintentional Bipolar Question 43
The Yes (No) Question 44
The Tell Me Everything Question 44
The Open-to-Closed Question 44
The Double-Barreled Question 44
The Unintentional Leading Question 45
The Guessing Question 45
The Curious Question 45
The Too High or Too Low Question 45
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Question 45
Exercise #3—What Are the Pitfalls in These
Questions? 46
Summary 47
Key TermS and ConCepTS 47
STudenT aCTiviTieS 47
noTeS 48
reSourCeS 48
4Structuring the Interview 49
The Body of the Interview 49
Interview Guide 49
Interview Schedules 51
Exercise #1—Interview Schedules 52
Question Sequences 53
Opening the Interview 56
The Two-Step Process 57
Nonverbal Communication in Openings 60
Exercise #2—Interview Openings 62
Closing the Interview 63
Guidelines for Closing Interviews 63
Closing Techniques 64
Exercise #3—Interview Closings 66
Summary 68
Key TermS and ConCepTS 68
STudenT aCTiviTieS 69
noTeS 69
reSourCeS 70
5The Informational Interview 71
Planning the Interview 71
Formulate Your Purpose 71
Research the Topic 72
Choose the Interviewee 73
Examine Your Relationship with the
Interviewee 74
Study the Situation and Location 75
Structure Your Interview 76
The Interview Opening 77
Conducting the Interview 77
Motivating Interviewees 77
Asking Questions 78
Note Taking and Recording 80
Managing Unique Situations 82
Managing Difficult Interviewees 85
Closing the Interview 89
Preparing the Report or Story 89
The Interviewee in the Interview 90
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Do Your Homework 90
Understand the Relationship 90
Know the Situation 91
Anticipate Questions 91
Listen to Questions 91
Answer Strategically 92
Summary 93
Key TermS and ConCepTS 94
probing role-playing CaSeS 94
STudenT aCTiviTieS 95
noTeS 96
reSourCeS 97
6The Survey Interview 99
Purpose and Research 99
Structuring the Interview 100
Interview Guide and Schedule 100
The Opening 100
The Closing 102
Survey Questions 102
Phrasing Questions 103
Sample Question Development 104
Probing Questions 105
Question Strategies 105
Question Scales 108
Question Sequences 112
Selecting Interviewees 112
Defining the Population 112
Sampling Principles 112
Sampling Techniques 113
Selecting and Training Interviewers 115
Number Needed 115
Qualifications 115
Personal Characteristics 116
Training Interviewers 116
Conducting Survey Interviews 117
Pretesting the Interview 117
Interviewing Face-to-Face 118
Interviewing by Telephone 118
Interviewing through the Internet 120
Coding, Tabulation, and Analysis 121
Coding and Tabulation 121
Analysis 121
The Respondent in Survey Interviews 122
The Opening 122
The Question Phase 123
Summary 123
Key TermS and ConCepTS 124
Survey role-playing CaSeS 124
STudenT aCTiviTieS 125
noTeS 126
reSourCeS 127
7The Recruiting Interview 129
Where to Find Talented Applicants 129
Preparing the Recruiting Effort 131
Reviewing EEO Laws 131
Exercise #1—Testing Your Knowledge of EEO
Laws 133
Developing an Applicant Profile 134
Assessing Today’s Applicants 135
Obtaining and Reviewing Information
on Applicants 136
Application Forms 136
Cover Letters 136
Resumes 136
Letters of Recommendation and References 137
Standardized Tests 138
Social Media 139
Conducting the Interview 140
The Atmosphere and Setting 140
The Interview Parties 140
Contents xiii
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Opening the Interview 141
The Body of the Interview 142
Asking Questions 143
Giving Information 146
Closing the Interview 147
Evaluating the Interview 147
Summary 149
Key TermS and ConCepTS 149
reCruiTing role-playing CaSeS 149
STudenT aCTiviTieS 150
noTeS 151
reSourCeS 153
8The Employment Interview 155
Analyzing Yourself 155
Questions to Guide Your Self-Analysis 155
Doing Research 157
Research Your Field 157
Research the Position 158
Research the Organization 158
Research the Recruiter 159
Research Current Events 159
Research the Interview Process 159
Conducting the Search 160
Networking 160
Web Sites, Classified Ads, and Newsletters 161
Career Centers and Employment Agencies 162
The Career/Job Fair 162
Knocking on Doors 163
Presenting Yourself to the Employer 163
Branding 164
Résumés 164
The Portfolio 173
The Cover Letter 173
Creating a Favorable First Impression 175
Attitudes 175
Dress and Appearance 175
Nonverbal Communication 177
Interview Etiquette 178
Answering Questions 179
Preparing to Respond 179
Structuring Answers 180
Responding Successfully 180
Responding to Unlawful Questions 181
Exercise #1—Which Questions Are Unlawful
and Why? 182
Asking Questions 184
Guidelines for Asking Questions 185
Question Pitfalls 185
Exercise #2—Applicant Pitfalls 185
Sample Applicant Questions 186
The Closing 187
Evaluation and Follow-Up 187
Handling Rejection 188
Summary 188
Key TermS and ConCepTS 189
employmenT role-playing CaSeS 189
STudenT aCTiviTieS 190
noTeS 191
reSourCeS 192
9The Performance Interview 193
Approaching the Interview as a Coaching
Opportunity 194
Preparing for the Performance Interview 195
Reviewing Rules, Laws, and Regulations 195
Selecting Review Model 196
Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS)
Model 196
Management by Objectives (MBO) Model 197
Universal Performance Interviewing (UPI) Model 197
The 360-Degree Approach 200
The Performance Interview 202
xiv Contents
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Planning the Interview 202
Opening the Interview 202
Discussing Performance 203
Setting New Goals and a Plan of Action 204
Closing the Interview 204
The Employee in the Performance
Review 204
The Performance Problem Interview 205
Determine Just Cause 206
Prepare for the Interview 206
Keep Self and the Situation under Control 208
Focus on the Problem 208
Avoid Conclusions during the Interview 209
Closing the Interview 209
Summary 209
Key TermS and ConCepTS 210
performanCe review role-playing CaSeS 210
STudenT aCTiviTieS 211
noTeS 212
reSourCeS 213
10The Persuasive Interview 215
The Ethics of Persuasion 215
What Is Ethical? 215
Fundamental Ethical Guidelines 216
Part 1: The Interviewer in the Persuasive
Interview 217
Analyzing the Interviewee 218
Personal Characteristics 218
Educational, Social, and Economic
Backgrounds 218
Culture 218
Values/Beliefs/Attitudes 219
Emotions 221
Analyzing the Situation 221
Atmosphere 221
Timing 222
Physical Setting 222
Outside Forces 222
Researching the Issue 223
Sources 223
Types of Evidence 223
Planning the Interview 223
Determine Your Purpose 223
Select Main Points 224
Develop Main Points 224
Select Strategies 226
Conducting the Interview 228
Opening 228
Need or Desire 229
Questions 230
Adapting to the Interviewee 231
The Solution 233
Considering the Solution 234
Handling Objections 234
Closing 236
Summary Outline 238
Part 2: The Interviewee in the Persuasive
Interview 239
Be an Informed Participant 239
Psychological Strategies 239
Be a Critical Participant 240
Language Strategies 240
Logical Strategies 243
Evidence 245
The Opening 245
Need or Desire 246
Criteria 246
Solution 246
The Closing 247
Summary 247
Key TermS and ConCepTS 248
perSuaSion role-playing CaSeS 249
STudenT aCTiviTieS 250
Contents xv
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noTeS 251
reSourCeS 252
11The Counseling Interview 253
Ethics and the Counseling Interview 253
Establish and Maintain Trust 254
Act in the Interviewee’s Best Interests 254
Understand Your Limitations 254
Do Not Impose Your Values, Beliefs, and
Attitudes 255
Respect Diversity 255
Maintain Relational Boundaries 256
Do No Harm 256
Prepare Thoroughly for the Counseling
Interview 256
Select an Interviewing Approach 257
Select a Structure 258
Select the Setting 259
Conducting the Interview 260
The Opening 260
Encourage Self-Disclosure 261
Listen 262
Observe 262
Question 263
Respond 264
The Closing 268
Evaluate the Interview 268
The Telephone Interview 268
Summary 269
Key TermS and ConCepTS 269
CounSeling role-playing CaSeS 269
STudenT aCTiviTieS 271
noTeS 272
reSourCeS 273
12The Health Care Interview 275
Ethics and the Health Care Interview 275
Patient-Centered Care (PCC) 276
Sharing Control 278
Appreciating Diversity 278
Creating and Maintaining Trust 280
Opening the Interview 281
Enhancing the Climate 281
Establishing Rapport 282
Opening Questions 283
Getting Information 283
Barriers to Getting Information 284
Improving Information Getting 285
Addressing the Language Barrier 288
Giving Information 289
Causes for Loss and Distortion of
Information 289
Giving Information More Effectively 291
Counseling and Persuading 292
Barriers to Effective Counseling
and Persuading 293
Effective Counseling and Persuading 293
Closing the Interview 296
Summary 296
Key TermS and ConCepTS 297
HealTH Care role-playing CaSeS 297
STudenT aCTiviTieS 298
noTeS 298
reSourCeS 304
Glossary 305
Author Index 319
Subject Index 323
xvi Contents
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This fifteenth edition of Interviewing: Principles and Practices continues to focus on the fundamental principles applicable to all forms of interviewing and to seven
specific types of interviewing while incorporating the latest in research, interpersonal
communication theory, the uses of technology and social media, the role of ethics in
interviewing, and EEO laws that affect employment and performance interviews. While
we have included recent research findings and developments, the emphasis remains on
building the interviewing skills of both interviewers and interviewees. Several chapters
address the increasing diversity in the United States and our involvement in the global
village as they impact the interviews in which we take part.
A major goal of this edition was to make it more user-friendly by sharpening the
writing style, eliminating unnecessary materials and redundancies, making definitions
and explanations more precise, and employing different print types to emphasize critical
words, terms, concepts, and principles. We have restructured several chapters to provide
clarity and logical progressions from point to point.
Changes in the Fifteenth Edition
• Chapter 1 includes a more focused development of the definition of interviewing
to enable students to see the similarities and differences of interviewing from
other types of interpersonal communication with an emphasis on collaboration
between parties. There is a detailed discussion of how technology, beginning
with the telephone, has impacted the nature of interviews, the growing use of
two-way video technology to conduct interviews, and the serious implications
this has for how we communicate interpersonally.
• Chapter 2 includes an expanded treatment of the nature and types of relation-
ships in interviews and how these affect the essential collaborative process that
ensues; the importance of trust, self-esteem, and self-worth in what parties are
willing to disclose during interviews; the dangers of assuming that communica-
tion is taking place; and how gender and cultural differences affect our use and
interpretation of language.
• Chapter 3 includes sharper and clearer explanations and illustrations of question
types, the uses of questions as the tools of the trade, and a refined treatment of
common question pitfalls that make it more difficult to perform interview tasks
efficiently and effectively.
• Chapter 4 includes clearer and expanded explanations of interview guides and
schedules, question sequences, rapport and orientation in openings, types of
openings and closings, and the importance of making openings and closings dia-
logues rather than monologues.
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xviii Preface
• Chapter 5 includes expanded discussions of planning for and structuring infor-
mational interviews, using criteria for selecting interviewees, conducting and
taking part in videoconference interviews, and managing difficult interviewees.
• Chapter 6 includes refined discussions of qualitative and quantitative surveys,
sampling techniques, incentives designed to increase participation, advantages
and disadvantages of face-to-face interviews, and the telephone survey.
• Chapter 7 includes revised and expanded discussions of searching for new talent
(internships, career and job fairs, kiosks, and Web sites), reviewing EEO laws,
understanding and adapting to the unique characteristics of the millennial gen-
eration, reviewing applicant materials prior to the interview, structuring inter-
views, asking on-the-job questions, and closing the interview effectively.
• Chapter 9 includes emphases on conducting the performance review interview
as a coaching opportunity, selecting an appropriate review model, employing
a 360-degree approach, establishing a relaxed and supportive climate, orient-
ing the employee, and avoiding a “gunnysacking” approach in the performance
problem interview in which the interviewer stores up grievances and then dumps
them on an employee all at once.
• Chapter 10 includes new and revised materials on ethics and persuasion, the cri-
teria essential for successful persuasive interviews, how to establish substantial
similarity with the interviewee, the use of questions in persuasive interviews,
how to anticipate and respond to objections, and how to be an active and critical
• Chapter 11 includes revised treatments of the nature of the counseling interview;
the role of lay counselors who are similar to counselees and open, caring, and
good listeners; a code of ethics for the counseling interview; trust as the corner-
stone of the counseling relationship; respect for and understanding of the inter-
viewee’s capabilities of making sound choices and decisions; the necessity to be
culturally aware in today’s global village; and maintaining relational boundaries.
• Chapter 12 includes emphasis on the roles we all play in health care interviews,
the critical importance of relationship between health care provider and patient,
the sharing control during the interview, the influences of culture and gender in
health care interactions, ways to lessen the negative impact of long waiting peri-
ods, opening questions, reasons for patient resistance to disclosure during inter-
views, ways to lessen the loss of information during and after interviews, how
collaboration can promote self-persuasion, compliance with recommendations,
and closing interviews.
Chapter Pedagogy
The role-playing cases at the ends of Chapters 5 through 12 provide students with
opportunities to design and conduct practice interviews and to observe others’ efforts to
employ the principles discussed. Student activities at the end of each chapter provide
ideas for in- and out-of-class exercises, experiences, and information gathering. We have
made many of these less complex and time-consuming. The up-to-date readings at the
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Preface xix
end of each chapter will help students and instructors who are interested in delving more
deeply into specific topics, theories, and types of interviews. The glossary provides stu-
dents with definitions of key words and concepts introduced throughout the text.
Intended Courses
This book is designed for courses in speech, communication, journalism, business,
supervision, education, political science, nursing, criminology, and social work. It is
also useful in workshops in various fields. We believe this book is of value to beginning
students as well as to seasoned veterans because the principles, research, and techniques
are changing rapidly in many fields. We have addressed theory and research findings
where applicable, but our primary concern is with principles and techniques that can be
translated into immediate practice in and out of the classroom.
Ancillary Materials
The 15th edition of Interviewing: Principles and Practices, is now available online
with Connect, McGraw-Hill Education’s integrated assignment and assessment platform.
Connect also offers SmartBook for the new edition, which is the first adaptive reading
experience proven to improve grades and help students study more effectively. All of the
title’s website and ancillary content is also available through Connect, including:
• A sample interview that illustrates the type of interview, situation, principles,
practices, and mistakes parties make to challenge students to distinguish between
effective and ineffective techniques, questions, and responses and know how to
remedy them.
• An Instructor’s Manual, written by Charles Stewart, for each chapter.
• A full Test Bank of multiple choice questions that test students on central con-
cepts and ideas in each chapter.
• Lecture Slides for instructor use in class.
We wish to express our gratitude to students at Purdue University and National-Louis
University College of Management, and to past and present colleagues and clients for
their inspiration, suggestions, exercises, theories, criticism, and encouragement. We thank
Suzanne Collins, Mary Alice Baker, Vernon Miller, Kathleen Powell, Garold Markle, and
Patrice Buzzanell for their resources, interest, and suggestions.
We are very grateful to the following reviewers for the many helpful comments and
suggestions they provided us:
Merry Buchanan, University of Central Oklahoma
Rebecca Carlton, IU Southeast
ste70537_fm_i-xxiv.indd 19 20/12/16 6:34 pm

xx Preface
Valerie B. Coles, University of Georgia
Stephanie Coopman, San Jose State University
Erin F. Doss, Indiana University Kokomo
Cheri Hampton-Farmer, The University of Findlay
Delia O’Steen, Texas Tech University
Christopher S. Perrello, Syracuse University
Cynthia A. Ridle, Western Illinois University
Sue Stewart, Texas State University
ste70537_fm_i-xxiv.indd 20 20/12/16 6:34 pm

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An Introduction
to Interviewing1C H A P T E R
A few years ago one of the authors was talking to a hospital administrator at a fund-raising event, and the administrator asked what classes he was teaching.
When the author mentioned a class in interviewing that included several nursing stu-
dents, the administrator replied that nursing students didn’t need an interviewing course
because jobs in nursing were plentiful. This administrator was exhibiting a common
misconception about interviewing, that it is merely a job-seeking activity. In fact, inter-
viewing is the most common form of purposeful, planned, and serious communication.
An interview may be formal or informal, minimally or highly structured, simplistic or
sophisticated, supportive or threatening, and momentary or lengthy. It may share char-
acteristics with brief interactions, social conversations, small groups, and presentations,
but it differs significantly from each.
The objectives of this chapter are to identify the essential characteristics of inter-
views, distinguish interviews from other forms of communication, identify and discuss
traditional types of interviews, and examine the growing roles of technology in con-
ducting and participating in interviews.
The Essential Characteristics of Interviews
Two Parties
Each interview is a dyadic—two party—process that typically involves two people
such as a physician and a patient, an applicant and a recruiter, a police officer and an
eyewitness, and political candidate and a donor. Some interviews involve more than
two people but never more than two parties. For instance, four reporters may be inter-
viewing a college golf coach, a travel director may be interviewing a husband and wife,
or a surgical team may be interviewing the guardians of an elderly relative. In each
case, there are two distinct parties—an interviewer party and an interviewee party.
If a single party is involved (three students reviewing for a political science exam) or
more than two parties are involved (four construction management firms bidding for a
construction project), the interaction is not an interview.
Purpose and Structure
One or both parties must arrive at an interview with a predetermined and serious
purpose, a component that distinguishes the interview from social and unplanned
conversations. Conversations and momentary meetings are rarely organized or
are daily
Dyadic means
two parties.
Interviews are
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 1 20/12/16 12:34 pm

2 Chapter 1
planned in advance, but interviews
always have a degree of planning
and structure that may include an
opening, selection of topics, pre-
pared questions, and background
information. The predetermined
purpose—to get or give informa-
tion, to seek employment or recruit
an employee, to counsel or be
counseled, to persuade or be per-
suaded—will determine the nature
of the planning and structure of the
Interviews are interactional because
both parties share and exchange
roles, responsibilities, feelings,
beliefs, motives, and information. When one party does all of the talking and the other
all of the listening, a speech—not an interview—is taking place with an audience of
one or two. John Stewart writes that communication is a “continuous, complex, collab-
orative process of verbal and nonverbal meaning making.”1 This collaborative “meaning
making” entails a mutual creation and sharing of messages that come from words and
nonverbal signs (lowered voice, wink, a frown) that may express interest, compassion,
understanding, belief, or disagreement during an interview. As communication pro-
cesses, interviews are dynamic, ongoing, ever-changing interactions of message sending
and receiving with a degree of system and structure. Once an interview commences,
the parties cannot not communicate.2 Even when they communicate poorly, they com-
municate something.
Asking and answering questions play critical roles in all interviews. They are the dom-
inant feature in market surveys and journalistic interviews. In others such as recruit-
ing, counseling, and health care, questions share time with information sharing. And
in others such as sales, training, and performance review, questions play strategic roles
in obtaining or clarifying information and in altering a party’s ways of thinking, feel-
ing, or acting. They are literally the tools of the trade interview parties use to check
the accuracy of messages sent and received, verify impressions and assumptions, and
provoke feelings and thoughts. Chapter 3 will introduce you to the types and uses of
An interview, then, is an interactional communication process between two
parties, at least one of whom has a predetermined and serious purpose, that
involves the asking and answering of questions.
With this definition as a guide, determine which of the following interactions con-
stitutes an interview and which does not.
and share.
Questions play
multiple roles
in interviews.
■ More than two people may be involved in an interview, but
never more than two parties—an interviewer party and an
interviewee party.
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 2 20/12/16 12:34 pm

An Introduction to Interviewing 3
Exercise #1—What Is and Is Not an Interview?
1. Three teachers are reviewing the School Board’s proposal for hiring a new
Vice Principal.
2. A college recruiter for the women’s basketball team is meeting with a family about
a full-ride scholarship for April.
3. A police officer is speaking with an eyewitness to the crash of a school bus.
4. A student is talking to his professor about a field project assignment.
5. A member of a survey research team is talking to a stock broker about the effects
of low oil prices on energy stocks.
6. A professor is asking questions during her history class about a reading on the
cold war.
7. An employee runs into his supervisor at a grocery store and remembers to ask
about taking a personal leave day to attend The Final Four.
8. An auto sales associate is discussing a new Chevrolet model with a husband
and wife.
9. A tennis player is talking to two surgeons about surgery on her elbow.
10. Two members of a law firm are discussing the ramifications of an intellectual
properties case.
Traditional Forms of Interviewing
There are many traditional forms of interviewing, and these are usually identified according
to situation and function. As you read this book, you will discover that many require one
or both parties to have specialized training, specific abilities, and the willingness to share
beliefs, attitudes, and feelings with others. Let us look at seven of these traditional forms.
Information-Giving Interviews
When two parties take part in orienting, training, coaching, instructing, and briefing
sessions, they are involved in information-giving interviews, the purpose of which
is to exchange information as accurately, effectively, and efficiently as possible.
Information-giving interviews seem simple when compared to others—merely relating
facts, data, reports, and opinions from one party to another, but they are deceptively
difficult. Because this type is so common and critical in health care interviews, Chapter
12 discusses the principles, problems, and techniques of information giving.
Information-Gathering Interviews
When two parties take part in surveys, exit interviews, research sessions, investigations, diag-
nostic sessions, journalistic interviews, and brief requests for information, the interviewer’s
purpose is to gather accurate, insightful, and useful information through the skillful use of
questions, many created and phrased prior to the interview and others created on the spot to
probe into interviewee responses, attitudes, and feelings. Chapter 5 discusses the principles
and practices of moderately structured informational interviews such as journalistic interviews
giving is
but difficult.
gathering is
pervasive in
our world.
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 3 20/12/16 12:34 pm

4 Chapter 1
and investigations. Chapter 6 discusses the principles and practices of highly structured sur-
veys and polls. And Chapter 12 discusses information gathering in the health care setting.
Focus Group Interviews
The focus group interview usually consists of six to ten similar but unrelated interviewees
with a single interviewer and concentrates on a specific issue or concern such as cus-
tomer or client perspectives about a new or developing idea, product, or service. The
interviewer guides the interview with a carefully crafted set of questions designed to
generate interactions among the interviewees that produce a wide range of information,
experiences, opinions, beliefs, attitudes, and understandings. Advocates of focus group
interviews claim these interactions produce higher quality information and feedback.
Selection Interviews
The most common selection interview occurs between a recruiter attempting to select the
best qualified applicant for a position in an organization and an applicant attempting to attain
this position. The placement interview occurs when a supervisor is trying to determine the
ideal placement of a staff member already in the organization. This interview may involve
a promotion, a restructuring of an organization, or a reassignment. Because the selection or
employment interview plays such a major role in all of our personal and professional lives,
we will focus in detail on the recruiter in Chapter 7 and the applicant in Chapter 8.
Performance Review
When two parties focus on the interviewee’s skills, performance, abilities, or behavior,
it is a performance review (what once was called an appraisal interview). The purpose
is to coach a student, employee, or team member to continue that which is good and to
set goals for future performance. Chapter 9 focuses on models for conducting perfor-
mance reviews and the principles essential for the performance problem interview.
When an interviewee has a personal or professional problem, the parties take part in a coun-
seling interview in which the interviewer strives to help the interviewee attain insights into
a problem and possible ways of dealing with this problem. Chapter 11 addresses the prin-
ciples and practices of conducting and taking part in counseling interviews.
In a persuasive interview, one party attempts to alter or reinforce the thinking, feeling,
or acting of another party. The sales interview comes immediately to mind, but we are
involved in persuasive interviews on a daily basis. They range from informal interactions
such as one friend attempting to persuade another to go on a Caribbean cruise to a team
from a construction management firm trying to persuade a university board of trustees to
select its firm to manage the construction of a multimillion-dollar classroom and office
complex. Chapter 10 focuses on the often complex interactions in persuasive interviews.
Technology and Interviewing
Beginning with the invention of the telephone, technology has had an ever-increasing
influence on how we conduct and take part in interviews. Most importantly, interview
is critical in
the lives of
people and
review is
essential to
employee and
is more than
selling a
product or
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 4 20/12/16 12:34 pm

An Introduction to Interviewing 5
parties no longer need to be face-to-face with one another but may be ear-to-ear,
keyboard-to-keyboard, or screen to screen.
The Telephone Interview
Telephone interviews have become so commonplace that states and the federal govern-
ment have passed “Don’t Call” legislation to protect our privacy and sanity, particularly
at dinner time. The popularity of telephone interviews is easy to understand. They save
time, reduce monetary expenses, and eliminate the necessity of sending one or more
interviewers to widespread geographical locations. The telephone is most effective in
interviews in which you want to ask brief and simple questions in a short time ranging
from 10 to 15 minutes.
A major drawback of the telephone interview is the lack of physical presence of
the parties. Hearing a voice is not the same as observing another’s appearance, dress,
manner, eye contact, face, gestures, and posture. Missing from telephone interviews
are the subtle cues interviewers use to indicate that it’s time to switch roles, to con-
tinue or end an answer, or that the interview is nearing the closing. While some inter-
viewees prefer the anonymity and relative safety of the interview, others (particularly
older ones) prefer face-to-face contacts and fear the growing frauds perpetrated over
the telephone. One study found that interviewers prefer face-to-face interviews to the
telephone, particularly if it is lengthy, and this negative attitude may affect how inter-
viewees reply.
Two-Way Video Technology
The growing sophistication of video technology such as Skype has reduced some of
the problems associated with the telephone interview and enables parties to observe
and hear one another in real time. These technologies enable interview parties in
traditional interviews such as journalistic, employment, and medical and nontra-
ditional interviews such as the videoconference to interact visually over long dis-
tance, faster, and with less expense. Advocates claim that two-way video interaction
is a “virtual interview” because it is almost “like being there in person.” In the “vir-
tual interview,” video production techniques are essential to “send the right vibe.”
These include selecting quality microphones and video technology, checking light-
ing and sound, manipulating the background or set with mood lighting and colors,
selecting appropriate furniture, controlling distractions such as pets and family
members, and maintaining the “illusion of eye contact.” Unfortunately, even the
best technology and manipulation of the scene enable the parties to see only head
or upper body shots that are not the same as the total presence of face-to-face inter-
views. Some people find it difficult to interact freely and effectively with people
on screens. With fewer interruptions and the absence of traditional cues that signal
when a question has been answered or a point made, turns between parties tend to
be longer and fewer in video interviews. This problem is enhanced in the videocon-
ference in which each party may consist of two or more people. Reasons for liking
videoconferences and Skype have serious implications for the communication that
takes place. These perceived pluses include taking more notes, referring to notes,
checking watches, and reading text messages. Both parties must be aware of the
The telephone
interview is
convenient and
Both parties
must focus
attention on
the interaction.
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 5 20/12/16 12:34 pm

6 Chapter 1
importance of upper-body move-
ment, gestures, eye contact, and
facial expressions that are magni-
fied on the screen when little else
is visible to the other party. This
may be why a high percentage of
suggestions for being effective
in “virtual interviews” pertain to
video production concer ns and
The advent of e-mail enabled us
to communicate almost instantly
with others around the world at
any time of day or night. It is a
convenient and inexpensive means
of sending and receiving mes-
sages. The question persists as to when sending and receiving “electronic mail”
becomes an interview and not what its name clearly implies, mail. An interview is
interactive in real time. If two parties are sitting at their keyboards at the same
time and asking and answering questions without breaks in the interaction, includ-
ing probing immediately into answers or altering questions to make them clearer or
more effective, an interview is taking place. Otherwise, it is merely an electronic
questionnaire. It is wise to make the e-mail interview your last choice such as when
time, financial constraints, geographical distances, and unavailability of video tech-
nology make a face-to-face interview impossible. In the e-mail interview, there is
no opportunity for the parties to see or hear one another, so all nonverbal elements
critical to the interpersonal communication process are nonexistent. Some would
argue that the e-mail interview is fairer for the person who is orally challenged, but
the same argument applies for the person who is verbally challenged. Studies of
e-mail interviews identify other disadvantages such as difficulty in opening inter-
views, establishing rapport, determining emotional reactions, and translating verbal
symbols and acronyms.
Webinars in which a presenter lectures or speaks to an audience on the Web are
becoming popular for conferences, training sessions, seminars, and workshops.
They are typically not interviews but electronic presentations. If a webinar is more
collaborative and interactive between two parties with questions and answers in real
time and perhaps over a telephone line or voice over technology, it may be an inter-
view and more spontaneous and interpersonal than an e-mail interview. It is wise,
however, to use a webinar for its primary purposes—training and teaching—rather
than interviewing.
The Internet
lacks the
cues critical in
are rarely
■ The Internet can provide important information on positions
and organizations and background on interviewers and
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 6 20/12/16 12:34 pm

An Introduction to Interviewing 7
Interviewing is an interactional communication process between two parties, at least one
of whom has a predetermined and serious purpose, that involves the asking and answer-
ing of questions. This definition encompasses a wide variety of interview settings that
require training, preparation, interpersonal skills, flexibility, and a willingness to face risks
involved in intimate, person-to-person interactions. The increasing flexibility of technology
is resulting in significant numbers of interviews no longer occurring face-to-face, and this is
posing new challenges and concerns.
Interviewing is a learned skill, and your first hurdle into becoming a more skilled inter-
viewer or interviewee is to overcome the assumption that what you do often you do well.
Ten years of interviewing experience may mean that you have repeated the same mis-
takes over and over, year after year. Skilled interview participants are aware that practice
makes perfect only if you know what you are practicing.
The first step in developing and improving interviewing skills is to understand the
deceptively complex interviewing process and its many interacting variables. Chapter 2
explains and illustrates the interviewing process by developing step-by-step a model that
contains all of the fundamental elements that interact in each interview.
Key Terms and Concepts
Learn more about the growing uses of electronic
interviews in a variety of settings. Search at least two
databases under headings such as telephone inter-
views, conference calls, and video talk-back. Try
search engines such as ComAbstracts (http://www, Yahoo (, Infoseek
(, and ERIC (http://www In which interview settings
are electronic interviews most common? What are
the advantages and disadvantages of electronic inter-
views? How will new developments affect electronic
interviews in the future? How will the growing use
of electronic interviews affect the ways we conduct
traditional face-to-face interviews?
Electronic interviews
E-mail interviews
Focus group interviews
Meaning making
Performance review
Predetermined purpose
Selection interview
Serious purpose
Telephone interview
Two-party process
Videoconference interview
Virtual interview
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 7 20/12/16 12:34 pm

8 Chapter 1
Student Activities
1. Keep a journal of interviews in which you take part during a week. How many were
traditional, face-to-face interviews and how many were electronic? Which types
tended to be traditional and which electronic? How were they similar and different?
How did interactions vary? How did lack of presence, eye contact, appearance, facial
expressions, and gestures appear to influence electronic interviews? How did you
and the other parties try to compensate for this?
2. Make a list of what you consider to be essential characteristics of good interviews
and then observe two interviews on television. How well did the interviewers and
interviewees meet your criteria? What did they do best? What did they do poorly?
How did the settings and situations seem to affect the interactions? If one or both
parties were “celebrities,” how did this seem to affect interactions, roles played,
amount of time each asked and answered questions, and content of responses?
3. Select a person you know superficially (classmate, co-worker, member of a fitness
club) who is willing to be interviewed. Take part in a 10-minute interview and try to
discover everything you can about this person. Which topics were covered and
which avoided? How did the phrasing of questions seem to affect answers? How did
your relationship with the other party affect the openness with which the two of you
shared and revealed information?
4. Take part in a traditional job fair and a virtual job fair on or near your campus. After
you have taken part in each, list what you liked and disliked about each. What did
the face-to-face encounter with a prospective employer offer that an electronic
encounter could not? And what did the electronic encounter offer that a face-to-face
encounter could not? How did you prepare for each encounter? If the virtual job fair
experience entailed simulated interviews, how did you react to these encounters?
1. John Stewart, ed., Bridges Not Walls, 11th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), p. 16.
2. Michael T. Motley, “Communication as Interaction: A Reply to Beach and Bavelas,”
Western Journal of Speech Communication 54 (Fall 1990), pp. 613–623.
Anderson, Rob, and G. Michael Killenberg. Interviewing: Speaking, Listening, and
Learning for Professional Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
DeJong, Peter. Interviewing for Solutions. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2013.
Holstein, James A., and Jaber F. Gubrium, eds. Inside Interviewing: New Lenses, New
Concerns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003.
Martin, Judith N., and Thomas K. Nakayama. Experiencing Intercultural Communication.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
Stewart, John. Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication. New York:
McGraw-Hill, 2012.
Parsons, Steven P. Interviewing and Investigating. New York: Aspen Law, 2013.
ste70537_ch01_001-008.indd 8 20/12/16 12:34 pm

An Interpersonal
Communication Process2C H A P T E R
To improve your interviewing skills, you must start by understanding the deceptively complex process and its interrelated and interacting variables. An
interview is far more complex than merely asking and answering questions or talking
to someone. The objectives of this chapter are to develop a model of the process that
summarizes, explains, and portrays the intricate and often puzzling nature of the typical
interview. The completed model in Figure 2.8 looks very complicated because it sum-
marizes a very complicated process.
Two Parties in the Interview
The overlapping circles in Figure 2.1 represent the two parties in every interview.
Each party is a unique sum of culture, environment, education, training, and experi-
ences. Each party is an aggregate of personality traits that range from optimistic to
pessimistic, trusting to suspicious, honest to dishonest, patient to impatient, flexible to
inflexible, and compassionate to indifferent. Each of you has specific beliefs, attitudes,
and values. And each party is motivated by ever-evolving needs, interests, desires, and
You must also be aware that each person in each party communicates intra-
personally as well as inter-personally. You literally talk to yourself. What you say to
yourself and how you say it will influence the verbal and nonverbal messages you send
and how you experience an interview. In a very real sense, “the whole person speaks
and the whole person listens.”1
Even though each party is made up of unique individuals, both parties must col-
laborate to make the interview a success. The circles overlap in Figure 2.1 to indi-
cate the relational nature of the interview process in which the parties interact with
one another. Each has a stake in the outcome of the interview, and neither party can
go it alone. This relationship may commence with this interview or be another act in
a relational history that dates from hours to weeks, months, or years. When parties
begin a relational history, interactions may be brief or awkward because neither knows
what to expect, how best to start the interaction, when to speak and listen, and what
information to share. In some cultures, “all strangers are viewed as sources of potential
relationships; in others, relationships develop only after long and careful scrutiny.”2
Stereotypes such as age, gender, race, and ethnicity may play significant negative
roles in zero-history situations, particularly during the anxious opening minutes of
is more than
asking and
Each party con-
sists of unique
and complex
Each interview
to a relational
ste70537_ch02_009-032.indd 9 20/12/16 12:41 pm

10 Chapter 2
an interaction.3 On the other hand, negative expectations and attitudes may exist from
previous interactions.
Your relationships may be intimate (close friends), casual (co-workers),
functional (physicians), formal (supervisors), and distant (elected officials). They may
change during immediate interactions and over time. What might begin as a functional
relationship with an attorney or teacher may evolve into a close personal relationship
lasting for decades because each interaction affects how you communicate who you are
and what you are for each other. Your relationships change as interview situations vary
and change. For instance, you may have a formal relationship with a professor in the
classroom setting, a functional relationship when the professor is counseling you in an
office setting, a casual relationship at a picnic for majors, and an intimate relationship
years after you have completed your degree. Sarah Trenholm and Arthur Jensen write
that you must acquire relational competence to know when and how to adapt to the
roles you play in relationships with others and to develop “workable rules and norms”
for differing situations.4
Relational Dimensions
Your relationships are multidimensional, with five being critical to interviews: similar-
ity, inclusion, affection, control, and trust.
You tend to find it easier to interact with others and form relationships when you share
gender, race, cultural norms and values, education, experiences, beliefs, interests, and
expectations. Important similarities enable you to understand and communicate with one
another and thus to establish common ground that is portrayed by the overlapping circles
in Figure 2.1. Expanding this perceived overlap during an interview reduces perceived
A situation
may alter a
A few
similarities do
not equal rela-
tional peers.
Figure 2.1 The interview parties
ste70537_ch02_009-032.indd 10 20/12/16 12:41 pm

An Interpersonal Communication Process 11
dissimilarities that may impede interactions and development of a meaningful relation-
ship. Beware of surface similarities such as age, race, ethnicity, or dress that may lead
you to perceive far more significant similarities with a party than you actually have.
Interview parties enhance relationships when both are motivated to speak and listen,
question and respond, and are open and straightforward. The more you are involved and
share in an interview, the more satisfied you will be with the interactions and outcome.
It is not merely what you do or gain in an interview but what you do with another. It
should be a collaborative, joint effort. Both parties depend on one another for the suc-
cess of each interview.
You cultivate interview relationships when both parties respect one another and there
is a marked degree of friendship or warmth. Establishing a we instead of a me-you
feeling requires communication that both parties see as pleasant, fair, and productive.
Relationships waiver when signs of affection are inconsistent, ambivalent, or negative.
In one study, parties lowered their loudness to express disliking as well as liking for
one another. In others, decreased talk time seemed to indicate liking by showing greater
attentiveness or disliking by exhibiting disengagement from the interaction.5
Sometimes you come to an interview with an ambivalent or hostile attitude toward
the other party because of a relational history or what James Honeycutt calls relational
memory. He writes that “even though relationships are in constant motion, relation-
ship memory structures provide a perceptual anchor [so that] individuals can determine
where they are in a relationship.”6 Relational memory may aid parties in dealing with
what researchers call dialectical tensions that result from conflicts between “important
but opposing needs or desires,” or “between opposing” or contrasting “‘voices,’ each
expressing a different or contradictory impulse.”7 Kory Floyd writes that dialectical
tensions are a “normal part of any close, interdependent relationship, and they become
problematic only when people fail to manage them properly.”8
Since the interview is a collaborative process, each party is responsible for its successes
and failures. John Stewart has introduced the concept of “nexting” that he claims is the
“most important single communication skill.” Each party should be asking “What can
I help to happen next,” rather than how can I control the nature and content of this
interaction.9 The felt need to control interactions may result from personality traits, the
competitive spirit our society fosters, and organizational rules. Hierarchies present in
families, schools, churches, government, and corporations make upward and downward
communication difficult for each party. Edward Hall writes that “People at the top pay
attention to different things from those in the middle or bottom of the system.”10
Trust is critical in interviews because outcomes affect parties personally—their income,
their careers, their purchases, their profits, their health, and their futures. Trust comes
Wanting to take
part leads to col-
We interact
more freely
with persons
we like.
Hierarchy may
hinder the flow
of information
and self-
ste70537_ch02_009-032.indd 11 20/12/16 12:41 pm

12 Chapter 2
from mutual honesty, sincerity, reliability, fairness, and even-temper—in other words
when you see interactions with one another as being safe. When you are anxious during
interactions, you tend to become cautious and fearful about outcomes, and the first
casualty is level of disclosure. You are reluctant to be direct and open to share informa-
tion, beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. The risk may be too great. Cultivate and protect
relationships to assure productive interviews.
Global Relationships
Social, political, and work worlds are becoming increasingly global, so it is necessary
to understand how relationships are created and fostered in other countries and cultures.
The less you know about others, the more likely you are to be anxious when initiating
relationships. Martin, Nakayama, and Flores warn, for instance, that “in intercultural
conflict situations, when we are experiencing high anxieties with unfamiliar behav-
ior (for example, accents, gestures, facial expressions), we may automatically withhold
trust.”11 You may fear the consequences of your words and actions that may offend the
other party or make you look stupid.
In the United States, we tend to have numerous friendly, informal relationships and
place importance on how a person looks, particularly early in relationships. We create
and discard relationships frequently, while Australians make deeper and longer-lasting
commitments. Arabs, like Americans, develop relationships quickly but, unlike Ameri-
cans who dislike taking advantage of relationships by asking for favors, Arabs believe
friends have a duty to help one another. The Chinese develop strong, long-term relation-
ships and, like Arabs, see them involving obligations. In Mexico, trust in relationships
develops slowly, is given sparingly, and must be earned. Betrayal of trust results in the
greatest harm possible to a relationship. Germans develop relationships slowly because
they see them as very important, and using first names before a relationship is well-
established is considered rude behavior. Japanese prefer not to interact with strangers,
want background information on parties before establishing relationships, prefer doing
business with people they have known for years, and take time establishing relationships.
Gender in Relationships
Although men and women are more similar than different in how they communicate
and how they establish and refine relationships, research has revealed significant dif-
ferences.12 Men’s talk tends to be directive and goal-oriented with statements that “tend
to press compliance, agreement, or belief.” Women’s talk tends to be more polite and
expressive, containing less intense words, qualifiers (perhaps, maybe), and disclaim-
ers (“Maybe I’m wrong but . . .” “I may not fully understand the situation, but . . .”).13
Women use communication as a primary way of establishing relationships, while men
communicate “to exert control, preserve independence, and enhance status.”14 Women
give more praise and compliments and are reluctant to criticize directly in the work-
place while men remain silent when a co-worker is doing something well and take
criticism straight.15 Women report “greater satisfaction with their interactions than do
men.16 On the other hand, researchers have found that “women are more likely to betray
and be betrayed by other women.” Men report they are more often betrayed by other
men with whom they are competing.17
Trust is essen-
tial in every
develop differ-
ently in differ-
ent cultures.
Gender differ-
ences have
evolved but not
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 13
Interchanging Roles during Interviews
While one party may dominate an interview, both speak and listen from time to time,
ask and answer questions, and assume the roles of interviewer and interviewee. Neither
party can expect the other to make the interview a success. John Stewart writes that
“human communicators are always sending and receiving simultaneously. As a result,
each communicator has the opportunity to change how things are going at any time
in the process.”18 The small circles within the party circles in Fig ure 2.2 portray the
exchange of roles in interviews.
The extent to which roles are exchanged and control is shared is often influenced
by the status or expertise of the parties, which party initiated the interview, type of
interview, situation, and atmosphere of the interaction—supportive or defensive,
friendly or hostile. These factors determine which approach an interviewer selects—
directive or nondirective.
Directive Approach
In a directive approach, the interviewer establishes the purpose of the interview and
controls the pacing, climate, and formality of the interview. Questions are likely to
be closed with brief, direct answers. An interviewee may assume occasional control
during the interview, but the interviewer tends to dominate the process. Typical direc-
tive interviews are information giving, surveys and opinion polls, employee recruiting,
and persuasive interviews such as sales. The directive approach is easy to learn, takes
less time, enables you to maintain control, and is easy to replicate.
The following exchange illustrates a directive interviewing approach:
1. Interviewer: Did you attend the in-service training last night?
2. Interviewee: Yes.
A single party
cannot make
an interview
a success but
can ensure its
A directive
allows the
to maintain
Figure 2.2 The switching of roles
Roles Roles
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14 Chapter 2
3. Interviewer: How long did it last?
4. Interviewee: Nearly an hour-and-a-half.
5. Interviewer: What was the single point you found most insightful?
6. Interviewee: That we must remain open at all times to new ideas.
Nondirective Approach
In a nondirective approach, the interviewee has significant control over subject matter,
length of answers, interview climate, and formality. Questions are open-ended to give
the interviewee maximum freedom to respond. Typical nondirective interviews are
journalistic, oral history, investigations, counseling, and performance review. The non-
directive approach allows for greater flexibility and adaptability, encourages probing
questions, and invites the interviewee to volunteer information.
The following is a nondirective interview exchange:
1. Interviewer: How was the in-service training last night?
2. Interviewee: It was very interesting and the presenter was excellent.
3. Interviewer: What were the main issues covered in the presentation?
4. Interviewee: The main one was developing relationships with clients, and the
presenter discussed the importance of the first contact in forming a relational his-
tory, how to maintain relationships over time, and how to handle conflicts that might
threaten a relationship.
5. Interviewer: Which points did you find most helpful?
6. Interviewee: I think the ones on how relationships develop in different cultures and
countries were most helpful since a growing number of our clients are from outside
of the United States.
Although choice of an interviewing approach may be influenced by organizational,
societal, or cultural norms and expectations, be flexible in how you employ each
approach and consider a combination. For instance, recruiters often start interviews
with a nondirective approach to relax the applicant and get the person talking, then
switch to a more directive approach when asking questions and giving information, and
return to a nondirective approach when answering the applicant’s questions.
Perceptions of Interviewer and Interviewee
When you arrive at an interview, you bring two important perceptions with you, per-
ceptions of self and perceptions of the other party, and these may change positively or
negatively as the interview progresses. These critical perceptions are portrayed by the
double-ended arrows in Figure 2.3.
Perceptions of Self
Your self-concept or self-identity is a mental portrait of how you interpret and believe
others interpret what and who you have been, are at the moment, and will be in the
A nondirec-
tive approach
enables the
interviewee to
share control.
Be flexible
and adaptable
when selecting
drive our
ste70537_ch02_009-032.indd 14 20/12/16 12:41 pm

An Interpersonal Communication Process 15
future. John Stewart writes that we “come to each encounter with an identifiable ‘self,’
built through past interactions, and as we talk, we adapt ourselves to fit the topic we’re
discussing and the people we are talking with, and we are changed by what happens to
us as we communicate.”19
Self-esteem or self-worth is a critical element of your self-identify because you
exert a great deal of mental and communicative energy trying to gain and sustain recog-
nition and approval from family, peers, society, organizations, and professions because
you have a “persistent and compelling” need to give an accounting of yourself.20 When
you feel respected or valued, you have high self-esteem and are likely to be more per-
ceptive, confident, and willing to express unpopular ideas and opinions. When you feel
disrespected or under-valued, you have low self-esteem and become self-critical, feel
uncertain, and are hesitant to express unpopular ideas and opinions. Success in an inter-
view may depend upon your ability or inability to convince yourself that you will be
successful—a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Culture and Gender Differences
Self-identity and self-esteem are central in American and Western cultures that empha-
size the individual. They are not central in Eastern cultures and South American coun-
tries. Japanese, Chinese, and Indians, for example, are collectivist rather than individualist
cultures and are more concerned with the image, esteem, and achievement of the group.
Attributing successful negotiations to an individual in China would be considered egotisti-
cal, self-advancing, and disrespectful. Success is attributed to the group or team. Failure to
appreciate cultural differences causes many communication problems for Americans.
Gender matters in self-identity because “gender roles are socially constructed ideas
about how women and men should think and behave.”21 We expect men to be more asser-
tive, in charge, and self-sufficient and women to be “feminine,” submissive, and to show
What we per-
ceive ourselves
to be may be
more important
than what
we are.
Many citizens
of the global
village are less
concerned with
self than with
Figure 2.3 Perceptions of self and others
Roles Roles
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16 Chapter 2
empathy and emotional expressiveness. Not all men and women act this way, of course,
but we cannot ignore the impact of gender and self-identity on interviews.
Perceptions of the Other Party
The way you perceive the other party may influence how you approach an interview
and how you interact as it progresses. For example, you may be in awe of the oth-
er’s reputation and accomplishments. The other party may differ from you in size,
physical attractiveness, age, gender, race, or ethnic group. Previous encounters may
lead you to look forward to or dread an interview. If you keep an open mind and are
adaptable, differences may become assets rather than liabilities. Warmth, understand-
ing, and cooperation in your verbal and nonverbal interactions can overcome negative
Communication Interactions
The curved arrows in Figure 2.4 that link the two parties symbolize the communica-
tion levels that occur during interviews. Each level differs in relational distance, self-
disclosure, risk encountered, perceived meanings, and amount and type of content
Allow interac-
tions to alter
or reinforce
Figure 2.4 Communication interactions
Roles Roles
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 17
Levels of Interactions
Level 1 interactions are safe and nonthreatening. You may portray interaction levels
as metaphorical doors with the Level 1 door being slightly open. Questions, for
instance, generate brief, socially acceptable, comfortable responses such as yes or no,
simple facts, and ambiguous words and phrases such as “Okay,” Pretty good,” “Not
bad,” and “Can’t complain.” Either party may close the door quickly and safely when
necessary. The thickness of the arrow indicates that Level 1 exchanges dominate the
interview and there is relational distance between the parties because no prior or close
relationship exists.
Level 2 interactions are half-safe and half-revealing. Parties delve more deeply
into personal and controversial topics and probe into beliefs, attitudes, and positions
on issues. The metaphorical door is half-open (the optimist’s view) or half-closed (the
pessimist’s view) as parties reveal feelings, opinions, and potentially harmful informa-
tion. They are more willing to take risks but want an opportunity to close the door
when necessary. The thickness of the arrow indicates that Level 2 interactions are less
common, and the length of the arrow indicates that a closer relationship is necessary for
a successful interview.
Level 3 interactions are risk-taking with full disclosure in personal and contro-
versial topics that reveal feelings, beliefs, and attitudes. The metaphorical door is wide
open with little opportunity to retreat from or dodge negative reactions. The arrow is
thin and short to indicate that Level 3 interactions are uncommon and the relationship
between parties must be established and trusting.
You must strive to move beyond Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3 to obtain information,
detect feelings, discover insights, and attain commitments. This requires maximum
self-disclosure, and is often not easy to do. Unlike being a member of a group or audi-
ence into which you can blend or hide, the interview places your social, professional,
financial, psychological, or physical welfare on the line. Interviews deal with your
behavior, your performance, your reputation, your decisions, your weaknesses, your
feelings, your money, or your future.
There are a number of ways to reduce the risks of self-disclosure. Understand the
relationship you have with the other party. If it is minimal, begin with a safe level of
disclosure and be sensitive to the potential effects of your disclosure on the other party
and people not involved in the interview. Provide only relevant and appropriate infor-
mation. Disclose at the level at which the other party reciprocates.22 Be cautious when
interacting online because research indicates that we tend to have fewer inhibitions than
when interacting face-to-face and make “hyper-personal” revelations we may regret.
Women tend to disclose more than men and are allowed to express emotions such as
fear, sadness, and sympathy. Because women appear to be better listeners and more
responsive than men, disclosure is often highest between woman-to-woman parties
(perhaps because talk is at the very heart of women’s relationships), about equal in
woman-to-man parties, and lowest among man-to-man parties.
Level 1 interac-
tions are safe
and superficial.
Level 2 interac-
tions require
trust and risk-
Level 3 interac-
tions involve full
We are on the
line in many
Women disclose
more freely
than men.
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18 Chapter 2
Culture may determine what you disclose, when, to whom, and how. For example,
people in the United States of European descent disclose on a wide range of topics
including personal information. Japanese disclose more about their careers and less
about their families. Asians disclose more to people with high expertise and ability to
exhibit honest and positive attitudes than to those who like to talk and show emotions.
People in high-context, collectivist cultures such as China are expected to work for the
good of the group or team and both know and adhere to cultural norms. They disclose
less than those in low-context, individualistic cultures such as the United States and
Great Britain. Westerners strive to succeed as individuals and know less about their
cultural norms, and this lack of familiarity with cultural norms makes them more flex-
ible. Conflicts may result in interviews when you over-disclose, under-disclose, or dis-
close to the wrong party from differing cultures. Be aware that perceived similarity,
competence, involvement, and the need to take the relationship to a higher level may
trump cultural differences in self-disclosing.
While cultures vary, the notion of politeness—maintaining positive rather than
negative face—is universal. According to “politeness theory,” all humans want to be
appreciated and protected. Littlejohn writes,
Positive face is the desire to be appreciated and approved, to be liked and
honored, and positive politeness is designed to meet these desires. Showing
concern, complimenting, and using respectful forms of address are examples.
Negative face is the desire to be free from imposition or intrusion, and negative
politeness is designed to protect the other person when negative face needs
are threatened. Acknowledging the imposition when making a request is a
common example.23
You encounter situations in which politeness is essential whenever you are involved in
challenging, complaining, evaluating, disciplining, advising, and counseling. Guerrero,
Andersen, and Afifi write that “people face a constant struggle between wanting to do
whatever they want (which satisfies their negative face needs) and wanting to do what
makes them look good to others (which satisfies their positive face needs).”24 Severe
“face threatening acts” include behavior that violates an important cultural, social, or
professional rule; behavior that produces significant harm; and behavior for which the
party is directly responsible. The desire to be polite—to avoid hurting or upsetting
another and to show appreciation, understanding, or agreement—is one of the most
common causes of deception.
Verbal Interactions
Perhaps the greatest single problem with human communication is the assumption
of it. Virtually all of us assume, for instance, that if we share a language—words—we
share meanings. Unfortunately, words are arbitrary connections of letters that serve as
symbols for nearly everything we encounter in our daily and professional lives, and
these imperfect symbols may cause misunderstanding, confusion, embarrassment, hurt
feelings, and antagonism. Let us examine some of our assumptions.
Culture may
dictate what we
disclose and to
Positive and
negative face
are universal
Never assume
is taking place.
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 19
We assume the words we use are commonly understood by those who share our
language. Journalism professor Michael Skube at Elon University has been keeping
track of common words his students do not know. These include impetus, lucid, advo-
cate, satire, brevity, and novel.25 Many of us assume that words have single meanings
that are clear to everyone, even when used out of context. But simple words such as
game may refer to a computer game, wild animal, sport, prank, or a person willing
to try new things. We assume words and their meanings are clear even when they are
ambiguous such as a “nice” apartment, “affordable” education, “simple” instructions,
and a “living” wage. When does a person become “middle aged” or “old?” Since you
typically hear words rather than see them in interviews, you may run into problems
caused by sound alike words such as see and sea, do and due, sail and sale, and to, too,
and two. Apparently neutral words may have negative or positive connotations depend-
ing on how a person uses them. When is a running suit “inexpensive” or “cheap,” an
SUV “used” or “pre-owned,” a laptop a college “expense” or an “investment?” While
we have technical words to describe high-performance automobiles according to their
looks, acceleration, power, and mechanical characteristics, we often resort to jargon
common at the time such as cool, mean, awesome, or hot. We name or label people,
places, things, and ideas to reveal how we see reality. A recession becomes a downturn;
we purchase a lite beer rather than a diet beer; and we order a quarter-pounder rather
than a four-ouncer. We have finally begun to substitute woman for girl, firefighter for
fireman, and police officer for policeman. This is not so-called political correctness
but labeling reality and showing respect in a society based on equality. The moral of this
discussion of words is that you must select words carefully even with interview parties
who share your language and reward your assumptions.
Language and Gender
Men and women tend to use language differently. For example, men use power speech
forms such as challenges, orders, leading questions, first-person pronouns such as I and me,
and memorable phrases such as “Make my day,” “Get a life,” and “Read my lips.” Women
use powerless speech forms such as apologies, qualifiers, disclaimers, excuses, indirect
questions, nonfluencies such as “Uh” and “Umm,” and third-person pronouns such as we
and us.26 Our society expects men to use more intense language than women because it is
considered masculine. When women use intense language, they are often seen as bitchy,
pushy, or opinionated. While gender is important in how men and women use words, you
must recognize that other factors also affect language choice including context of the inter-
view, subject matter, status differences, and roles being played.
Language and the Global Village
North Americans value words that are precise, direct, explicit, straightforward, and often
start sentences with “I.” Chinese are taught to downplay self-expression. Japanese tend
to be implicit in words rather than explicit and to employ ambiguous words and quali-
fiers. Koreans try to avoid negative or no responses and imply disagreements to maintain
group or team harmony. Arab-speaking people employ “sweet-talk” and accommodat-
ing language with elaborate metaphors and similes. Idioms such as “bought the farm,”
“get your feet wet,” and “wild goose chase” are unique to North Americans and pose
Words rarely
have single
Gender differ-
ences may
lead to power
Global use of
words may be
more significant
than foreign
Naming is an
effort to alter
social reality.
Slang comes
and goes and
often deter-
mines who’s in
and who’s out.
Words are rarely
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20 Chapter 2
problems even for those who speak English. For instance, Wen-Shu Lee who was fluent
in English and taking a graduate class in the United States was confused when a fellow
student looked at her notes and commented, “That’s Greek to me.” When she replied that
it was Chinese rather than Greek, the American student laughed, and then she realized
the student had used a common idiom.27
Irving Lee observed many years ago that we tend to “talk past” rather than “to”
one another.28 You can reduce this tendency by choosing words carefully, expanding
your vocabulary, being aware of common idioms, and learning the meanings of popular
and professional jargon. Do not assume that the words you use everyday are under-
stood and processed similarly by others different from you in gender, age, race, culture,
or ethnic group.
Nonverbal Interactions
Because the parties in interviews are in such close proximity, they are likely to take
note of what the other does and does not do: movement, eye contact, facial expres-
sion, touch, glance, change in voice. Any behavioral act may send a message intention-
ally or unintentionally, correctly or incorrectly. For instance, you can invite turn-taking
or change of role by nodding your head, pausing, or leaning back. Poor eye contact may
signal that you are hiding something, a limp handshake that you are timid, a puzzled
facial expression that you are confused, crossing your arms or raising an eyebrow that
you are agitated. Remain silent to encourage the other to talk or keep talking, to signal
agreement, or to show you are not in a hurry to move on to a new topic or to close
the interview. Show interest by leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, or nodding
your head.
Physical appearance and dress reveal how you view yourself, the other party, this
situation, and the importance of the interview. Both are particularly important in initiat-
ing zero-history relationships and the first minutes of interviews. You tend to respond
more favorably toward attractive and well-dressed people and perceive them to be
poised, outgoing, interesting, and sociable. Unfortunately, you may react more favor-
ably toward attractive persons who are neither too fat nor too thin, tall rather than short,
shapely rather than unshapely, and pretty and handsome rather than plain or ugly. Few
match all of these social criteria, so strive to eliminate these biases during interviews
and building relationships.
Verbal and Nonverbal Intertwined
Although we have separated verbal and nonverbal interactions in previous discussions
for instructional purposes, it is impossible to isolate one from the other. The non-
verbal often complements the verbal when you call attention to important words or
phrases through vocal emphasis (like underlining, italicizing, or highlighting in print).
You complement words with tone of voice, speaking rate, facial expression, and eye
contact. The nonverbal reinforces words with a head nod or head shake. The non-
verbal may substitute for words when you point to a chair without saying “Sit here,”
or nod your head to say “Enter.” Silence can signal disagreement more tactfully than
words. Research indicates that nonverbal signals exchange feelings and emotions more
accurately than words; convey intentions relatively free of deception and confusion;
problems are
signals send
many different
Any behav-
ioral act, or its
absence, can
convey a
In mixed mes-
sages, the how
may overcome
the what.
Verbal and
messages are
intricately inter-
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 21
be more efficient; and impart ideas
indirectly. Subjects indicated they
thought nonverbal behaviors were
more truthful than verbal messages
and, if the messages conflicted—
they were more likely to believe the
nonverbal. How trumps the what.
Gender and Nonverbal
Women are more skilled at and rely
more on nonverbal communica-
tion than men. Facial expressions,
pauses, and bodily gestures are
more important in women’s interac-
tions than men’s, perhaps because
women are more expressive than men. Women tend to gaze more and are less uncom-
fortable when eye contact is broken. Men’s lower-pitched voices are viewed as more
credible and dynamic than women’s higher-pitched voices. Female parties stand or sit
closer than opposite-sex parties, and males maintain more distance than opposite-sex or
female parties.
Culture and Nonverbal Interactions
Different cultures share many nonverbal signals. People nod their heads in agreement,
shake their heads in disagreement, give thumbs down for disapproval, shake fists in
anger, and clap hands to show approval. There are significant differences, however.
In the United States, African-Americans maintain eye contact more when speaking
than when listening. They give more nonverbal feedback when listening than European-
Americans. In general, African-Americans are more animated and personal, while
European-Americans are more subdued. They avoid eye contact with superiors out of
respect, a trait often misinterpreted by European-Americans who see lack of eye contact
as a sign of disinterest, lack of confidence, or dishonesty. And African-Americans tend to
touch more and stand closer together when communicating than do European-Americans.29
Nonverbal Interactions in the Global Village
Americans are taught to look others in the eye when speaking, while Africans are
taught to avoid eye contact when listening to others. An honest “look me in the eye”
for a Westerner may express a lack of respect to an Asian. An American widens his
or her eyes to show wonder or surprise, while the Chinese do so to express anger, the
French to express disbelief, and Hispanics to show lack of understanding. Americans
are taught to smile in response to a smile, but this is not so in Israel. Japanese are taught
to mask negative feelings with smiles and laughter. Americans are taught to have little
direct physical contact with others while communicating, but Mediterranean and Latin
countries encourage direct contact. On a loudness scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being high,
Arabs would be near 10, Americans would be near the middle, and Europeans would
Women are
more adept at
nonverbal com-
■ Be aware of cultural differences in nonverbal communication.
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22 Chapter 2
be near 1. Arabs perceive loudness as signs of strength and sincerity and softness as
signs of weakness and deviousness. Not surprisingly, many Americans and Europeans
see Arabs as pushy and rude. A firm handshake is important in American society but
signals nothing in Japan.
Many gestures you observe in different cultures and countries have different mean-
ings. A simple wave means “hello” in the United States and “come here” in Algeria.
A finger to the forehead means smart in the United States and stupid in many Euro-
pean cultures. A thumb up means “way to go” in the United States and “screw you” in
Iran. A circular motion of a finger around the ear means crazy in the United States and
“you have a telephone call” in the Netherlands. Fingers in a circle means “okay” in the
United States and is an obscene gesture in Brazil.
Feedback is immediate and pervasive in interviews, and is essential when verifying what
is being communicated and how. The large, double-ended arrow that links the top of the
party circles in Figure 2.5 symbolizes the heavy stream of feedback between interview
Be aware of the
of nonverbal
messages in dif-
ferent parts of
the world.
Figure 2.5 Feedback
Roles Roles
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 23
parties. Feedback is both verbal (questions and answers, arguments and counterargu-
ments, agreements and disagreements, challenges and compliances) and nonverbal
(facial expressions, gestures, raised eyebrows, eye contact, vocal utterances, and posture).
You can detect critical feedback and assess how an interview is progressing by observ-
ing and listening to what is and is not taking place or being said. During the interview, does
the other party select a power position and move closer or farther apart? Are there changes
in tone or attentiveness? Are there changes in eye contact, voice, or posture? Is there more
or less willingness to disclose information, feelings, and attitudes? Do not read too much
into small nonverbal actions and changes. A person may fidget because a chair is hard, not
because a question is threatening; pay less attention because of noise and interruptions, not
disinterest; speak loudly because of habit, not because of a hearing impairment. Poor eye
contact may indicate shyness or culture, not deceptiveness or mistrust.
Listening skills are essential to obtaining information, detecting clues, and gen-
erating Level 2 and Level 3 responses. Few people listen well. Surveys of hundreds
of corporations in the United States reveal that poor listening skills create barriers in
all positions from entry level to CEO. An interviewee may not listen carefully to a
question, while the interviewer may not listen carefully to the answer. Parties may be
so absorbed in their primary roles as questioner or respondent that they do not listen
well. Unfortunately, most of our educations prepare us to talk, not listen. There are
four approaches to listening—for comprehension, for empathy, for evaluation, for
resolution—and each plays a specific role in giving, receiving, and processing informa-
tion accurately and insightfully.
Listening for Comprehension
When listening for comprehension, you are striving to receive, understand, and remem-
ber an interchange as accurately and completely as possible, not to judge. This approach
is essential when giving and getting information and during the first minutes of inter-
views when determining how to react. When listening for comprehension, listen carefully
and patiently to each question and answer. Listen to content and ideas as well as tone of
voice and vocal emphasis for subtle meanings. Ask questions to clarify and verify.
Listening for Empathy
When listening for empathy, communicate genuine concern, understanding, and
involvement. Empathic listening reassures, comforts, expresses warmth, and shows
regard. It is the ability to place your self in another’s situation. When listening with
empathy, show interest and concern nonverbally, by not interrupting, and by being non-
judgmental. Reply with tact and understanding and provide options and guidelines.
Listening for Evaluation
When listening for evaluation (critical listening), you judge what you hear and observe.
You are ready to judge when you comprehend the verbal and nonverbal interactions.
Openly expressing criticism may diminish cooperation and level of disclosure. Use
evaluative listening only after listening carefully to content and observing nonverbal
cues. Ask questions for clarifications of exchanges and validations of your interpretations.
Do not become defensive when an interview party reacts critically to your criticisms.
Be perceptive,
sensitive, and
It is difficult to
listen with your
mouth open
and your ears
The intent of
listening for
is to understand
The intent of
empathic listen-
ing is to under-
stand the other
The intent of
listening is to
judge content
and actions.
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24 Chapter 2
Listening for Resolution
Dialogic listening focuses on ours rather than mine or yours and believes the agenda
for solving a problem or task supersedes the individual.30 Dialogic listening is most
appropriate in problem-solving interviews in which the goal is the joint resolution
of a problem or task. When listening for resolution, encourage interaction, trust the
other party to make significant contributions, paraphrase and add to the other party’s
responses and ideas while focusing on the present, and center your attention on the
communication that is taking place.
Active and insightful listening is a difficult, invisible skill to attain, partly
because our educations and experiences as children, students, employees, and sub-
ordinates prepare us to be passive listeners. Become a more effective listener by
being as satisfied as a listener as a talker, by attending carefully and critically to both
verbal and nonverbal signals, by learning to ignore distractions such as surroundings,
appearances, and interruptions, and by knowing which is the most appropriate listen-
ing approach to use.
The Interview Situation
Every interview takes place at a specific time, in a specific place, and with specific
surroundings. These variables, and how you perceive them, impact every aspect of
the interactions that take place. The enveloping circle in Figure 2.6 portrays the inter-
view situation and the imploding arrows represent the variables that influence the
Initiating the Interview
The arrows in Figure 2.6 that emerge from the top of the circle indicate that either party
may initiate an interview. For instance, you may initiate an interview with an academic
counselor or the counselor may initiate an interview with you. The particulars of the
situation often determine who initiates the interaction and why. You may initiate an
interview with a physician because of a persistent cough, or a physician may initiate
an interview with you to discuss results of medical tests following a recent illness. The
initiator may enhance the climate of an interview by initiating the interview directly
rather than through a third party and by explaining the purpose, nature, and use of the
information to be exchanged.
The arrows that extend from the parties to the situational circle indicate that each may
perceive an interview situation similarly or differently. For example, a recruiter and
applicant may see the purpose, need, and timing of an employment interview similarly.
However, the recruiter may see the interaction as a routine event, while the applicant
may see the interaction as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Each may have very differ-
ent goals, a physician to complete a routine examination efficiently and effectively and
the patient to get good news and escape.
You are more likely to communicate at Levels 2 and 3 if you perceive the situa-
tion to be familiar rather than strange, informal rather than formal, warm rather than
The intent of
dialogic listen-
ing is to solve
Listening, like
speaking, is a
learned skill.
Who initiates
an interview
and how it may
affect control,
roles, and atmo-
are critical in
moving beyond
Level 1
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 25
cold, private rather than open, and close rather than distant physically, socially, and
Selecting the best time for an interview is tricky because each party may have an ideal
time of day for communicating openly and effectively. Some of us are morning people
and are ready to go before many people awaken; some of us are afternoon people and
work best after lunch; and some of us are evening people and communicate effectively
well into the night when most people have gone to bed. The same goes for days of the
week and time of year. Monday morning and Friday afternoon have traditionally been
Each of us have
optimum times
for interactions.
Figure 2.6 Situational variables
Roles Roles
PerceptionsPerceptions Perceptions
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26 Chapter 2
poor times to exchange information and deal with critical issues. Holiday times are
good for some types of interviews and poor for others. Become familiar with inter-
view parties before arranging interviews. The legendary “cold call” that has interrupted
dinners and sleeping has led states and the Federal Government to pass “don’t call”
legislation. Be aware of events that will or have preceded an interview such as being
the third person of the day to ask for a raise, request a person to take a political survey,
or request an extension for an assignment. Tax time is not good timing for conducting
fund-raising interviews.
Location and Setting
First of all, whose turf is best for an interview. For instance, you may feel more com-
fortable and less threatened in your home, room, office, business, or in a neutral place
such as a lounge area or restaurant. You protect your turf. Think of your reactions when
you walked into your room or office and found another person in your chair or at your
desk. Create or select a well-lighted, pleasantly painted, moderate-sized room with
comfortable furniture, temperature, and ventilation. Some organizations have created
professional settings that resemble living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and studies
that make interview parties feel at home and ready to communicate.
Objects and decorations may create an appropriate atmosphere and interview
climate. Trophies, awards, degrees, and licenses attractively displayed communicate
achievements, professional credibility, and stature in a field. Pictures, statues, and busts
of leaders or famous persons communicate organizational and personal history, suc-
cess, recognition, endorsement, and contacts. Models or samples may display state-of-
the-art products and services. Carpeting, wall hangings, wallpaper, and curtains can
provide a warm, attractive atmosphere conducive to effective communication.
Noise in an interview is anything that interferes with the communication process,
including background noise, doors opening and closing, music, others talking, objects
being dropped, and traffic. The interview may be interrupted by a cell phone or a text
message. People coming in and out of the room, walking by an open door, or asking for
assistance are common distractions. Eliminate negative influences of noise by selecting
locations free of background noise or taking simple precautions.
All of us are territorial animals to varying degrees. You may select a seat, arrange books
and papers, and place coats and hats strategically around you to stake out your physi-
cal and psychological space. You may resent those who invade this carefully crafted
space with their choice of seating, possessions, eyes, voices, or bodies. Think of how
you reacted to common invasions of territory such as another student walking into a
professor’s office while you were discussing a problem, a nearby diner listening to your
conversation with a recruiter, or a colleague talking loudly at the next desk while you
were talking to a client.
Proximity of interview parties affects your comfort level. You may feel uncom-
fortable with persons who insist on talking nose-to-nose, and react by backing up,
placing furniture between you, or terminating the interview. Trenholm and Jensen
write about “territorial markers” and use the term “personal space” to describe an
Take into
account events
before and after
help create a
Control noise to
focus attention
on the interac-
affects ter-
ritorial comfort
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 27
“imaginary bubble” around us that we consider to be “almost as private as the body
itself.”31 Researchers have identified intimate distance (touching to 18 inches), personal
distance (11⁄2 to 4 feet), and social distance (4 to 12 feet). Two to four feet—approxi-
mately an arm’s length or on opposite sides of a table or desk—is an optimum distance
for most interviews.
Relationship, status, situation, and feelings of parties toward one another, influ-
ence the size of the bubble with which you are comfortable. High-status people stand
or sit closer to low-status people, while low-status people prefer greater distances when
dealing with superiors. You may maintain a greater distance with a stranger than with
close associates, peers, and friends. Some people want to “get in your face” when
angry, while others widen the space because their anger is translated into distancing
themselves from you physically, socially, and psychologically.
Age, gender, and culture may determine space preferences. People of the same age
stand or sit closer together than those of mixed ages, particularly when the age differ-
ence is significant. All-male parties tend to arrange themselves farther apart than all-
female or mixed-gender parties. North Americans prefer greater personal distances than
do Middle Eastern and Latin American peoples. Arabs and Latin Americans see us as
distant and cold, while we see them as intruding into our space. Northern Europeans
prefer greater personal distance than Southern Europeans.32
Where you sit and on what you sit is often determined by status, gender, cultural norms,
and relationship. A superior and a subordinate may sit across a desk from one another,
arrangement A in Figure 2.7, with one sitting in a large leather swivel chair while the
other sits on a simple chair. Two chairs at right angles near the corner of a desk or
table, arrangement B, creates a less formal atmosphere and a greater feeling of equal-
ity between parties. Students often
prefer this arrangement with college
Remove physical obstacles and
reduce the superior-subordinate
atmosphere by placing chairs at
opposite sides of a small coffee
table or by omitting the table alto-
gether, arrangements C and D. A
circular table, arrangement E, is
popular in counseling and inter-
views involving more than two
people. It avoids a head-of-the-table
position, allows participants to pass
around materials, and provides a
surface on which to write, review
printed items, and place refresh-
ments. Arrangement F is most suit-
able for a focus group.
■ A corner seating arrangement is preferred by
many interviewers and interviewees.
Age, gender,
and culture
Seating may
equalize control
and enhance
the interview
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28 Chapter 2
Outside Forces
Outside forces such as those identified in Figure 2.8 may suggest or dictate who takes
part, when, and where; attitudes assumed; topics covered; structure followed; questions
asked; and answers given. Organizational policies, union contracts, pressures of a politi-
cal campaign, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, and competitors influence
perceptions, levels of exchanges, self-disclosure, and interviewing approach. What may
take place following the interview—a report you must submit, accounts in the media,
possible grievances or lawsuits, reactions of peers—may make parties careful and wary
or headstrong and hasty. You may feel pressure to relate that you “followed the rules,”
“drove a hard bargain,” “got a deal,” or told the other party “where to get off.” Remember
that the interview parties are seldom truly alone in the process.
Outside forces
roles in many
Figure 2.7 Seating arrangements
We are not
really alone
with the other
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 29
The summary model developed step-by-step in this chapter appears to be very com-
plicated precisely because the interview is a very complicated process. If you are to
understand what takes place in an interview and why, you must understand the interacting
variables and the roles you play when taking part in a purposeful, planned, and serious
interaction with another party.
Each interview involves two parties made up of complex individuals who may have
prior relational histories or form a relationship as the interview progresses. In this collab-
orative process, the parties may exchange roles, maintain and alter perceptions of self,
the other party, and the situation; exchange verbal and nonverbal messages; and disclose
information, attitudes, opinions, and feelings at one or more levels from very safe and
unrevealing to very open and highly revealing. Each party must listen appropriately for
comprehension, empathy, evaluation, or resolution and realize that silence may be more
effective than talking.
Figure 2.8 Outside forces
Roles Roles
PerceptionsPerceptions Perceptions
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30 Chapter 2
Each party must be flexible and adaptable in choosing which approach to take (direc-
tive, nondirective, or a combination) not only because each party is unique and each situ-
ation is different, but because each party is molded and affected by demographics such
as age, gender, race, and culture. This chapter has tried to enhance your awareness of
how demographics and culture affect self-esteem, disclosure, levels of communication,
language, nonverbal communication, and territoriality. In the global village of the twenty-
first century, be aware of how different people and different cultures communicate.
Student Activities
1. Interview four students on your campus: one from Central America, one from southern
Europe, one from the Near East, and one from Asia. Ask them to identify and illustrate
verbal and nonverbal communication problems they have encountered since coming
to the United States. How have they managed to work through these problems?
2. Watch a 10–15 minute television interview with a person who had been accused of a
crime or unethical behavior. How effective was the interviewer in getting to Level 2
and 3 interactions? How did the interviewee attempt to avoid disclosing potentially
damaging information?
3. Research indicates measurable differences in communication between genders.
Observe interactions between two males, two females, and a male and a female to
see what differences if any you can detect in proximity, eye contact, gestures, body
movements, and territoriality. What influence do you believe the prior relationships of
the parties had on these nonverbal and situational factors?
4. Watch three 10–15 minute interviews between sportscasters and professional ath-
letes, one in which an athlete is about to take part in a game, one in which an athlete
just won a game, and one in which an athlete just experienced a loss. Which forms of
listening did the participants in these interviews use most often? How did the situa-
tions appear to have affected the participants’ abilities to listen?
Complex communication
Defensive climate
Dialectical tensions
Dialogic listening
Directive approach
Downward communication
Global relationships
Levels of interactions
Nondirective approach
Nonverbal interactions
Outside forces
Personal space
Politeness theory
Relational dimensions
Relational distance
Relational history
Relational memory
Role competence
Self-fulfilling prophecy
Supportive climate
Territorial markers
Upward communication
Verbal interactions
Key Terms and Concepts
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An Interpersonal Communication Process 31
1. Robert S. Goyer, W. Charles Redding, and John T. Rickey, Interviewing Principles and
Techniques: A Project Text (Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown, 1968), p. 23.
2. Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, Intercultural Communication in Contexts
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007), p. 371.
3. Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, Experiencing Intercultural Communication
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011), pp. 255–256.
4. Sarah Trenholm and Arthur Jensen, Interpersonal Communication (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2013), pp. 38–39.
5. George B. Ray and Kory Floyd, “Nonverbal Expressions of Liking and Disliking in
Initial Interaction: Encoding and Decoding Perspectives,” Southern Communication
Journal 71 (March 2006), p. 60.
6. Trenholm and Jensen (2013), p. 31.
7. Kory Floyd, Interpersonal Communication: The Whole Story (New York: McGraw-Hill,
2011), p. 317; Trenholm and Jensen (2013), pp. 29, 276–277.
8. Floyd, p. 317.
9. John Stewart, ed., Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), p. 317.
10. Edward T. Hall, “Context and Meaning,” in Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter,
eds., Intercultural Communication: A Reader (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000), p. 35.
11. Judith N. Martin, Thomas K. Nakayama, and Lisa A. Flores, Intercultural Communica-
tion Experiences and Contexts (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), p. 334.
12. Brant Burleson and Adrienne Kunkel, “Revisiting the Different Cultures Thesis: An
Assessment of Sex Differences and Similarities in Supportive Communication,” in
K. Dindia and D. J. Canary, eds., Sex Differences and Similarities in Communication
(Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006), pp. 137–159.
13. Trenholm and Jensen (2013), pp. 95–97.
14. John Stewart and Carole Logan, Together: Communicating Interpersonally (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1998), p. 84.
15. Trenholm and Jensen (2013), p. 315.
16. Stewart, p. 293.
17. Stewart, p. 334.
18. Stewart, p. 20.
19. Stewart, p. 26.
20. Trenholm and Jensen (2013), pp. 85 and 270.
21. Floyd, p. 77.
22. Stewart (2012), pp. 214-215; Trenholm and Jensen (2013), pp. 193–194; Floyd, pp. 98–99.
23. Stephen W. Littlejohn, Theories of Human Communication (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth,
1996), p. 262.
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32 Chapter 2
24. Laura K. Guerrero, Peter A. Andersen, and Walid A. Afifi, Close Encounters in
Relationships (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), p. 46.
25. Michael Skube, “Writing Off Reading,” Washington Post, August 20, 2006;
26. Guerrero, Andersen, and Afifi, pp. 297–298; Diana K. Ivy and Phil Backlund, Explor-
ing Gender Speak: Personal Effectiveness in Gender Communication (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1994), pp. 163–165.
27. Wen-Shu Lee, “That’s Greek to Me: Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Intercultural
Encounters,” in Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter, eds., Intercultural Communi-
cation: A Reader (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000), pp. 217–219.
28. Irving J. Lee, How to Talk with People (New York: Harper & Row, 1952), pp. 11–26.
29. Trenholm and Jensen (2013), pp. 331–333.
30. Stewart, p. 192–194.
31. Trenholm and Jensen (2013), p. 55.
32. Martin and Nakayama (2011), pp. 176–178.
Martin, Judith N., and Thomas K. Nakayama. Experiencing Intercultural Communication.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014.
Samovar, Larry A., Richard E. Porter, Edwin R. McDaniel, and Carolyn S. Roy. Communica-
tion between Cultures. Belmont, CA: CENGAGE Learning, 2017.
Stewart, John, ed. Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication. New
York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
Trenholm, Sarah, and Arthur Jensen. Interpersonal Communication. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2013.
Wood, Julia T. But I Thought You Meant . . . Misunderstandings in Human Communication.
Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1998.
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Questions and Their Uses3
Questions play integral roles in every interview and often dominate the process. Technology editor Jamie McKenzie writes, “Questions may be the most power-
ful technology we have ever created” because “they allow us to control our lives and
allow us to make sense of a confusing world” by leading “to insight and understand-
ing.”1 Questions need not be complete sentences with question marks at the end. They
are words, phrases, statements, or nonverbal acts that invite answers or responses.
Questions are literally the “tools of the trade” in interviews and have unique char-
acteristics, perform specific functions, and enable you to perform tasks efficiently and
effectively. Each type of question has a name (just like golf clubs, screw drivers, or
wrenches) that makes it easier for you to select at the proper time.
The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to the types of questions, their
specific uses and limitations, and common question pitfalls to avoid. Let us begin with
the most fundamental types of questions: open and closed.
Open and Closed Questions
Open and closed questions vary in the amount of information they solicit and degree
of interviewer control. Information ranges from a single word to lengthy descriptions,
narratives, and reports of statistical data. Control ranges from minimal for open-ended
questions to maximum with closed questions.
Open Questions
Open questions vary in degree of openness in which respondents have considerable
freedom to determine the amount and kind of information to give.
Highly Open Questions
Highly open questions place virtually no restrictions on the interviewee.
• Tell me about Prague.
• What do you remember about the tornado hitting your school on that April
• Describe the Australian Outback for me.
A question
is any action
that solicits an
Open questions
invite open
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34 Chapter 3
Moderately Open Questions
Moderately open questions are more
restrictive but give respondents con-
siderable latitude in answers.
• Tell me about your study
abroad experience in Prague.
• What were you thinking as the
ceiling of the hallway began
to rain down on you?
• Describe the Australian
Outback at dusk.
Advantages of Open Questions
Open questions show interest and
trust in the respondent’s ability to
disclose impor t ant infor mation
and are easier to answer. They encourage respondents to talk and to determine the
type and amount of information to disclose. The lengthy answers open questions
generate, reveal what respondents think is important and encourage them to
provide details and descriptions you might not think to ask for. Such answers are
likely to disclose knowledge level, uncertainty, intensity of feelings, perceptions,
and biases.
Disadvantages of Open Questions
A single answer may consume a significant portion of interview time. On the one
hand, respondents may give unimportant or irrelevant information, and on the other
may withhold important information they feel is irrelevant or too obvious, sensitive, or
dangerous. Keep respondents on track and maintain control by tactfully intervening to
move on.
Closed Questions
Closed questions are narrowly focused and restrict the interviewee’s freedom to deter-
mine the amount and kind of information to provide.
Moderately Closed Questions
Moderately closed questions ask for specific, limited pieces of information,
such as:
• What are your favorite classes?
• Which North Carolina beaches have you visited?
• At what times of the year do you prefer to travel?
can volunteer
and elaborate.
can pick and
choose, reveal
and hide.
■ Open questions let the respondent do the talking and allow
the interviewer to listen and observe.
questions lead
to restricted
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Questions and Their Uses 35
Highly Closed Questions
Highly closed questions are very restrictive, often asking respondents for a single piece
of information.
• When were you in Haiti?
• What is the interest rate on your student loan?
• Where were you born?
Bipolar Questions
Closed questions are bipolar when they limit respondents to two polar choices, some-
times polar opposites.
• Did you attend the in-service workshop in the morning or afternoon?
• Do you usually take U.S. 31 or I-65?
• Are you a conservative or a liberal?
Some bipolar questions ask for an evaluation or attitude.
• Do you approve or disapprove of changing time zones?
• Do you like or dislike dark chocolate?
• Are you for or against the state mandated testing of elementary school children?
The most common bipolar question asks for a yes or a no response.
• Have you received a flu shot?
• Are you going to the state conference?
• Do you have a top secret clearance?
Advantages of Closed Questions
Closed questions enable you to control the length of answers and guide respondents to
specific information. They require little effort from either party and allow you to ask
more questions, in more areas, in less time. Brief answers are easy to record and tabulate.
Disadvantages of Closed Questions
Answers to closed questions often contain too little information, requiring you to ask
several questions when one open question would do the job. They do not reveal why a
person has a particular attitude, the person’s degree of feeling or commitment, or why
this person typically makes choices. Interviewers talk more than interviewees when
asking closed questions, so less information is exchanged. Interviewees have no oppor-
tunity to volunteer or explain information, and they can select an answer or say yes or
no without knowing anything about a topic.
Figure 3.1 illustrates the major advantages and disadvantages of open and closed
questions. As you narrow a question, the amount of data decreases. As the amount
Highly closed
questions may
ask interview-
ees to pick an
Bipolar ques-
tions offer polar
opposites for
A yes or no
question is
likely to gener-
ate a yes or no
Closed ques-
tions provide
control and
Closed ques-
tions stifle
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36 Chapter 3
of data decreases, your control increases, less time and skill are required, and the
degree of precision, reliability, and reproducibility increases. On the other hand, as
you open up a question, the amount of data increases and interviewees may reveal
knowledge level, understanding, reasons for feeling or acting, attitudes, and hidden
Interviewers may include open and closed questions with varying degrees of con-
straint to get the information desired. For instance, an interviewer might follow up
a bipolar question such as “Are you familiar with the village master plan?” with an
open-ended question such as “What do you know about this plan?” An open-ended
question such as “Tell me about your internship at C-SPAN” may be followed up with
a more closed question such as, “What was your first assignment?”
often lead to the
best results.
Figure 3.1 Question options
Advantages and
Disadvantages of
Question Types
Breadth and
depth of potential
Type of Questions
Degree of precision,
R’s control over
question and
skill required
Reliability of data
Economic use
of time
Opportunity for E
to reveal feelings
and information
10 7 4 1
10 7 4 1
7 4 1
1 4 7 10
1 4
7 10
1 4 7 10
1 4 7 10
7 Above average
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Questions and Their Uses 37
Primary and Probing Questions
Primary questions introduce topics or new areas within a topic and can stand alone
even when taken out of context.
• How did you prepare for the Bar exam?
• Tell me about your experiences when hiking the Appalachian Trail.
• Which U.S. President of the last century do you admire most?
All examples of open and closed questions presented earlier are primary questions.
Questions that dig deeper into answers that may be incomplete, superficial, sug-
gestive, vague, irrelevant, or inaccurate are called probing questions. Unlike primary
questions that can stand alone and make sense, probing or follow-up questions make
sense only when connected to the previous question or series of questions.
Types of Probing Questions
Silent Probes
If an answer is incomplete or the respondent seems hesitant to continue, use a silent
probe with appropriate nonverbal signals such as eye contact, a head nod, or a gesture
to encourage the person to continue. Silence shows interest in what is being said, and is
a tactful way to communicate disbelief, uncertainty, or confusion. An exchange might
go like this:
1. Interviewer: How was your dinner at The New Age Restaurant last night?
2. Interviewee: It was not too bad.
3. Interviewer: (silence)
4. Interviewee: The salmon was not cooked as thoroughly as I like, but the side dishes
were excellent.
Nudging Probes
Use a nudging probe when a silent probe fails or words seem necessary to get what is
needed. It nudges the interviewee to reply or to continue, and is simple and brief.
I see. And?
Go on. So?
Yes? Uh-huh?
A common mistake is the assumption that all questions must be multiple-word sen-
tences. A lengthy probing question may stifle the interchange or open up a new area or
topic, the opposite of what you want.
Clearinghouse Probes
A clearinghouse probe discovers whether a series of questions has uncovered
everything of importance on a topic or issue. It encourages respondents to volunteer
Primary ques-
tions make
sense out of
questions make
sense only in
Be patient and
be quiet.
A nudge
replaces silence
with a word or
Ask rather than
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38 Chapter 3
information you might not think to ask for and to fill in gaps your questions did not
elicit. It literally clears out an area or topic, such as the following:
• What have I not asked that you believe is important in this case?
• Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
A clearinghouse probing question enables you to proceed to the next primary ques-
tion or to closing the interview confident you have gotten all relevant and important
information. It is virtually impossible to anticipate everything an interviewee might be
willing or able to reveal.
Informational Probes
Informational probing questions ask for additional information or explanation. If an
answer is superficial, ask a question such as:
• How exactly was the contract worded?
• Tell me more about your relationship with the sheriff.
If an answer is vague or ambiguous, ask a question such as:
• You write that you went to a small college. How many students were enrolled at
that time?
• You say you were upset with the judge’s decision. How upset were you?
If an answer suggests a feeling or attitude, ask a question such as:
• Do I detect a note of anger in your answer?
• You appear to be confused by the zoning board’s rejection of your request.
Restatement Probes
An interviewee may not answer a question as asked. Restate tactfully all or part of the
original question, perhaps with vocal emphasis to focus attention on important words.
1. Interviewer: Why are you interested in pursuing graduate work at the University of
2. Interviewee: I want to do graduate work at a major research institution where I can
teach while doing research.
3. Interviewer: I see. And why at the University of Illinois?
If an interviewee makes a mistake while replying, use a restatement probe that avoids
embarrassing or judging the interviewee.
1. Interviewer: Who do you believe is the best quarterback in the NFL?
2. Interviewee: Brett Farve.
3. Interviewer: Who do you believe is currently the best quarterback in the NFL?
Restate or
rephrase to
get complete
Pry open vague,
and suggestive
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Questions and Their Uses 39
When an Interviewee seems hesitant to answer, your question may be unclear or dif-
ficult to answer. Restate the question in a clearer, easier to answer wording.
1. Interviewer: You have received several teaching awards, what is your philosophy of
2. Interviewee: I’m not sure I have a teaching philosophy.
3. Interviewer: What do you believe are the essentials of effective teaching?
If a question has more than two parts or options, an interviewee may answer only one
part or select only one option. Restate the part or option left unanswered.
1. Interviewer: When you heard the tornado approaching, what were your first
thoughts and actions?
2. Interviewee: My first thought was that it sounded exactly like a freight train
approaching, and it took a few seconds to realize that it was a tornado.
3. Interviewer: And what were your first actions?
Reflective Probes
Ask a reflective probing question when it appears necessary to clarify or verify an
answer to be certain you have received it as intended. Avoid any wording or nonverbal
signals interviewees might interpret as an attempt to lead or trap them into giving a
desired answer.
• Those were the gross incomes from last year?
• By former President Bush, you are referring to President George W. Bush?
• Are you implying that immigrant workers are not taxpayers?
• You seem to be saying that you will not go pro after this year?
A reflective probe differs from a restatement probe in that the first seeks to clarify or
verify an answer while the second seeks to obtain more information following a pri-
mary question.
Mirror Probes
The mirror probing question is different from the reflective probing question because
it summarizes a series of exchanges, not just the immediate response, to ensure under-
standing and retention of information, instructions, elements of a proposal, prescribed
regimens, and procedures. The purpose is to avoid problems in interviews caused by
memory, assumptions, and interpretations. For instance, you might use a mirror ques-
tion when interviewing a tour agency about a Caribbean cruise:
1. Interviewer: Okay, as I understand it, we would stop in the Bahamas, Aruba in the
Dutch Antilles, and Costa Rica, and go through the Panama Canal.
2. Interviewee: That’s correct except that your ship would only go through the lock at
Cristobal and into Gatun Lake. If you want to go all the way through the canal to the
Pacific Ocean, you would need to make arrangements on an optional excursion.
Reflective ques-
tions verify and
Mirror questions
summarize to
ensure accu-
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40 Chapter 3
Skillful Interviewing with Probing Questions
The skillful use of probing questions is essential to the success of most interviews. Do
not stick to a list of questions unless required to do so, anticipate answers prematurely,
or be impatient to move on. Listen carefully to each response to determine if the answer
is clear and complete. If not, determine in a few seconds what is unsatisfactory about
an answer and phrase a probing question. Probing questions discover more relevant,
accurate, and complete information and heighten the other party’s motivation because
you are obviously interested and listening.
Probing questions can cause problems. If a person does not respond immediately,
you may jump in with a probing question when none is needed. Phrase probing ques-
tions carefully and be aware of vocal emphasis. Stanley Payne illustrates how the mean-
ing of a simple “Why” question can be altered by stressing different words.2
Why do you say that?
Why do you say that?
Why do you say that?
Why do you say that?
Why do you say that?
A “simple” why question may unintentionally communicate disapproval, disbelief, mis-
trust, and cause the other party to become defensive and reluctant to disclose openly. A
poorly phrased probing question may alter the meaning of the primary question or bias
the reply. Be tactful and not demanding.
Exercise #1—Supply the Probing Question
Supply an appropriate probing question for each of the following interactions. Be sure
the question probes into the answer and is not a primary question introducing a new
facet of the topic. Watch assumptions about answers, and phrase probing questions
1. Interviewer: What did you think of the President’s “State of the Union Address?”
Interviewee: It was about what I expected.
2. Interviewer: Are you looking for an internship for this summer?
Interviewee: Sort of.
3. Interviewer: Who are you going to vote for in the presidential election?
Interviewee: I don’t know.
4. Interviewer: How was the concert?
Interviewee: It was awesome.
5. Interviewer: What is your management philosophy?
Interviewee: (silence)
6. Interviewer: What did you do at Amazon?
Interviewee: I processed returns and things like that.
Skillful probing
leads to insight-
ful answers.
Be patient and
be persistent.
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Questions and Their Uses 41
7. Interviewer: How much did your trip to Australia cost?
Interviewee: A ton.
8. Interviewer: Why did you decide to study civil engineering?
Interviewee: I like to work outdoors.
9. Interviewer: Who did you cheer for in Super Bowl 50?
Interviewee: The Green Bay Packers.
10. Interviewer: I understand you think the end of the world is coming soon.
Interviewee: That’s partially true.
Neutral and Leading Questions
Neutral questions enable respondents to decide upon answers without direction or
pressure from questioners. For example, in an open, neutral question, the interviewee
determines the length, details, and nature of the answer. In a closed, neutral question,
the interviewee may choose between equal choices. All questions discussed and illus-
trated so far have been neutral questions.
The leading question may intentionally or unintentionally suggest the answer
the interviewer expects or prefers, so the interviewee gives this answer because it
is “easier or more tempting” to give that answer.3 This is called interviewer bias
and may occur because of the way a question is phrased, how a question is asked
nonverbally, the interviewee’s desire to please a person of authority, or a conspicu-
ous symbol the interviewer is wearing such as a cross or star of David, a political
button, or a police uniform. What may appear at first glance to be a bipolar ques-
tion is actually a unipolar question because one option is made less acceptable
than the other. Introductory phrases such as “According to the Constitution,” “As
we all know,” or “All true conservatives (liberals) believe that” are likely to lead
respondents to give acceptable answers rather than express their true beliefs, atti-
tudes, or feelings.
The loaded question is an extreme form of leading question that virtually dic-
tates a desired answer. The use of extreme language is a common way to load a ques-
tion. This includes name-calling, emotionally charged words, expletives, and unequal
options that may lead an interviewee to choose the least onerous choice. Entrapment is
another way to load a question. An interviewer may ask a no-win question such as the
iconic “Are you still beating your wife” question. Interviewees cannot reply without
seeming to admit to an onerous or illegal act.
Regardless of their potential problems in interviews, leading questions are useful
and often necessary question tools. Recruiters use them to see how applicants respond
under stress. Sales representatives use leading questions to persuade customers to make
decisions. Police officers ask leading and sometimes loaded questions to provoke sus-
pects into revealing information and truths. Journalists ask leading questions to prod
reluctant interviewees into responding. A counselor may use a loaded question such as
“When was the last time you were drunk” to show that a range of answers is acceptable
and none will shock the interviewer.
Interviewer bias
leads to dic-
tated responses.
Leading ques-
tions direct
to specific
Loaded ques-
tions dictate
through lan-
guage or
An apparent
bipolar question
may in reality
have only one
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42 Chapter 3
Do not confuse neutral reflective and mirror questions with leading questions.
Recall that reflective and mirror questions ask for clarification and verification for
accurate understanding and information. If they lead an interviewee by accident to give
an answer you appear to desire, they have failed to perform their designed task.
The questions below illustrate the differences between neutral and leading questions.
Distinguish leading from loaded questions. What makes one more extreme than the other?
Neutral Questions Leading Questions
1. Have you ever smoked pot? 1. When did you last smoke pot?
2. How did this river tour compare 2. Wasn’t this river tour better than
with the last one? the last one?
3. Have you ever cheated on an exam? 3. Have you stopped cheating on
4. Do you want a diet Coke? 4. I assume you want a diet Coke.
5. Do you enjoy skeet shooting? 5. You like skeet shooting, don’t you?
6. What were your reactions to the 6. What were your reactions to that
video on texting while driving? stupid video on texting while driving?
7. Are you a conservative or a liberal? 7. Are you a conservative or a social-
8. How do you feel about working out? 8. Do you hate to work out as much as
the rest of us do?
9. Are you going to the staff meeting? 9. You’re going to the staff meeting,
aren’t you?
10. How do you feel about legalizing gay 10. How do you feel about legalizing
marriage in this state? gay marriage in this state that would
destroy the family as we know it and
end our religious freedom?
Figure 3.2 compares types of questions available to interviewers and interviewees,
including open and closed, primary and probing, and neutral and leading questions.
Exercise #2—Identification of Questions
Identify each of the following questions in four ways: (1) open or closed, (2) primary
or probing, (3) neutral or leading, and (4) whether it is a special type of question
tool: bipolar, loaded, nudging probe, clearinghouse probe, informational probe, restate-
ment probe, reflective probe, or mirror probe.
1. What did you do during the interim semester?
2. Are you saying that you joined the Army to escape the farm?
3. Did you vote in the last primary election?
4. Is there anything else you would like to tell me about your position at CVS?
5. Quitting your job in the middle of a recession was stupid, wasn’t it?
6. I see.
Leading ques-
tions have
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Questions and Their Uses 43
7. You are concerned about this problem, aren’t you?
8. Interviewer: What did you see first when you came upon the accident?
Interviewee: It was a nightmare.
Interviewer: I’m sure. What did you see first?
9. Okay, it sounds like planning for the lecture is set. As I understand, you are taking
care of publicity, Jane is handling travel and housing, Fallon is arranging for a
dinner prior to the lecture, I will introduce the speaker and handle the Q and A
session, and Zack is setting up the reception in the atrium immediately following
the lecture. Is all of this correct?
10. And then what happened?
Common Question Pitfalls
Interviewers and interviewees have a variety of question tools that enable them to
gather information and insights into experiences, reactions, beliefs, attitudes, and
feelings, but they must phrase each question carefully to avoid common question
pitfalls. Each pitfall makes it more difficult to perform interview tasks efficiently
and effectively.
The Unintentional Bipolar Question
The bipolar question is designed to elicit a yes or no answer or a choice among two
poles such as conservative or liberal, like or dislike, approve or disapprove, and agree
or disagree. The problem arises when you unintentionally ask a bipolar question when
you want a lengthy answer or when there are more than two choices from which a
carefully to
avoid common
Figure 3.2 Types of questions
Neutral Leading
Open Closed Open Closed
Primary How do you Do you approve Most top Do you favor
feel about the or disapprove students the new core
new core of the new core favor the new requirements
requirements? requirements? core requirements; like most top
how do you students
feel about them? I’ve talked to?
Probing Why do you Is your approval If you favor I assume you
feel that way? moderate or the core favor the new core
strong? requirements, requirements
why did you because you‘re
initially oppose graduating in
them? two months.
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44 Chapter 3
respondent may choose. Be aware of these common phrases that open bipolar rather
than open questions: Do you, Did you, Are you, Have you, Will you, Were you, Can
you, Would you, Is there, and Was it? If you want an open-ended answer rather than
a bipolar one, open your question with words and phrases such as: What, Why, How,
Explain, and Tell me about?
The Yes (No) Question
The yes (no) question pitfall occurs when you ask a question that has only one obvious
or acceptable answer, either a yes or a no. For instance, a physician trying to persuade
a patient to stop smoking might ask, “Do you want to die?” Or a counselor might ask
a student, “Do you want to graduate?” Listen carefully to how you are phrasing each
question so you do not waste time asking the obvious.
The Tell Me Everything Question
The tell me everything question is the opposite of the intentional bipolar question and
the yes (no) question. This pitfall occurs when you ask an extremely open-ended ques-
tion with no limits or guidelines. When you ask a question such as “Tell me about
yourself” or “Tell me about your study abroad experiences in China,” a respondent
may have difficulty determining where to begin, what to include, and when to end an
answer. Focus a question on a particular part of self or specific experiences that are
most important for the interview.
The Open-to-Closed Question
The open-to-closed pitfall occurs when you ask an open question and then switch it to a
closed question, often bipolar, before the interviewee can reply. For instance, you may ask
“Tell me about your trip to New York,” and then interject “Did you visit the 9/11 memo-
rial?” The interviewee is most likely to limit the answer to the memorial, and you lose
a significant amount of important information. Avoid this trap by preparing questions in
advance of the interview and thinking through each question carefully before asking it.
The Double-Barreled
The double-barreled question pitfall
occurs when you ask a question with
two parts or topics such as, “Tell me
about your trips to Rome and Venice”
or “Which colleges do you support
financially and why did you choose
these?” Respondents may address
each part superficially rather than
give a long answer, answer only the
part they can recall, or answer the part
they want to answer. If you do not
repeat the portion that is unanswered,
Obvious ques-
tions gener-
ate obvious
Ask an open
question and
then stop.
Ask one
question at
a time.
■ How you ask a question may bias the answer you receive.
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Questions and Their Uses 45
you will get only one answer instead the two needed. You may have to ask several
probing questions to get the information you would have received by asking two sepa-
rate questions.
The Unintentional Leading Question
The leading question pitfall occurs when you unintentionally ask a question phrased to
influence an answer instead of a neutral question. You may be unaware that you did this
verbally or nonverbally or that interviewees gave answers they thought you wanted to
hear. Avoid this pitfall by phrasing and asking questions nonverbally that are clearly
neutral. Listen carefully to every question and ask yourself “How would I reply to this
The Guessing Question
The guessing question pitfall occurs when you try to guess information instead of
asking for it. A string of guessing questions may fail to accomplish what a single
open-ended or informational question can. For instance, instead of asking “Were
you in your car when you saw the accident?” ask “Where were you when you saw
the accident?” Instead of asking “Did you attempt to apply CPR?” ask “What did
you do?”
The Curious Question
The curious question pitfall occurs when you ask for information you do not need. For
example, are you merely curious about a person’s age, marital status, income level, or
religious beliefs that have nothing to do with the interview and its stated purpose. The
interviewee has the right to say this information is none of your business or to ask the
purpose of the question. If a question may appear to be irrelevant, explain why this
information is relevant and necessary.
The Too High or Too Low Question
The too high or too low pitfall occurs when you fail to prepare questions that take into
consideration the interviewee’s levels of knowledge and expertise. Questions above
these levels may cause embarrassment or resentment for appearing uninformed, ill-
informed, uneducated, or unintelligent. Questions below these levels may be insulting.
Know whether a respondent is a layperson, novice, or expert on a topic or issue and
phrase your questions accordingly.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Question
The don’t ask, don’t tell pitfall occurs when you delve into information and emotions
that interviewees may be incapable of addressing because of social, psychological, or
situational constraints. For instance, we learn at an early age that it is more socially
acceptable to be humble rather than boastful. So when we are asked to assess our
beauty, intelligence, creativity, or bravery, we are most likely to pose an “Aw shucks”
attitude or make a joke of our answer. We are told that there is an appropriate time and
place for everything but that some areas are usually off limits or taboo such as sex,
Push only when
there is a need
to push.
Don’t guess;
Curiosity may
be fatal to
What does
the interviewee
know of
to this topic?
Ask one
question at
a time.
Delve into
areas only when
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46 Chapter 3
personal income, religious convictions, and certain illnesses. For instance, we find it
easier to discuss physical rather than mental illnesses. Explain why a question is essen-
tial to ask, and delay “touchy” or “taboo” questions until you have established a com-
fortable climate and positive relationship. Phrase questions carefully to lessen social
and psychological constraints and to avoid offending interviewees.
Gender and cultural differences may affect social and psychological accessibility.
Research indicates that women disclose more information about themselves, use more
psychological or emotional verbs, discuss their personal lives more in business interac-
tions, have less difficulty expressing intimate feelings, talk more about other people’s
accomplishments and minimize their own, and appear to be more comfortable when
hearing accolades about themselves.4 Cultures also differ in readily accessible areas.
Learn as much as you can about an interviewee prior to an interview to determine what
can and cannot be asked and how it should be asked.
Avoid common question pitfalls by planning questions prior to the interview so
you do not have to create them on the spot in the give-and-take of the interaction.
Think before uttering a question, stop when you have asked a good open question
instead of rephrasing it, use bipolar questions sparingly, avoid questions that are too
open-ended, ask only necessary questions, ask for information at the interviewee’s
level, avoid complex questions, and be aware of the accessibility factor in questions
and answers. Know the common question pitfalls well enough that you can catch
yourself before tumbling into one.
Exercise #3—What Are the Pitfalls in These Questions?
Each of the following questions illustrates one or more of the common question pitfalls:
unintentional bipolar question, yes (no) question, tell me everything question, open-
to-closed question, double-barreled question, unintentional leading question, guessing
question, curious question, too high or too low question, and don’t ask, don’t tell ques-
tion. Identify the pitfall(s) of each question and rephrase it to make it a good question.
Avoid a new pitfall in your revised question.
1. Do you like or dislike catfish?
2. You’re concerned about the stock market, aren’t you?
3. Tell me about General Electric.
4. Tell me about your trip to the Normandy beaches; were they different than you
5. Did you like the band concert?
6. (asked during a recruiting interview) Are you a registered Republican or
7. Would you label yourself as a genius?
8. (asked of a student) Do you want to fail my class?
9. Did you join the Air Force ROTC to become a fighter pilot?
10. Tell me about LaSalle and the courses you are taking.
Avoid pitfalls by
preparing and
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Questions and Their Uses 47
You have a limitless variety of question tools to choose from, and each tool has unique
characteristics, capabilities, and pitfalls. Knowing which question to select and how to use
it is essential for interviewing effectively and efficiently. Each question has three charac-
teristics: (1) open or closed, (2) primary or probing, and (3) neutral or leading. Open ques-
tions are designed to discover large amounts of information, while closed questions are
designed to gain specific bits of information. Primary questions open up topics and sub-
topics, while probing questions probe into answers for more information, explanations,
clarifications, and verifications. Neutral questions give respondents freedom to answer as
they wish, while leading questions nudge or shove respondents toward specific answers.
Phrasing questions is essential to get the information needed. If you phrase questions
carefully and think before asking, you can avoid common question pitfalls such as curi-
ous; don’t ask, don’t tell; double-barreled; guessing; open-to-closed; tell me everything;
too high, too low; unintentional bipolar, and unintentional leading.
Key Terms and Concepts
Browse an Internet site to locate a variety of question–
answer interactions that vary in intensity from happy
to sad, cooperative to uncooperative, friendly to
hostile, and understanding to patronizing. Identify
the different types of primary and probing questions
in these interactions. Which question pitfalls can
you identify? Which of these pitfalls were acciden-
tal and which purposeful? Use search engines such
as the Knight Ridder Newspapers (http://www.kri
.com), CNBC (, and CNN
Bipolar question
Clearinghouse probe
Closed question
Curious pitfall
Don’t ask, don’t tell pitfall
Double-barreled pitfall
Guessing pitfall
Informational probe
Leading question
Loaded question
Mirror probe
Neutral question
Nudging probe
Open question
Open-to-closed pitfall
Primary question
Probing question
Question pitfalls
Reflective probe
Restatement probe
Silent probe
Tell me everything pitfall
Too high, too low
Unintentional bipolar
Unintentional leading
Yes (no) pitfall
Student Activities
1. Watch an interview on C-SPAN that lasts at least 15 minutes. Which types of questions
does the interviewer employ? Which seem to be the most effective? How does the
relationship between interviewer and interviewee appear to affect question types and
responses? How does the situation appear to affect question selection and responses?
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48 Chapter 3
2. Prepare two sets of 10 questions each, one with all neutral questions and one with
four of the questions rephrased as leading questions. Conduct six interviews, three
with all-neutral questions and three with the mixture of neutral and leading questions.
Compare the answers you received and determine how types of questions may have
influenced these answers. Why do you think some interviewees ignored the direction
you provided in leading questions while others did not?
3. Create a list of closed questions, including bipolar questions, on a topic of impor-
tance in your state. Interview four people: a friend, a family member older than you,
an acquaintance, and a stranger selected at random. Which ones gave you the short-
est, least revealing answers? Which ones volunteered the most information regard-
less of question type? What does this tell you about using closed questions and the
relationship between parties?
4. Listen to several interviews on television, including ones with politicians, company
representatives, sports figures, and people who have experienced a crisis. Identify
the question pitfalls exhibited in the questions asked and how they seemed to affect
responses. Which were the most common pitfalls? Did you identify question pitfalls
not covered in this chapter?
1. Joyce Kasman Valenza, “For the best answers, ask tough questions,” The Philadel-
phia Inquirer, April 20, 2000,, accessed
September 26, 2006.
2. Stanley L. Payne, The Art of Asking Questions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1980), p. 204.
3. Robert L. Kahn and Charles F. Cannell, The Dynamics of Interviewing (New York: John
Wiley, 1964), p. 205.
4. Lillian Glass, He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap between the
Sexes (New York: Putnam, 1993), pp. 45–59; Kory Floyd, Interpersonal Communica-
tion (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011), p. 99.
Anderson, Rob, and G. Michael Killenberg. Interviewing: Speaking, Listening, and Learn-
ing for Professional Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Devito, Joseph A. Interviewing Guidebook. Boston: Pearson Education, 2010.
Payne, Stanley L. The Art of Asking Questions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1980.
Powell, Larry, and Jonathan H. Amsbary. Interviewing: Situations and Contexts. Boston:
Pearson Education, 2006.
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Structuring the Interview4C H A P T E R
Every interview has a degree of structure, and this degree is determined by inter-view type, situation, purpose, length, and complexity. Although specific types of
interviews may require some unique differences in structure, basic principles and tech-
niques apply to all interviews. The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to
these principles and techniques and explain how to apply them to the opening, body,
and closing of interviews.
The Body of the Interview
When preparing for an interview, it is tempting to begin by thinking of questions to
ask. Focus instead on the purpose of the interview. What exactly do you need in this
interaction with this party? With a clear purpose in mind, develop an interview guide.
Interview Guide
An interview guide is a carefully structured outline of relevant topics and subtopics to
be addressed in the interview. The guide identifies specific areas of inquiry to ensure
coverage of all important topics. It is not a list of questions, but it will assist in phrasing
questions, recording answers, noting impressions and insights, and recalling information
when the interview is over.
Structural Sequences
An interview guide provides a clear and systematic outline for the interview, so review
sequences learned over the years. Five sequences are common in interviews.
A topical sequence follows natural divisions of a topic or issue. For example,
if you are planning to interview an attorney about law schools you might attend,
your guide would include such topics as ranking among law schools, areas of special-
ization, quality of the law school review, number and type of law firms that come to
campus for interviews, and cost. The traditional journalist’s guide consisting of six
key words—who, what, when, where, how, and why—is useful in many interview
A time sequence treats topics or parts of topics in chronological order. For
instance, in an interview with a fire inspector about a recent fire in a residence hall on
campus, start with when the fire was detected, and then proceed to when the first crews
An interview
guide contains
topics, not
help organize
topics and
impose a
degree of
structure on
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50 Chapter 4
arrived at the hall, when they started attacking the fire, when they had it under control,
and when they left the scene.
A space sequence arranges topics according to spatial divisions: left to right, top to
bottom, north to south, or neighborhood to neighborhood. For instance, when interview-
ing a person about a house on Ocean Isle Beach for a family gathering, you might begin
with the number and arrangement of bedrooms, and then proceed to the kitchen facilities,
dining areas, recreational rooms, swimming pool size and area, and end with the beach.
A cause-to-effect sequence explores causes and effects, but not necessarily in that
order. For instance, if it is known that a school bus went off the road and rolled two
times before landing on its side, you might focus on possible causes of the accident
(driver error, driver distraction, mechanical failure, slippery roadway). If the cause(s)
of the school bus accident are known, you might focus on the effects of the accident
on the student occupants (death and injuries) and then on the bus (collapse of the top,
broken windows, seats coming loose).
A problem-solution sequence consists of a problem phase and a solution phase.
For instance, if you are concerned about reports that canine flu has appeared in your
area, you might interview a veterinarian about the threat this flu might pose for your
10-week-old puppy and how you can avoid this danger.
Developing an Interview Guide
With your purpose firmly in mind, start creating an interview guide by determining the
major topics you want to cover in the interview. For example, if you are studying inter-
national business and are interested in spending a semester abroad, talk to professors
familiar with your interests, study abroad opportunities, and experiences of students
who have recently studied abroad. Major topics may include the following:
I. Top programs abroad in international business
II. Cultures
III. Expenses
IV. Teaching and learning facilities
V. Research facilities
Once you have identified major topic areas, place subtopics under each.
I. Top programs abroad in international business
A. Vienna
B. Prague
C. Berlin
D. Paris
II. Cultures
A. Language
B. History
C. Historical sites
D. Arts and music
A guide
ensures the
of all important
topics and
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Structuring the Interview 51
III. Expenses
A. Food
B. Housing
C. Travel
D. Academic
IV. Teaching and learning facilities
A. Learning and support services
B. Courses and independent study
C. Resources for learning
D. Electronic learning media
V. Research facilities
A. Laboratories
B. Libraries
C. IT and computing facilities
D. Entrepreneur center
With major topics and subtopics outlined, consider subtopics of subtopics. These
might include potential language problems or cultural differences and academic costs
such as tuition, fees, insurance, or supplies. Sometimes it is difficult to know enough
to list all important topics under subtopics until an interview commences. Interviewers
often employ more than one outline sequence in an interview because of the nature of
topics and subtopics.
Interview Schedules
A Nonscheduled Interview
If an interview will be brief such as determining date, time, and place of a meeting or a
few biographical details, you might conduct the interview from a guide. This is called
a nonscheduled interview. A nonscheduled interview conducted from an interview
guide gives maximum freedom to probe into answers and adapt to the interviewee and
situation as the interview progresses. It requires considerable skill, however, because
there are no prepared questions and it may be difficult to maintain control during a
freewheeling interaction.
A Moderately Scheduled Interview
A moderately scheduled interview consists of all major questions with possible prob-
ing questions under each. The sentences and phrases in a guide become questions. The
moderate schedule, like the nonscheduled interview, not only allows freedom to probe
into answers and adapt to different interviewees and situations, but it also imposes a
greater degree of structure, aids in recording answers, and is easier to conduct and rep-
licate. It is unnecessary to phrase every question on the spot because they are thought
out and carefully worded in advance. There are fewer pressures during the interview.
Since interview parties tend to wander during unstructured interviews, listing questions
makes it easier to keep on track and return to a structure when desired. Journalists,
may include
more than one
sequence or
none at all.
A nonsched-
uled interview
is merely
an interview
A moderately
lessens the
need for
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52 Chapter 4
medical personnel, recruiters, lawyers, police officers, and insurance investigators, to
name a few, use moderately scheduled interviews.
A Highly Scheduled Interview
On paper a highly scheduled interview may look little different from a moderately
scheduled interview, but they are very different in execution. Unlike a moderate sched-
ule, all questions in a highly scheduled interview are asked exactly as they are worded
on the schedule. There are no unplanned probing questions, word changes, or deviation
from the schedule. Highly scheduled interviews are easy to replicate and conduct, take
less time than nonscheduled and moderately scheduled interviews, and prevent parties
from wandering into irrelevant areas or spending too much time on a topic. Flexibility
and adaptation are not options, however. Probing questions must be planned. Research-
ers and survey takers use highly scheduled interviews.
A Highly Scheduled Standardized Interview
The highly scheduled standardized interview is the most thoroughly planned and
structured. You ask all questions and answer options in identical words to each inter-
viewee who then picks answers from those provided. There is no straying from the sched-
ule by either party. Highly scheduled standardized interviews are the easiest to conduct,
record, tabulate, and replicate. However, you may not probe into answers, explain ques-
tions, or adapt to different interviewees. Respondents cannot explain, amplify, qualify,
or question answer options. Built-in interviewer bias may be worse than accidental
bias encountered in nonscheduled and moderately scheduled interviews. Researchers
and survey takers use highly scheduled standardized interviews because their proce-
dures must produce the same results in repeated interviews by several interviewers.
Each interviewing schedule has unique advantages and disadvantages. Choose the
schedule best suited to your needs, skills, type of information desired, and situation. One
type of schedule does not fit all interview types and situations. A schedule designed for a
survey would be a terrible schedule for an employment interview. Consider a strategic com-
bination of schedules. For instance, use a nonscheduled approach when obtaining easily
accessible information at the start of an interview and then switch to a moderately scheduled
approach when carefully crafted questions are essential. When conducting a survey, employ
a highly scheduled approach to ask open-ended questions and then switch to a highly sched-
uled standardized approach to obtain easily quantifiable information. Figure 4.1 reveals the
advantages and disadvantages of each type of schedule and combinations.
Exercise #1—Interview Schedules
Which schedule or combination would be most appropriate for each of the situations
below: nonscheduled, moderately scheduled, highly scheduled, highly scheduled stan-
dardized? Explain why you would select this schedule.
1. You are a journalist interviewing witnesses to a hit and run on campus resulting
in critical injuries to two students.
2. You are a recruiter for a computer software firm conducting interviews at a job
fair arranged on campus.
Highly sched-
uled interviews
sacrifice flex-
ibility and
adaptability for
replicability, and
interviewers to
satisfy multiple
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Structuring the Interview 53
3. You are conducting a survey of graduating seniors as part of a nationwide study
of the status of the job market for college graduates.
4. You are a developer of an apartment complex near a college campus and are
attempting to persuade a member of the city council to vote for your proposal.
5. You are a member of the Parks and Recreation Board and missed the last meeting
because of a family emergency. You are interviewing another board member to
learn what was discussed and agreed upon at that meeting.
Question Sequences
Once an appropriate interview schedule or combination of schedules is determined,
choose appropriate question sequences. There are six options: tunnel, funnel, inverted
funnel, hourglass, diamond, and quintamensional design.
Figure 4.1 Structural options
Advantages and
of Interview
Nonscheduled Moderately
Breadth and
depth of potential
Type of Interview Schedule
Degree of precision,
R’s control over
the interview
R skill required
Freedom to adapt
to di�erent Es and
Amount of
High Medium LowHigh Medium Low
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54 Chapter 4
Tunnel Sequence
The tunnel sequence, or string of beads, is a comparable string of open or closed ques-
tions. See Figure 4.2. Each question may cover a specific topic, ask for a specific piece of
information, or identify an attitude or feeling. A tunnel sequence looks like the following.
I understand that you took part in the 24-hour endurance bicycle race at the
Subaru test track to help raise money for the CASA for Kids Fund yesterday.
1. When did you decide to take part in this race?
2. Who organized your team?
3. Where did you get your bicycle?
4. How long did you prepare for this grueling race?
5. What was the toughest part of the race?
The tunnel sequence is common in polls, surveys, journalistic interviews, and medical
interviews designed to elicit information, attitudes, reactions, and intentions. Answers
to closed questions are easier to record and quantify.
Funnel Sequence
A funnel sequence begins with broad, open-ended questions and proceeds with more
restricted questions. See Figure 4.3. The following is a funnel sequence.
1. Tell me about your internship at ESPN.
2. What did you do on a typical day?
3. What were your impressions of ESPN?
4. Which events did you cover?
5. How long were you at ESPN?
A funnel sequence is most appropriate when respondents are familiar with a topic, feel
free to talk about it, want to express their feelings, and are motivated to reveal and explain
attitudes. Open questions are easier to answer, pose less threat to respondents, and get
people talking, so the funnel sequence is a good way to begin interviews. It lessens the
chances of conditioning or biasing later responses. If you begin an interview with closed
questions, you may force a respondent to take a polar position or signal that you want
only brief answers. Open questions invite respondents to explain and qualify positions.
A tunnel
works well
with informal
and simple
A funnel
works well
with motivated
Figure 4.2 The tunnel (string of beads) sequence
Open/closed questions
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Structuring the Interview 55
Inverted Funnel Sequence
The inverted funnel sequence begins with closed questions and proceeds toward open
questions. It is most useful in motivating interviewees to respond or when interviewees
are emotionally involved in an issue or situation and cannot readily reply to open ques-
tions. See Figure 4.4. The following is an inverted funnel sequence.
1. When did you hear the first shot?
2. How many shots did you hear?
3. What did you see when you went outside?
4. How did you react when you saw your neighbor lying in his yard?
5. What did you do until the first responders arrived?
The inverted funnel sequence is appropriate when interviewees feel they do not
know enough about a topic or are hesitant. Closed questions serve as warm-ups and
memory enhancers when open-ended ones might overwhelm a person or result in disor-
ganized and confused answers. This sequence may end with a clearinghouse question.
Combination Sequences
A combination of sequences enables you to approach interview situations and inter-
viewees with flexibility and adaptability. For example, the hourglass sequence begins
with open questions, proceeds to closed questions, and concludes with open questions.
This sequence allows you to narrow your focus before proceeding to broader concerns
when the situation or topic warrants it. See Figure 4.5. A diamond sequence places
funnel sequences top-to-top by beginning with closed questions, proceeding to open
questions, and closing with closed questions. See Figure 4.6.
Quintamensional Design Sequence
George Gallup, the famous poll designer, developed the quintamensional design
sequence to assess the intensity of opinions and attitudes. This five-step approach proceeds
An inverted
provides a
warm-up time
for those
reluctant to
Open questions
Closed questions
Figure 4.3 The funnel sequence Figure 4.4 The inverted funnel sequence
Open questions
Closed questions
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56 Chapter 4
from an interviewee’s awareness of the issue to attitudes uninfluenced by the interviewer,
specific attitudes, reasons for these attitudes, and intensity of attitude. For example:
1. Awareness: What do you know about the new environmental regulations on
using coal to generate electricity?
2. Uninfluenced attitudes: How might these regulations affect you?
3. Specific attitude: Do you approve or disapprove of these new regulations?
4. Reason why: Why do you feel this way?
5. Intensity of attitude: How strongly do you feel about this—strongly, very
strongly, not something you will change your mind on?
Opening the Interview
When you have determined a specific purpose and developed an appropriate structure
for an interview that may include some or all of the questions to be asked, create an
opening adapted to the purpose, parties, and situation. What you say and do or fail
to say and do during the few seconds or minutes of the interaction are critical to your
relationship with the interviewee and success of the interview. The opening sets the
tone and mood of the interview and affects willingness and ability to go beyond Level 1
interactions. The tone may be serious or lighthearted, optimistic or pessimistic, profes-
sional or nonprofessional, formal or informal, threatening or nonthreatening, relaxed
or tense. A poor opening may lead to a defensive climate with superficial, vague, and
inaccurate responses.
The opening is critical to motivating both parties to participate willingly and to
communicate freely and accurately. Motivation is a mutual product of interviewer
The quinta-
design is
effective at
attitudes and
It takes two
parties to
launch an
Figure 4.5 The hourglass sequence
Open questions
Open questions
Closed questions
Figure 4.6 The diamond sequence
Open questions
Closed questions
Closed questions
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Structuring the Interview 57
and interviewee, so every opening must be a dialogue, not a monologue. Do it with
the other party, not to the other party. Too often interviewees are given little opportu-
nity to say anything beyond single-word responses to opening questions. Interrupting
interviewees is common. A study of physicians interacting with patients, for instance,
revealed that physicians did not permit patients to complete their closing statements
69 percent of the time.1
The Two-Step Process
The opening must establish rapport and orient the other party to encourage active par-
ticipation and willingness to continue with the interview. Interview type, situation,
relationship of the parties, and personal preferences determine what is included in the
opening and how long it will last.
Establishing rapport is a process of creating and sustaining a genuine relationship
between interviewer and interviewee through enhancing feelings of goodwill and trust.
If the relationship is long-standing and positive, consider a simple greeting, tasteful
humor, and personal inquiries or references to families, mutual acquaintances, the
weather, sports, or news events. Accompany each with nonverbal actions such as a firm
handshake, good eye contact, a smile, and friendly voice. Several factors may deter-
mine what is appropriate, including local and national customs, organizational tradi-
tions and policies, status differences of the parties, formality and seriousness of the
situation, and interview type. Avoid calling strangers, superiors, or high-status persons
by their first names or nick names unless instructed to do so. Do not prolong the rap-
port stage or overdo “sweet talk” such as praise, congratulations, and admiration. Know
when enough is enough and always be sincere.
If the other party is unfamiliar with
the purpose, length, and nature of
the interview; how the information
will be used; or why and how they
were selected, address these during
the opening. Do not assume the
interviewee party understands what
is going to take place during the
interview and why. If uncertain, ask.
Interviewers often assume that
when the other party appears simi-
lar to them in some ways—gender,
age, ethnic background, culture,
appearance, language, education—
they are similar in ways critical to the
purpose and success of the interview.
Do not overdo
small talk or
■ What you do and say in the opening seconds sets the tone
for the remainder of the interview.
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58 Chapter 4
LaRay Barna warns that “The aura of similarity is a serious stumbling block to success-
ful intercultural communication. A look-alike facade is deceiving when representatives
from contrasting cultures meet, each wearing Western dress, speaking English, and
using similar greeting rituals.”2 You may falsely assume that you share similar nonver-
bal codes, beliefs, attitudes, or values. “Unless there is overt reporting of assumptions
made by each party, which seldom happens, there is no chance of comparing impres-
sions and correcting misinterpretations.”
Rapport and orientation are often intermixed to reduce relational uncertainty. By
the end of the opening, both parties should be aware of the genuineness of the relation-
ship, relevant similarities, desire to take part, and level of trust. Poor openings mislead
and create problems as an interview progresses. Think about a situation in which you
thought you were taking part in a political survey or discussing security concerns in
your neighborhood only to discover that the interview was a disguised pitch for a politi-
cal candidate or a security system for your apartment. The sample opening below illus-
trates the rapport and orientation steps for an interview taking place at the door of an
1. Interviewer: Hi. I’m Tim Bowers representing an organization of apartment renters
such as you who are concerned about the numerous break-ins that are occurring in
apartment complexes in this area.
2. Interviewee: Hi Tim. Is this a sales pitch for a security system? I’ve been getting calls
almost every evening for the last two weeks wanting me to buy an expensive alarm
3. Interviewer: No; I’m not trying to sell you anything. I live in the Riverside apart-
ments a couple of blocks from here and want to talk for a few minutes about set-
ting up a neighborhood watch system to stop the break-ins. My apartment was
robbed a few weeks ago, and I lost my laptop, tablet, and television. It’s been
a mess.
4. Interviewee: I’m sorry to hear that. So far I have been lucky. My name is Chloe
Stark. I am about to send some business e-mails and do not have much time this
5. Interviewer: I fully understand. I’m a graduate student at State and have a research
paper to complete this evening. If you have about ten minutes, I would like to tell you
about the neighborhood watch some of us are trying to form in this area. We would
like to get your ideas and how you think this might work.
6. Interviewee: Okay. I do have a few minutes to see what you have in mind and who
makes up your organization. Come in.
In some interview situations such as sales and surveys, you may have a carefully
crafted opening from which you must not deviate because each interview must be
as identical as possible. This is not the case with most interviews, however, and you
should be as creative and adaptive as possible to each interviewee and situation. The
“all occasions” opening may be an immediate turn off. Verbal opening techniques
build rapport and inform the other party.
Be careful of
assuming too
much or too
little about the
other party.
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Structuring the Interview 59
State Your Purpose
Explain why you are conducting the interview.
Example: (A junior student to a senior student) I understand that you spent the
spring semester studying abroad in Brasilia. That’s one of the locations I’m look-
ing into for next spring, and wonder if you could tell me about your experiences in
Brasilia and Brazil.
Summarize a Problem
Begin with a brief summary when an interviewee is unaware of a problem, vaguely
aware of it, or unaware of details. The summary should inform the interviewee.
Example: (An associate and a supervisor) As you know, we have been encoun-
tering some problems with the new composite panels we started using on the
Model 23 this fall. It’s taking longer to align and install these panels that seem more
pliable than those used in the past. I would like to talk to you about some ideas
associates on the line have for speeding up this process.
Explain How a Problem Was Discovered
Explain how a problem was detected and perhaps by whom without placing the inter-
viewee on the defensive.
Example: (A coach and a pitcher on the softball team) Alice [a trainer for the team]
has informed me that you have experienced some pain in your left shoulder after
the last two games and that it seems to be getting worse.
Offer an Incentive or Reward
Offer an incentive to motivate an interviewee that is significant and appropriate for the
Example: (Interviewer and a student living in an apartment complex) I’m conducting
a survey of residents to determine what the owners might do to make Westwood
Apartments an even better residence for students. Your input will impact what they
focus on in the next few months.
Request Advice or Assistance
Make a request for assistance that is clear, precise, and appropriate for the interviewee.
Example: (Student and a counselor) I would like to apply for an internship for next
summer but don’t know where to start or what might be available in my field.
Refer to the Interviewee’s Position on an Issue
Be tactful, positive, and accurate when identifying the interviewee’s position on an
Example: (Journalist and a public school superintendent) I have read your guest
editorials that have opposed the state’s ever-increasing funding of charter schools
Know when
to end the
opening and
move on.
Be sincere
in offering
incentives or
When pos-
sible adapt
the opening
to each inter-
viewee and
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60 Chapter 4
while lessening state regulations of these schools. I would like to talk to you about
your proposals for addressing these concerns.
Identify the Person Who Sent You
Identifying a person the interviewee knows and respects may create a positive connec-
tion and begin to establish a relationship. Be sure references have given you permission
to use their names.
Example: (Student and a geologist) I’m writing a paper on geological formations of
mountain ranges outside of North America, and Professor Hauser in the geology
department suggested that I talk to you about your experiences in the Himalayas.
Identify Your Organization
It may be important or necessary to identify the organization you represent to establish
your identity and legitimacy. Be prepared for situations in which interviewees may have
unfavorable attitudes toward your organization because of negative experiences or publicity
resulting from published complaints, product recalls, lawsuits, investigations, or scandals.
Example: (A home builder and a prospect) Good morning. I’m Jason Matthews with
Rolling Hills Construction.
Ask for a Specific Amount of Time
Request an amount of time necessary to achieve your purpose. Avoid the most misused
and unrealistic request, “Got a second?”
Example: (Client to an attorney). Hi John. Do you have about fifteen minutes to dis-
cuss a copyright concern?
Ask a Question
Ask an easy to answer, open-ended question that is nonthreatening and starts the orien-
tation stage of the opening. Beware of closed questions an interviewee can answer with
a “No.”
Example: (A recruiter to a prospect) What are you looking for in a position?
An interviewee may be turned off by obvious yes-no question.
Example: Are we going to do anything important in class today?
Are you busy?
Carefully craft each opening from these techniques so it is appropriate for the
interviewee and situation. Involve the interviewee in the opening as a partner rather
than bystander; make the opening a dialogue rather than a monologue. When you
are the interviewee, insist on playing an active rather than passive role.
Nonverbal Communication in Openings
What you say in an opening is highly important, but so is how you say it. Nonver-
bal communication—voice, face, gestures, and appearance—is critical in creating a
Know what to
do if references
to an organi-
zation generate
Make an
appointment for
interviews of
more than 5 or
10 minutes.
Make the
opening a
between two
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Structuring the Interview 61
positive first impression that motivates the interviewee to respond and take part in the
interview. How you communicate nonverbally in the first few minutes of the interview
reveals level of sincerity, trust, trustworthiness, warmth, and interest.
As human beings, we naturally value our space (office, room, home, place at a table,
the surrounding area when standing) and see intrusions as violations of social and orga-
nizational norms that dictate proper behavior. Always knock before entering a room,
even when the door is open. Wait until the party signals verbally or nonverbally for
you to enter and sit down. Never interrupt a conversation. Wait your turn. Women in
our society continue to enjoy less territoriality than men. Judy Pearson writes that in
the United States, “Few women have a particular and unviolated room in their homes
while many men have man caves, studies, or work areas which are off limits to others.
Similarly, it appears that more men than women have particular chairs reserved for their
use.”3 Be aware of these outdated norms and practices but show equal respect to the
space both men and women value and protect.
Appearance, Dress, Face, and Voice
Appearance, dress, face, and voice communicate interest, sincerity, warmth, urgency,
attractiveness, neatness, maturity, and professionalism. Do not signal catastrophe when the
interview is routine, friendliness when you are going to discipline a person, warmth when
angry, happiness when a major problem needs urgent attention, or closeness with strangers.
When shaking hands is appropriate for the relationship and the situation, give a firm
handshake. Do not overdo handshaking with acquaintances and colleagues or during
informal interviews. Touching is appropriate only when parties have an established
and close relationship and expect it.
Reading Nonverbal Communication
Interpersonal communication theorists emphasize the importance of nonverbal clues.
For instance, Trenholm and Jensen write, “People read a lot in our facial expressions.
They infer some personality traits and attitudes, judge reactions to their own mes-
sages, regard facial expressions as verbal replacements, and, primarily, use them to
determine our emotional state.”4 Regarding first impressions, Floyd notes that “the
quality of a person’s clothing is a relatively reliable visual cue to his or her socio-
economic status” and type or style of clothing may enable us, often quite accurately,
to identify an interview party with a particular cultural or political group.5 Stewart
warns us, however, that we “tend to notice those behaviors [and possibly appearance
and dress] that are consistent with the beliefs we have about another and ignore those
that are inconsistent.”6
The importance of nonverbal communication in openings is indisputable. The trick
is to interpret the behavior accurately without underestimating or overestimating its
importance in the process. Even people with similar backgrounds differ significantly
in nonverbal behavior and the signals they send. For instance, men and women tend
and dress
should send
opening signals.
Know when
and with whom
touch is
Sex and
culture regulate
in openings.
First impres-
sions often
the tone and
flow of
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62 Chapter 4
to communicate in different ways. Lillian Glass has catalogued 105 “talk differences”
between American men and women in basic areas of communication: body language,
facial language, speech and voice patterns, language content, and behavioral patterns.
She has found that men touch others more often, tend to avoid eye contact and not
look directly at the other person, sound more abrupt and less approachable, make direct
accusations, and give fewer compliments.7 Other research indicates that women are
more skilled at “rapport talk” that establishes and strengthens relationships while men
are more skilled at “report talk” that analyzes issues and resolves problems.
While Americans may share rules for greeting others, these rules may not be
shared with other cultures. Shaking hands, for instance, is a Western custom, particu-
larly in the United States, so do not ascribe meaning to firmness or lack of firmness
when interviewing persons from other cultures who may see handshaking as merely
a quaint Western custom of little importance. While Americans expect persons to
look them in the eyes to exhibit trust, openness, and sincerity, other cultures consider
such eye contact to be impolite and insulting. The United States is not a touching
society, but do not be shocked if a party from Italy or Latin America touches you
during an opening.
Exercise #2—Interview Openings
How satisfactory is each of the following openings? Consider the interviewing situation
and type, the techniques used, and what is omitted. How might each be improved? Do
not assume that each opening is unsatisfactory.
1. This is an interview between a professor and a student about a field project.
Interviewer: Professor Kuang, got a minute?
Interviewee: If that’s all it will take.
Interviewer: Uh, I need a bit longer than that.
2. This is an interview between an assistant manager and a manager.
Interviewer: I can’t believe the rumor that you have let Jessie go.
Interviewee: It’s not a rumor.
Interviewer: Is it too late to talk about this?
3. This is an interview in a large publishing company between two editors.
Interviewer: Are you busy?
Interviewee: If I’m not, we’re both in trouble.
Interviewer: I’m sorry. I meant do you have time to talk about the new political
science series.
4. This is an interview between a recruiter from a large medical facility and a senior in
Interviewer: Hi Sam. (pointing to a chair) Did you have any trouble finding us?
Interviewee: Not really.
Interviewer: Good. Well let’s get down to business.
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Structuring the Interview 63
5. This is an interview in the hallway near the U.S. Senate chamber between a NBC
Capitol Hill correspondent and a senator. The senator is arriving for a hearing on
homeland security.
Interviewer: Senator Morgan (waving and shouting), what’s your reaction to the
bombing in Paris?
Interviewee: We’ll be discussing it during the hearing.
Interviewer: What are your initial reactions?
Closing the Interview
Take the closing of each interview as seriously as you do the opening, because each
interaction affects a relational history positively or negatively. For instance, a well-
planned and executed closing may enhance the other party’s perception of you, the
importance of the role played in the interview, and attitudes toward future interactions.
On the other hand, an abrupt or ill-planned closing may reduce your credibility and
make the other party feel “used” or “taken advantage of.”
It is natural to relax and let your guard down when the closing is approaching. Be
attentive to everything you say and don’t say, do and don’t do during the final minutes
of an interview. The other party will be listening and watching for signals that reveal
interest, appreciation, and sincerity and when the closing is commencing. Focus on
this interaction, not on your next task or interview. Be sure the other party is aware the
interview is ending.
We signal closings nonverbally before exchanging words. In their classic study of
“leave-taking” in interpersonal interactions, Mark Knapp and his colleagues identi-
fied a variety of subtle and not so subtle actions that signal closure.8 Interviewers may
straighten up, lean forward, uncross legs, place hands on knees as if preparing to rise,
look at a watch, pause briefly, or break eye contact. More obvious actions are standing
up, moving away, or offering to shake hands. Whether subtle or not, nonverbal actions
signal that one party wants to close the interview. As an interviewee, watch for signals
to detect when a closing is commencing so you are not surprised or have an awkward
ending. At the same time, be aware that a person may be checking a watch to see if there
is adequate time for additional questions or information sharing, uncrossing legs to get
more comfortable, or breaking eye contact to think of a new question. After noticing
that students started into leave-taking mode when they glanced at their watches during
interactions, the authors placed small clocks inconspicuously on their desks to avoid
sending false messages.
Guidelines for Closing Interviews
First, make the closing a dialogue rather than a monologue. As an interviewer, encour-
age interaction through verbal and nonverbal signals including silence. As an inter-
viewee, respond actively to questions, offer opinions and facts not mentioned, and
express appreciation when appropriate.
Second, be sincere and honest in the closing. Make no promises or commitments
you cannot or will not be able to keep.
Take your time
and be tactful
in what you say
and do in the
Both parties
make closings
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64 Chapter 4
Third, pace the interview to
avoid rushing the closing. The law
of recency suggests that people
recall the last thing said or done, so
being rushed or dismissed with an
ill-chosen nonverbal action or phrase
may jeopardize the effects of the
interview, and future contacts with
this party.
Four th, the other par ty will
observe and interpret everything you
say and do, and everything you don’t
say and don’t do, until you are out of
sight and sound. A slip of the lip or
an inappropriate nonverbal act may
negate all that you accomplished.
Fifth, lay the groundwork for
future contacts. If an additional con-
tact is planned (common in health
care, employment, counseling, and sales interviews), explain what will happen next,
where it will happen, when it will happen, and why it will happen. When necessary,
make an appointment before leaving.
Sixth, don’t introduce new topics or ideas or make inquiries when the interview
has in fact or psychologically come to a close. A false closing occurs when verbal and
nonverbal messages signal the interview is coming to a close only for you to open it
back up. This may be awkward for both parties and such after-the-fact interactions are
likely to add little to the interview.
Seventh, avoid what Erving Goffman called failed departures that occur when
you have brought an interview to a close and taken leave from the other party. Then a
short time later you run into the party in the hall, parking lot, or restaurant.9 The result
may be awkward because both of you have said your good-byes and have nothing more
to say. Practice situations to determine what you might say when this happens.
Closing Techniques
Be creative and imaginative when closing interviews. Adapt each closing to the inter-
viewee and the situation. The following techniques may begin the closing process or
complete the closing.
Use a Clearinghouse Question
A clearinghouse question enables you to determine if you have covered all topics,
answered all questions, or resolved all concerns. The request must be an honest and
sincere effort to ferret out unaddressed questions, information, or areas of concern.
Have I answered all of your questions?
What have I not asked that you think is important for me to know?
Be careful of
what you do
and say.
of technique,
involve the
interviewee in
the closing.
intentions, and
inquiries allow
you to close
■ Remember that the interview is not completed until the
interviewer and interviewee are out of sight and sound
of one another.
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Structuring the Interview 65
Declare Completion of the Intended Purpose
State the task is completed. The word well often signals many closings so, when you
hear it, you automatically assume that leave-taking is commencing and begin to wind
things up. Is this what you want to happen?
Okay, I think that’s all of the information I need.
Well, that’s all the questions I have at this time.
Make Personal Inquiries
Personal inquiries are pleasant ways to end interviews and to enhance relationships. Be
sincere and give the interviewee adequate time to reply.
What are your plans after graduation?
How is your daughter doing in Costa Rica?
Make Professional Inquiries
Professional inquiries are more formal than personal ones, and must be sincere and
express genuine interest.
How are things going for you at Ford?
What products are you developing in Seoul?
Signal That Time Is Up
Abide by the time limit agreed to in advance or during the opening, but be tactful and
do not appear to be running an assembly line.
We are about out of time, so . . .
I’m sorry to say that our time is up.
Explain the Reason for the Closing
Explain why the interview must end.
I see you have another person waiting to talk to you.
I have a class in 10 minutes, so . . .
Express Appreciation or Satisfaction
Express appreciation and satisfaction for what you have received—information, assis-
tance, evaluation, a story, a sale, a position, a recruit, or time. Be sincere.
Thank you for all of the information you have given me on housing near campus. It
will help me to decide where to apply.
Thanks for taking part in my survey.
Be genuinely
interested in the
other party.
Do not rush the
closing but end
the interview
when most
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66 Chapter 4
Arrange for the Next Meeting
When appropriate, arrange the next meeting.
I would like to think about the options we have been discussing; could we meet on
Tuesday at the same time?
There are so many facets of your experiences that I find interesting. When might we
meet again?
If it is unnecessary to set a specific time for another interview, simple phrases may com-
municate intervals between interactions. For instance, “See you,” or “Until next time”
signal short intervals. “Let’s stay in touch” and “Don’t be a stranger” signal moderate
intervals. “Good-bye” and “So long” tend to signal lengthy or forever intervals. “We’ll
be in touch” and “Don’t call us; we’ll call you” may signal the traditional “brushoff”
that means never. Be aware of cultural differences and expectations between parties.
Interviewees from other cultures not familiar with the “Don’t call us; we’ll call you”
phrase have been known to quit their current positions in anticipation of immediate job
offers that never came.
Summarize the Interview
A summary closing is common for informational, performance, counseling, and sales
interviews. Repeat important information, stages, or agreements or verify accuracy and
I think this has been a good meeting. We both agree then that the annual 5-k walk-
run along the Heritage trail will be our major fundraiser for the year and that
October would be an ideal month. We’ll ask the coach of the women’s crew team
to be the kickoff speaker and her team members to lead the run at 1:30.
When planning an interview, consider which closing technique (or a combination) is
most suitable to close this interaction with this party at this time. Focus on what your
words and actions are saying to the other party at this critical time in the interview.
Your role in an interview and your relationship with the other party may require
some techniques, rule out others, and determine who will initiate the closing and
when. Usually you will combine several verbal and nonverbal techniques into effective
Exercise #3—Interview Closings
How satisfactory is each of the following closings? Consider the interviewing situa-
tion and type, relationship, the techniques used, nonverbal communication, and what is
omitted. How might each be improved? Do not assume each closing is unsatisfactory.
1. This is a recruiting interview for an HR position with a national chain of home
improvement stores. The applicant will soon graduate with a degree in management.
Interviewer: Well, it’s been a productive interview. We appreciate your interest in our
Interviewee: Thank you.
If a subse-
quent inter-
view is
arrange it
Plan the
closing as
carefully as you
do the opening
and body of the
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Structuring the Interview 67
Interviewer: (Looks at notes but not at the applicant) We’ll be in touch. Good luck
with your search.
2. This is an interview with Zach and Marge who are looking for a lakeside cottage to
rent for the summer.
Interviewer: This cottage seems to meet your needs and is a good price for this
area of the lake.
Interviewee: Yes (looking at Marge), well, we need to think about it as we are just
beginning to look around.
Interviewer: Okay.
3. This is a performance review of Darrell Smythe who works as a claims adjuster for an
insurance company.
Interviewer: You’re doing a great job Darrell, just keep in mind some of my sugges-
tions. How’s your son doing on the high school baseball team?
Interviewee: He threw a no hitter last week against Deer Creek.
Interviewer: See you soon.
4. This is an interview between a journalist and a whistle blower who has been working
for a defense contractor developing a new attack aircraft for the Army.
Interviewer: Well (leaning forward and looking at the interviewee), this has been a
very disturbing revelation of the cost overruns being ignored by both the contractor
and the Army. Can I get in touch with you at the same cell phone number?
Interviewee: Yes.
Interviewer: Good. (leaning back) And how long have you known about this?
Interviewee: About 18 months.
5. This is a telephone survey interview being conducted by a survey research organiza-
tion on an upcoming primary election.
Interviewer: That’s all the questions I have.
Interviewee: When will the results be announced?
Interviewer: Why do you ask?
Interviewee: I’m curious about its timing.
This chapter has presented guidelines and tech-
niques for developing effective openings and clos-
ings. Use the Internet to locate sample interviews
on issues such as education, the economy, for-
eign affairs, and medicine. Critique the openings
and closings used in these interviews. Two useful
Internet resources for locating interviews are CNN
( and C-SPAN (http://indycable
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68 Chapter 4
Each part of the interview—opening, body, and closing—is vital to its success. Do not
underestimate the importance of both words and nonverbal actions and reactions during
all three stages. Be conscious of cultural differences that affect the meaning of actions
such as handshaking, eye contact, voice, touch, and gestures.
The opening influences how both parties perceive themselves and one another. It
sets the tone for the remainder of the interview, orients the interviewee, and influences the
willingness of both parties to communicate beyond Level 1. The opening may determine
whether the interview continues. Select opening techniques most appropriate for each
Carefully structure the body with an appropriate sequence that guides the interview-
er’s questions, areas of information, or points systematically and allows the interviewee
to understand where the interview is going and why. A nonscheduled interview is simply
an interview guide with topics and subtopics an interviewer wants to cover. A moderately
scheduled interview contains all major questions and possible probing questions under
each. A highly scheduled interview includes all questions to be asked during an inter-
view. A highly scheduled standardized interview contains all questions to be asked with
prescribed answer options under each. Question sequences allow strategic structuring of
questions within scheduled interviews.
The closing brings the interview to an end and may summarize information, verify
agreements, arrange future contacts, and enhance relationships. A good closing should
make both parties glad they took part and pleased with the results. Be sincere and honest
by not rushing the closing, by making promises and commitments that you can and will
keep, and by making sure both parties are actively involved.
Accidental bias
Built-in interviewer bias
Cause-to-effect sequence
Closing techniques
Combination schedule
Defensive climate
Diamond sequence
Failed departures
False closings
Funnel sequence
Highly scheduled
Highly scheduled
standardized interview
Hourglass sequence
Interview guide
Interview schedules
Inverted funnel sequence
Journalist’s guide
Law of recency
Moderately scheduled
Nonverbal closing actions
Nonverbal communication
Outline sequences
Question sequences
Quintamensional design
Relational uncertainty
Space sequence
Time sequence
Topical sequence
Tunnel sequence
Verbal opening
Key Terms and Concepts
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Structuring the Interview 69
Student Activities
1. Select an interview topic and a person you would choose to interview. Develop the
body of the interview with a carefully phrased and limited purpose. Create an inter-
view guide (beginning with major topics, proceeding to subtopics) and select one
or more outline sequences. Turn your guide into an appropriate question schedule:
moderately scheduled, highly scheduled, or highly scheduled standardized. Deter-
mine which question sequences you would employ.
2. Watch a televised interview of at least 15 minutes in length. How was the interview
opened verbally and nonverbally? How involved was the interviewee? Which type of
schedule did the interviewer employ? Which question sequences did the interviewer
employ? How was the interview closed verbally and nonverbally? How involved was
the interviewee? Rate the effectiveness of each stage of the interview according to
the guidelines presented in this chapter.
3. Watch a televised interview of at least 15 minutes in length. Try to construct an inter-
view guide of topics from this interview. From this guide, see if you can detect one
or more question schedules and question sequences. From your reconstruction of
this interview, what conclusions would you draw about the interviewer’s preparation?
How would you improve the guide and schedule(s)?
4. Make arrangements to interview an experienced interviewer: for example, a journal-
ist, police officer, counselor, recruiter, insurance investigator, fund raiser. Answer these
questions as you prepare for this interview. How will you determine which opening
techniques to use? How will you determine whether to operate from an interview guide
(a nonscheduled interview), or a moderately scheduled, a highly scheduled, or highly
scheduled standardized interview format? How will you determine which closing tech-
niques to use? How will purpose, relationship, situation, and time influence your choices?
1. H. B. Beckman and R. M. Frankel, “The Effect of Physician Behavior on the Collection
of Data,” Annals of Internal Medicine (1984), pp. 692–696.
2. LaRay M. Barna, “Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication,” in Larry A.
Samovar and Richard E. Porter, eds., Intercultural Communication: A Reader
(Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1988), pp. 323–324.
3. Judy C. Pearson, Communication in the Family (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 78.
4. Sarah Trenholm and Arthur Jensen, Interpersonal Communication (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 59.
5. Kory Floyd, Interpersonal Communication: The Whole Story (New York: McGraw-Hill,
2011), p. 188.
6. John Stewart, Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication (New
York: McGraw-Hill, 2009), p. 186.
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70 Chapter 4
7. Lillian Glass, He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap between the
Sexes (New York: Putnam, 1993), pp. 45–59.
8. Mark L. Knapp, Roderick P. Hart, Gustav W. Friedrich, and Gary M. Shulman,
“The Rhetoric of Goodbye: Verbal and Nonverbal Correlates of Human Leave-
Taking,” Speech Monographs 40 (1973), pp. 182–198; John Stewart, Bridges Not Walls
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), p. 153.
9. Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (New York: Basic Books, 1971), p. 88.
Adler, Ronald B., and Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst. Communicating at Work: Principles and
Practices for Business and the Professions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
“Conducting the Information Interview: Module 5: Conducting the Interview,”, accessed April 21, 2009.
Knapp, Mark L., Roderick P. Hart, Gustav W. Friedrich, and Gary M. Shulman. “The Rheto-
ric of Goodbye: Verbal and Nonverbal Correlates of Human Leave-Taking.” Speech
Monographs 40 (1973), pp. 182–198.
Krivonos, Paul D., and Mark L. Knapp. “Initiating Communication: What Do You Say When
You Say Hello?” Central States Speech Journal 26 (1975), pp. 115–125.
Sandberg, Anne. “Build an Interview: Interview Questions and Structured Interviewing,”,
accessed April 21, 2009.
Zunin, Leonard, and Natalie Zunin. Contact: The First Four Minutes. London: Random
House, 1986.
ste70537_ch04_049-070.indd 70 20/12/16 1:57 pm

5C H A P T E R
The informational interview is an every day occurrence for most of us because we employ it to obtain facts, opinions, observations, reactions, feelings, and
attitudes. It is a staple of journalists, recruiters, police officers, attorneys, supervi-
sors, counselors, professors, and students to name a few. Informational interviews
may be as brief and informal as a staff member asking a committee chair when and
where the next meeting is scheduled or as lengthy and formal as a journalist inter-
viewing the President of the United States. The purpose of the informational inter-
view is to obtain relevant information as accurately and completely as possible in the
shortest amount of time.
Asking for information sounds simple, but it requires skillful questioning, listen-
ing, observing, and probing. Unfortunately, few of us, including professional inter-
viewers, are trained in interviewing. Chip Scanlon, author of books and columns on
journalism, writes that “Journalists get little or no training in this vital aspect of their
jobs. Most learn by trial and error.”1 The most effective informational interviewers are
skilled in the basics of interviewing and are curious, friendly, organized, patient, and
The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to the fundamentals of infor-
mational interviews that include the many components of planning the interview, con-
ducting the interview, and performing the roles of interviewer and interviewee.
Planning the Interview
There are no simple formulas or easy short cuts in informational interviewing. Pulitzer-
Prize winning investigative reporter Eric Nalder writes that interviews are as varied as
the conversations we have and the people we talk to.2 Informational interviews require
careful and thorough planning because each is a process “that involves a series of deci-
sions and actions designed to get the best possible information.”3
Formulate Your Purpose
The first critical decision in the planning process is to formulate a purpose that answers
this question: Why am I going to conduct this interview? Craft it carefully because it
determines everything you do and do not do from that moment until the interview is
completed. Your purpose should indicate what information you need (facts, opinions,
observations, feelings, attitudes), how you will use this information (make a decision,
The informa-
tional inter-
view is the
most common
Your purpose
controls how
you prepare for
and what you
do during each
The Informational
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72 Chapter 5
take action, write a report, create a profile, make an arrest), and how soon you need
it (meet today’s publishing or broadcasting deadline, write a weekly report, prepare
an end of semester research paper). Ken Metzler, a long-time professor of journalism,
writes that when you know exactly what you want, “You’re halfway there.”4 With a
clear idea about what you want to learn in this interview, begin your research.
Research the Topic
Research serves five essential functions for informational interviews. First, it reveals
what information is available in other sources. Do not waste interview time asking for
information you can find easily and quickly on Web sites, and in organizational reports,
newspaper files, social media, data bases, archives, reference works, and previous inter-
views. Some journalists recommend that research time should be ten times the inter-
view time.
Second, research may uncover aspects of a topic you might have failed to con-
sider such as personal experiences, unique insights, causes of feelings or attitudes, and
unaddressed or under-appreciated sides of issues. Research prevents you from making
false assumptions and including inaccuracies in questions. Journalist Jaldeep Katwala
warns, “Be sure of your facts. There’s nothing worse than being told you are wrong by
an interviewee—especially when it’s live.”5
Third, research will reveal that much of what you read in books and articles and
access on the Internet and social media is inaccurate or downright false. Exercise dis-
cretion when reviewing the information you discover. Beware of hidden agendas and
political bias that lead to shoddy data and manipulation. Think of the wise saying that
“Statistics don’t lie, but liars make statistics.” Although juries and the public tend to
place great value on eye-witness accounts, they have proven to be highly unreliable.6
How recent is the information you have discovered? Sources may have changed their
minds on critical issues such as educational reform, global warming, same sex mar-
riage, and “illegal” immigration.
Fourth, research enables you to ask insightful and thought-provoking questions
and indicate that you have done your homework. Your level of knowledge along with
understanding and using correctly professional and social jargon, technical terms, and
the respondent’s name, title, and organization establishes credibility with the inter-
viewee and induces this person to answer questions openly and freely. Evidence of your
research also indicates you cannot be fooled easily and motivates the interviewee to
The Internet
and databases
are essential
resources for
Be skeptical of
what you find
on the Internet
and how you
use it.
Show you have
done your
Use the Internet to research your college or one that
you might select as a graduate or professional school.
Focus first on the college or university, then on the
school or college within this larger structure, and
finally on the department. What kinds of information
are readily available? How up-to-date is the informa-
tion? What kinds of information are not included that
you would have to discover through interviews with
faculty or students?
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The Informational Interview 73
respond honestly and in depth. Do
not tell an interviewee what you
know; let your questions and reac-
tions reveal what you know. Resist
the temptation to cram your ques-
tions full of information you have
As you conduct your research,
be sure to make note of possible
areas and subareas of the topic or
issue that will eventually form your
interview guide.
Choose the Interviewee
Your purpose often dictates the
choice of interviewee. If you want
to get more information about an assignment in your Civil War history class, your Civil
War history professor will be your interviewee. If you need to interview the mayor of
your city about his proposal to fund a new soccer stadium, the mayor will be your inter-
viewee. At other times, you will need to choose from among several possible interview-
ees. Use four criteria to aid you in making this often difficult decision.
Level of information: Check each potential interviewee’s level of knowledge by
becoming familiar with the person’s education, training, experiences, positions, and
achievements. Primary sources are those directly involved with the information needed;
support sources are those with connections to primary sources; and expert sources are
those with superior knowledge or skills related to the information needed. For instance,
you may need an interviewee with a high level of expertise such as a first responder at
the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11, or you may want to interview a person
who was on the street near the Trade Center on that fateful morning. Each has a unique
level of information and insights into this tragedy.
Availability: An ideal interviewee may be too busy, reside too far away, be out of
the area until after a deadline, or available only for a few minutes when you need to
conduct an in-depth interview. If distance is a problem, consider the telephone, Skype,
or video conference. Never assume a person is unavailable until you ask. There are
many stories about interviews with high status, famous, and seemingly reclusive people
simply because the interviewer decided to ask or was persistent in asking.
Willingness: If a potential interviewee rejects your request for an interview, try
to discover why. Does this individual mistrust you or your position, organization, or
profession? Has this person been “burned” in previous interviews and is fearful of what
will happen to information after the interview ends? Does the person see the interview
as an invasion of privacy or fear the dredging up of old issues and embarrassing events?
In short, a person may see nothing of value in an interview that warrants the time and
risks involved. Before abandoning a potentially excellent interviewee after gentle per-
suasion, assurances, and mild threats, consider using what Raymond Gorden calls a
key informant who can assist you in securing cooperation.7 A key informant may be
Is there a
person you
must interview?
Does the
person have
the information
you need?
An inter-
viewee may
be too willing
to take part.
Who might
be your key
■ Select interviewees with several criteria in mind.
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74 Chapter 5
an aide, former associate, family member, or friend of the potential interviewee or of
you. On the other hand, be cautious of persons who appear to be too anxious to be
Capability: You must discover if a potential interviewee is capable of giving
information freely and openly. Consider biases and prejudices, inability to tell the truth,
proclivity toward exaggeration or oversimplification, or state of health that may affect a
person’s memory or ability to communicate. An eyewitness or survivor of an accident
or wartime experience may be in a state of shock or have psychologically suppressed
memories of a horrific event. Interviewers are often skeptical or disappointed when
interviewees cannot relate minute details and timing of events that took place decades
ago when most of us cannot recall what we had for dinner last evening. Copywriter
Star Zagofsky writes that “The truth is that some people have a good story to tell on a
subject and others don’t. Some people are naturally talented at being interviewed and
others aren’t.”8 And some are adept at evading questions and phrasing answers that
reveal little or nothing of value. Journalists Eugene Webb and Jerry Salancik say you
should know a “source well enough to be able to know when a distortion is occurring,
from a facial expression that doesn’t correspond to a certain reply.”9 Your often diffi-
cult task is to choose an interviewee who best meets these four criteria.
Examine Your Relationship with the Interviewee
A positive relationship is critical in informational interviews because you will delve into
sensitive areas such as beliefs, attitudes, feelings, values, and information an interviewee
may prefer not to share. Review carefully the relationship that exists between you. Start
with the basics of relationships such as desire to take part in the interview, affection
and respect for another, inclination toward control or dominance, and mutual trust. The
status difference between interviewer and interviewee offers advantages for each party.
When an interviewer is subordinate to an interviewee (student to professor, associ-
ate to manager, vice president to president):
• The interviewer need not be an expert.
• The interviewee will not feel threatened.
• The interviewee will feel freer to speak.
• The interviewee might want to help the interviewer.
When an interviewer is superior to the interviewee (lieutenant to sergeant, CEO to
division head, physician to nurse practitioner):
• The interviewer can control the interview.
• The interviewer can reward the interviewee.
• The interviewee may feel motivated to please the interviewer.
• The interviewee may feel honored to be a participant.
Some organizations give high-status-sounding titles to representatives to enhance their
superior aura: chief correspondent rather than correspondent, vice president instead of
sales director, editor rather than reporter, executive rather than supervisor.
Is this person
able to give
you the
you need?
A person may
be physically or
incapable of
giving informa-
tion accurately.
Status dif-
ference and
similarity may
affect motiva-
tion, freedom
to respond,
control, and
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The Informational Interview 75
When the interviewer is equal to the interviewee (student to student, associate to
associate, researcher to researcher):
• Rapport is easily established.
• There are fewer communication barriers.
• There are fewer pressures.
• A high degree of empathy is possible.
Interviewees often prefer interviewers similar to them in age, gender, race, culture, edu-
cational level, or professional field. For example, a Vietnam War veteran may feel that
only a person of similar age and military experience can understand what it was like
fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. A woman may feel that only a female physician can
understand her health issues. A senior executive of a corporation, a university presi-
dent, or a senior member of Congress may expect a newspaper or television network to
send a correspondent of similar status to them. Interviewees may consider interviewers
of lesser rank to be an affront to their status and importance.
Study the Situation and Location
Consider and weigh variables that may affect your interview. Although it may be ideal
for you to select the timing and location of the interview, they are often not your choice
to make or to make alone.
Sarah Stuteville recommends that you strive to interview in a place that has some
relevance to the story of your subject you’ll have much greater success . . . not only
because you’ll gain a further sense of context” but because “people are often more
comfortable (and open) when they’re in a familiar place or what feels like ‘their ter-
ritory’.”10 A U.S. Senator may specify his office, a defense attorney the courthouse,
a political candidate her campaign headquarters, a mother and father their home. Eric
Nader recommends that the interview location should be mutually beneficial to both
parties. He writes that it is essential to interview people “at the place where they are
doing the thing that you are writing about.” It is important not only to hear answers
but to see and get the feel of things.11 When Nalder was writing a book on oil tankers,
a member of a crew told him that he could not understand crews and life on oil tankers
until he’d been aboard in the Gulf of Alaska during the violent January seas “puking
your guts out.” Nalder took this advice and gained exceptional insights from his experi-
ences and those of his interviewees.
Prepare yourself for each situation to reduce surprises during interviews. Consider
relevant events that have taken place before the interview or will take place follow-
ing the interview: accidents, natural disasters, elections, protests, closing of a manu-
facturing plant. Are you ready for horrific scenes of destruction or filthy conditions,
human suffering or death, cruelty to animals, emotional outbursts, and threats to health
and safety?
Other situational variables include the time you have to prepare for the interview,
deadlines, an individual interview or a press conference, presence of invited or unin-
vited audiences, outside influences on either or both parties, and whether the inter-
view will be broadcast live or recorded. You might prefer comfortable seats facing one
Status is a
critical criterion
for some
Choose the
best possible
Know all there
is to know about
each situation.
Work with the
other party
in choosing
a setting.
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76 Chapter 5
another with no physical barriers between parties, but interviewees may insist on seat-
ing arrangements in which they are in power positions such as behind a large desk or at
the head of a table while you are seated in a powerless position in front of the desk or
down the table.
Structure Your Interview
Now you are ready to structure the interview. Review your notes from your research
that are particularly important to this interview and interviewee and prepare an
interview guide. Your guide may be an elaborate outline, major aspects of an issue, or
key words. The traditional journalistic interview guide consisting of six key words may
become your primary questions for a moderately scheduled interview.
• Who was involved?
• What happened?
• When did it happen?
• Where did it happen?
• How did it happen?
• Why did it happen?
Length, depth, and significance of the interview determine the nature and detail of
your guide. Review the structural sequences in Chapter 4. A chronological sequence
enables you to progress through stories and events that occur in time sequences. A
logical sequence such as cause-to-effect and problem-to-solution is appropriate for
interviews on issues and crises. A space sequence works well when interviewing about
geographical areas, cities, college campuses, and production facilities. If your interview
will be brief, a guide may be sufficient preparation. If it will be more in-depth, create
a moderate schedule that transforms topics and subtopics into primary and secondary
Make your questions open-ended so the interviewee can elaborate on answers and
you can listen, observe, and think of possible probing questions. A moderate schedule
eliminates the necessity of phrasing each question carefully and precisely in the heat
of the interview while providing the flexibility to modify, delete, or add questions as
need or opportunity arises. You may discover aspects of an issue, insights, or surprises
during an interview that warrant modifications or detours from your prepared sched-
ule. Your schedule enables you to pick up where you left off without fear of getting
off track. Thomas Berner recommends that if a question or area of inquiry comes to
mind during an interview, jot it down in the margin of your schedule and come back to
it when appropriate.12 The freedom to adapt and improvise make a moderate schedule
ideal for the informational interview.
Ground rules agreed to or assumed in advance of the interview by both parties
affect questions and answers and ultimately the success of the interview. Each party
expects the other to be honest, to stick to the stated purpose of the interview, and to
allow reasonable time to ask and answer questions. If you have prepared a schedule in
advance, it is not uncommon for an interviewee to request a copy of your questions. As
Create struc-
tural sequences
and schedules
that are flexible.
A moderate
schedule is
ideal for most
Know the
ground rules
and adhere
to them.
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The Informational Interview 77
a general rule, do not do it. If you give your questions to interviewees in advance, they
may insist on modifying some questions and eliminating others. Whenever you agree to
ask only approved questions or those on your schedule, you are prevented from adapt-
ing questions or delving into areas you were unaware of during your preparation. At the
very least, providing questions in advance will affect the spontaneity of the interview.
Establish rules in advance that pertain to which areas may be off-limits, what informa-
tion may and may not be attributed to the interviewee, and which questions may be
answered “off the record.” As a rule, do not accept “retroactive off the record” requests
after an interviewee has answered a question or heard the answer read back or replayed.
Excessive “off the record” demands may make a potential interview unacceptable.
The Interview Opening
Plan the opening of the interview with care because the level of trust and motiva-
tion begins during the first few minutes of the interview. Sarah Stuteville observes
that a successful interview may depend “on a total stranger’s cooperation and par-
ticipation.”13 If the interviewee does not know you, identify yourself, your position,
and your organization. Review the opening techniques discussed in Chapter 4 to
determine which one or which combination is most appropriate for this interviewee
and interview. Does your relationship with the interviewee and the situation warrant
using a person’s first name or a less formal name such as Tom for Thomas or Peggy
for Margaret? Starting an interview with “small talk” is traditional in interviewing,
so prepare the small talk you might engage in without seeming trite, mechanical, or
forced. Realize that busy interviewees may see small talk as a waste of time. Use
humor cautiously. Be sure compliments are sincere. Prepare possible “icebreaker”
questions that are easy to answer and get the interviewee actively involved in the
interview. Plan how you will explain what you wish to learn, why you need this infor-
mation, and how you will use it.
Conducting the Interview
The goal of the informational interview is to get in-depth and insightful information
that only an interviewee can offer. It is essential, then, to get beyond superficial and
safe Level 1 interactions to riskier and deeper Level 2 and Level 3 interactions. You
must motivate an interviewee to disclose beliefs, attitudes, and feelings as well as
unknown facts.
Motivating Interviewees
Motivation starts in the first minutes of the interview, so be careful of everything you
say and do not say, do and do not do, ask and do not ask. The interviewee will size you
up by the way you look, act, and sound. Exhibit respect for the interviewee and show
that you appreciate the person’s time and willingness to be of assistance. Orient the
interviewee as to the purpose and nature of the interview. Strive to make this a profes-
sional, purposeful conversation with all that implies. Ken Metzler recommends replac-
ing the name interview with conversation, talk, discussion, or chat to call it what it is
or should be.
Too many off-
requests may
disqualify an
A carefully
crafted opening
is essential for
motivating the
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78 Chapter 5
Interviewees are likely to communicate beyond Level 1 if you follow the golden
rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule applies to the most
difficult of interview situations. A report about interrogation interviews with insurgents
in Iraq and Afghanistan noted that “the successful interrogators all had one thing in
common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.”14 Parties
communicate freely and accurately if they trust you to react with understanding and
tact, maintain confidences, use the information fairly, and report what they say accu-
rately and completely.
From the opening until the interview ends, show sincere interest in and enthusiasm
for the interviewee, the topic, and answers. Do not reveal how you feel about answers
and issues; remain neutral. Control the interview without interrupting. Look for natural
pauses to probe or to ask new primary questions. Ask questions rather than make state-
ments. Listen not only with your ears but also with your eyes, face, nods, and attentive
posture. Metzler writes, “It’s not the questions you ask that make for a successful inter-
view but the attention you pay to the answers you receive.”
Asking Questions
Although questions are tools of the trade, interviewers tend to ask too many questions,
and this limits their opportunities to listen, observe, and think. All of us have witnessed
or been victims of arrogant interviewers who assume they “are entitled to an answer.”
Such arrogance, not limited by any means to media personalities, led Raymond and
Moen to declare, “You aren’t, after all, paying for the service. You will earn an answer,
if you earn it, by asking a substantial, interesting, and thought-provoking question—
one that implicitly contributes to the experience of the community rather than merely
passively demanding knowledge from others.”15
Ask open questions that encourage interviewees to provide thorough answers that
allow you to listen appropriately (for comprehension, empathy, evaluation, resolution) and
observe the interviewee’s mannerisms, appearance, and nonverbal communication. Listen-
ing and observing may determine the accuracy and relevance of answers and the inter-
viewee’s feelings. A raised eyebrow or a slight hesitancy of a respondent from another
culture, for instance, may signal that you used a slang phrase, colloquialism, or oxymoron
with which this person is unfamiliar.
Be patient and persistent. Do not interrupt a respondent unless the person is
off target, evading a question, or threatens to continue answering forever. Ask a full
range of probing questions. Metzler writes that it’s seldom the first question that gets
to the heart of the matter, it’s the seventh, or maybe 16th question you didn’t know
you were going to ask but have chosen to ask because of your careful, thoughtful
listening.” Silent and nudging probes encourage interviewees to continue or to say
something important about which you did not plan to ask. Informational probes
detect cues in answers and get additional information or explanations. Restatement
probes obtain direct answers. Reflective and mirror questions verify and clarify
answers and check for accuracy and understanding. Clearinghouse probes make
sure you have obtained everything of importance for your story or report. You cannot
plan for every piece of information or insight an interviewee might have. Some jour-
nalists claim that “even if you go into an interview armed with a list of questions, the
Know what
motivates each
Listening is as
important as
Be an active
listener, not a
passive sponge.
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The Informational Interview 79
most important probably will be ones you ask in response to an answer.” If an inter-
viewee says something surprising or reveals a secret, follow this lead to see where it
takes you. Then you can go back to your schedule and continue as planned until the
next lead comes along. Be flexible and understanding when delving into sensitive or
personal areas, and be prepared to back off if an interviewee becomes emotionally
upset or angry.
Persistent probing is essential in informational interviews, but you must know
when to stop. An interviewee may become agitated, confused, or silent if you probe too
far. This exchange occurred between an attorney and a physician:16
Attorney: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
Physician: No.
Attorney: Did you check for blood pressure?
Physician: No.
Attorney: Did you check for breathing?
Physician: No.
Attorney: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
Physician: No.
Attorney: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
Physician: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Attorney: But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?
Physician: It is possible that he could be alive practicing law somewhere.
Be persistent, even relentless, but know when enough probing is enough.
Phrase each question carefully, particularly unplanned probing questions created on
the spot. Review the common question pitfalls discussed in Chapter 3 so you can catch
yourself before stumbling into one. Unintentional bipolar, yes (no), tell me everything,
open-to-closed, guessing, and curious question pitfalls are particularly common in
informational interviews. Make each question brief and to the point, and then give the
interviewee your full attention.
Sometimes you must break the rules to get information you need. It may be nec-
essary to ask an obvious question even when you know the answer, such as “I see
you were in Iran last spring.” Seemingly obvious questions can relax respondents by
getting them to talk about things that are easy to talk about, showing interest in topics
important to them, and revealing that you have done your homework. A leading ques-
tion such as “You surely don’t believe that?” may provoke a respondent into a reveal-
ing interchange. Be cautious when asking leading questions of children. Children
are susceptible to such questions because they “are very attuned to taking cues from
adults and tailoring their answers based on the way questions are worded.”17 Ask a
double-barreled question at a press con ference to get two or three answers because it
may be the only question you get to ask. A bipolar question will produce a yes or no
for the record.
Know when
enough is
All rules are
made to be
broken, but
you must know
when and how.
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80 Chapter 5
Phrase questions carefully to avoid confusion. The following interaction between a
patient and a physician illustrates the dangers of jargon and sound-alike words:
Physician: Have you ever had a history of cardiac arrest in your family?
Patient: We never had no trouble with the police.
Some interviewees answer questions about which they know nothing, rather than
admit ignorance. Others are experts on everything and nothing. Listen to call-in pro-
grams that attract people who make incredibly uninformed or misinformed claims,
accusations, and observations. An interviewee may play funny games, such as this
exchange that took place during an election campaign in New Hampshire:
Reporter: How are you going to vote on Tuesday?
Resident: How am I going to vote? Oh, the usual way. I’m going to take the form they
hand me and put x’s in the appropriate boxes (laughing).
Reporter: (pause) Who are you going to vote for on Tuesday?
Listen to answers to avoid embarrassing yourself. This exchange was between an attor-
ney and a witness:
Attorney: Now, Mrs. Johnson, how was your first marriage terminated?
Witness: By death.
Attorney: And by whose death was it terminated?
Think before asking questions. Ken Metzler recommends avoiding the “how do you
feel about that” question because “It’s the most trite, overused question in American
journalism and sources begin to hate it after time.” Interviewees often respond with
brief answers such as “Okay,” “Not bad,” or “As good as might be expected” that tell
you nothing. It’s a vague answer
to a routine question. Metzler sug-
gests substituting “What were you
thinking when . . . ?” for the “feel”
Note-Taking and Recording
Experts disagree on the extent of
note-taking and the use of electronic
recorders because each can be intru-
sive and unreliable. Use the means
best suited to you, the interviewee,
the situation, and the report you will
prepare. Note-taking or recording
makes it possible to recall figures,
dates, names, times, details, and
quotations accurately.
Know what
you are doing
and why.
Think before
■ Effective note-taking entails maintaining eye contact
as much as possible.
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The Informational Interview 81
Note-taking increases your attention to what is being said and how, and this
shows respondents you are interested in what they are saying and are concerned
about accuracy. William Zinsser writes that this direct involvement enables the inter-
viewee to see you working and doing your job.18 When you take notes according to
the structure of the interview, you have your notes clearly organized when the inter-
view ends and you can easily locate information you need when writing your report
or story.
Note-taking has disadvantages. When respondents speak rapidly, you may be unable
to record exactly what was said. It is difficult to concentrate on questions and answers
and to maintain eye contact while writing notes, so you may fail to hear or probe into an
answer because you are busy writing rather than listening. The interviewee may become
anxious or curious about what you are writing, be reluctant to talk while you are writing
or feel a break in communication while you are focusing on your pad. During an in-depth
interview with a newspaper publisher, one of our students discovered that whenever she
began to write, the interviewee would stop answering until she stopped writing, apparently
to let her catch up. Before long, he arranged his chair so he could see what she was writing.
Follow these guidelines when taking notes during interviews.
• Ask permission to take notes and explain why note-taking is beneficial to each
• Show your notes occasionally to the interviewee to reduce curiosity and anxiety,
check for accuracy, and enable the interviewee to fill in gaps and volunteer
• Maintain eye contact by making note-taking as inconspicuous as possible.
• Use abbreviations or a personal shorthand like when sending text messages.
• Write down only important information, key words, and the gist of some quotes.
• Take notes selectively throughout the interview to avoid signaling that the
interviewee just dropped a “bombshell” quote or causing the interviewee to
become cautious.
• If an interviewee is answering too rapidly, ask the person tactfully to slow down,
or to repeat an answer. Ask a stalling question such as “Tell me more about that”
to give you time to get caught up.
• Immediately following the interview, fill in gaps, check for accuracy and
objectivity, complete abbreviations, and translate your handwriting.
• Review your notes carefully to identify the points, information, and quotations
that are best for your report.
A recorder provides a complete and accurate record of how, when, and what an inter-
viewee says. It enables you to relax, concentrate on what is being said and implied,
and then create effective probing questions. You can hear or watch what was said
and how it was said hours or days afterward.
Weigh care-
fully the pros
and cons of
prior to the
should not
threaten the
while taking
allows inter-
viewers to listen
and probe more
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82 Chapter 5
Unfortunately, recorders can malfunction or prove tricky to use. Batteries can die.
Our students have used recorders during lengthy interviews for class projects only to
discover disks or memory sticks were blank when they tried to review them later. Some
parties view recorders as intruders in interviewing situations and fear the permanent,
undeniable records they produce. It takes time to transcribe and review lengthy record-
ings to locate facts, reactions, and ideal quotes.
Follow these guidelines when recording interviews.
• Reduce interviewee fears and objections by explaining why the recorder is
advantageous to the interviewee, why you want or are required to use a recorder,
how the recording will be used, and offering to turn off the recorder when desired.
• Reduce mechanical difficulties by testing the recorder prior to the interview.
• Be familiar with the recorder and practice with it in a simulated interview setting.
• Research appropriate state laws before using a hidden recorder or recording
interviews over the telephone. The law generally allows one party to record
a second party (no third parties) without permission, but 12 states prohibit
the recording of conversations without the consent of both parties, including
California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan,
Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Twenty-four
states have laws that pertain to the use of hidden cameras. An excellent source
on legal aspects of interviewing is a guide published by the Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press (
• Ask permission before recording an interview to avoid possible lawsuits and to
establish goodwill.
• Set ground rules with the interviewee ahead of time such as wearing a microphone,
having a recorder nearby, looking at the lens of a camera instead of the light,
limiting background noise and interruptions, and speaking loud enough for the
Managing Unique Situations
Three situations affect role relationships and necessitate changes in the ways each party
usually prepares for and participates in interviews. These are the press conference, the
broadcast interview, and the videoconference interview.
The Press Conference
The press conference is unique because several interviewers are involved simultane-
ously and the interviewee determines purpose, subject matter, time, place, length, and
ground rules for the interview. It may be called with little warning and offer minimal
indication about what will be addressed. The interviewee may start with a prepared
statement or presentation and then answer questions. Ground rules may include topics
or issues that are off limits to questioning, and whether answers may be quoted or the
interviewee cited by name.
If you have little notice of a press conference, try to determine from your records
and experiences and contacts with other sources which issue or topic is likely to be
A recorder may
add an intrusive
element to the
Ask permission
before using a
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The Informational Interview 83
addressed and the interviewee’s position. If possible, prepare questions in advance
knowing that some may be irrelevant, declared off limits, or asked by other interview-
ers who are recognized before you. Assess your relationship with the interviewee. If the
person likes and trusts you, you may be chosen to ask the first question or be one of a
few who are recognized during the question period. If your relationship is negative, the
interviewee may refuse to recognize you, give a superficial or hostile response to your
question, or say “No comment” and turn quickly to another interviewer.
Be on time and make yourself visible by sitting as near the interviewee as possible
and in the center so you are likely to be noticed during the question period. Note what
is said and not said in the statement and answers to questions. Your purpose and that of
the interviewee may not only be different but also at odds. The interviewee may want to
use the situation and interview for self-promotion, promotion of a new product, public
relations, free advertising, or to place a positive spin on an issue or action. Your job is
to get to the truth of the matter and to cut through the “smoke and mirrors” presented in
statements and vague generalities, allegations, and unsupported claims in answers. The
interviewee needs you, so this gives you some control of the situation.
Do not be intimidated by the situation or the status of the interviewee. Journalist
Tony Rogers writes that “It’s your job to ask tough questions of the most powerful people
in our society.”19 Once the question period begins, it is likely to be a free-for-all with
raised hands, interviewers jumping to their feet, and shouted questions. When recognized,
ask your most important question first because it may be the only question you get to ask.
Because you will probably be unable to probe into answers, ask a double-barreled ques-
tion to get two answers in one. You may not get to your prepared questions. Listen care-
fully to answers to other interviewers’ questions for valuable information and a follow-up
you might ask. Aim at clarifying and getting new information from these answers. Pro-
tocol may enable the interviewee or a staff member to end the press conference without
warning, perhaps to avoid or escape
unwanted exchanges and issues.
The Broadcast Interview
The broadcast inter view poses
unique challenges to both parties.
It may take place in a field, along
a street, in a studio, or in your
home. The places are endless, and
interviewee and interviewer may
be miles and time zones apart. The
interview may be on a real or figu-
rative stage in which both parties
must engage in “performing” for
outside forces such as live audi-
ences, viewers, and listeners that
may constitute “a three-way interac-
tion.”20 This virtual third party may
lead the interviewer or interviewee
The interviewee
the press
forces influ-
ence broadcast
l V
■ The broadcast interview presents unique problems for
both parties.
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84 Chapter 5
to adapt questions and answers to it. The interviewer needs to attain answers and reac-
tions as well as sound and pictures that play well on the air. The interview may be live,
and anything may happen. There are no “do-overs” in live broadcasting, and interac-
tions may be in full view verbally and nonverbally of those who have tuned in.
Enhance your efficiency and performance and reduce nervousness by practic-
ing in pre-recorded situations that emulate the real thing. Do a thorough debriefing
to determine what you did well and where you need more work. Know who you will
interview, when, and where and by becoming acquainted with the program format
and targeted audience. Be thoroughly familiar with the physical setting, including
seating for interviewer and interviewee, technicians and other support staff, and
audio and video equipment. When possible, test out the equipment. Pay close atten-
tion to the briefing concerning time limits, opening and closing signals, microphone use,
and camera locations.
Assist the interviewee in making the interview a successful interaction. Brief the
person (or persons) in advance. Explain the basics such as wearing a microphone,
having a recorder nearby, looking at you rather than the camera or staff, speaking loud
enough to be heard, and if more than one interviewee is present, the importance of one
person speaking at a time. Caution the interviewee about content or responses that may
produce negative reactions from listeners and viewers.
The “staging” of the broadcast interview is critical to its success. The interviewer
or director determines the framing of shots—whether the interviewer or interviewee
will face the camera left or right, eyelines (interviewee’s eye level with the interview-
er’s), whether shots will be mid-shot or medium close-ups, and whether to select a
sequence of shots. Other decisions involve lighting, props, background (not dark cloth-
ing on a dark backdrop, not an overly busy background), and limiting noise such as
shuffling of papers, heating and cooling systems, bell towers, nearby interactions, and
foot traffic. These decisions make the broadcast interview more complex than a simple
face-to-face interview.
As you conduct a broadcast interview, make it seem that the interviewee is con-
versing only with you by maintaining eye contact and taking limited and necessary
notes. Put the interviewee at ease from the start with some informal conversation before
broadcast begins. Open with easy questions, preferably open-ended ones. Fred Fedler
notes that “the live interview may last no more than seconds or a few minutes and
allows little time to ask challenging questions.”21 Ask questions and do not make state-
ments; your job is to get information, not give it. Know your questions well enough to
ask from memory or a few small cards to make the interview look and sound spontane-
ous and professional. Avoid “dead air space” for any length of time but tolerate silence
that gives the interviewee time to think and answer. Do not jump in too quickly with
another question.
Be persistent in getting at the information you need, but there is a big differ-
ence between tenacity and incivility. Sparks recommends that interviewers should
be aggressive with charm. Some interviewees and their advocates will accuse you of
bias and rudeness.22 Make the interview worthwhile by showing respect and making
your questions relevant and neutral. Pay close attention to the interviewee, and take
a break if you notice signs of fatigue, excessive nervousness, increasing emotions,
confusion, or anger.
Being familiar
with the physi-
cal setting can
eliminate many
Know and play
your role in the
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The Informational Interview 85
Some utterances and actions cannot be broadcast or may be embarrassing, such
as profanities, obscene gestures, poor grammar, too many “uhs,” “you knows,” “know
what I means,” and excessive “blood and gore.” Some newspaper reporters, when
being crowded out by cameras and microphones, have shouted obscenities to shut
down their electronic counterparts and get closer to the action. A state legislator told
one of the authors that he would purposely insert profanities into answers to prevent
reporters from using them on the air.
The Videoconference Interview
Videoconference interviews are becoming quite common and share many similarities
with face-to-face interviews. There are obvious differences, however, so let us focus on
what you need to know and do when taking part in videoconference interviews.
Rule number one when you are planning for a videoconference interview is to
eliminate or minimize distractions. Choose a setting that is uncluttered and void of large
patterns, designs, or colors such as red. Control the movement of others in the back-
ground. Turn off your cell phone. Dress appropriately for the situation while avoiding
plaids, stripes, and white shirts or jackets. Clothing may range from professional busi-
ness attire to casual. Select jewelry that does not make noise or catch light.
As the interview commences, avoid noises such as taping on the desk, moving
papers, or playing with a ball point pen or other objects. These small noises may be loud
and distracting when transmitted electronically. Hesitate slightly before asking or answer-
ing questions to handle the transmission delay in receiving audio and video. Look straight
into the monitor or camera so you appear to maintain eye contact with the other party.
Focus all of your attention on the other party. Avoid excessive or repetitive body motions
or stiffness so you are and appear to be relaxed and enjoying the conversation. Speak
naturally for a conversational interaction. The microphone will pick up your voice so you
need not raise it. Let your voice and face show energy and enthusiasm. Remember to
smile. The other party will focus on your face because it is most visible on the screen.
Managing Difficult Interviewees
Because informational interviewers often probe into emotions, attitudes, reactions, and causes
of actions or inactions, you must be prepared to handle difficult interviewees in difficult situa-
tions. Journalist Wendell Cochran warns, “If we aren’t proficient at asking the right questions
at the right time, we’ll miss on accuracy, fall short on context, and stumble on fairness.”23
Emotional Interviewees
Respondents may burst into tears during interviews, and the problem is not helped if an
interviewer blurts out, “I know just how you feel.” Tactful and sincere reactions such as
the following may help.
It’s okay to cry.
Take your time.
Do you need a few minutes?
Remain silent until a person regains composure and is ready to continue. If you have a
close relationship with an interviewee, you may hold the person’s hand or place an arm
across the shoulders as comforting gestures.
questions gen-
erate spontane-
ous answers.
Silence is often
better than talk
with emotional
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86 Chapter 5
Be sensitive to people who have experienced tragedies by not invading their privacy.
How you broach a sensitive topic at a sensitive time is a serious ethical issue. Report-
ers are notorious for asking thoughtless questions such as, “How do you feel about your
child’s death?” or “Is the family devastated by this tragedy?” John and Denise Bittner
suggest that you ask only direct and necessary questions. “Remember, people in crisis
situations are under a great deal of stress,” they write. “A prolonged interview won’t pro-
vide additional information; it will only upset people.”24
Managing Hostile Interviewees
When encountering a hostile interviewee, try to discover the reason for the hostility. A
person may be angry, depressed, or frightened because of circumstances beyond his or
her control or responsibility, and you are a convenient outlet. Or a person may be hos-
tile toward you because of who and what you are or the organization you represent. A
nondirective approach may reveal the cause.
You appear to be very angry this morning.
You seem upset.
Would you like to talk about it?
There are many ways you can avoid or reduce hostility. Do not invade the oth-
er’s space, make unwarranted demands, or present a threatening physical presence or
manner. Use neutral and open-ended questions. Substitute better-sounding words for
antagonizing ones. Remain silent to permit the interviewee to offer full explanations or
to blow off steam. Go to another topic if the current one is producing a hostile reaction.
Phillip Ault and Edwin Emery offer this simple rule: “Treat the average person
with respect, and he [she] will do the same.”25
Reticent Interviewees
A person may be unable to talk because of a personality trait that has nothing to
do with the interview, and you cannot alter this predisposition. Often, however, a
person is unwilling to talk or reveal much when doing so because of your position
(supervisor, authority, investigator) or your reputation, bad experiences with similar
interviews, risk to self-image or reputation, or a setting in which others can hear what
is taking place.
When interviewing reticent persons, use conversation starters such as asking about
pictures, awards, or arrangement of furnishings in the room. Begin with easy-to-answer
questions on nonthreatening topics. Become less formal. If open questions do not gen-
erate in-depth answers, use closed questions (an inverted question sequence) until the
party is ready to talk. Use silent and nudging probes. Realize that no tactic can get some
reticent people to talk openly and freely; they simply do not talk much.
Talkative Interviewees
Unlike reticent interviewees, talkative interviewees may talk for long periods of time
without seeming to take a breath. They give unending answers to open questions and
lengthy answers to closed questions. Try to avoid awkward interruptions by using non-
verbal signals such as leaning forward, nodding your head, stop note-taking, or glancing
Treat others as
you would like
to be treated.
Large male
may appear
threatening to
Be prepared
for the “silent
talkative per-
sons may be
more difficult
than getting
reticent ones
to open up.
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The Informational Interview 87
at your watch. Phone interviews pose problems because you have few nonverbal signals
to halt answers. The best you may be able to do is use only targeted, closed questions
with less verbal maneuverability and look for natural openings or slight pauses to insert
a question such as:
That’s very interesting, now I was wondering . . .
Speaking of fall break, let me ask you . . .
I’m glad you mentioned that because . . .
Evasive Interviewees
Interviewees often attempt to evade answering questions that probe into feelings or
embarrassing acts, make them take stands, or incriminate them in some way. Evasive
strategies include humor, real or fake hostility, ambiguous words, rambling answers
that avoid the point of questions, and quibbling over key words. An interviewee may
reply to a question with the statement, “It depends on what you mean by. . . .” A
common tactic is to counter a question with a question, or revolve a question onto the
Well, how would you answer that?
What do you think we should do?
Tell me about your private life.
Interviewees answer questions not asked but ones they want to answer. Be persistent in
questioning by
• Repeating or rephrasing questions.
• Laughing and continuing with your questions.
• Going to other questions and coming back to this one later.
• Resorting to leading or loaded questions that evoke meaningful responses.
If you believe an interviewee is being dishonest, listen carefully to determine if
answers square with the facts from your research and previous interviews. Observe non-
verbal cues but be aware that clever respondents know how to appear honest, including
excellent eye contact. Pat Stith writes that when an interviewee “says ‘to be honest’ or
‘to be perfectly candid’ the hair ought to stand up on the back of your neck. Almost
always these phrases are followed by fibs.”26
Two experienced FBI agents, Joe Navarro and John R. Schafer, recommend that
interviewers look for “clusters of behavior, which cumulatively reinforce deceptive
behaviors unique to the person being interviewed.”27 Nonverbal behaviors include
fidgeting feet, increased eye contact, rapidly blinking eyes, leaning away, irregular
breathing, folding arms or interlocking legs to use less space, and lack of gestur-
ing or finger pointing. Verbal cues include what Navarro and Schafer call “text
bridges” such as “I don’t remember,” “The next thing I knew,” and “After that.”
Stalling tactics may include asking an interviewer to repeat a question or using
phrases such as “It depends on what you mean by,” “Where did you hear that,” and
Be tactful and
sensitive in
using nonverbal
Discover why a
person may be
Be patient and
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88 Chapter 5
“Could you be more specific?” As an interviewer, strike a balance between being
gullible and suspicious.
Confused Interviewees
Respondents may become confused because of tension a situation generates, unfamil-
iarity with a topic or issue, the wording of your question, or how you react nonver-
bally. Try to manage confused interviewees without embarrassing or angering them.
Restate or rephrase a question tactfully or return to it later when the interviewee is more
relaxed. Unfamiliar words or technical jargon may be the culprit such as this interaction
between an attorney and a witness.28
Attorney: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which
I sent to your attorney?
Witness: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
Be careful of your nonverbal reactions. Broadcast journalists who get strange responses
rarely exhibit a smile or shock when that happens. They go on to the next question or
topic as if nothing embarrassing has happened.
Dissimilar Interviewees
Our society is becoming ever more diverse, so it is likely that you will interview per-
sons who are highly dissimilar to you in age, gender, race, ethnic group, experiences,
and political, religious, and social beliefs and attitudes. Journalist Wendell Cochran
asks us, “How do you deal fairly with someone whose views are anathema to you?”29
Both interviewers and interviewees may stereotype one another. When one of the
authors was interviewing funeral directors for a book on grief counseling, it became
apparent that several assumed he must be an atheist because he was a college professor.
It is tempting for us to stereotype hyphenated ethnic groups such as Irish-
Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans and expect
them to interact and respond in particular ways during interviews. At the same time,
some ethnic groups have developed ways of interacting with others. Research indicates
that African-Americans prefer indirect questions, consider extensive probing to be intru-
sive, and prefer more frequent and equal turn taking. Mexican-American respondents
rely more on emotion, intuition, and feeling than midwestern European-Americans.
Persons of rural backgrounds value personal know-how, skills, practicality, simplicity,
and self-sufficiency more than those of urban backgrounds. Adapt your questions and
structure to different interviewees and be aware of gender and cultural differences that
may motivate interviewees and explain the answers you receive.
While avoiding stereotyping according to gender and age, be aware of important
characteristics that might affect an interview. Contrary to common assumptions, men
rather than women talk more during and monopolize interactions but also provide mini-
mal answers (yeah, nope, fine, okay). They tend to make direct statements (less beat-
ing around the bush), answer questions with declarations, and get to the point sooner.
On the other hand, women tend to answer questions with questions and be less direct.
Elderly interviewees may be less trusting not because of age but because of experiences
Be understand-
ing, helpful, and
to confused
Gender and
cultural char-
acteristics are
and may not
apply to a
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The Informational Interview 89
and perceived insecurity. The elderly who are retired, live alone, or have few social
interactions may be communication starved and very talkative during interviews.
Closing the Interview
Close the interview when you have the information you need or your allotted time runs
out. If the interviewee has agreed to a 15-minute interview, complete the interview
within this time or prepare to close the interview. The interviewee may grant additional
minutes when you signal your time is up or you obviously need only a few more min-
utes. If the interviewee appears reluctant to expand the time, close the interview posi-
tively and arrange for another appointment.
Begin a closing with a clearinghouse question— such as “Is there anything else you
would like to add?” or “What have I not asked that you think is important?” The most
thoroughly prepared interview may miss something important that did not occur to you
before or during the interview. Express appreciation for the interviewee’s assistance, and
make the closing a dialogue. The interviewee must be an active party from opening
through closing.
Remember, the interview is not over until both parties are out of sight and sound of
one another. An interviewee may relax and be less on guard when the interview appears
to be coming to an end and reveal important information, insights, and feelings, some
of which may alter your understandings and impressions established during the body of
the interview. Journalist Pat Stith writes that “some of the best stuff you’re going to get
will come in the last few minutes, when you’re wrapping up the interview, packing your
stuff, and getting ready to leave.”30 Observe and listen.
Preparing the Report or Story
The final stage is to prepare the report or story. Review the information and observations
obtained through your interviews to see if you have obtained the information necessary
to satisfy your purpose. This means recalling interchanges, reading notes, and listening
or viewing recordings. Sift through words, statements, facts, opinions, and impressions
to locate what is most important to include in a report or story. Check answers with other
sources if there is reason to suspect an interviewee gave inaccurate information.
A critical decision is what to include in your report or story. If the interview or
press conference covers several topics or raises a number of issues, decide if your infor-
mation warrants several stories or one lengthy one that covers everything. Time and
space in your report are key determiners. What is truly important for others to know?
Include important announcements, revelations, allegations, denials, and positions as
well as significant quotations, stories, sound bites, and changes in labels: from acciden-
tal death to murder, explosion to terrorism, etc. Once you know what you have obtained
from the interview stage, editing begins. If the report is a verbatim interview for publi-
cation or dissemination, determine if grammatical errors, mispronounced words, exple-
tives, slang, and vocalized pauses such as “uh” and “you know” should remain. What
about repetitious statements, long and rambling explanations, and simple, unintentional
errors? Readers and listeners may enjoy the account with all of the warts showing, but
Make it a habit
to check all
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90 Chapter 5
both interview parties may be embarrassed and lose credibility and the relationship
damaged beyond repair.
Make sure questions and answers are reported in context, and preface them so
readers and listeners have a clear understanding of each. Include proper qualifiers, and
do not overstate or understate unfairly an interviewee’s opinions, attitudes, intentions,
and commitments. Arrange information in order of importance. Include quotations to
enliven and support your story or report. Follow all ground rules and exclude “off the
record” information, be careful of making assumptions, and check carefully all sources
and reports.
The Interviewee in the Interview
Since all of us are interviewees at least as often as we are interviewers, let us turn our
attention to becoming effective respondents in informational interviews.
Do Your Homework
Thoroughly brief yourself on topics that may come up during the interview, including
recent events, current issues, pending decisions, and relevant laws. What is your con-
nection to these? Check your organization’s policies, positions, and involvements and
understand your authority to speak for your organization. Should you be an interviewee
in this situation?
Become familiar with the interviewer, including age, gender, ethnic group, educa-
tion and training, special interests, and experiences. What are the interviewer’s attitudes
toward you, your organization, your profession, and the topic: friendly or hostile, trust-
ing or suspicious, interested or disinterested. Some interviewers have little to no knowl-
edge or expertise on a topic while others have engineering, management, economics,
law, or science degrees or have developed a high level of expertise on topics such as
energy, stem cell research, or foreign policy. What is the interviewer’s reputation for
fairness and honesty in questioning techniques. Observe the interviewer in action by
watching the person reporting the news, reading reports of interviews, and reviewing
story angles the person likes to take.
When an interview takes place without warning, be sure the opening reveals the
identity of the interviewer, the interviewer’s organization, length of the interview, infor-
mation desired, and how the information is to be used. A thorough opening, including
small talk, orients you and gives you time to think and prepare answers strategically.
Understand the Relationship
Do a thorough analysis of your relationship with the interviewer. What is your rela-
tional history? How similar are you? How willing and eager are each of you to take
part? How much control will you have over the interview? Does each of you perceive
the other to be trustworthy, reliable, and safe? Be aware of the problems that may result
from upward and downward communication because of status differences between you
and the interviewer. For example, where does each of you fit into the hierarchy of an
Be honest, accu-
rate, and fair in
reporting inter-
view results.
Know the
as well as the
knows you.
the impact of
upward and
cation in
the relation-
ship prior to the
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The Informational Interview 91
Know the Situation
Be informed about the interview situation. If it is a broadcast interview, become famil-
iar with the media format and how you might help by providing good visuals. Diana
Pisciotta, an expert in strategic communication, warns that “An appearance on CNBC
or an interview on NPR can help to make or break your company’s reputation.”31 She
suggests that if the interview is not “live,” you should pretend it is because your inter-
view might be picked up by the Internet or other media outlets. There is no substi-
tute for practice, rehearsal, and role playing to prepare you for the broadcast interview.
Dress for the camera; appear to be excited and engaged; be animated because body
language enhances your voice, credibility, expertise, and authority; keep your eyes on
the interviewer rather than the camera.
Consider establishing ground rules such as time, place, length, which topics are off
limits or off the record. Be realistic in demands. If you demand that all important topics
be off limits, there will be no interview. Occasionally you may request to see questions
in advance to prepare well-thought-out answers with accurate and substantial data.
Anticipate Questions
Anticipate questions and think through possible responses. What might be the most
important information to divulge or conceal? How should you qualify answers? What
evidence can you provide for assertions and claims? How might you reply to ques-
tions you cannot answer because of lack of information, need for secrecy, protection of
sources, legal consequences, or organizational policies and constraints?
In this age of litigation and media involvement in every issue, increasing numbers
of interviewees are undergoing training in how to handle questions. Prosecutors, attor-
neys, and aides prepare witnesses and clients (including presidents of the United States
and CEOs) to answer questions in court, congressional hearings, board meetings, and
press conferences. Seek help if you are facing a difficult encounter with a trained and
experienced interviewer.
Listen to Questions
Listen carefully to each question, and follow these guidelines for responding effectively.
Listen and Think before Answering
At scenes of accidents, crimes, or controversies, persons make statements they soon
regret. African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are often accused of crimes they
did not commit because interviewees claimed to see a black or Hispanic man in the
area where a crime took place. Listen carefully to what is being asked. Listen for words
you do not know or may misinterpret. Two pieces of advice are worth taking: Keep it
simple (particularly in broadcast interviews that operate under tight deadlines and think
in terms of 2–3 minute segments and 7-second sound bites) and if you don’t know an
answer, do not try to make something up.
Be Patient
Do not assume you know a question before it is completed. React only after fully hear-
ing and understanding each question. Do not interrupt the interviewer.
Assess the
many situa-
tional vari-
ables that will
impact the
Be as prepared
to answer as
the interviewer
is prepared
to ask.
Fully engage
the brain before
opening the
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92 Chapter 5
Focus Attention on the Question of the Moment
Do not continue to replay a previous answer that is history or anticipate a future ques-
tion because you will fail to hear the current question.
Concentrate on the Interviewer and the Question
Watch for nonverbal signals that complement the verbal and reveal the interviewer’s
feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. Focus eyes and ears on the interviewer. This is particu-
larly important in broadcast interviews that involve several persons, studios, cameras,
monitors, and microphones and field interviews that involve spectators, noise, traffic,
and distracting objects.
Do Not Dismiss a Question Too Quickly as Irrelevant
The interviewer may have a very good reason for asking a question, and it may be one
in a series leading up to a highly important question. An interviewer may be using an
inverted funnel sequence, and you will get an opportunity to respond at length later.
Answer Strategically
A good answer is concise, precise, carefully organized, clearly worded, logical, well
supported, and to the point. There are many strategies for responding to questions.
• Avoid defensiveness or hostility.
—Give answers, not speeches.
—Give reasons and explanations rather than excuses.
—Be polite and tactful in words and manner.
—Use tasteful, appropriate humor.
—Do not reply in kind to a hostile question.
• Share control of the interview.
—Insist on adequate time to answer questions.
—Do not allow the interviewer to “put words in your mouth.”
— Challenge the content of questions that contain unsupported assertions or
inaccurate data or quotations.
— If a question is multiple-choice, be sure the choices are fair and include all
reasonable options.
— Ask interviewers to rephrase or repeat long, complicated, or unclear questions.
—Answer a question with a question.
—Search reflective and mirror questions for accuracy and completeness.
• Explain what you are doing and why.
—Preface a lengthy answer by explaining why it must be so.
—Preface an answer by explaining why a question is tough or tricky.
— Provide a substantial explanation why you must refuse to answer a question or
simply say “No comment.”
hostile reduces
you to the
level of the
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The Informational Interview 93
— Rephrase a question: “If what you’re asking is . . .” or “You seem to be
implying that . . .”
• Take advantage of question pitfalls.
— Reply to the portion of a double-barreled question you remember and can
answer most effectively.
—Answer a bipolar question with a simple yes or no, when it suits you.
— Reply to the open or closed portion of an open-to-closed switch question that
is to your advantage.
• Avoid common question traps.
— If a question is leading, such as “Don’t you agree that . . . ,” do not be led to
the suggested answer.
— If a question is loaded, such as “Are you still cheating on your exams?,” be
aware that either a yes or a no will make you guilty.
— If an apparent bipolar question offers two disagreeable choices, such as “Did you
go into medicine for the prestige or for the money,” answer with a third option.
— Watch for the yes-no pitfall, such as “Do you want to die?” and answer or
refuse to answer politely.
• Support your answers.
—Use stories and examples to illustrate points.
— Use analogies and metaphors to explain unknown or complicated things,
procedures, and concepts.
— Organize long answers like mini-speeches with an introduction, body, and
• Open your answers positively. The authors of Journalistic Interviews: Theories
of the Interview offer these examples of interviewee responses:32
Negative Positive
You failed to notice May I point out
You neglected to mention We can also consider x, y, z
You overlooked the fact One additional fact to consider
You missed the point From another perspective
You are involved in informational interviews nearly every day, sometimes as interviewers
and sometimes as interviewees. Be prepared for either role. Length and formality vary,
but the purpose and method are the same: to get needed information as accurately and
completely as possible in the shortest amount of time. The means are careful question-
ing, listening, observing, and probing. The interviewer must remain flexible and adapt to
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94 Chapter 5
each interviewee, situation, and response. This chapter has presented guidelines for struc-
tured informational interviews that call for thorough preparation and flexibility. The nature
of each stage depends upon the situation and the relationship between the interviewer
and interviewee.
Interviewees should be active participants in informational interviews. When given
advance notice, interviewees should prepare thoroughly. They should share control with
the interviewer and not submit meekly to whatever is asked or demanded. And they
should know the principles and strategies of effective answers. Good listening is essential.
Key Terms and Concepts
Broadcast interview
Confused interviewees
Dissimilar interviewees
Emotional interviewees
Evasive interviewees
False assumptions
Hostile interviewees
Icebreaker questions
Key informants
Metaphorical questions
Off the record
Press conference
Reticent interviewees
Status difference
Strategic answers
Talkative interviewees
Probing Role-Playing Cases
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Seeking Disability
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently discovered that a staggering 45 percent of mili-
tary veterans returning from duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were seeking compen-
sation for service-related injuries. In addition, they are claiming as many as 11 to 14 ailments
compared to fewer than four on average for World War II and Korea. You are a broadcast
journalist interested in developing a series of reports on invisible veterans of the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan and have made appointments with four physicians at a veteran’s hospital
to learn more about the nature and severity of these ailments, why the number is so high for
these two most recent wars, the causes of these ailments, and ways these ailments can be
reduced for future combat veterans.
A Career in the Commercial Space Industry
You entered a university studying aeronautical and astronautical engineering the year
the space shuttles were retired and NASA shuttered many of its space launch facilities
in Florida. During your sophomore year, the first commercial rocket sent a commercial
vehicle to the international space station to take needed supplies and return with worn-
out and no longer needed equipment. In addition, all astronauts sent to and returned
from the station now ride on Russian vehicles. You are going to interview two profes-
sors and two Ph.D. students in your major about future careers in the space program.
The interviews will take place in the interviewees’ offices at the university.
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The Informational Interview 95
Political Campaign Directors
You are majoring in political science and have an interest in entering politics in the
future, first at the local level. You want to discover what it is like running for political
office at three levels: local (mayor or city council), regional (state or national represen-
tative), and state (governor, U.S. Senate). Specific concerns are funding, party support,
getting nominated, conducting a campaign, working with the ever-present media, and
the use of the Internet and social media. You have made arrangements through key
informants to interview three persons who have managed local, regional, and state
political campaigns.
Surviving Summer before Air Conditioning
Every year in July and August, you hear weather reports about how hot it was in
the Midwest during the summers of 1936 and 1937. Most high temperature records
were set in these two years before there was air conditioning. You’ve heard your
grandparents born in these years talk about how many infants died shortly after
birth and how the hospitals tried to cope with temperatures in the 100s. For an oral
history project in a library science class, you have decided to interview four per-
sons who experienced these conditions as teenagers or young adults to discover the
problems they encountered, how they managed to work and sleep, and what they
did to try to stay as cool as possible. The interviews will take place in a lounge area
of a retirement facility.
Student Activities
1. Select a 20- to 30-minute interview from C-SPAN. Study it carefully to see if you can
detect an interview guide of planned major points and sub-points. How were these
points turned into questions during the interview? How effectively did the inter-
viewer employ probing questions when needed? How well did the interviewer avoid
common question pitfalls? Which techniques did the interviewer use in the opening,
and which did the interviewer use in the closing? How did the interviewer involve the
interviewee in the opening and closing?
2. Interview a newspaper journalist and a broadcast journalist about their interviewing
experiences and techniques. How does the nature of the medium affect interviewers
and interviewees? How does the medium affect interview structure, questioning tech-
niques, and note-taking? What advice do they give about note-taking and recording
interviews? How do the end products differ? What constraints does each medium
place on interviewers?
3. Record a televised press conference in which one person is answering questions
from several interviewers. How is this situation similar to and different from one-on-
one interviews? What stated or implied rules governed this interview? What skills are
required of interviewers and interviewee? How did the interviewee recognize inter-
viewers? What answering strategies did the interviewee use? What questioning
strategies did interviewers use?
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96 Chapter 5
4. A growing number of interviewers are turning to the Internet to conduct probing inter-
views. Develop a moderately scheduled 20-minute interview on a topic that will require
fairly lengthy answers and then conduct one face-to-face interview and one employing
Skype. Identify the advantages and disadvantages of each with respect to relation-
ship building, communication interactions, depth of answers, self-disclosure, probing
questions, spontaneity, and ability or inability to observe and hear the interviewee’s
1. Bob Steele, “Interviewing: The Ignored Skill,”
.asp?id=36&aid=37661, accessed September 25, 2006.
2. Eric Nalder, Newspaper Interviewing Techniques, Regional Reporters Association
meeting at the National Press Club, March 28, 1994, The C-SPAN Networks (West
Lafayette, IN: Public Affairs Video Archives, 1994).
3. Steele.
4. Ken Metzler, “Tips for Interviewing,”
/interview.htm, accessed September 26, 2006.
5. Jaldeep Katwala, “20 Interviewing Tips for Journalists,” http://www.mediahelpingmedia
accessed May 7, 2012.
6. Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lillenfeld, “Why Science Tell Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness
Accounts,” Scientific American,
-it, accessed September 8, 2015.
7. Raymond L. Gorden, Interviewing: Strategy, Techniques, and Tactics (Homewood, IL:
Dorsey Press, 1980), p. 235.
8. David Sparks, “30 Tips on How to Interview like a Journalist,” http://www.sparkminute
.com/2011/11/07/30-tips-on-how-to-interview-like-a-journalist, accessed May 11, 2012.
9. Eugene C. Webb and Jerry R. Salancik, “The Interview or the Only Wheel in Town,”
Journalism Monographs 2 (1966), p. 18.
10. Sara Stuteville, “13 Simple Journalist Techniques for Effective Interviews,” http://,
accessed May 7, 2012.
11. Nalder.
12. R. Thomas Berner, The Process of Writing News (Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1992),
p. 123.
13. Stuteville.
14. Stephen Budiansky, “Truth Extraction,” The Atlantic Monthly, June 2005, 32.
15. Eric Steven Raymond and Rick Moen, “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way,” http://, accessed September 26, 2006.
16. Originally cited in The Point of View, a publication of the Alameda District Attorney’s
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The Informational Interview 97
17. “Leading Questions,”
-questions.html, accessed October 4, 2006.
18. William Zinsser, On Writing Well (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), p. 70.
19. Tony Rogers, “Tips for Taking Good Notes,” http://journalism, accessed May 21, 2012.
20. “Interview Structure,”,
accessed October 4, 2006.
21. Fred Fedler, John R. Bender, Lucinda Davenport, and Paul E. Kostyu, Reporting for
the Media (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1997), p. 227.
22. Bill Marimow, “Delicate Art of the Interview: Civility vs. Tenacity,”
/templates/story/story/php?storyId=6438613, accessed May 23, 2012.
23. Reporter and editor Wendell Cochran in Steele.
24. John R. Bittner and Denise A. Bittner, Radio Journalism (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice Hall, 1977), p. 53.
25. Phillip H. Alt and Edwin Emery, Reporting the News (New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co.,
1959), p. 125.
26. Pat Stith, Getting Good Stories: Interviewing with Finesse (ProQuest Research Library,
April 24, 2004), p. 2.
27. Joe Navarro and John R. Schafer, “Detecting Deception,” FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin, July 2001, pp. 9–13, accessed on the Internet, July 20, 2009.
28. William T. G. Litant, “And, Were You Present When Your Picture Was Taken?”
Lawyer’s Journal (Massachusetts Bar Association), May 1996.
29. Steele.
30. Pat Stith, Getting Good Stories: Interviewing with Finesse (ProQuest Research Library,
April 24, 2004), p. 2.
31. Diana Pisciotta, “How to Prepare for a Broadcast Interview,”
/guides/2010/05/preparing-for-the-broadcast-interview.html, accessed May 21, 2012.
32. “EE’s Perspective,”
%20Lectures/Journalistic%20Interviewsppt, accessed October 4, 2006.
Adams, Sally, Wynford Hicks, and Harriett Gilbert. Interviewing for Journalists. Florence,
KY: Routledge, 2008.
Heritage, John. “Designing Questions and Setting Agendas in the News Interview,” in
Studies in Language and Social Interaction, Philip Glenn, Curtis LeBarob, and Jenny
Mandelbaum, eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002.
Metzler, Ken. “Tips for Interviewing,”
Rich, Carole. Writing and Reporting News: A Coaching Method. Belmont, CA: Thomson
/Wadsworth, 2012.
Synge, Dan. The Survival Guide to Journalism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.
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The Survey Interview6
The frequency of surveys in our society has escalated to epic proportions with the introduction of the Internet. Research indicates that adults are asked to take part
in surveys seven billion times each year.1 As the number of surveys has increased, so
has the unwillingness to participate. The objectives of this chapter are to provide
guidelines for preparing, conducting, and evaluating survey results and to make survey
interviews worthwhile for both parties.
In Chapter 5, we discussed the informational interview in which flexibility and
adaptability are essential characteristics This chapter focuses on the survey interview
in which reliability (assurance that the same types of information are collected in
repeated interviews) and replicability (the duplication of interviews from respondent
to respondent) are essential characteristics and interviewers operate from meticulously
planned and highly structured interviews.
Purpose and Research
The essential first step in preparing a survey interview is to determine a precise pur-
pose that indicates the information you need to discover and how you will use this
information. If you want to explore issues, ideas, behaviors, perspectives, and motiva-
tions in depth, you may want to conduct a qualitative survey in which you will present
your findings in narrative form in which words are critical. If you want to determine
frequencies of behaviors, degrees of feelings, consensus of opinions or attitudes, and
make predictions or strategic decisions, you may want to conduct a quantitative survey
in which you will present findings in numbers and percentages.
Time is often a critical factor in determining your purpose. For instance, if you
must conduct a survey and prepare results literally overnight, your survey must be brief
and highly focused. If you have weeks or months, your survey may be lengthy, range
over several issues, and be conducted face-to-face rather than electronically. A cross-
sectional survey takes a slice of feelings, attitudes, and thoughts during a narrow time
span such as a day or so after an event, political debate, or disaster. A longitudinal
survey determines trends or changes in feelings, attitudes, or thoughts over time such
as months or years.
Once you have delineated a precise and clear purpose, become an expert on the
topic or issue. Investigate its past, present, and future and proposed or attempted solu-
tions. Review previous surveys, coverage on the Internet and in newspapers, published
interviews are
neither flexible
nor adaptable.
have multiple
Don’t assume
of a topic.
studies reveal
trends and
changes over
“Surveys reach
out and touch
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100 Chapter 6
research, books, archives, and interviews. Talk to people who have been involved
directly or indirectly or who have studied the topic or issue. Become familiar with
important terminology and technical concepts. Your research will determine areas you
want to explore, the complexities of the topic or issue, and inaccuracies in responses to
your questions.
Structuring the Interview
After you have delineated a precise purpose and completed your research, develop a
highly structured interview.
Interview Guide and Schedule
An interview guide is essential for survey interviews because it dictates the topics and
subtopics you will cover and primary and probing questions to be asked. Review care-
fully the suggestions for creating interview guides in Chapter 4.
Begin your interview guide by listing major areas. For example, if you are going
to survey residents on a proposed soccer stadium on the site of a former high school
near the center of town, major topics might include need, use of the facility, cost, fund-
ing, taxes, location, traffic, parking, and noise. If you are going to conduct a qualita-
tive survey, develop a highly scheduled interview that includes open-ended questions,
planned probes, and the possibility of unplanned probes that depend upon interviewee
responses. The flexibility in questioning enables you to adapt and probe. The traditional
interview guide (who, what, when, where, how, and why) is adaptable to qualitative
surveys but requires a more detailed guide and schedule to ensure complete coverage of
a topic or issue.
If you are conducting a quantitative survey, your questions must elicit answers
that are easy to record, tabulate, and analyze. The flexibility and adaptability of the
qualitative survey may lead to difficulties in coding and tabulation of results.
The Opening
Since the number of surveys has proliferated in recent years and many so-called sur-
veys are not surveys at all but clever sales, political messages, or frauds, “there has
been a markedly negative shift in attitudes toward public opinion researchers and polls
Don’t waste
time learn-
ing what you
already know.
A detailed
guide is easily
into a scheduled
is essential for
Select a current international issue and do back-
ground research through the Internet. Use at least
three different search engines, such as the United
Nations (, International Forum
on Globalism (, global engi-
neer ing (
/fpso11598.html). What types of information did you
discover? What information is unavailable on the
Internet? What does the search suggest for a survey
on this issue: subtopics, areas of conflict, differing
views of experts, public opinion, history of the issue,
current developments?
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The Survey Interview 101
across several dimensions” since the mid-1990s.2 Craft your opening with care to avoid
knee-jerk reactions from potential respondents. Although “each interview is unique,
like a small work of art . . . with its own ebb and flow . . . , a mini-drama that involves
real lives in real time,”3 each respondent must go through as identical an interview as
possible. A typical opening includes a greeting, name of the interviewer, the organiza-
tion conducting the survey, subject matter of the interview, purpose, amount of time
the survey will take, and assurance of confidentiality. Encourage interviewers to state
the opening verbatim without reading it or sounding stilted. You may allow skilled
interviewers to create their own openings as long as each opening includes all of the
elements you have stipulated. The following is a standardized opening for a survey and
includes a qualifier question.
Good afternoon. I’m _______________________. The Department of Natural
Resources has hired my firm to conduct a survey of residents of North Carolina who
have purchased a trout fishing license during the past five years to determine how
it can promote trout fishing while maintaining the adult population of trout on our
streams and safeguarding the rights of landowners. This survey will take only ten
minutes and your answers will be strictly confidential. (GO TO THE FIRST QUESTION.)
1. How frequently do you go trout fishing in North Carolina streams? (If the
answer is less than one time a year, place an x by answer 1.1 and terminate
the interview. If the answer is 3 or more times a year, go to Q.2.)
1.1 ____ less than one time a year
1.2 ____ 1–2 times a year
1.3 ____ 3–4 times a year
1.4 ____ 5–6 times a year
1.5 ____ 7 or more times a year
This opening identifies the interviewer and organization and states a general pur-
pose and length of the interview. The interviewee is not asked to respond. The inter-
viewer moves smoothly and quickly from orientation to the first question without
giving the respondent an opportunity to refuse to take part. The first question deter-
mines the interviewee’s qualifications. Respondents must trout fish on North Carolina’s
streams at least one time a year. The schedule provides instructions for the interviewer
to follow and has precoded the question for ease of tabulating results.
An opening may not identify the group that is paying for it (a political candidate,
a pharmaceutical company, special interest group, for instance) or the specific purpose
(to determine which strategies to employ during a political, advertising, or lobbying
campaign) because such information might influence how interviewees respond. When
a newspaper such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, a cable or television
network such as CBS or CNN, or a well-known polling group such as Harris or Gallup
conducts a survey, the organization’s name is used to enhance the prestige of the poll
and the interviewer and motivate respondents to cooperate. Interviewers may have to
show identification badges or letters that introduce them and establish their legitimacy
as survey takers.
There are no
questions or
small talk in
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102 Chapter 6
The quality of survey results depends on response rates, so creators of surveys have
increasingly focused on incentives ranging from simple assurances to prepaid monetary
offers as high as $40 per interview. Incentives come during the opening minutes of
the interview to motivate a contact to take part. The higher the financial incentive the
greater the likelihood of participation; even token incentives may improve response
rates.4 Nonmonetary incentives include emphasizing how interviewees might benefit
personally from the study, stressing the civic obligation to help others and to be active
citizens, and assuring privacy and confidentiality. Some survey researchers are con-
cerned that emphasis on incentives may persuade some persons to take part to their
The Closing
The closing should be brief and express appreciation for the time and assistance with
the survey. For example:
That’s all the questions I have. Thank you very much for your help.
If the survey organizer wants a respondent’s telephone number to verify that a valid
interview took place, the closing might be:
That’s all the questions I have. May I have your telephone number so my supervisor
can check to see if this interview was conducted in the prescribed manner? (gets
the number) Thank you very much for your help.
If you can provide respondents with results of a survey, a common practice in research
interviews, the closing might be:
That’s all the questions I have. Thank you for your help, and if you’ll give me your
e-mail address, I’ll be sure that you receive a copy of the results of this study. (gets
the address) Thanks again for your help.
If interviewees are anxious, suspicious, or very reluctant to give their phone num-
bers or e-mail addresses, consider backing off such requests if you have the authority to
do so or discuss the issue with your survey supervisor. Try to avoid compromising the
rapport and goodwill you created during interviews.
Respondents may be curious about a survey or interested in the topic and want
to discuss it. This can be a good relationship builder and motivator for taking part in
future surveys, but do so only if time permits, the interviewee will have no opportunity
to talk to future interviewees, and the survey organization has no objections.
Survey Questions
Craft each question carefully because you cannot rephrase, explain, or expand on ques-
tions during interviews without risking your ability to replicate interviews, an essential
element of surveys. In quantitative surveys, all question phrasing and strategic deci-
sions are made in the planning stage; none on the spot. In qualitative surveys, all pri-
mary questions and most probing questions are planned ahead of time.
cannot make
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The Survey Interview 103
Phrasing Questions
All interviewees must hear the same questions asked in the same phrasing and manner.
The slightest change in wording, vocal emphasis on a word, or facial expression may
generate a different answer. This is critical in survey interviews because you must strive
for replicability to achieve reliability. For example, in a religious survey, interviewers
asked one set of respondents, “Is it okay to smoke while praying?” Over 90 percent
responded “No.” When they asked another set of respondents, “Is it okay to pray while
smoking?” over 90 percent replied “Yes.” Although these questions appear to be the
same, respondents interpreted them differently. The first sounded sacrilegious, lighting
up while praying. The second sounded like a good idea, maybe even necessary. Recall
the discussion of why questions in Chapter 3 that illustrated how emphasis may change
the focus and meaning of questions.
A single word may alter significantly how people respond to a question, and
alter the results of a survey. Researchers asked the following question to one group of
“Do you think the United States should allow public speeches against democracy?”
The results were “should allow” 21 percent and “should not allow” 62 percent. Then
these researchers substituted a single word and asked respondents:
“Do you think the United States should forbid public speeches against democracy?”
The results were “should not forbid” 39 percent and “should forbid” 46 percent.6
Respondents viewed the word “forbid” as stronger and more dangerous than “not
allow”—perhaps un-American—even though the effect of the governmental policy
would be the same.
Researchers have compared attempts to measure attitudes and beliefs in survey
interviews that employed ambiguous questions such as “Some people think that” and
“Other people think that” with interviews that asked direct questions. Validity was
higher when using direct questions that presented response options and that ambigu-
ously phrased questions took longer to ask and answer.7 Make each question clear, rel-
evant, appropriate to the respondent’s level of knowledge, neither too complex nor too
simple, neutral, and socially and psychologically accessible. This is not a simple task
when respondents may differ widely in culture, age, income level, education, intelli-
gence, occupation, geographical area, and experiences. The increasing diversity of pop-
ulations may result in your target population representing widely diverse continents,
cultures, and nations. Be careful when using formal names or acronyms for persons or
organizations with which your interviewees may not be familiar. Persons of different
cultures may be fluent in English but be confounded by abbreviations, colloquialisms,
aphorisms, jargon, euphemisms, and slang. Avoid ambiguous words and phrases such
as a lot, often, much, and large school.
Avoid phrasing questions negatively because they can be misleading and confusing.
For instance, Jack Edwards and Marie Thomas note that “a negative answer to a negatively
worded statement may not be equivalent to the positive answer to a positively worded
statement.”8 Even the explanation sounds confusing. They give this example: “Disagree-
ing with the statement ‘My work is not meaningful’ does not necessarily mean that the
Every word in
every question
may influence
Adapt phrasing
to all members
of a target pop-
Be wary of neg-
atively phrased
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104 Chapter 6
same individual would have agreed with the statement ‘My work is meaningful.’ ” Forcing
a respondent to disagree with a negative statement can be confusing. Think of the diffi-
culties you have had with negatively phrased multiple-choice questions in examinations.
Respondents may fail to hear the word “not” or qualifiers in a question.
Sample Question Development
Your questions will evolve as you develop your survey schedule. Here is how a question
concerning texting while driving might evolve.
How do you feel about the government-imposed law against texting while driving?
Take a close look at this seemingly neutral question. “Government-imposed” may
bias results because it will sound tyrannical or unconstitutional to some respondents.
The ambiguity of the word “feel” may result in a wide range of answers, some positive
such as “I feel safer with this law” or “I’m generally for it” and some negative such as
“It’s another effort by big government to violate my constitutional rights” and “Angry.”
It invites lengthy answers for or against that will create a coding nightmare.
Try a second version that closes up the question and eliminates “government-
imposed” that may invite highly charged negative reactions.
Are you for, against, or have no feelings about the law against texting while driving?”
_____ for
_____ against
_____ no feelings
This version eliminates the potential bias of the first while resolving potential recording
problems, but it may be too closed. Interviewees may not be simply for or against the
law or believe there should be exceptions or qualifications. Intensity of feelings is not
accounted for.
Develop a third version such as the following:
2. Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the state
law against texting while driving?
2.1   strongly agree
2.2 agree
2.3 disagree
2.4 strongly disagree
2.5 undecided (Do not provide unless requested.)
2.6 Why?
(Ask only of respondents choosing strongly agree or strongly disagree.)
This version assesses intensity of feelings, is easy to record and code, leaves undecided as
an unstated option, provides instructions for interviewers, and includes a built-in second-
ary “Why” question to discover reasons for strong approval or strong disapproval. Those
with moderate responses tend not to have ready explanations for agreeing or disagreeing,
approving or disapproving, liking or disliking. They just have that general feeling.
recording of
answers in mind
when phrasing
Build in
questions for
level, and
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The Survey Interview 105
Work with each question until it is worded to obtain the information needed. Care-
ful phrasing avoids confusion and inaccurate results. Later we will address the pretest-
ing of surveys to detect potential problems with questions.
Probing Questions
Probing questions are less frequent and usually planned in survey interviews. For
instance, if a respondent gives an unclear answer, you might ask, “What do you mean
by that?” “How do you mean that?” or “What I hear you saying is . . . ; is this what
you meant to say?” If a respondent provides a very brief answer or appears reluctant
to elaborate, use a silent probe, a nudging probe such as “Uh-huh,” or an informational
probe such as, “Tell me more about. . . .” If you are unsure a respondent has told you
everything of relevance to a question, use a clearinghouse probe such as, “Anything
else?” Remember to record probing questions and answers carefully, clearly, and accu-
rately for later tabulation and analysis.
Your goal is to perform nearly identical survey interviews over and over. On-
the-spot probing may result in interviewer bias if you or other interviewers phrase
questions verbally or nonverbally in ways that suggest the answers preferred or lead
respondents to provide different answers. If some interviewers ask probing questions
and others do not, the amount and type of information attained will differ significantly
from one interview to the next. The result is unreliable data or data that is impossible to
tabulate and analyze with confidence.
Question Strategies
Five question strategies enable interviewers to assess knowledge level, honesty, and
consistency; reduce undecided answers; prevent order bias; and incorporate probing
Filter Strategy
Interviewer: Are you familiar with the legislature’s proposed increase in state funding
for highways?
Interviewee: Yes I am.
Interviewer: What is the proposal as you understand it?
If an interviewee says no, you go to the next question. If the interviewee says yes, you
ask the interviewee to reveal the extent and accuracy of knowledge. The follow-up
question may reveal confusion or misinformation. Interviewees may say yes to bipolar
questions when they have no idea what the interviewer is talking about to avoid appear-
ing uninformed.
Repeat Strategy
The repeat strategy enables you to determine if an interviewee is consistent in
responses on a topic, particularly a controversial one. You may ask the same question
several minutes apart and compare answers for consistency or disguise the question by
rephrasing it slightly.
Don’t take “yes”
as the final
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106 Chapter 6
6. Do you limit the time your children can play electronic games at home?
6.1  ____Yes
14. Do you control the time your children can play electronic games at home?
14.1   ____Yes
Another example of a repeat strategy is to go from a moderately closed to a highly
closed question.
11. How often during a week do you watch a network evening news program?
20. I am going to read a list of how frequently you watch a network evening
news program. Stop me when I read the frequency that reflects your viewing
20.1  ____less than once a week
20.2____1–2 times a week
20.3 ____3–4 times a week
20.4 ____5–6 times a week
20.5____7 times a week
Do not make the repetition too obvious or similar and be sure the rewording does not
change the intent of the initial question.
Leaning Question Strategy
Respondents may be reluctant to take stands or reveal intentions. Employ a leaning
question, not to be confused with a leading question, to reduce the number of “unde-
cided” and “don’t know” answers. The following is a typical leaning question strategy.
9a. Do you plan to vote for or against the gay rights bill being debated in the
General Assembly? (If undecided, ask Q.9b.)
____ for
____ against
____ undecided
9b. Which way are you leaning today?
____ for
____ against
____ undecided
The “undecided” option remains in question 9b because an interviewee may be truly unde-
cided. A variation of the leaning question is, “Well, if you had to vote today, how would
you vote?” “Undecided” and “don’t know” options may invite large percentages of these
answers, but some sources recommend that you always include “don’t know” or “not appli-
cable” answer options in questions, unless all interviewees will have a definite answer, to
reduce interviewee frustration and provide the most honest and accurate answers.9
questions must
be essentially
the same to
consistency in
to take a stand
or make a
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The Survey Interview 107
Shuffle Strategy
The order of answer options may affect interviewee responses. Research indicates that
last choices in questions tend to get negative or superficial evaluations because inter-
viewees get tired or bored. Interviewees may select an option because it is the first men-
tioned or the last heard. The shuffle strategy varies the order of answer options from
one interview to the next to prevent order bias. The method of rotation is explained
when training interviewers. Notice the built-in instructions in the following example:
Now, I’m going to read you a list of the five leading fast food chains by sales volume
in the United States. I want you to tell me if you have a highly favorable, favorable,
neutral, unfavorable, or highly unfavorable attitude toward each. (Rotate the order
of the fast food chains from interview to interview. Encircle answers received.)
Highly Highly
Favorable Favorable Neutral Unfavorable Unfavorable
McDonalds 5 4 3 2 1
Subway 5 4 3 2 1
Burger King 5 4 3 2 1
Wendy’s 5 4 3 2 1
Taco Bell 5 4 3 2 1
Potential order bias has resulted in strange events in political, persuasive, and advertis-
ing surveys. A political candidate in Indiana changed his name legally so it would begin
with A. This placed him at the top of the ballot on election day, the belief being that
voters select the top names in lists of candidates. He lost, but his and similar actions
have led states to shuffle names on ballots.
Chain or Contingency Strategy
The chain or contingency strategy enables the survey interviewer to include pre-
planned probing questions in highly scheduled and highly standardized formats. You
can probe into answers while maintaining control and replicating interviews from one
respondent to the next. Notice the built-in instructions and precoding for ease of record-
ing answers and tabulating data.
1a. During the past month, have you received any free samples of breakfast
Yes _____ 1—ASK Q. 1b.
No _____ 2—ASK Q. 2a.
1b. Which breakfast cereal did you receive?
Cheerios ____ 1
Frosted Flakes ____ 2
Order bias is
both fact and
All probing
questions in
surveys are
included in the
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108 Chapter 6
Special K ____ 3
Great Grains ____ 4
Shredded Wheat ____ 5
TO Q. 1d.)
Did you receive a free sample of Great Grains?
Yes ____ 1—ASK Q. 1d.
No ____ 2—SKIP to Q. 2a.
1d. Did you use the free sample of Great Grains?
Yes ____ 1—SKIP to Q. 2a.
No ____ 2—ASK Q. 1e.
1e. Why didn’t you use the free sample of Great Grains?
__________________ ____________________ ____________________
__________________ ____________________ ____________________
Question Scales
A variety of scale questions enables you to delve more deeply into topics and feelings
than bipolar questions and to record and tabulate data more easily.
Interval Scales
Interval scales provide distances between measures. For example, evaluative inter-
val scales (often called Likert scales) ask respondents to make judgments about per-
sons, places, things, or ideas. The scale may range from five to nine answer options
(five is most common) with opposite poles such as “strongly like . . . strongly dislike,”
“strongly agree . . . strongly disagree,” or “very important . . . not important at all.”
Here is an evaluative interval scale:
Do you strongly agree, agree, have no opinion, disagree, or strongly disagree with
the university’s plans to diversify the student body, faculty, and administration by
5 Strongly agree ________
4 Agree ________
3 Neutral ________
2 Disagree ________
1 Strongly disagree ________
You may provide respondents with cards (color-coded to tell them apart) for complex
questions or ones with several choices or options. A card eliminates the faulty-recall
problem respondents experience. They need not recall from memory all of the options
for evaluating, rating, or ranking people, places, products, or proposals. Here is an
Likert scales
provide a range
of feelings,
attitudes, or
Provide aids
for interviewee
recall of answer
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The Survey Interview 109
Please use the phrases on this card to tell me how the television coverage of
recent terrorist acts in different locations in Europe, Africa, and Asia has affected
your interest in studying abroad.
5 Increases my interest a lot ________
4 Increases my interest a little ________
3 Will not affect my interest ________
2 Decreases my interest a little ________
1 Decreases my interest a lot   ________
Frequency interval scales ask respondents to select a number that most accurately
reflects how often they do something or use something. For example:
How frequently do you eat seafood?
More than once a week ________
Once each week ________
Every other week ________
Once or twice a month ________
Less than once a month ________
Rarely ________
Numerical interval scales ask respondents to select a range or level that accurately
reflects their age, income, educational level, or rank in an organization. For example:
I am going to read several age groupings. Please stop me when I read the one that
applies to you.
18–24 ________
25–34 ________
35–49 ________
50–64 ________
65 and over ________
Nominal Scales
Nominal scales provide mutually exclusive variables and ask respondents to name the
most appropriate variable. These are self-reports and do not ask respondents to rate
or rank choices or to pick a choice along an evaluative, numerical, or frequency con-
tinuum. Choices may be in any order. For example:
Do you consider yourself to be a:
Democrat ________
Republican ________
Libertarian ________
Independent ________
Other ________
scales deal
with number
of times.
scales deal
with ranges.
Nominal scales
deal with
naming and
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110 Chapter 6
When you last ate dinner in a restaurant, did your entree consist of:
Beef _____
Pork _____
Lamb _____
Poultry _____
Fish _____
Other _____________________ (PLEASE WRITE NAME.)
In nominal questions, the options are mutually exclusive and include those from
which most respondents are most likely to choose. “Other” is included because a
respondent may have an uncommon or unexpected choice.
Ordinal Scales
Ordinal questions ask respondents to rate or rank the options in their implied or stated
relationship to one another. They do not name the most applicable option as in interval
and nominal scales.
The following is a rating ordinal scale:
As you have traveled around the country during the past five years, I’m sure that
you have stayed in a variety of hotels and motels. Please rate each of the following
applicable hotels and motels as excellent, above average, average, below average,
or poor.
Holiday Inn Express Ex. Abv. Av. Av. Bel. Av. Poor N/A
Hilton Garden Inn Ex. Abv. Av. Av. Bel. Av. Poor N/A
Hampton Inn Ex. Abv. Av. Av. Bel. Av. Poor N/A
Drury Inn Ex. Abv. Av. Av. Bel. Av. Poor N/A
Red Roof Inn Ex. Abv. Av. Av. Bel. Av. Poor N/A
La Quinta Inn Ex. Abv. Av. Av. Bel. Av. Poor N/A
This rating scale generates six responses, including not applicable for an unused hotel
or motel. The following is a ranking ordinal scale:
On this card are the names of 5 national news programs. Rank order them in terms
of accuracy and dependability with 1 being highest and 5 being lowest.
ABC WorldNews ____
CBS Evening News ____
CNN Newsroom ____
Fox Report ____
NBC Nightly News ____
The following ordinal question asks respondents to select from among options and rank
them in order.
Ordinal scales
ask for ratings
or rankings.
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The Survey Interview 111
On this card are several reasons for constructing an extension of I-70 around the
city. Pick the three you think are most important and rank them in order of impor-
tance to you.
____ Safety ____ Reduce traffic congestion within the
____ Convenience ____ Reduce rush hour travel time
____ Commercial development ____ Residential development
Bogardus Social Distance Scale
The Bogardus Social Distance Scale determines how people feel about social rela-
tionships and distances from them. You want to know if a person’s attitude or feeling
changes as an issue comes closer to home. This scale usually moves progressively
from remote to close relationships and distances to detect changes as proximity nar-
rows. For example, you might use the following Bogardus Social Distance Scale to
determine how interviewees feel about admitting refugees from Syria and Iraq into the
United States.
1. Do you favor settling refugees into the United States ____Yes ____No
from Syria and Iraq?
2. Do you favor settling refugees into the Midwest ____Yes ____No
from Syria and Iraq?
3. Do you favor settling refugees into your state ____Yes ____No
from Syria and Iraq?
4. Do you favor settling refugees into your county ____Yes ____No
from Syria and Iraq?
5. Do you favor settling refugees into your city ____Yes ____No
from Syria and Iraq?
Respondents may be safely distant from the attitude or feeling they are expressing about
a product, issue, action, or person. The Bogardus Social Distance Scale brings an issue
ever closer to home so it is no longer something impersonal or one that affects others
“over there.”
Survey designers employ a variety of scale questions to obtain results beyond Level 1
disclosures and reduce the percentage of respondents who try to “out psyche” interviewers
by trying to pick “normal” answers in nominal and ordinal questions and safe middle options
in interval scales. To avoid embarrassment, a respondent might pick an option that stands out
such as the second in a list that includes 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, and 30 percent.
Respondents who first agree that a certain activity would make most people uneasy are less
likely then to admit ever engaging in that activity and may attempt to change the subject.
Phrase scale questions carefully to lessen game playing, guessing, and confu-
sion. Listen and observe reactions during pretesting interviews to detect patterns of
responses, levels of interviewee comprehension, and hesitancy in responding. Long
scales, complicated rating or ranking procedures, and lengthy explanations may con-
fuse respondents, perhaps without either party realizing it at the time.
effect of
guessing in
Anticipate con-
fusion in scale
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112 Chapter 6
Question Sequences
The tunnel sequence is useful when no strategic lineup of questions is needed. Gallup’s
quintamensional design sequence, or a variation of it, is appropriate when exploring
intensity of attitudes and opinions. Funnel, inverted funnel, hourglass, and diamond
sequences include open-ended questions, so answers may be difficult to record, code,
and tabulate. They are appropriate for qualitative surveys because the wealth of infor-
mation interviewers obtain from open questions is worth the problems involved. You
may choose a funnel sequence by starting with general questions and then move to
more specific questions.
Selecting Interviewees
Interviewees are the sources of your data. The best schedule of questions is of little help
if you talk to the wrong people at the wrong time or in the wrong place.
Defining the Population
The first step in selecting interviewees is to define the population you wish to study.
The population may be small and similar such as members of faculty or large and
diverse such as all employees of an auto plant. You may select a subset of a large popu-
lation such as all employees over age 50. The identified population should include all
persons who are able and qualified to respond to your questions and about whom you
want to draw conclusions.
If a target population is small (members of a fitness club), you may interview all
of them. Most surveys, however, deal with populations that far exceed time, financial,
and personal limitations—the 35,000 undergraduate students at a university or resi-
dents over the age of 18 in a city of 250,000. Dozens of interviewers could not reach,
let alone interview, all of these people, so you interview a sample of them and extend
findings to all of them.
Sampling Principles
The fundamental principle is that
a sample must accurately represent
the population under study. Old-time
watermelon sellers practiced this prin-
ciple when they carefully cut a trian-
gular plug from a watermelon. This
plug was intended to represent the
entire watermelon.
Each potential respondent from
a defined population must have an
equal chance of being interviewed.
You determine the probability that
each person might be selected by
deciding upon an acceptable margin
of error. The precision of a survey
■ The first step in selecting interviewees is to define the
population or target group you wish to study.
l V
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The Survey Interview 113
is the “degree of similarity between sample results and the results from a 100 per-
cent count obtained in an identical manner.”10 Most surveys attain a 95 percent level of
confidence, the mathematical probability that 95 out of 100 interviewees would give
results within 5 percentage points (margin of error) either way of the figures you would
have obtained if you had interviewed the entire targeted population. Survey results
reported in the media routinely state a survey margin of error of 4 percent. This means
that if 15 percent of respondents approve of the way Congress is doing its job, the real
figure might be as low as 11 percent or as high as 19 percent.
A tolerable margin of error depends on the use of survey results. If you want to
predict the outcome of an election or the effects of a new medical treatment, you must
strive for a small margin of error, 3 percent or less. If you are conducting a survey to
determine how employees feel about a new health care plan, a higher margin of error is
acceptable, 4 or 5 percent.
Determine sample size by the size of the population and the acceptable margin of
error. Some survey organizations produce accurate national surveys with a margin of
error in the 3 percent range from a sample of 1500. Standard formulas reveal that as a
population increases in size, the percentage of the population necessary for a sample
declines rapidly. In other words, you must interview a larger percentage of 5000 people
than of 50,000 people to attain equally accurate results. Formulas also reveal that you
must increase greatly the size of a sample to reduce the margin of error from 5 percent
to 4 percent to 3 percent. The small reduction in the margin of error may not be worth
the added cost of conducting significantly more interviews.
CheckMarket and Creative Research Systems offer sample size calculators that
enable you to determine sample size. For instance, if your preferred margin of error is
5 percent at a confidence level of 95 percent, you would need to conduct the following
number of interviews within different sample sizes to reach this level.11
Population Size Sample Size
100 80
500 217
1,000 278
5,000 357
10,000 370
50,000 381
100,000 383
Sampling Techniques
Size of sample is important, but how you select the sample is of utmost importance to
the validity of a survey. There are two general types of sampling, probability and non-
probability. In probability sampling, you know that each member of your population
has a certain chance of being interviewed. In non-probability sampling, you do not.
There are five common methods of probability sampling, the most accurate method of
A sample is a
version of
the whole.
A sample is
the actual
number of
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114 Chapter 6
Random Sampling
Random sampling is the simplest method of selecting a representative sampling. For
example, if you have a complete roster of all persons in a population, you place all
names in a container, mix them thoroughly, and draw out one name at a time until you
have a sample.
Table of Random Numbers
A more complicated random sampling method is to assign a number to each poten-
tial respondent and create or purchase a table of random numbers. With eyes closed,
place a finger on a number and read a combination up, down, across to left or right,
or diagonally. Select this number as part of the sample or decide to read the last digit
of the number touched (46) and the first digit of the numeral to the right (29) and thus
contact respondent number 62. Repeat this process until you have the sample you need.
Skip Interval or Random Digit
In a skip interval or random digit sampling, you may choose every 10th number in a
telephone book, every fifth name in a roster of clients, or every other person who walks
into a supermarket. The Random Digital Dialing system now in wide use for conduct-
ing surveys randomly generates telephone numbers in target area-code and prefix areas,
gives every telephone number in the area an equal chance of being called, and ensures
anonymity because no interviewee names are used.12 This common sampling tech-
nique may have built-in flaws. For instance, a growing percentage of the population has
unlisted phone numbers or relies on cell phones. On the other hand, a growing number
of households have more than one telephone number, and this increases the probability
that a particular household may be contacted more than once. A voter, customer, or
membership roster might be outdated. Time of day, day of the week, and location may
determine the types of persons available for interviews.
Stratified Random Sample
If a population has clearly definable groups (males and females; ages; education levels;
income levels; and diverse cultural groups), employ a stratified random sampling
method. This method enables you to include a minimum number of respondents from
each group, typically the percentage of the group in the target population. For instance,
if a targeted population consists of 30 percent first-year students, 25 percent sopho-
mores, 20 percent juniors, 20 percent seniors, and 5 percent graduate students, your
sample would represent these percentages.
Sample Point
A sample point represents a geographical area (a square block or mile, for instance)
that contains specific types of persons (students, grain farmers, or retired persons, for
instance). Instructions may tell interviewers to skip corner houses (corner houses are
often more expensive) and then try every other house on the outside of the four-block
area until they have obtained two interviews with males and two with females. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture uses aerial photographs of farm areas and crops to deter-
mine which farmers to interview to determine the amounts of various crops planted
In skip
interval you
select every
nth name
from a list.
A stratified
sample most
the whole.
A sample
point is
usually a
sampling is like
“drawing names
from a hat.”
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The Survey Interview 115
and possible yields of these crops each year. The sample point or block sample gives
the survey designer control over selection of interviewees without resorting to lists of
names, random digits, or telephone numbers.
There are two common methods of non-probability sampling, the least accurate forms
of sampling. Survey interviewers employ them because they are convenient and inex-
The most inaccurate sampling method is self-selection. You see this voluntary method
used nearly every day in radio and television talk shows, newscasts, and on the Internet.
Who is most likely to call ABC, Rush Limbaugh, or a television station? You guessed
it—those who are very angry or most opposed to/most in favor of an action. Moder-
ates rarely call or write. It is easy to predict how self-reporting surveys on gun control,
health care reform, and immigration will turn out.
Convenience sampling is popular because respondents are numerous and easy to
reach. Interviewers may stop students exiting a classroom building, shoppers walking
through a shopping mall, or people strolling down the street. The only criterion for
selection is convenience for the interviewer. Randomness and representation of diverse
elements of a target population are not considered.
Selecting and Training Interviewers
Creating a survey instrument and developing a careful sample of interviewees are criti-
cal, but so is selecting interviewers and training them to conduct the interviews properly.
Number Needed
If you plan to conduct brief interviews with a small target population, a single inter-
viewer may be sufficient. You will need several interviewers if your interviews are
lengthy, the sample is large, time allotted for completing the survey is short, and inter-
viewees are scattered over a large geographical area. Large and difficult interviewing
assignments result in serious interviewer fatigue and decline in motivation that may
reduce the quality of interviews and the data received.
A highly scheduled, standardized interview does not require interviewers to be experts
on a topic or skilled in phrasing questions and probing into answers. It does require a
person who can learn and follow guidelines, read the questions verbatim and effec-
tively, and record answers quickly and accurately. If you are using a highly scheduled
interview format that requires skillful probing into answers, interviewers must be able
to think on their feet, adapt to different interviewees, handle unanticipated interviewee
objections and concerns, and react effectively and calmly to strange answers. Profes-
sionally trained interviewers are more efficient and produce more accurate results.
Self-selection is
the least
of sampling

You can rarely
do it all by
must follow
the rules.
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116 Chapter 6
One study revealed that “experienced interviewers obtain higher rates of acquiescent
reports than do inexperienced interviewers, even after accounting for potential differ-
ences in interviewer and respondent characteristics.”13
Personal Characteristics
Interviewers who are older, have a nonthreatening demeanor, and have an optimis-
tic outlook get better response rates and cooperation, regardless of their experiences.
Age generates credibility and self-confidence, and optimism motivates interviewees to
cooperate. However personality and attitude of the interviewer may be the most impor-
tant elements in shaping interviewee attitudes toward surveys.
Interviewee Skepticism
Nearly one-third of respondents believe that answering survey questions will neither
benefit them nor influence decisions, that there are too many surveys, that surveys are
too long, and that interviewers ask too many personal questions. Some 36 percent of
respondents in one study said they had been asked to take part in “false surveys,” sales
or political campaign interviews disguised as informational surveys. The authors of a
report on how the Gallup Organization conducts public opinion polls note that “The
public’s questions indicate a healthy dose of skepticism about polling. Their questions,
however, are usually accompanied by a strong and sincere desire to find out what’s
going on under Gallup’s hood.”14 Clearly, survey interviewers must be aware of rela-
tional dimensions such as warmth, involvement, dominance, and trust and make every
effort to establish a positive relationship with each respondent.
Similarity of Interviewer and Interviewee
Similarity is an important relational dimension in survey interviews. Dress like inter-
viewees because if interviewers look like me, I am more likely to cooperate and answer
appropriately. An in-group relationship with the interviewee (black to black, senior
citizen to senior citizen, Hispanic-American to Hispanic-American) may avoid cultural
and communication barriers and enhance trust because the interviewer is perceived to
be safe, capable of understanding, and sympathetic. Interviewers may need to speak to
interviewees in their own language, including dialects or regional differences.
Training Interviewers
Provide carefully written instructions to all interviewers regardless of their experience
because each survey has unique features and purposes. Face-to-face training sessions
that include simulated interviews are highly recommended. The following are typical
Preparing for the Interview
Study the question schedule and answer options thoroughly so you can ask rather than
read questions and record answers quickly and accurately. Dress appropriately, and be
neat and well groomed. Do not wear buttons or insignia that identify you with a par-
ticular group or position on the issue that might bias responses. Choose an appropriate
time of week and day.
is critical in
are increasingly
wary of
Similarity, but
not a mirror
image, may be
Poor execution
can undo
Guard against
interviewer bias.
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The Survey Interview 117
Conducting the Interview 
Be friendly, businesslike, and interested in the topic. Speak clearly, at a good pace, and
loudly enough to be heard easily. Maintain eye contact and don’t be afraid to smile.
Ask all questions clearly, without hesitation, and neutrally. Adopt an informal speak-
ing manner that avoids the appearance of reading or reciting openings, questions, and
Opening the Interview
Motivate the interviewee from the moment the interview commences. State your name,
identify your organization, and present your credentials if appropriate. Explain the pur-
pose, length, nature, and importance of the study; then move to your first question with-
out appearing to pressure the interviewee to take part.
Asking Questions
Ask all questions, including answer options, exactly as worded. You may repeat a ques-
tion but not rephrase it or define words. Do not change the order of questions or answer
options unless instructed to do so. If you are doing a qualitative study, probe carefully
into answers to obtain insightful and thorough answers free of ambiguities and vague
Receiving and Recording Answers
Give respondents adequate time to reply, and then record answers as prescribed in your
training and on the schedule. Write or print answers carefully. Remain neutral at all
times, reacting neither positively nor negatively to responses.
Closing the Interview
When you have obtained the answer to the last question, thank the interviewee for
cooperating and excuse yourself without being abrupt. Be polite and sensitive, making
it clear that the interviewee has been most helpful. Do not discuss the survey with the
Conducting Survey Interviews
With preparation completed, it’s time to pretest the interview with a portion of the
targeted audience to detect potential problems with questions and answer options.
Pretesting the Interview
The best plans on paper may not work during real interviews. Try out the opening,
questions, recording answers, and closing.
Leave nothing to chance. For instance, in a political poll conducted by one of our
classes, students deleted the question “What do you like or dislike about your major?”
because it took too much time, generated little useful data, and posed a coding night-
mare because of diverse replies. When interviewees were handed a list of political can-
didates during another project and asked, “What do you like or dislike about . . . ?”
many became embarrassed or gave vague answers because they did not know some
No question can
be altered in
any way.
Maintain a
“poker face”
Lack of
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118 Chapter 6
of the candidates. This question was replaced with a Likert scale from “strongly like”
to “strongly dislike,” including a “don’t know” option, and interviewers probed into
reasons for liking or disliking only for candidates ranked in the extreme positions on
the scale. Respondents tended to be informed about candidates they strongly liked or
strongly disliked. In a survey of mudslinging during political campaigns, one of the
authors discovered that scale questions tended to confuse elderly respondents, so he
added special explanations to complex questions.
Ask these questions when conducting pretests. Did interviewees understand what
you needed and why? Did the wording of any question pose problems for some interview-
ees? Did interviewees react negatively or refuse to answer certain questions? Did each
question attain the information desired? Did recording of answers pose any problems?
Once you have studied the pretest results and made alterations in procedures, ques-
tions, and answer options, you are ready to conduct the full survey.
Interviewing Face-to-Face
Interviewing face-to-face has a number of advantages over other means of conducting
surveys.15 It tends to obtain a good response rate because of the personal presence of
the interviewer and the naturalness of the interaction. It may be important for inter-
viewees to be able to feel, touch, experience, and taste products. The interviewer can
establish credibility through physical appearance, dress, eye contact, voice, and cre-
dentials. Face-to-face interviews enable interviewers to identify interviewees who are
part of the target population (particularly those who tend to be “marginalized” in our
society) and interview them in specific locations and at specific times. The interviewer
can control the interview by keeping the interviewee focused on track until the comple-
tion of the interview. Respondents are more willing to take part in lengthy interviews,
and this enables interviewers to ask more questions and focus on in-depth attitudes
and information. Face-to-face interviews may reveal respondent attitudes and reactions
detectable only through nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, eye contact, ges-
tures, and posture.
Disadvantages of the face-to-face interview include expense, time consumption,
and the need for large numbers of thoroughly trained interviewers. Data are recorded
in writing and they may be time-consuming to record. It may be impossible to conduct
face-to-face interviews in the time allotted to conduct and report the survey or to con-
duct interviews over a wide geographical area.
Interviewing by Telephone
Because face-to-face survey interviews are expensive and time-consuming, and soci-
etal changes have made it difficult to predict when respondents might be available,
the telephone survey interview—particularly with the advent of Random-Digit Dialing
technology—has become dominant.
The telephone survey interview has become dominant because of several advan-
tages. It is less expensive, can be conducted quickly over a wide geographical area,
and provides faster results when speed is critical.16 There may be less interviewer bias
because of the greater uniformity in manner and delivery and no effect from dress,
may be
in money
but costly
in results.
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The Survey Interview 119
appearance, mannerisms, facial expressions, and eye contact. Interviewers do not face
the potential dangers of venturing into dangerous neighborhoods or residences, particu-
larly at night. Interviewees provide fewer socially acceptable answers because they may
feel safer by maintaining anonymity when providing controversial answers or personal
The telephone survey interview has disadvantages. Respondents are reluctant
to stay on the telephone for longer than 10 to 15 minutes, and this means the inter-
view schedule must be shorter with fewer open-ended questions or probing questions
that may consume several minutes each. People are using call identifiers to filter out
unwanted calls, particularly ones from unknown numbers. As fewer persons have
landlines in their homes, perhaps only one in ten, and are relying on cell phones, it is
becoming increasingly difficult to contact them. When a person answers the phone, the
interviewer may have difficulty determining if this person is part of the target popula-
tion. While the telephone provides anonymity, people are increasingly reluctant in the
age of “identity theft” to divulge personal information or to answer sensitive questions
from persons they cannot see and whose credentials are invisible.
Here are guidelines for conducting interviews over the telephone.
Opening the Telephone Interview
Most refusals in telephone surveys occur prior to the first substantive question: one-
third in the opening seconds, one-third during the orientation, and one-third at the point
of listing household members. Speaking skills (pitch, vocal variety, loudness, rate, and
distinct enunciation), particularly during the opening, are more important than content.
One study concluded, “Respondents react to cues communicated by the interviewer’s
voice and may grant or refuse an interview on that basis.”17 Telephone interviewers
must establish trust through vocal and verbal analogs to the personal appearance, cre-
dentials, and survey materials that enhance trust in face-to-face interviews.
How to Use the Telephone
The literature on survey interviewing
contains important advice for would-
be telephone interviewers. These
guidelines are equally relevant to
face-to-face interviews.
• Do not give a person a reason or
opportunity to hang up. Develop
an informal but professional style
that is courteous (not demand-
ing) and friendly (not defensive).
Get the interviewee involved as
quickly as possible in answering
questions because active involve-
ment motivates people to take
part and cooperate.
■ A growing number of interviewers are turning to the
telephone for easier and less expensive means of
conducting surveys and polls.
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120 Chapter 6
• Listen carefully and actively. Give undivided attention to what the interviewee
is saying by not drinking, eating, sorting papers, or playing with objects on your
desk. Do not communicate nonverbally with others in the room, and say noth-
ing you do not want the interviewee to hear even if you believe you have the
mouthpiece covered. Explain any pauses or long silences of more than a few
seconds or signal you are listening with cues such as “Uh huh,” “Yes,” “Okay.”
• Use your voice effectively. Talk directly into the mouthpiece. Speak loudly,
slowly, clearly, and distinctly because the interviewee relies solely on your voice.
State each answer option distinctly with vocal emphasis on important words and
pause between each option to aid in comprehension and recall.
• Use a computer-assisted telephone interview system that enables you to dial
random numbers quickly and to compile results within minutes of completing
Interviewing through the Internet
Survey interviews are increasingly taking place through the Internet—e-mail, Web
pages, and computer direct. They are substantially less expensive and faster than either
face-to-face or telephone interviews. A survey posted on a popular Web site may gen-
erate thousands of responses within hours. Internet surveys can target large popula-
tions over great distances. A major problem of survey interviews—interviewees giving
socially acceptable answers—is lessened because of the anonymity and perceived safety
of the Internet interview. A significant concern in face-to-face and telephone interviews,
interviewer bias, is not a problem in Internet surveys. Respondents give more honest
answers to sensitive topics. Unlike paper-and-pencil surveys, and some face-to-face and
telephone surveys, interviewees tend to provide more detail in answers to open-ended
questions, perhaps because it is easy and quick to type lengthy answers on a keyboard
and they can reply when it suits them.
On the other hand, the critical nonverbal communication that aids face-to-face
and telephone interviews is lost when using the Internet. Response rates may suffer
because it is more difficult to establish the credibility of the survey or to distinguish
the survey interview from a slick telemarketer sales interview. While the Internet gives
respondents time to think through answers, it may lose the spontaneity of interactions
in face-to-face and telephone interviews; they are essentially electronic bulletin boards.
However, “real-time chat” software can ensure spontaneity. It’s nearly impossible to
probe into answers or employ question strategies such as shuffle, leaning, and repeat.
Evidence indicates that completion rates are lower for lengthy surveys because respon-
dents grow tired and log off.
It is difficult to target populations in wide-ranging, Internet surveys because you may
not know who in a family, corporation, school, or state replied to your survey. Your
sample, and thus your results, may be highly questionable. Those who feel most strongly
about an issue, usually with negative attitudes, may overwhelm the results in self-selected
Internet surveys. This has led researchers Chris Mann and Fiona Stewart to warn, “There
is no doubt that the unrepresentativeness of current Internet access remains the greatest
problem for data collection on-line.”18
Do nothing
but ask and
listen during
telephone inter-
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The Survey Interview 121
Coding, Tabulation, and Analysis
After all interviews are completed, the final phase of the survey begins with coding,
tabulation, and analysis of the information received.
Coding and Tabulation
Begin the final phase of the survey by coding all answers that were not precoded, usually
for open-ended questions. For instance, if question 20 is “You say you oppose a ban on clips
that hold more than ten cartridges as a way to limit the mass shootings that have become
frequent in work places, schools, and shopping areas. Why do you oppose this option?”
will elicit a wide variety of answers. If question 20 is coded #20, each answer can be coded
20 plus, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., such as the following:
20-1 It would violate my 2nd Amendment rights.
20-2 It would place larger clips only in the hands of criminals and terrorists.
20-3 It would prevent me from protecting my family.
20-4 It would not stop people with severe mental problems from killing people.
20-5 It would give too much power to the government to control the people.
20-6 It would lead ultimately to seizing all guns from American citizens.
20-7 It has not worked in our cities with strict gun control laws.
Answers to open-ended questions may require analysis and structuring before devel-
oping a coding system. For example, in a study of voter perception of mudslinging in
political campaigns, the interviewer asked, “What three or four words would you use to
describe a politician who uses mudslinging as a tactic?” Answers included more than
100 different words, but analysis revealed that most words tended to fit into five catego-
ries: untrustworthy, incompetent, unlikable, insecure, and immature. A sixth category,
“other,” received words that did not fit into the five categories. All words were placed
into one of these six categories and coded from one to six.
After all answers are coded and the results tabulated, begin the analysis phase. This
task can be overwhelming. One of the authors surveyed 354 clergy from 32 Protestant,
Catholic, and Jewish groups to assess their interview training during college and semi-
nary and since entering the ministry. The 48 questions in the survey times 354 respon-
dents provided 16,992 bits of information.
How can the survey interviewer handle massive amounts of information generated
in most surveys? Charles Redding offered several helpful suggestions.19
• Be selective. Ask “What findings are likely to be most useful?” and “What will I
do with this information once I get it?” If you have no idea, do not ask for it.
• Capitalize on the potential of data. Subject data to comparative breakdowns to
discover differences between demographic subgroups.
• Dig for the gold. What is the really important stuff hidden within raw data
and simple tabulations? For instance, in polls of registered voter attitudes,
answers to
questions with
great care.
Analysis is
making sense
of your data.
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122 Chapter 6
interviewers often discover that female respondents favor a candidate far less
than male respondents and that Americans who have recently become citizens
are likely to have very different views toward immigration than third or fourth
generation Americans.
• Look for what is missing. What you do not find may be more important than
what you do find. What information did you not obtain?
During analysis of data, ask these questions. What conclusions can you draw and
with what certainty? For which segment of a target population can you generalize?
What are the constraints imposed by the sample, schedule of questions, the interview-
ing process, and the interviewers? Why did people respond in specific ways to specific
questions? What unexpected events or changes have occurred since the completion of
the survey that might make this survey dated or suspect? What should be done with the
“undecided” and “don’t know” answers or blanks on survey forms?
You might subject data to a statistical analysis designed to test reliability and sig-
nificance of data. Babbie and other research methodologists (see resources) provide
detailed guidelines for conducting sophisticated statistical analyses.
When the analysis of data is complete, determine if the purpose and objectives of
your survey are achieved. If so, what are the best means of reporting the results?
The Respondent in Survey Interviews
The ever-growing number of surveys conducted throughout the world each day ensures
your involvement in these highly structured interviews. They are rarely compulsory, so you
are free to “just say no,” but when you do, you may forfeit an opportunity to influence
important decisions that affect you, your family, your field of work, and your community.
Do not walk away, close the door, hang up the phone, or hit the delete button too hastily, but
approach all survey requests cautiously and with a healthy skepticism.
The Opening
Become thoroughly oriented before starting to answer questions. Observe, listen, and
question. Discover the interviewer’s identity, the name of the organization sponsoring
the survey, the purpose of the survey, why and how you were selected, the length of the
survey, the confidentiality of your answers, and how the information you give will be
used. If the interviewer does not provide important information, ask for it. When one of
the authors was visiting his daughter and her family in Vancouver, Washington, more
than 2000 miles from home, a market researcher approached him in a shopping mall.
The researcher explained who she was, what she was doing, and why she was doing it.
She did not state that he had to be a local resident. When asked if it made any differ-
ence that he was visiting from the Midwest, the interviewer said she wanted only those
who regularly visited the mall. The interview ended.
The opening minutes enable you to determine if the interview is a survey or a
slick persuasive interview under the guise of a survey. Is it a nonpartisan political
survey being conducted by a nationally known and reputable polling organization or
part of a political campaign for a specific candidate or party? When one of the authors
Know the
limitations of
your survey.
Be careful in
using survey
what a survey is
all about before
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The Survey Interview 123
responded to the doorbell at his home, a college-age person announced that she was
conducting a survey of families with children as a part of summer internship. A few
questions revealed that she was selling child-oriented magazines for a summer job, not
an internship sponsored by her college as implied in her opening.
The Question Phase
Listen carefully to each question and answer options in interval, nominal, and ordinal
questions. If a question or option is difficult to recall, ask the interviewer to repeat the
question slowly. If a question is unclear, explain why and ask for clarification. Do not
try to guess what a question is going to be from the interviewer’s first words. You might
guess wrong and become confused, give a stupid answer, or needlessly force the inter-
viewer to restate a perfectly clear question.
Think through each answer, then respond clearly and precisely. Give the answer
that best represents your beliefs, attitudes, or actions. Do not permit interviewer bias to
lead you toward an answer you think the interviewer wants to hear or how other respon-
dents have answered.
You can refuse to answer poorly constructed or leading questions or give data that
seem irrelevant or an invasion of privacy. For instance, an interviewer recently asked
one of the authors, “Do you favor boutique solutions to our energy needs such as wind
farms or environmentally friendly nuclear power plants that can supply electricity to
major industries and cities?” The word “boutique” revealed the bias and agenda of the
interviewer. Demand tactful, sensitive, and polite treatment from interviewers. Insist
on adequate time to answer questions. If you have agreed to a 10-minute interview and
the interview is still going strong at the 10-minute mark, remind the interviewer of
the agreement and proceed to close the interview unless only a few more seconds are
required. Survey interviews can be fun, interesting, and informative if both parties treat
one another fairly.
The survey interview is the most meticulously planned and executed of interviews. Planning
begins with determining a clearly defined purpose and conducting research. The purpose
of the survey interview is to establish a solid base of fact from which to draw conclusions,
make interpretations, and determine future courses of action. Only then does the survey
creator structure the interview and develop questions with appropriate strategies, scales,
sequences, coding, and recording methods. Selecting interviewees involves delineating a
target population to survey and choosing a sample of this population that represents the
whole. The creator of the survey chooses sampling methods, determines the size of the
sample, and plans for an acceptable margin of error. Each choice has advantages and dis-
advantages because there is no one correct way to handle all surveys.
Survey respondents must determine the nature of the survey and its purposes
before deciding whether to take part. If the decision is to participate, respondents have
a responsibility to listen carefully to each question and answer it accurately. Be sure
you understand each question and its answer options. Demand enough time to think
Think before
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124 Chapter 6
through answers. Feel free to refuse to answer obviously leading or poorly phrased
questions that require biased answers or choosing among options that do not include
how you feel and what you prefer.
Key Terms and Concepts
Bogardus Social Distance
Chain or contingency
Convenience sample
Cross-sectional survey
Evaluative interval scale
Face-to-face interview
Filter strategy
Frequency interval scale
Internet interview
Interval scale
Leaning question strategy
Level of confidence
Likert scale
Longitudinal survey
Margin of error
Marginalized respondent
Nominal scale
Non-probability sampling
Numerical interval scale
Order bias
Ordinal scale
Personal interview
Probability sampling
Qualitative survey
Quantitative survey
Precision journalism
Random digital dialing
Random sampling
Ranking ordinal scale
Rating ordinal scale
Repeat strategy
Sample point
Sampling principles
Shuffle strategy
Skip interval scale
Stratified random sample
Table of random numbers
Survey Role-Playing Cases
Drinking on Campus
Drinking on college campuses is a growing concern nationwide with increasing numbers
of assaults, accidental deaths, and shootings, particularly at off-campus housing and drink-
ing establishments. The interviewer is chairing the Student Affairs Committee that has
taken on the task of creating a survey of a cross section of faculty and students to discover
their experiences with drinking issues on campus, their fears and concerns for student
safety and that of others, and suggestions for making the campus safer in perception and
Health Care Reform
In spite of the Supreme Court’s upholding of the constitutionality of The Patient Protec-
tion and Affordable Care Act (derisively called Obamacare by its opponents), conflict over
how to reform the health care system to control cost while sustaining quality continues
unabated as it has for decades. A group of medical, governmental, and religious leaders
has banded together to assess the problems, concerns, and attitudes of a cross section of
adults (anyone 18 years or older) to guide their discussions and proposals for further health
care reforms.
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The Survey Interview 125
Need for a 24–7 Child Care Facility
You and four friends with experiences in local child care feel that there is a need for a
facility that would provide 24–7 child care in your community. All local facilities open at
6:00 a.m. and close at 6 p.m., but a growing number of parents, including single parents,
are working 4:00 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 8:00 a.m. shifts and need day care
during these evening and nighttime periods. The five of you are considering building and
staffing a 24–7 day care facility but need to assess the number of clients and children you
might serve to make it financially feasible. You are both creating a survey instrument and
trying to determine your target population.
A Fitness Center
You graduated from college 10 years ago with a degree in physical therapy and have since
worked at a number of rehabilitation and fitness centers on the West Coast. Although
these positions have been rewarding and provided a great variety of experiences as both
a therapist and a business administrator, you would like to get back to western Kentucky
where your family lives and to settle down in a mid-sized city. You have decided to conduct
surveys of residents in Bowling Green, Paducah, and Henderson to determine the feasibil-
ity and nature of creating your own rehabilitation and fitness center that would cater to the
40 and above population.
Student Activities
1. Serve as a volunteer interviewer for a survey being conducted on your campus or
community. What instructions and training did you receive? How were interviewees
determined? What problems did you encounter in locating suitable and cooperative
interviewees? What problems did you have with the survey schedule? What is the
most important thing you have learned from this experience? What advice would you
give the organization you volunteered to serve?
2. Try a simple interviewer bias experiment. Conduct 10 short opinion interviews on
a current issue, using an identical question schedule for all interviews. During five
of them, wear a conspicuous T-shirt, button, or badge that identifies membership
in or support of an organization that supports one side of the issue: a Republican
elephant, or Democratic donkey, a crucifix or a Star of David, an organization’s logo
or a product slogan. Compare results to see if and how your identification with an
organization on one side of the issue affected answers to identical questions.
3. Obtain a number of market survey schedules used in face-to-face, telephone, and
Internet surveys. Compare and contrast these schedules. How are the openings
similar and different? How are schedules and sequences similar and different? How
are question strategies and question scales similar and different? How are closings
similar and different? What surprises did you discover in your comparisons?
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126 Chapter 6
4. Interview a person who has worked for one or more survey agencies that create
and conduct surveys for a variety of clients such as politicians, universities, and
manufacturers. Cover such topics as determining the purpose, conducting research,
selecting the target population, determining the sampling method, arriving at an
acceptable margin of error, creating and pretesting the interview schedule, selecting
and training interviewers, and deciding upon the method: face-to-face interviews,
telephone interviews, Internet interviews.
1. Jeffrey Henning, “Survey Nation: 7 Billion Survey Invites a Year,” http://blog.vovici
/blog/bid/51106/Survey-Nation-7-Billion-Survey-Invites-a-Year, accessed June 4,
2. Jibum Kim, Carl Gerschenson, Patrick Glaser, and Tom W. Smith, “Trends—Trends in
Surveys on Surveys,” Public Opinion Quarterly 75 (Spring 2011), pp. 165–191.
3., accessed September 29,
4. Morgan M. Millar and Don A. Dillman, “Improving Response to Web and Mixed-Mode
Surveys,” Public Opinion Quarterly 75 (Summer 2011), pp. 249–269; Jens Bonke and
Peter Fallesen, “The impact of incentives and interview methods on response quan-
tity and quality in diary- and booklet-based surveys,” Survey Research Methods 4
(2010), pp. 91–101.
5. Eleanor Singer and Cong Ye, “The Use and Effects of Incentives in Surveys,” The
ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 645 (January
2013), pp. 112–141.
6. Stanley L. Payne, The Art of Asking Questions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1980), p. 57.
7. David Yeager and Jon Krosnick, “Does Mentioning ‘Some People’ and ‘Other People’
in an Opinion Question Improve Measurement Quality?” Public Opinion Quarterly 76
(Spring 2012), pp. 131–141.
8. Jack E. Edwards and Marie D. Thomas, “The Organizational Survey Process,”
American Behavioral Scientist 36 (1993), pp. 425–426.
9. Alexander Debronte, Pitfalls of “don’t know/no opinion” answer options in surveys,”, accessed February 11, 2015.
10. W. Charles Redding, How to Conduct a Readership Survey: A Guide for Organiza-
tional Editors and Communication Managers (Chicago, IL: Lawrence Ragan Commu-
nications, 1982), pp. 27–28.
11. Gert Van Dessel, “How to Determine Population and Survey Sample Size,” https:www, accessed February 13, 2013.
12. Pew Research Center, “Random Digit Dialing—Our Standard Method,” www.people, accessed February 11, 2015.
ste70537_ch06_099-128.indd 126 20/12/16 6:28 pm

The Survey Interview 127
13. Eleanor Singer, Martin R. Frankel, and Marc B. Glassman, “The Effect of Interviewer
Characteristics and Expectations on Response,” Public Opinion Quarterly 47 (1983),
pp. 68–83.
14. “Evaluation Tools for Racial Equity: Tip Sheets,” http://www.Evaluationtoolsforracialequity
.org/, accessed September 29, 2006.
15. Susan E. Wyse, “Advantages and Disadvantages of Face-to-Face Data Collection,”, accessed October 15, 2014.
16. Sara Mae Sincero, “Telephone Survey,”,
accessed December 12, 2015.
17. Joe Hopper, “How to Conduct a Telephone Survey for Gold Standard Research,”
-standard-research, accessed 26 June 2012.
18. Chris Mann and Fiona Stewart, “Internet Interviewing,” in Inside Interviewing: New
Lenses, New Concerns, James A. Holstein and Jaber F Gubrium, eds. (Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003), p. 243.
19. Redding, pp. 119–123.
Conrad, Frederick G., and Michael F. Schober, eds. Envisioning the Survey Interview of the
Future. San Francisco, CA: Wiley-Interscience, 2007.
Fink, Arlene. How to Conduct Surveys: A Step-by-Step Guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage,
Gwartney, Patricia A. The Telephone Interviewer’s Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-
Bass, 2007.
Holstein, James A., and Jaber F. Gubrium, eds. Inside Interviewing: New Lenses, New
Concerns. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 2003.
Meyer, Philip. Precision Journalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
Scheuren, Fritz. What Is a Survey? Alexandria, VA: American Statistical Association, 2004.
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7C H A P T E R
R ecruiting outstanding employees for your organization is critical to its future. As Tom Peter’s writes, today “talent rules,” so you must be obsessed with attract-
ing and retaining new talent.1 Successful recruiting to identify this talent determines
the difference between success and failure of every organization. This task is never
easy, quick, or inexpensive. Recruiting is an elaborate courtship process that entails
multiple contacts between each recruit and members of your staff and may be fraught
with interpersonal problems between complex human beings, each susceptible to bias
and distortion. In spite of its problems, however, the interview will remain an essential
component of the selection process because recruiters want to observe behaviors and
probe into skills, attitudes, and abilities that reveal whether an applicant is an ideal fit
for this position with this organization.2
A common, mistaken belief is that Human Resources (HR) personnel recruit new
employees for organizations. In truth, HR personnel play minor roles in the recruit-
ing process because it is far too important and complex to assign to a single element
of any organization. You may have already taken part in recruiting activities while in
college, and you definitely will after you graduate. Many of our students have returned
to campus within a year of graduation to aid in recruiting talent for their organizations.
They can identify readily with their alma mater and its students.
The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to the fundamental principles
of successful employee recruiting. These include locating high-quality applicants, pre-
paring for the recruiting process, obtaining and reviewing information on applicants,
structuring interviews, conducting interviews, and evaluating interviews. Learning and
applying these principles will make you a valuable asset to your organization while
enhancing the quality of your future colleagues.
Where to Find Talented Applicants
When commencing your search for new talent, consider your social and professional
contacts, check your file of persons who have come to your attention in the field through
its meetings and publications, visit college career centers, and attend fairs wherever
they occur. A growing number of organizations are hiring from their internship
programs because they have had extensive opportunity to observe and assess interns
while they are on the job with opportunities to exhibit needed talents.
Recruiting is
expensive and
The Recruiting Interview
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130 Chapter 7
When you take par t in career or job fairs, be sure you set up attractive
booths exhibiting promotional materials such as brochures, book bags, and pens
to get your name and positions before a large number of potential employees.
Select staff with excellent interpersonal skills who enjoy meeting young people
and are trained to conduct on-the-spot interviews. Have application forms and
sign-up sheets readily at hand, but be honest if you are not currently hiring at the
moment. Make follow-up contacts with attendees who appear to be good fits for
your organization.
Your organization might decide to hire a staffing firm (sometimes called placement
agencies, employment agencies, or head hunters) to locate quality applicants and perhaps
to conduct initial screening interviews. Select such firms carefully to determine their suc-
cess rates and suitability for your organization and the position(s) you wish to fill. The
American Staffing Association offers important guidelines for making the best choice,
including shopping around, type of staffing help you need, impressions of your initial
interactions with the firm, how the staffing firm selects its employees (screening, testing,
and training), and how well the firm understands your organization and your needs.3
Kiosks designed to attract applicants are now common sights in retail stores. This
enables them to establish and update their applicant databases whenever stores are
open, some 24 hours a day, and to sort through applications to locate qualified appli-
cants. If kiosks are inappropriate for your organization, there are numerous resume
databases that provide the same services. Some of these are fee-based and some are
free. Select the one that is most suitable for your organization and career field.
There are hundreds of Internet and electronic sources available to locate quality
applicants. These include Web sites of colleges and universities, religious organiza-
tions, senior citizen clubs, political parties, and special interest groups. Here are a few
key sources:
• Kennedy’s The Directory of Executive and Professional Recruiters
• Monster Jobs
• Wall Street Journal Careers
Organizations are striving to diversify their workforces, particularly among ethnic
groups. Joyce Gioia suggests advertising in ethnic media (such as alternate language
newspapers, magazines, Web sites, radio, and television) and in movie theaters that
attract a highly diverse clientele. Think globally, Gioia writes, because recruiting
employees from diverse ethnic groups “holds opportunities for companies beyond their
wildest dreams.”4
Your organization’s Web site is critical in every search you conduct because
applicants will check it to see if your organization is attractive and a good fit for them.
They may decide not to pursue a position you have open because they judge your site to
be poorly done. Be sure your Web site is easy to read, interesting, updated frequently,
professional, and sophisticated.
Web sites
have not
publishing an
opening is not
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The Recruiting Interview 131
Preparing the Recruiting Effort
Careful planning and preparation is critical in the recruiting effort. Learn key informa-
tion about each applicant prior to the interview, review EEO laws to avoid potential
legal pitfalls, and know how to prepare for, take part in, and evaluate interviews.
Reviewing EEO Laws
Review carefully federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws and executive
orders as well as those in the states in which you conduct recruiting efforts. Some state
laws are more stringent than federal laws. You can trace such laws back to the Civil
Rights Act of 1866. Review these laws thoroughly so you understand their relevance to
the employment interview.5
• The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires equal pay for men and women performing
work that involves similar skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.
• The Civil Rights Act of 1964, particularly Title VII, prohibits the selection of
employees based on race, color, gender, religion, or national origin, and requires
employers to discover discriminatory practices and eliminate them.
• The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employers of 25
or more persons from discriminating against persons because of age.
• The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 501 and 505) orders federal contrac-
tors to hire persons with disabilities, including alcoholism, asthma, rheumatoid
arthritis, and epilepsy.
• The pregnancy discrimination
act of 1978 prohibits
discrimination of women
because of pregnancy alone
and protects job security during
maternity leaves.
• The Civil Rights Act of 1991
(often referred to as the 1992
Civil Rights Act) caps com-
pensation and punitive dam-
ages for employers, provides
for jury trial, and created a
commission to investigate the
“glass ceiling” for minorities
and women and reward organi-
zations that advance opportuni-
ties for minorities and
violations are
still violations.
■ Review EEO laws carefully.
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132 Chapter 7
• The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (effective July 25, 1992), Title I
and Title V, prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental
impairments that substantially limit or restrict the condition, manner, or dura-
tion under which they can perform one or more life activities and requires rea-
sonable accommodation by employers.
After you have reviewed these EEO laws, keep in mind that federal laws supersede
state laws unless the state laws are more restrictive. The Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) and the courts are not concerned with intent but with effect. Keep
up with the most recent court and congressional changes and interpretations that occur
annually and changing events. It did not take long after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
began and it became common military practice to call up thousands of reservists for our
students to report that recruiters were asking them about the type of military discharge
they had received while on active duty. Confusion reigned with many recruiters claiming
they needed to know if a veteran had received an “honorable discharge” without insight-
ful knowledge of either types of discharges, reasons for them, or circumstances. The best
advice legally and ethically is “Don’t ask.” Three recent concerns have arisen in the law:
domestic partners, same-sex marriage, and transgender applicants.
Numerous EEO laws would seem to complicate the employee recruiting/select-
ing process, but complying with them is simple. Everything you do, say, or ask during
the selection process must pertain to bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs),
requirements essential for performing a particular job. BFOQs include work experiences,
training, education, skills, conviction records, physical attributes, and personality traits that
have a direct bearing on one’s ability to perform a job effectively. BFOQs exclude gender,
age, race, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, physical appearance, disabilities, citi-
zenship, place of birth, ethnic group, veteran status, military records, military discharge
status, and arrest records that have no bearing on one’s ability to perform a job effectively.
Exceptions to laws and orders are made when an employer can demonstrate that one or
more normally unlawful traits are essential for a position. For example, appearance may be
a BFOQ for a modeling position, religion for a pastoral position, age for performing certain
tasks (serving alcohol, operating dangerous equipment), physical abilities such as eyesight
and manual dexterity for pilots, physical strength for construction workers, the legal right to
be employed in the United States, and English language skills for an English teacher.
A few guidelines will help you avoid most EEO violations and lawsuits. First,
meet the test of job relatedness by establishing legally defensible selection criteria.
Second, be sure all questions are related to these selection criteria. Third, standard-
ize the interview by asking the same questions to all applicants for a position. If you
ask specific questions only of applicants who are female, disabled, older, or minor-
ity, you are undoubtedly asking unlawful questions. Fourth, be cautious when probing
into answers because a significant number of EEO violations occur in these created-
on-the-spot questions. Fifth, be cautious of innocent chit-chat during the informal parts
of interviews, usually the opening and closing or the minutes following the formal
interview. This is when you are most likely to ask or comment about family, marital
status, ethnic background, and nonprofessional memberships. Sixth, focus questions on
what an applicant can do rather than on what an applicant cannot do. Seventh, if an
applicant begins to volunteer unlawful information, tactfully steer the person back to
BFOQs are the
keys to
tory hiring.
EEO violations
are easy to
Focus on the
positive, not the
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The Recruiting Interview 133
job-related areas.Your organization is liable if unlawful information is maintained or
used even if you did not ask for it.
Exercise #1—Testing Your Knowledge of EEO Laws
Test your knowledge of EEO laws and selection interviews by rating each question
below as lawful (can be asked), depends (may be asked under certain circumstances),
or unlawful (cannot be asked). Explain why it is lawful, unlawful, or depends.
Lawful Unlawful Depends
1. Do you go by Margaret or Peggy?
2. I noticed that you walk with a cane.
3. Are you a U.S. citizen?
4. I see you served with Special Forces
in Syria. Did you get hurt while in combat?
5. How fluent are you in Chinese?
6. How did you lose your right eye?
7. Are you planning to get married?
8. Which religious holidays do you observe?
9. Weinberg . . . . is that Jewish?
10. Have you ever been arrested?
11. What software programs have you used?
12. Do you drink?
13. What professional organizations do you
belong to?
14. Would you have a problem with relocating?
15. (Asked of a veteran) Have you ever seen a
Keep these rules in mind when recruiting.
• Advertise each position where all qualified applicants have a reasonable oppor-
tunity to learn about the opening.
• Do not write or take notes on the application form. Doodling on an application
form may appear to be a discriminatory code.
• Three recent concerns have arisen in the law: domestic partners, same-sex mar-
riage, and hearing as a disability. An appropriate response is, “We hire persons
based on what they know and how well they can do the job, not on personal pref-
erences or disabilities.” Organizations should be prepared to enhance volumes
on phones and computers.
• EEO laws generally pertain to all employers of 15 or more people.
Listening to or
keeping unlaw-
ful information
creates liability
for your
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134 Chapter 7
Developing an Applicant Profile
With EEO laws in mind, conduct a thorough analysis to develop a competency-based
applicant profile for each position for which you are recruiting. This profile of the
ideal employee typically includes specific skills, abilities, education, training, experi-
ences, knowledge levels, personal characteristics, and interpersonal relationships that
enable a person to fulfill a position with a high degree of excellence. The intent is to
measure all applicants against this profile to ensure that recruiting efforts meet EEO
laws, are as objective as possible, encourage all interviewers to cover the same topics
and traits, and eliminate (or at least minimize) the birds of a feather syndrome in
which recruiters favor applicants who are most like themselves—traditionally this has
favored white, male applicants.
Many organizations are employing a behavior-based selection technique to ensure
that each interviewer asks questions that match each applicant with the applicant profile.
Behavior-based interviewing rests on two interrelated principles: past behavior in specific
job-related situations is the best predictor of future behavior and past performance is the
best predictor of future performance. Interviewers ask interviewees to describe situations
in which they have exhibited specific skills and abilities. A National Institutes of Health
publication states that the behavior-based interview technique “seeks to uncover how a
potential employee actually did behave in a given situation; not on how he or she might
behave in the future.”6 The behavior-based technique begins with a needs and position
analysis to determine which behaviors are essential for performing a particular position.
Behaviors might include:
develops and implements conducts
monitors and facilitates establishes
applies builds
stays current understands and utilizes
advises and consults recommends
Other organizations have modified this approach into a trait-based or talent-
based system in which specific traits or talents rather than behaviors are identified in a
position analysis. For instance, traits might include:
achievement dependability oral communication
ambition initiative people-oriented
assertiveness listening responsibility
competitiveness motivation responsiveness
Check each profile behavior or trait carefully. Is each essential for job performance? Is
leadership necessary for an entry-level position? Can you measure the behavior or trait?
Are you expecting recruiters to act as psychologists? Will some targeted behaviors or
traits adversely affect your organization’s diversity efforts and discriminate uninten-
tionally? For example, traits such as competitiveness, aggressiveness, direct eye con-
tact, forcefulness, and oral communication skills may run counter to the upbringing
The profile must
be a composite
of BFOQs.
The profile is
the ideal by
which all
applicants are
Can nondomi-
nant group
match your
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The Recruiting Interview 135
and culture of many nondominant groups.7 Traits and behaviors being sought must be
position-related—BFOQs—and clearly defined so that all interviewers are looking for
the same ones.
After developing an applicant profile, write a clear description that “encapsulates
requirements for a given position.” Karen O’Keefe writes, “Ultimately, the job descrip-
tion is the inspiration for any subsequent interview so defining the position up front
will make finding the right person for the job much easier.”8 Being underprepared is the
biggest mistake you can make.
Assessing Today’s Applicants
You must understand the targets of your search because you are trying to attract as well
as select outstanding talent for your organization.
What Do Millennial Applicants Seek in a Position and Career?
The millennial generation will soon be the largest segment of the working population,
and they have very different interests and expectations from those of the recent past.
Their top interests do not include money but do include flexible schedules and work
locations, a collaborative work environment and culture, mentoring, career develop-
ment opportunities and tuition assistance for graduate work that will enable them to
continue learning and growing personally and professionally, and opportunities to
make a difference not only within the organization but in the world. They are more
comfortable with and used to diversity in society and the workplace, and national and
geographical boundaries are of less concern because many have traveled, studied, or
worked abroad. They are more interested in the reputation of an organization than its
brand name. Millennial applicants do not expect to remain with one organization or one
career for long periods of time.9
What Do Millennial Applicants Expect in an Interviewer?
Millennial applicants want and seek extensive information about each position and
organization prior to the interview. During the interview, they place strong emphasis
on the communication that takes place and their attraction to the interviewer’s behav-
ior. They assume the interviewer’s behavior strongly indicates what they might expect
from the organization. They want the interviewer to be friendly, attentive, sensitive,
sincere, warm, honest, enthusiastic, and genuinely interested in them. Applicants prefer
interviewers to be young and relatively new employees rather than veterans of the orga-
nization because they do not want sales pitches but opportunities to connect with inter-
viewers and their interests, desires, and motivations. Applicants of nondominant groups
(women, minority races and ethnic groups, and those from lower economic classes)
prefer interviewers to be more like them, but they may become confused and angry if
they feel scrutinized by “one of their own.”10
Millennials want interviewers to ask them clearly relevant and open questions that
give them opportunities for self-expression and to elaborate on answers. They want
detailed information about the position and organization that is unavailable in other
sources. They are turned off by pressure tactics, interruptions, canned presentations,
Times and
people are
The recruiter is
the organization
in the appli-
cant’s eyes.
Applicants are
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136 Chapter 7
strict adherence to schedules of questions, interviewers who read questions, and those
who spend too much time talking about themselves and their careers instead of focus-
ing on them.
Obtaining and Reviewing Information on Applicants
Gather as much information as possible about each applicant through application forms,
resumes, letters of recommendation, objective tests, and social networking Web sites.
Review this information carefully because this is your first opportunity to determine
how well this person fits the position you have open and your organization’s unique
culture. This review reveals areas to probe during the interview, perhaps comparing
oral and written answers to similar questions. Fredric Jablin and Vernon Miller discov-
ered that employers who review applicant credentials thoroughly ask more questions, a
wider variety of questions, and probe more into answers to determine the fit.11
Application Forms
When creating application forms, be sure all information you are requesting are BFOQs.
Keep both EEO laws and the applicant profile clearly in mind. Provide adequate space
for applicants to answer questions thoroughly. Ask a few open questions similar to ones
you will ask in an interview. When you receive a completed application form, look for
what is and is not reported on the form.
Cover Letters
Read each cover letter carefully because it is often the applicants first opportunity to
create a favorable impression. Did the applicant expend the effort to find the name and
address of the appropriate person in your organization or rely on the easier “To whom
it may concern” salutation? How has the applicant adapted the letter to a specific posi-
tion with your organization? Which stated career goals, qualifications, and experi-
ences are relevant to this position? This is your initial opportunity to ask “How well
does this applicant fit this position?” Is the letter written professionally free of spell-
ing, grammar, and punctuation errors? Susan Heathfield, a human resources specialist,
admits that she may be “an old fuddy-duddy,” but claims that such errors “are indica-
tive of what you can expect from the candidate as an employee. Looking for careless,
sloppy, or unconcerned? I doubt it. Your evidence is sitting before you on your desk or
on your computer screen.”12
When an applicant’s resume arrives at your organization, have a person not involved
in the selection process delete any information that may violate EEO laws. If you keep
this information, even though you did not ask for it, you can be held liable for pos-
sible discrimination. Then have each person involved in the recruiting effort review the
resume prior to the interview. Reading it for the first time during the interview shows
lack of preparation and interest and is a major turnoff for quality applicants.
As you review a resume, start with the career objective if one is included. How
well does this objective match the applicant profile? Next, how well do the applicant’s
Modify applica-
tion forms to fit
the applicant
applicants do
not match their
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The Recruiting Interview 137
education, training, and experiences complement
the career objective (stated in the cover letter or
resume) and fit the profile? Does the applicant
appear to be over qualified or under qualified for
this position? Are there gaps in dates and details
concerning education, employment, and relevant
experiences? Does the applicant reveal lack of
attention to details and accuracy such as missing
words, grammatical errors, typos, misspellings,
punctuation errors, and wrong dates?
With competition for top positions in most
fields growing stronger, applicants are tempted
to “fudge” or “fake” a little here and a little there
on resumes and cover letters. Recent statistics
indicate that more than half of applicants lie on
resumes and as many as 70 percent would lie
to get a job they want.13 On the one hand, they
are willing to enhance, inflate, stretch, mask, or
exaggerate their education (including degrees
they do not have), experiences, skills, job titles,
employment dates, salaries and responsibilities
on previous jobs, achievements, military decora-
tions, and medals. On the other hand, they may
omit or conceal information they perceive to be
detrimental to their chances of landing a posi-
tion. Do your homework. Be skeptical of claims
that appear too good to be true, and be suspi-
cious of information that is missing.
If you are hiring several new staff or your postings will receive a large volume of
resumes, consider applicant tracking software programs that will scan resumes quickly
and efficiently and identify applicants best suited to your opening and organization.
They can also store a large volume of resumes if you need to scan the pool again.14 Scan-
ning software sorts applicants based on key words, skills, interests, and experiences.
You need to load these carefully to minimize losing excellent applicants. For instance,
if candidates use the word personnel or purchasing instead of human resources or pro-
curement management, they will be eliminated from the pool. The same is true if they
use abbreviations that do not match those in the system, headers the system doesn’t rec-
ognize, spaces between the letters of their names for graphical purposes that cannot be
accurately parsed out, and font sizes and typefaces the software finds less readable. It
is wise to identify guidelines in your advertisements and recruiting literature to prepare
scannable resumes so all candidates are on a level playing field.
Letters of Recommendation and References
Applicants choose references that will write favorable letters or respond favorably when
contacted by potential employers. Read letters skeptically because they seldom say
Consider a
scanner if
you attract
hundreds of
■ Review the applicant’s credentials prior to the
interview so you can devote full attention to the
applicant during the interview.
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138 Chapter 7
anything negative about an applicant. The most important point of the letter is often not
what they say but who is willing to write it. Calling references allows you to ask open ques-
tions and to probe into answers for important insights. Unfortunately, many former employ-
ers will give you little more than dates when an applicant worked for them, and colleges
may offer only dates when a person attended their institutions. Your organization may
require you to get permission from applicants before contacting references or letter writers.
Standardized Tests
Standardized tests have become an integral part of the selection process and may be
particularly effective in combination with behavior-based interviews widely used
today.15 Before choosing any test for use in your hiring process, be sure it is job-related
or tailored, validated on a cross-section of the population, and nondiscriminatory. If a
test appears to screen out one group more than another, do not use it. The EEOC has
investigated complaints that some tests “have an adverse impact on black and Latino
applicants,” require “a proficiency in English that could discriminate against candi-
dates who are not native speakers,” and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act
by requiring pre-employment medical examinations or detecting conditions such as
depression and paranoia.16 There are four common types of tests used in recruiting:
aptitude, personality, basic skills, and honesty/integrity.
Aptitude tests identify the abilities of a potential employee and attempt to predict
how well and quickly a person is likely to learn tasks required in the position you wish
to fill. General aptitude tests are sometimes called IQ or Intelligence tests. One criti-
cism of aptitude tests is that they do not measure the all-important and elusive variable
called “common sense.”
Personality tests assess people skills along with personality traits and person-
ality types. Perhaps the best known personality test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
(MBTI), was created in 1943 and has been perfected by research and by assessing mil-
lions of applicants over the years. This test and ones such as the Wilson Analogy Test
and the Miller Analogies Test also identify the reasoning and critical thinking skills of
Basic skills tests measure mathematics, measurement, reading, and spelling skills.
These skills are essential when individuals or teams are required to write up problems
with machines or groups. Some tests pose problems and require applicants to write five
to seven sentences describing the problem. Test monitors use a common formula to
check spelling, sentence structure, verb tense, clarity, and readability.
Honesty tests are designed to assess the ethics, honesty, integrity, trustworthiness,
and dependability of applicants. They are popular because of serious problems all types
of organizations encounter with dishonest employees. Be cautious when using such
tests. Studies of the American Psychological Association suggest they may identify
persons with a high propensity for stealing but not those in the moderate to low ranges.
Others suggest they may rule out large percentages of perfectly honest applicants while
eliminating a small number of undesirable applicants.17 Be sure any test you use has
been thoroughly validated on a cross-section of the American population to avoid bias,
has a high level of reliability from applicant to applicant, and that it is a valid tool for
the position you are trying to fill.
Fears of
lawsuits are
All tests must
be carefully
Few tests
assess common
Basic skills
appear to be
declining when
they are more
important than
Honesty tests
may appear
intrusive, but
they are here to
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The Recruiting Interview 139
Integrity interviews are face-to-face interactions with the primary purpose of
assessing the honesty of potential employees.Truthful applicants tend to acknowledge
the probability of employee theft, reply without hesitation, reject the idea of leniency
for dishonesty, and expect favorable test results. Interviewers have reported a phenom-
enon called outguessing in which applicants cheerfully admit to unethical activities
because they believe they are normal and “everyone does it.” They employ two formats
most frequently. The first consists of highly structured interviews that focus on ethics
and integrity by delving into previous work experience directly related to the position
available. Work-related questions result in applicants having positive feelings toward the
integrity interview and the organization. The second is used if previous work experience
is unavailable. The interviewer poses situational questions using specific dimensions of
ethical and honest behavior. Donna Pawlowski and John Hollwitz have developed a struc-
tured situational interview “based on the assumption that intentions predict behaviors.”18
Interviewers ask interviewees to respond to hypothetical scenarios and employ a 5-point
scale with an agreed upon definition of the dimension. Other dimensions are relation-
ship manipulation, interpersonal deception (lying), security violation (giving out trade
secrets), and sexual harassment (telling dirty jokes or displaying nude pictures).
Social Media
A large percentage of applicants use blogs and Web sites such as MySpace and Face-
book that reveal a great deal of information that has nothing to do with their quali-
fications for a position with your organization, but it may tell you a great deal about
how well they would fit into your organizational culture, including their motivations,
work habits, attitudes, and future plans. It is easy to access this information, and some
employers routinely ask applicants for their social networking passwords. Be careful.
Congress has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would make it illegal for
employers to ask for passwords. Some states are now considering their own legislation.
Tread lightly. Snooping into Web sites is likely to reveal personal characteristics such
as age, race, gender, disabilities, religion, marital status, and sexual orientation that vio-
late EEO laws. Brian Libby suggests that “you ask in advance if the candidate has any
online presence they’d like you to check out.”19
Probing deeply
into answers
is essential in
Focus on
real or hypo-
thetical work
Probe into
social media
with caution.
Integrity interviews are becoming more common
during the selection process as employers attempt to
assess the integrity of potential employees in an age
when honesty often seems the exception rather than
the norm. Many employers and researchers are raising
serious questions about the accuracy and value of hon-
esty tests in the employment selection setting. Search
the Internet for discussions of the uses and concerns
raised by written and oral honesty tests. These sources
should get you started on your search: Infoseek (http://, PsycInfo (http://www.psycinfo
.com), The Monster Board (,
CareerBuilder (, and
PsychLit (
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140 Chapter 7
Conducting the Interview
Having obtained and reviewed extensive information on applicants, you are ready for
the interview.
The Atmosphere and Setting
Establish an environment that is conducive to sharing information as well as feelings,
attitudes, and motivations. Conduct the recruiting interview in a comfortable, quiet, and
private location that eliminates or minimizes noise and interruptions. Choose a seat-
ing arrangement that maximizes interpersonal communication. Close doors, and turn
off phones, computers, and beepers. If your location does not allow for such privacy,
make the best of what you have. The authors have interviewed applicants in hallways,
stairways, hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, and ballrooms during open houses, and park
benches at outdoor job fairs.
Treat each interview as your top priority because the lifeblood of your organiza-
tion depends on these interviews and they are major events in the lives of applicants.
Patricia Buhler writes, “The interview is a two-way street. While the interviewer is
screening applicants for fit with the organization and position, the applicant is ‘inter-
viewing’ the company for fit as well. The interview, then, should also be viewed as a
public relations tool.” She warns that “Bad publicity travels quickly.”20 Applicants do
not distinguish you from your organization. Quality applicants are more likely to accept
offers if they perceive you to be a good representative of your organization. Be open
and honest. This is what you demand of applicants. Give a realistic picture of the posi-
tion and organization. Practice a conscious transparency in which you share informa-
tion with applicants, explain the purpose of questions, and promote dialogue through a
supportive climate.
The Interview Parties
The recruiting interview has traditionally involved two persons, the recruiter and the
applicant. A variation of this is the chain format in which one recruiter may converse
with an applicant for 15 or 20 minutes, perhaps developing a general impression of
the applicant’s background, and then passes the applicant along to a second recruiter
who probes into specific job skills. A third recruiter may then take over and assess the
applicant’s technical knowledge. The chain format is common in “plant” or “on site”
and determinate interviews that follow the screening process. A series of interviews
may take more than a day, including lunch and dinner with additional members of the
A growing number of organizations use panels to interview each applicant. Panel
members may represent different areas of the organization or divide an applicant’s cre-
dentials with one member asking about education, another asking about work experi-
ences, another about job-related skills, and another about community involvement. A
major advantage of the panel is that each member hears the same questions and answers
and may bring a variety of expertise and cultural diversity to the table. It reduces the
common problem of single interviewers interpreting differently or claiming to have
received different answers in their one-on-one contacts.
The atmosphere
may make
or break an
Employers are
with a variety of
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The Recruiting Interview 141
A seminar format in which one or more recruiters interview several applicants
at the same time, is less common than other interview formats, but it has a number of
advantages. It takes less time than single interviews, enables an organization to see
several applicants replying and reacting to the same questions at the same time, and
may provide valuable insights into how applicants might work with one another as a
team. If conducted with skill, applicants will not see the interview as a competition
but as an opportunity to build upon others’ comments while revealing their qualifica-
tions and experiences. If you are looking for leaders this may be the format you want
to use.
Opening the Interview
The opening sets the tone for the interview and creates the all-important first impres-
sion of you and your organization.
Building Rapport
Establishing rapport starts with greeting the applicant by name in a warm, friendly
manner and with a firm but not crushing handshake. Introduce yourself and your posi-
tion with the organization, but do not ask the applicant to address you by your first
name. Few applicants will feel comfortable doing so at this stage of your relationship.
Engage in small talk while avoiding trite questions or comments about the weather
or the applicant’s travel to the interview. Do not prolong small talk because this may
heighten the applicant’s anxiety and suspense.
Meaningful rapport building is particularly important in cross-cultural interviews
that are becoming ever more common in our global community. Build a relationship
“that is based on trust, understanding, and acceptance” from the first moments of the
interview, and bear in mind “that speaking the same language does not mean sharing
the same culture.”21
Explain how the interview will proceed. It may start with you asking questions, then
giving information about the position and organization, and finally encouraging the
applicant to ask questions. Make the orientation brief but with enough detail so the
applicant will know what to expect and when. You might tell how long the interview
will last and the times you will devote to each part. Inform the applicant if you are will-
ing to answer questions at any time during the interview. If this interaction is the first of
a series of interviews during an on-site visit or plant trip, provide the applicant with an
agenda that explains the who, what, when, and where of the process.
The Opening Question
Make your first question open-ended, easy-to-answer, and on a specific topic with
which the applicant is familiar such as education, experiences, or a recent internship. It
gets the applicant talking and relaxed and the recruiter listening and observing. Avoid
the too common question, “Tell about yourself,” that offers no guidelines for answer-
ing. Where does the applicant start (grade school, high school, college)? What would
you like to hear about (hobbies, experiences, community involvement)? How long do
Involve the
applicant in the
Do not
delay the
Share control
with the
Begin with an
open question,
but not too
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142 Chapter 7
you want the applicant to talk (a minute, a few minutes, several minutes)? Do not pur-
posely or accidentally ask a question that may put the applicant on the spot and result in
a poor answer. The temptation is to place too much weight on this answer and develop
a prematurely negative impression of the applicant.
The Body of the Interview
A growing percentage of organizations are using structured interviews in which
all primary questions are prepared ahead of time and posed to each applicant. They
are more reliable than the old “seat of the pants” or “off the top of the head” formats
because carefully designed questions that fit a particular job opening and organiza-
tional culture avoid stereotyping applicants, biases of recruiters, and questions that
violate EEO laws. Recruiters talk less in structured interviews so applicants tend to
reveal more in answers and recruiters can concentrate on answers and asking insight-
ful probing questions. Seemingly well-qualified applicants who do not match the
organization’s culture and are hired tend to perform poorly and to have a high turn-
over rate. We recommend a moderately structured interview that gives each party the
flexibility necessary for meaningful interactions and a maximum of self-disclosure in
a real-life setting.
Some organizations are employing behavior-based, highly structured interviews
in which all primary and probing questions are prepared ahead of time and asked of
each applicant without variation. Interviewers rate each applicant’s responses on behav-
iorally defined dimensions such as a five-point scale according to the degree to which
they exhibit or give information about one or more behaviors: 5 = strongly present and
1 = minimally present.
Do not set
up the applicant
for an early
structured inter-
views are more
reliable but less
flexible and
methods focus
on job-related
Rating Behavior Question
_______ Initiative Give me an example of when you have
resolved conflicts between employees.
_______ Energy How many times have you done this?
_______ General intelligence What was the outcome?
_______ Decisiveness How did you feel about the results you got?
_______ Adaptability When faced with intransigence, what
did you do?
In this example, the interviewer listens to the applicant’s answer to the primary question
and then proceeds to each pre-planned probing question unless the applicant addresses
some of these in an initial answer. While this highly structured approach provides stan-
dardization from interview to interview and may avoid stereotypes and EEO violations,
it lacks the spontaneity desired in interpersonal interactions in which applicants may
volunteer job-related information or demonstrate skills in realistic settings. The inter-
viewer has little freedom to adapt to specific applicants or to ask probing questions not
on the prepared list. The result may be fewer important insights into the applicant as a
person and potential colleague.
Build in
Get the
talking as
quickly as
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The Recruiting Interview 143
Asking Questions
Questions and answers from both parties dominate employment interviews and are criti-
cal to the success or failure of every interview. Use open-ended, neutral, and job-related
questions to encourage applicants to talk while you listen insightfully, observe, and for-
mulate effective probing questions. Rely on funnel sequences that start with open ques-
tions to get interviewees talking, relaxed, and disclosing maximum information.
Common Question Pitfalls
You must create or rephrase questions during interviews when you detect unexpected
areas to explore, unusual behaviors, or implied meanings that are unclear. Unfortu-
nately, this spontaneity makes you susceptible to committing common question pit-
falls. In addition to question pitfalls discussed in Chapters 3 and 5 (unintentional
bipolar, open-to-closed, double barreled, unintentional leading, guessing, yes (no),
curious, too high or too low, tell me everything, don’t ask, don’t tell), there are three
particularly relevant to the recruiting interview.
1. The evaluative response: The interviewer expresses judgmental feelings about an
answer that may bias or skew the next response.
Boy, I’ll bet you regret that decision.
That wasn’t a good reason to quit a job, was it?
That was a mistake, wasn’t it?
2. The EEO violation: The interviewer asks an unlawful question.
How often do you attend church?
How does your prosthetic leg hamper you in driving long distances?
What will you do if your husband gets transferred?
3. The resume or application form question: The interviewer asks a question that is
already answered on the resume or application form.
Where did you get your degree in criminology?
Have you studied abroad?
What internships have you had?
Traditional Questions
The following traditional recruiter questions avoid pitfalls and gather important job-
related information.
• Interest in the organization
Why would you like to work for us?
What have you read about our organization?
What do you know about our products and services?
• Work-related (general)
Tell me about the position that has given you the most satisfaction.
How have your previous work experiences prepared you for this position?
What did you do that was innovative in your last position?
Keep your
responses will
lead to safe,
Do not ask
for information
you already
Be on guard
for pitfalls in
primary and
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144 Chapter 7
• Work-related (specific)
Describe a typical strategy you would use to motivate people.
What criteria do you use when assigning work to others?
How do you follow up on work assigned to subordinates?
• Teams and teamwork
How do you feel when your compensation is based in part on team results?
What does the word teamwork mean to you?
How would you feel about working on cross-functional teams?
• Education and training
Tell me about the computer programs you have used.
How has your education prepared you for this position?
If you had your education to do over, what would you do differently?
• Career paths and goals
If you join us, what would you like to be doing five years from now?
How do you feel about the way your career has gone so far?
What are you doing to prepare yourself for advancement?
• Performance
What do you believe are the most important performance criteria for a project
All of us have pluses and minuses in our performance. What are some of your
pluses (minuses)?
How do you make difficult decisions?
• Salary and benefits
What are your salary expectations?
Which fringe benefits are most important to you?
How does our salary range compare to your last position?
• Career field
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing your field?
What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?
How do you feel about environmental regulations in your field?
On-the-Job Questions
Recruiters have been developing questions that assess more directly and effec-
tively how applicants might deal with work-related situations. These on-the-job
question strategies also help to counter impression management tactics applicants
are employing such as self-promotion (designed “to evoke attributions of com-
petence”) and ingratiation (designed “to evoke interpersonal liking and attrac-
tion”). Both of these tactics have proven to be “positively related to interviewer
The trend
is toward
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The Recruiting Interview 145
Behavior-based questions ask applicants about past experiences in which they
have had to deal with situations closely related to the position they are seeking.23
Tell me about an idea of yours that was implemented primarily through your efforts.
How did you manage a past situation when the rules were changed at the last minute?
Tell me about your most difficult relationship with a team member. How did you
handle it?
Describe a time when you experienced a setback in a class, in a sport, or on the
job. How did you handle it?
Tell me about a situation in which you had to deal with an irate customer or client.
Give me an example of how you sold an unpopular idea to fellow workers.
In critical incident questions, recruiters select actual incidents that are occurring or
have occurred on the job within their organizations and ask applicants how they would
have handled such incidents. For instance:
We are experiencing a growing problem of waste in our milling operation. How
would you handle this if we hired you?
Last year there was a lot of strife among our sales staff. If you had been with us,
what would you have done?
Like many firms, we are experiencing a decline in sales of our traditional products.
What would you suggest we do about it?
We have traditionally faced difficulties in recruiting a diverse staff because most of
our plants are located in small cities in rural areas of the mid-west. How would
you suggest we improve our recruiting efforts? . . .
Hypothetical questions are most useful when they portray situations applicants have
not directly encountered and, therefore, have not prepared answers in advance. Recruit-
ers create highly realistic situations and ask applicants how they would manage each.
Suppose you are suspicious that some workers are doctoring their time cards. What
would you do?
If your company suddenly announced the closing of your facility by January 1, what
would you do?
If a female employee came to you claiming sexual harassment, how would you
handle it?
In a case approach, an applicant enters into a carefully crafted job-related situa-
tion that may take from minutes to hours to resolve. This situation may involve the use
of personnel, a working relationship, a production or management problem, a safety
issue, or recurring customer complaints. Some employers create elaborate simula-
tions that may require role playing and involve several people, including more than one
All on-the-job questions are based on the belief that the best way to determine
how an applicant may perform a job with your organization is to observe the applicant
addressing or performing realistic job-related tasks. Many applicants who can talk about
and critical
incident ques-
tions assess
how applicants
would handle
real work
A case approach
is the most
question format.
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146 Chapter 7
theories, principles, and practices may be unable to apply them in real-life situations.
Be careful of applicants who can tell good stories in realistic and likeable manners.
Dig beneath the surface of what may be a carefully planned and rehearsed fictional
narrative. For example, when recruiters asked MBAs to relate a time when they faced
a challenging situation, six provided identical answers about serving on a fund-raising
committee. Unfortunately, none of the six had ever served on a fund-raising commit-
tee. They provided answers they thought recruiters wanted to hear.24 Remember, there
are always two applicants in every interview, the real and the make-believe. Much
of what you are observing and hearing may be a meticulously crafted façade. Whether
asking traditional or on-the-job questions, rely on probing questions to determine what
is genuine and what is make-believe, and to unearth specifics, knowledge, expertise,
feelings, motivations, attitudes, and preferences.
Remember an additional factor when asking on-the-job questions. Experienced
applicants have a wealth of examples from which to draw, while soon-to-be college
graduates and those with little experience have few. Try to provide a level playing field
when you are interested in a variety of levels of experience.
Avoid becoming a cheerleader, as many of our student interviewers tend to do, by
saying “Great!” “Very good” or “Awesome!” after every answer. Applicants will come to
expect the praise and become concerned if it stops. Maintain a pleasant, supportive poker
face that never reveals whether you believe an answer is very good, negative, or outrageous.
Giving Information
Providing information during the interview is a major determinant of applicant satis-
faction. Before you begin to give information, however, ask two important transition
questions: “What do you know about this position?” and “What do you know about
our organization?” Answers to these questions reveal, first, how much homework the
applicant has done and the applicant’s level of interest and work ethic. Second, they tell
you what the applicant already knows about the position and organization so you can
begin where the person’s knowledge leaves off. This prevents you from giving informa-
tion the applicant already has.
Give information to facilitate the matching process between the organization and
the applicant. Information about your organization’s reputation, organizational culture,
the position, typical work day, and advancement opportunities are important factors in
acceptance of job offers. You may compare your organization to your competitors’, but
do not be negative.
Sell the advantages of your position and organization. Avoid exaggerating, inten-
tionally hiding negative aspects of the position or organization, or inflating applicant
expectations. These practices result in high rates of employee dissatisfaction and turn-
over. Avoid gossip. Do not talk too much about yourself. While you want to inform
applicants thoroughly, your information giving must not dominate the interview. You will
learn more about the applicant by listening than by talking. Review the guidelines for
information giving in Chapter 12 and follow these suggestions.
• Practice good communication skills because applicants may judge the “authen-
ticity” of information by how it is communicated verbally and nonverbally.
is the primary
interest of
“you” in the
Rule #1: Keep
your ears open
and your mouth
Probe for
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The Recruiting Interview 147
• Encourage applicants to ask questions about information you are giving so you
know it is being communicated accurately and effectively.
• Do not overload applicants with information.
• Organize your information systematically.
Closing the Interview
When you are conducting screening interviews at job fairs, conferences, campus career
centers, or on site, you are on a fishing expedition to determine the quality of applicants
and which interviewees stand above all others. This will help you to determine whether
you need to continue seeking quality applicants. Your closing of a screening interview
may be similar to the following.
Michelle, I’ve enjoyed talking with you this afternoon (pause to let the applicant
talk). We are visiting several campuses along the Atlantic coast to interview for posi-
tions at several Darby Electronics facilities. Within the next few weeks, we will invite
a number of candidates to our home offices in Baltimore. We will inform you of our
decisions within the next ten days. Do you have any final questions for me? (pause to
let the applicant talk). If you need to contact me or have any questions, my phone num-
bers and e-mail address is on this card. Have a good week.
When you are conducting a determinate interview as a follow-up to the screening
process, do not indicate this decision during the interview. Be honest and candid with appli-
cants by not signaling the impression, perhaps erroneously, that each is high on your list.
Watch what you do, say, and ask following the formal closing as you walk
the applicant to the door, elevator, or parking area or escort the applicant to meet
another member of your organization. These informal times may also lead to EEO
violations by chatting about families, outside interests, and activities. Avoid any-
thing that may adversely affect the relationship you have developed so carefully
during the interview.
Follow up on all prospects. You or a representative of your organization should
phrase and sign all letters to give them a personal touch. If you have decided to reject
an applicant, do not string the person along needlessly or give the person false hope.
Let the applicant down gently, but do not try to give explanations for your decision that
only raise questions and invite counter-arguments. Strive to maintain positive feelings
toward your organization by communicating that you gave each applicant a fair and
equal chance of being selected. Sometime in the future you may want to recruit this
person again.
Evaluating the Interview
Take minimal notes during the interview to maintain the conversational nature of the
interaction. Review your notes and thoughts as soon as possible after the interview
closes. Try to build in time between each interview for review while the interview
is still fresh in your mind. If you have a written interview schedule of primary and
probing questions, leave space between questions so you can write your reactions
under each.
The closing
must sustain the
positive tone of
the interview.
Do not discour-
age or encour-
age applicants
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148 Chapter 7
Some organizations develop review/evaluation forms that list major questions or
criteria for each position and may include a rating scale. These sheets enable you to
record your thoughts and impressions quickly so you can move to the next interview or
task on your to-do list. These pre-planned forms help to ensure that different interview-
ers will rate and perhaps rank each applicant consistent with bona fide occupational
qualifications for each position. See Figure 7.1 for a sample rating form.
The following are open-ended questions you might address in your postinterview
• What are the applicant’s strengths for this position?
• What are the applicant’s weaknesses for this position?
• How does this applicant compare with other applicants for this position?
• What makes this applicant a good or poor fit for this position?
• What makes this applicant a good or poor fit with our organization?
Record your
impressions and
Figure 7.1 Interview Evaluation Report
Candidate Evaluation Report
Interviewer ____________________________ Date _________________________
Candidate ____________________________ Position _______________________
Rating Scale: 5 = Exceptional, 4 = Above Average, 3 = Average, 2 = Below
Average, 1 = Unsatisfactory
Education/Training 5 4 3 2 1
Work Experiences 5 4 3 2 1
Interpersonal Skills 5 4 3 2 1
Technical Skills 5 4 3 2 1
Motivation/Initiative 5 4 3 2 1
Working with Others/Teams 5 4 3 2 1
Knowledge of the Company 5 4 3 2 1
Interest in the Company 5 4 3 2 1
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The Recruiting Interview 149
Use the evaluation stage to assess your interviewing skills and performance. How
successful were you at creating an informal and relaxed atmosphere that encouraged the
applicant to speak openly and freely? How effectively did you listen and observe and then
probe insightfully into answers? How well did you provide information on the position
and organization not readily available to the applicant in other sources? Did you reserve
adequate time for the applicant to ask questions, and how effectively did you respond to
these questions? How successful were you at closing the interview positively and leav-
ing a good impression of the process and organization?
The recruiting interview can be an effective means of selecting employees, but it takes
thorough preparation that includes knowledge of state and federal EEO laws, an applicant
profile, review of information on applicants, and development of a carefully structured inter-
view. Preparation must be followed by a professional interview that includes an effective
opening, skillful questioning, probing into answers, thorough information giving, honest and
detailed answers to questions, and an effective closing. Practice communication skills that
include language selection, nonverbal communication (silence, voice, eye contact, facial
expressions, posture, and gestures), listening, and empathy.
When the interview is concluded, conduct evaluations of the applicant and yourself.
The first focuses on the applicant’s suitability and fit and the second on your effectiveness
as recruiter and evaluator.
Key Terms and Concepts
Assess the
performance of
both interview
Basic skills tests
Birds of a feather
Board interview
Bona fide occupational
qualification (BFOQ)
Career fairs
Chain format
applicant profile
Conscious transparency
Cover letters
Critical incident questions
EEO laws
Honesty tests
Integrity interviews
Interview evaluation
Job fairs
Matching process
Scanning softare
Talent-based selection
Trait-based selection
Recruiting Role-Playing Cases
Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor
You are one of three chief aircraft maintenance supervisors for a major airline conducting
screening interviews at a career fair in Chicago. You are seeking to fill two aircraft mainte-
nance supervisor positions for your national maintenance facility in Denver. Your specific
targets are recent graduates of maintenance programs in schools of technology at major uni-
versities and military personnel with experience in maintaining aircraft like or similar to those
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150 Chapter 7
used by your airline. Hands-on experience with aircraft and previous supervisory experience
are essential.
A Sales Position
Your home improvement firm is seeking salespersons to call on homeowners who have
expressed an interest in purchasing new doors, windows, or siding when responding to cold
calls from a calling center. The positions require experience in sales, good interpersonal
skills, and knowledge of building materials and remodeling methods and problems. Although
your firm handles two well-known manufacturers of doors, windows, and siding, candidates
must have the ability to become thoroughly familiar with several manufacturers to respond
adequately to customers’ questions and concerns. A bachelor’s degree or two-year degree
in building construction technology is preferred, but highly experienced candidates will be
A Sportscaster
You are the new owner-manager of radio station WPRZ in a city of 75,000 people. The
station has changed owners a number of times during the past 15 years, and a new format
has come with each new owner: classic rock, syndicated talk shows, a mixture of every-
thing, and most recently country and western. You want to maintain the current format
(country and western) because you feel that it fits the community best, but you also want
to hire a sportscaster who would focus on local college and high school teams and begin
some live broadcasting for football and basketball games. You want to hire a first-rate,
on-air sportscaster who can establish good relations with the community, the college,
and the schools in the city and county. You face two problems: you have limited funds for
salary and benefits and many applicants will see your city and station as “out in the sticks.”
Student Activities
1. Many recruiters believe that incentive is critical to a good hire. Contact your campus
career center and ask permission to pose two questions to a dozen recruiters: What
questions do you ask that pertain to incentive? How do you assess incentive from
applicant credentials, applicant answers, and applicant questions?
2. Contact a number of recruiters from different career fields and ask them to discuss
the pluses and minuses of hiring recent college graduates. Probe for specifics and
illustrations (without names). What changes have they seen in recent college gradu-
ates during the past 10 years?
3. Contact a number of recruiters to see how many employ a behavior-, trait-, or talent-
based approach to recruiting new employees. If they do not use or have abandoned
one of these approaches, what are their reasons for doing so? What differences can
you detect among the three approaches? How do recruiters using one or more of
these approaches detect dishonest answers?
4. Do a Web-based search of sources on EEO laws and regulations and the recommen-
dations these sources make to recruiters to ask lawful questions and to applicants for
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The Recruiting Interview 151
recognizing and replying to unlawful questions. What changes have affected employ-
ment interviews during the past five years? What are the most controversial and often
violated EEO laws and regulations? Which state laws tend to be more stringent than
federal laws?
1. Tom Peters, Re-Imagine: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age (London: Dorling
Kindersley, 2003), pp. 18 and 81.
2. Patricia M. Buhler, “Interviewing Basics: A Critical Competency for All Managers,”
Supervision 66 (March 2005), pp. 20–22; Adam Agard, “Pre-employment Skills
Testing: An Important Step in the Hiring Process,” Supervision 64 (June 2003), pp. 7–8.
3. “Tips on choosing a Staffing Firm,” http://www.american accessed
December 19, 2015.
4. Joyce Gioia, “Special Report: Changing the Face(s) in Your Recruiting Efforts,” Work-
force Stability Institute,,
accessed September 14, 2006.
5. “Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers,” http://www, accessed July 12, 2012.
6. “Behavior Interview Guide,” National Institutes of Health, Equal Employment
Opportunity Specialist, GS – 260,”……, accessed July 12, 2012.
7. Patrice M. Buzzanell, “Employment Interviewing Research: Ways We Can Study
Underrepresented Group Members’ Experiences as Applicants,” Journal of Business
Communication 39 (2002), pp. 257–275; Patrice M. Buzzanell and Rebecca J.
Meisenbach, “Gendered Performance and Communication in the Employment
Interview,” in Gender and Communication at Work, Mary Barrett and Marilyn
J. Davidson, eds. (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), pp. 19–37.
8. Karen O’Keefe, “Five Secrets to Successful Interviewing and Hiring,” http://www, accessed September 14, 2006.
9. Adam Miller, “3 things millennials want in a career (hint: it’s not more money),” fortune.
com/2015/03/261/-3-things-millennials-want-in-a-career-hint-it’s-not-more-money; Rob
Asghar, “What Millennials Want In The Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It
to Them),”
workplace-and-why-you-should-start-giving -it-to-them; Carol Phillips and Judy Hope-
lain, Summer 2015, “What Do Millennials Want in a Job? Insights for Making Talent
Brands Millennial-Relevant,”
10. Patrice M. Buzzanell, “Tensions and Burdens in Employment Interviewing Processes:
Perspectives of Nondominant Group Applicants,” Journal of Business Communication
36 (1999), pp. 134–162.
11. Fredric M. Jablin and Vernon D. Miller, “Interviewer and Applicant Questioning Behavior
in Employment Interviews,” Management Communication Quarterly 4 (1990), pp. 51–86.
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152 Chapter 7
12. Susan M. Heathfield, “5 Resume Red Flags for Employers,” http://humanresources., accessed
July 13, 2012; M. Susan Heathfield, “5 More Resume Red Flags for Employers,” http://
accessed July 13, 2012.
13. “Resume Falsification Statistics,”,
accessed December 30, 2015. Kim Isaacs, “Lying on Your Resume: What Are the
Career Consequences?”
/resume-writing-tips/lying-on-your-resume/article.aspx, accessed July 13, 2012.
14. “Top Applicant Tracking Software Products,”
-software, accessed December 30, 2015.
15. Stephanie Clifford, Brian Scudamore, Andy Blumberg, and Jess Levine, “The New
Science of Hiring,” Inc 28 (August 2006), pp. 90–98, http://www.wf2la7.webfeat
.org, accessed September 13, 2006; Bill Angus, “Uses of Pre-Employment Tests in
Selection Procedures,”, accessed July 16,
16. Rochelle Kaplan, “Do Assessment Tests Predict Behavior or Screen Out a Diverse
Work Force?” Journal of Career Planning & Employment, Spring 1999, pp. 9–12;
“Employers Aim to Measure Personality, Skill,”
/business/newsletter/050606/050606article.xml, accessed July 16, 2012.
17. Wayne J. Camara, “Employee Honesty Testing: Traps and Opportunities,” Boardroom
Reports, December 15, 1991; David J. Cherrington and J. Owen Charrington,” “The
Reliability and Validity of Honesty Testing,”, accessed
December 31, 2015.
18. Donna R. Pawlowski and John Hollwitz, “Work Values, Cognitive Strategies, and
Applicant Reactions in a Structured Pre-Employment Interview for Ethical Integrity,”
The Journal of Business Communication 37 (2000), pp. 58–75.
19. Brian Libby, “How to Conduct a Job Interview,”
505125_162-5105294/how-to-conduct-a-job-interview, accessed July 9, 2012; Dirk
Stemerman, “Dirk Stemerman: Social Media and Job Applicants,” http://www…,
accessed June 25, 2012.
20. Buhler.
21. Choon-Hwa Lim, Richard Winter, and Christopher C.A. Chan, “Cross-Cultural Inter-
viewing in the Hiring Process: Challenges and Strategies,” The Career Development
Quarterly 54 (March 2006), p. 267.
22. Aleksander P. J. Ellis, Bradley J. West, Ann Marie Ryan, and Richard P. DeShon,
“The Use of Impression Management Tactics in Structured Interviews: A Function of
Question Type,” Journal of Applied Psychology 87 (2002), pp. 1200–1208.
23. Randy Myers, “Interviewing Techniques from the Pros,” Journal of Accounting 202
(August 2006), pp. 53–55.
24. Jim Kennedy, “What to Do When Job Applicants Tell . . . Tales of Invented Lives,”
Training, October 1999, pp. 110–114.
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The Recruiting Interview 153
Bunting, Sandra. The Interviewer’s Handbook. London, England: Kogan Page, 2005.
Davidson, Marilyn J. and Mary Barrett. Gender and Communication at Work. London:
Gower Publishing, 2012.
Lynn, Adele. The EQ Interview. New York: AMACOM, 2008.
Powell, Larry, and Jonathan H. Amsbary. Interviewing: Situations and Contexts. Boston,
MA: Pearson Education, 2005.
Yeung, Rob. Successful Interviewing and Recruitment. London, England: Kogan Page,
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The Employment Interview8C H A P T E R
The position you are seeking is out there, but competition is stiff and employ-ers are picky. There are no simple formulas, magic acts, or shortcuts to locate
and land your dream job, only hard work. Approach each search systematically and
The objectives of this chapter are to take you through a series of stages in the
search process. Start by analyzing yourself and proceed to doing research, conduct-
ing the search, preparing credentials, creating a favorable first impression, answering
questions, asking questions, closing the interview, evaluating the interview, and dealing
with rejection. Begin with a systematic self-analysis.
Analyzing Yourself
The only way you can decide which career, position, and organization is the best fit
for you is to know yourself. Recruiters want to discover who you are, what you have
done and are interested in doing, and if you are a good fit for a specific position and
their organizational needs, plans, and culture. In essence, you are taking part in a sales
interview, and the product is you.
Questions to Guide Your Self-Analysis
Analyzing yourself may be painful, but you need to probe deeply and honestly into
your strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, likes and dislikes. Your future
depends on it. Replying to the following checklist of questions and traits is an essential
first step in your career search.1
• What are my personality traits?
____ Motivated ____ Willing to take risks
____ Open-minded ____ Assertive
____ Adaptive ____ Able to work under pressure
____ Flexible ____ Open to criticism
• How trustworthy am I?
____ Honest ____ Tolerant
____ Reliable ____ Sincere
You cannot
sell you if you
don’t know
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156 Chapter 8
____ Ethical ____ Self-controlled
____ Fair ____ Even tempered
• What are my intellectual strengths and weaknesses?
____ Intelligent ____ Analytic
____ Creative ____ Rational
____ Organized ____ Critical
____ Planner
• What are my communicative strengths and weaknesses?
____ Oral communication skills ____ Interpersonal skills
____ Written communication skills ____ With diverse people
____ New media skills ____ With subordinates, co-workers,
____ Listening skills superiors
• What are my accomplishments and failures?
____ Academic ____ Professional
____ Extracurricular activities and ____ Goals set and met
____ Work
• What are my professional strengths and weaknesses?
____ Formal education ____ Experiences
____ Informal education ____ Skills
____ Training
• What do I want in a position?
____ Responsibility ____ Contact with people
____ Independence ____ Security
____ Authority ____ Variety
____ Prestige ____ Salary
____ Type of work ____ Benefits
____ Decision making
• What are my most valued needs?
____ Home and family ____ Free time
____ Income ____ Recreation opportunities
____ Possessions ____ Feeling of success and accomplishment
____ Geographical location
Focus on
strengths and
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The Employment Interview 157
• What are my professional interests?
____ Short-range goals ____ Growth
____ Long-range goals ____ National/international recognition
____ Advancement
• Do I have a mature and realistic perception of my field?
____ History ____ Developments
____ Trends ____ Areas of specialization
____ Challenges ____ Current problems
____ Future problems ____ Essential education/training
____ Essential experiences ____ Employment opportunities
When you complete your self-analysis, you will have a keener insight into who you are,
what you would like to do in a career, what you are qualified to do, what sets you apart
from other applicants, and what you want and need in life.
Doing Research
Research the fields in which you have both interests and qualifications, positions avail-
able, organizations that appear to be a good fit, and relevant current events. Most
questions recruiters ask will focus on these four areas. Thorough research will set you
apart from a great many applicants.
Research Your Field
Discover everything you can about the past, present, and future of your field. Develop a
mature and informed understanding of what everyday life and typical workdays are like in
this field. Take advantage of internships, cooperatives, part-time positions, observational
visits, shadowing members of the profession, and volunteer activities to discover what a
field is all about. Published and Internet resources on every major career field from acting
and advertising to visual arts and writing, are highly informative. These include:
Campus Explorer
AOL. Jobs
Peterson’s Job Opportunities
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Why and how
have you made
past decisions?
Knowing your
field is essential
for selecting
and scheduling
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158 Chapter 8
Recruiters expect you to know why you are interested in a particular career field,
to have positive attitudes toward this field, to know what you expect in a career in this
field, and to be aware of career opportunities and limitations of careers in this field.
They also expect you to be acquainted with organizational life.
Research the Position
Learn everything you can about each position. Check the job description word by
word to see how well you match or fit the requirements specified: education and
training, experiences, skills, responsibilities, travel involved, location, and start-
ing date. You need not be perfect but you must be close enough for the recruiter
to consider you seriously. If the description lists three-to-five years of experi-
ence and you have a little over one year of outstanding experience, give it a go.
If you have a degree in building construction technology and the description for
a construction engineering manager specifies a degree in civil engineering, check
it out. On the other hand, if the description specifies a degree and experience in
social work while your degree is in English and your experience is limited to edit-
ing manuscripts for a publisher, do not waste the recruiter’s time or yours. If you
have no intention of moving from Michigan and the position is in Boston, check
it off your list. Try to imagine yourself doing this job. A thorough understanding
of the position prepares you to answer questions effectively and ask meaningful
Research the Organization
Learn everything you can about each organization to which you apply. A poor
answer to a question such as “Tell me what you know about us” can ruin your
chances of being considered further. Knowing too little about their organizations
is a major turnoff for recruiters because it is easy to become informed if you are
really interested. Nearly every organization has a Web site. For example, if you
learned of a position at Wabash National Corporation, a leading manufacturer
of semi-trailers, that sounds relevant to your career interests, a few clicks on its
Web site will provide information “about us,” including careers, investors, his-
tory, vision, mission, values, products, locations, news and events, and number of
Other sources provide insights not available on organizational Web pages
designed to impress readers. Topics include downsizing plans, moving facilities to
other locations in the United States or out of the country, potential mergers, finan-
cial status, reputation in the field, recent setbacks, and culture. Talk to current and
former employees, clients, professors, friends, and relatives. Check the Internet,
newspaper articles, discussions in trade journals, and your local or campus library.
Resources include American Business Disc, Dun’s Electronic Business Directory,
Hoovers: Your Fastest Path to Business Information, Standard and Poor’s Corporate
Records, and Thomas Register of American Manufacturers.
enables you
to answer and
ask questions
How closely do
you match this
enables you
to answer
key questions
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The Employment Interview 159
Research the Recruiter
If it is possible to identify the recruiter ahead of time, talk to friends, associates,
professors, career center personnel, members of the interviewer’s organization, and
check social media such as Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook for a wealth of personal
and professional information. Discover the interviewer’s position, professional back-
ground, organizations to which the interviewer belongs, personality, and interviewing
characteristics. An interviewer may have a dry sense of humor, come from a different
culture, or be “all business.” It helps to know the person you will interact with prior
to the interview. If the person is all business, avoid small talk, lengthy answers, and
attempts at humor.
Research Current Events
Keep up-to-date with what is going on in the world. Time, BusinessWeek, Fortune, The
Wall Street Journal, and online news sources are excellent for current developments.
Mature applicants are informed about what is going on around them and in the world—
local, state, national, international—and have formed intelligent, rational positions on
important issues.
Be informed about current trends, changes, developments, research, and mergers that
are affecting the organization to which you are applying, your field, and your career path.
If you are interested in a position as a high school music teacher, you need to be aware
of educational “reforms” taking place in many states and state budget problems that are
resulting in “downsizing” music programs. If you are interviewing in the pharmaceutical
field, be aware of new products, promising research, and controversies concerning old
and new drugs and cost to consumers. If you are interested in working in another country
such as China or India, become aware of the country’s relations with the United States,
cultural differences, cost of living, and policies affecting noncitizen workers.
Research the Interview Process
Discover everything you can about what takes place during employment interviews to
avoid or minimize mistakes and surprises. Review Chapter 7 on the recruiting inter-
view, talk to peers in your field who have been through the process recently and profes-
sors who are actively involved in interviewing. Keep abreast of what is taking place in
your field. The Internet provides a wealth of information and insights into all aspects of
the interviewing process and answers to questions such as “What’s the most important
thing I can do to prepare for an interview?” “How important is appearance?” “What
kinds of questions do recruiters ask?” “What do recruiters look for in answers?” “What
types of information do recruiters provide about their organizations and the openings
they have?” “What kinds of questions should I ask?” “How are plant trip interviews dif-
ferent from screening interviews?” Be prepared to receive a variety of answers to your
questions because recruiters, even from the same organization, have different prefer-
ences on almost every aspect of the search process. Get second and third opinions and
determine what is best for you and your field.
possible, get
to know the
ahead of time.
Keep abreast
of what is
happening in
the world and in
your field.
Rely on no
single source
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160 Chapter 8
Students have often asked us why we do not bring a recruiter to class “to show
how it’s done.” Our standard answer has been that we would need to fill up the entire
room with recruiters to show how it’s done. Be suspicious of sources that claim to
have simple formulas for success or the “winning answers” to frequently asked ques-
tions. Some recruiters employ behavior-based or trait-based interviews, and some do
not. Some employ highly structured or moderately structured interviews, and some do
not use either. Some probe extensively into answers, and others do not. Some provide
extensive information on the organization and position, and some do not. Some will
give you several minutes to ask questions, and some will not. Your goal is to be ready
for whatever happens in each interview.
A consistent concern of recruiters is the honesty of applicants. A highly edu-
cated, trained, and skilled employee without honesty, morals, and sincerity will quickly
become a liability to the organization. A recruiter may ask you to take a written and/
or oral honesty test designed to determine degrees of honesty, conduct an integrity
interview, or incorporate questions into the interview to assess honesty. Be honest
in all of your preinterview materials (application form, cover letter, résumé) and in
every answer during an interview. Any hint of dishonesty or evasiveness will result in
Your research into the interview process may produce surprising results. For exam-
ple, recent studies reveal that 50 percent of “speech acts” in sample interviews were
declarative statements rather than questions and answers. Most interviewers have no
training in interviewing. In a study of 49 interviews, 10 interviewers did not give appli-
cants opportunities to ask questions. Recruiters are increasingly viewing the interview
as a work sample and look for relevant job behaviors from applicants: can you do the
job, will you do the job, and how well will you fit into the organization? A shocking
result of recent studies is that there is not a shortage of jobs in the United States but a
shortage of qualified applicants.2
Conducting the Search
Start the search process by using every source available to locate positions that match
your interests and qualifications.
Surveys report that 40 to 80 percent of job seekers land their positions by networking.3
So, how do you go about networking? Start by building a networking tree. Sources
you know well, including relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, professors, and
former employers, are the major limbs. Acquaintances from fitness centers, college, a
branch of the military, church, and social or professional organizations are the smaller
limbs. People you do not know personally such as friends or associates of your personal
contacts, a former roommate’s spouse or parent, a physician’s neighbor, or a friend’s
employer or supervisor are the branches. Social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and
Twitter enable you to create and post profiles. Keep your network apprized of the status
of your search, reconnect with people from your past, reach out to strangers who may
be of assistance, and become visible to potential employers. You can place professional
Integrity is
essential for all
Expect the
Leave no
source off your
network tree.
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The Employment Interview 161
headlines such as “money consultant” or “online teacher” on LinkedIn or take part in
career field chat rooms on twitter to keep up-to-date, make contacts, and broadcast your
areas of expertise. Make note of each contact’s telephone numbers, mailing address,
and e-mail address.
When your tree is well-developed, contact each source personally and explain your
situation by focusing on your career goals and the type or types of positions you are
seeking. Be specific. Telling a person you are looking for a position in marketing or
construction management is of little help. If a contact in your network has no leads
for you, ask for names who might know of relevant opportunities. As your search pro-
gresses, add persons to your network tree while pruning those who have not provided
assistance or contacts. When you get a lead, write down the lead’s full name, position,
organization, and telephone numbers under the contact’s name so you know who sug-
gested the lead and ask if you can use the contact’s name. The who may be a major
factor in a lead’s interest in helping you.
Use and maintain your network. Ask for advice on preparing your credentials,
how best to contact sources, important information about sources, and how these
sources might help. Seek input on constructing and modifying your résumés and
cover letters. And inquire about how to prepare for interviews in your field. Keep in
touch with your contacts. Let them know what you are doing, interviews you will
have and have had, and progress you are making. Prepare them for contacts they
may be getting from potential employers. Inform your network when you receive
an offer, reject an offer, or accept an offer. Always send thank you notes for any
assistance you receive.
Web Sites, Classified Ads, and Newsletters
Every organization has a Web site, and each is likely to include a section on careers
and positions they wish to fill. Identify organizations for which you would like to
work to see if you are a good fit. Check classified ads in local, regional, and national
newspapers. These ads attract candidates and satisfy the EEOC test of making openings
known to all who might be interested and qualified. Join professional organizations to
show you are a professional and to keep abreast of what is happening in your field.
Take advantage of newsletters organizations send out in print and online. Some have
job listings in your field.
Keep your
complete and
Overlook no
Select a position you will be interested in when you
complete your education or training. Search at least
three Internet resources to discover the availability of
such positions, geographical areas in which they are
located, organizations that are seeking to fill them,
and the nature of the positions being offered. Check
resources such as Job Hunt (,
CareerBuilder Center (,
MonsterTrak ( After
collecting this information, develop a list of interview
questions to which you would need answers before
making a decision to accept one of these positions.
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162 Chapter 8
Career Centers and Employment Agencies
Colleges and universities operate centers for career opportunities that are available to its
students and alumni. Use your center to determine which careers are best suited to your
interests, education, and experiences and review its wealth of materials about orga-
nizations and guidelines for doing online research. Counselors can help you develop
résumés appropriate for your career interests and qualifications and assist you in writ-
ing effective cover letters. Your center can provide contacts for interviews, many of
which will take place on your campus to eliminate travel expenses and time. If you are
an alumnus interested in changing positions or careers, trained counselors can help you
determine future directions.
Employment or placement agencies, sometimes referred to as head hunters, can
help you locate positions and arrange interviews. Some agencies specialize in career
fields such as health care, teaching, management, communication, engineering, and
government positions. When you sign up with an agency, it “becomes your advocate
and ‘represents you’—a relationship that starts whenever you apply for a job through”
it and by “listing and submitting your résumé.”4 An employment agency may perform
tasks similar to those provided in college career centers.
Percentage agencies will help place you for a fee, often a percentage of your first
year’s salary, payable upon assuming a position they helped you obtain. Most agencies
advertize fee-paid positions, which means that an organization has retained them on a
fee basis to locate quality applicants. You pay nothing. If you use a percentage agency,
expect to pay a registration fee to process your credentials. Most agencies are ethical,
but use reasoned skepticism. If they want a great deal of money in advance to process
your résumé or make claims of placing nearly all of their applicants in highpaying posi-
tions, go elsewhere. Beware of agencies that want to produce expensive videotapes and
other expensive credentials.
The Career/Job Fair
Attend career or job fairs held on your campus, local malls, or civic centers because
they bring a variety of employers to one convenient location. If there are no job fairs in
your area, Web sites will help you locate ones around the country, including virtual job
fairs you can attend online. Fairs give you opportunities to network, meet representa-
tives personally, and have face-to-face interviews. Some fairs are specialized according
to industry (aircraft, construction, electronics), field of study (engineering, agriculture,
liberal arts, medicine), government agency (FBI, Homeland Security, foreign service,
transportation), or specific groups (veterans, disabled, recently laid off due to plant
closings). Be prepared for professional encounters by knowing your strong points,
career goals, where you would like to be in five years, what you are looking for in a
position, and who you would like to talk to. Dress professionally if you expect to have
interviews or in your better student attire if merely browsing. Be attractive and neat.
Always have copies of your résumé(s) with you.
Scout the terrain when you arrive to see who is there and with whom you most want
to interact. Are representatives setting up interviews as well as handing out informa-
tion and answering questions? Gather printed materials, listen, and observe interactions
Your campus
center is a
If it sounds too
good to
be true, it
probably is.
Know how to
make the
most of job
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The Employment Interview 163
as you walk about or wait your
turn to talk to a representative.
For which positions are you
most qualified? Does an organi-
zation have positions open or is
it attending for public relations
purposes and future openings?
When you come face-to-
face with a representative who
may also be a recruiter, be aware
that this person is sizing you
up just as you are sizing up the
organization and its representa-
tive. Appearance, friendliness,
communication skills, and pro-
fessionalism are top priority for
both parties. Stay calm but also
show enthusiasm and assertive-
ness. The worst question you can
ask is, “What are you hiring for?”
and the worst answer you can
give to a counter-question such
as “What are you looking for?” is
“A job.” This may seem cute, but
it is an immediate turnoff.
Knocking on Doors
Do not hesitate to knock on doors. Organizations are always on the lookout for talent
but may not have a specific position open at the moment. When a door opens, state
clearly the nature of the position you are seeking and how you are uniquely qualified
and capable of contributing immediately to this organization’s needs, plans, products,
or services. It may be unable to offer you a position at this time, but it might keep you
in mind for when it can. The person you are talking to may identify openings in your
field or recommend you to a friend. This person becomes part of your network. Be per-
sistent. Nearly every employer has a story about a person who kept coming to the office
time after time until finally the employer, impressed with the person’s persistence and
qualifications, created an opening to use this person’s tenacity and abilities.
Presenting Yourself to the Employer
At this stage, your search becomes proactive as you star t contacting poten-
tial employers as the next step toward face-to-face or electronic interviews. This
involves personal branding through social media, preparing résumés, developing
No single
résumé is
suitable for
all positions.
Knocking on
doors works.
l B
■ Use the Internet to research positions and organizations.
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164 Chapter 8
portfolios, and writing cover letters that are carefully aligned with the employer’s
needs and desires.
Since you are the product you are selling, you need to create a brand that
emphasizes your talents, exper tise, exper iences, and education and sets you
apart from the hundreds of other applicants who are seeking similar positions.
What makes you special? Express and demonstrate your passion for your career,
dwell on your strengths, and identify your long and short range goals clearly and
The use of social media has become an integral part of the search process because
they enable you to advertise your brand so employers can find you. Barbara Stefani,
owner of Career Savers, writes that “over 90 percent of recruiters perform Internet
searches on candidates before making a hiring decision, and over half of employers
solidify their decision to hire based on a strong online presence.”5 Sources on branding
encourage applicants to expand and enhance their online visibilities by creating their
own Web site, having a blog, using video promotion, posting social media updates, and
taking part in online conversations pertinent to their fields and career interests. Share
your thoughts on trends and news by answering questions, responding to postings,
and writing your own postings. Professional use of social media such as LinkedIn,
twitter, facebook, and pinterest demonstrate your social media capabilities to potential
Be aware, however, that employers may also be accessing all of your social media
including those in which you are acting goofy, drinking excessively at parties, posing
in sexually explicit manner, using profanity, and bragging about sexual exploits. Make
some of your media accounts for “friends only” so they remain as private as possible.
Employers are concerned about how you might fit into their organizational culture,
perform maturely during interactions, and present a positive image of the organization
within the community.
Preparing the perfect résumé gets so much attention in print and on the Internet that
you may believe the résumé is the magic bullet that will launch or further your career.
The résumé’s only purpose is to obtain an interview that may lead to more interviews
and eventually to a position in your field. Notice that the perfect résumé is singular, but
you are less likely to land a job if you produce only one version of your résumé. Experts
on résumés agree that you must customize your résumé to meet the specific words of
the job announcement and the needs of the employer.
Your résumé is your silent sales representative and is often the first opportunity
a prospective employer has to see you. Most recruiters will spend only seconds scan-
ning the résumé you send them, so it must gain and sustain a positive impression, one
that will motivate them to read further. Think like the recruiter. If your résumé was
sent to you, would you read further and consider inviting you for an interview?
Your brand is
uniquely you.
Recruiters do
online searches.
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The Employment Interview 165
Segments of Résumés
There is no shortage of Web sites and publications that claim to offer “award-winning
résumés” or “the perfect résumé.” Richard Bolles, author of the famous book entitled
What Color Is Your Parachute?, updated annually, claims he collects such résumés
and shows them to his employer friends. Inevitably they declare that each award-
winning and perfect résumé would never get a job for anyone.6 With such diverse
preferences in mind, we will offer guidelines that fit most hiring situations while
emphasizing the necessity of developing targeted résumés for specific openings at
specific organizations.
Contact Information: Place your full name at the top center of the page in larger
font than the remainder of the résumé and in bold print. Avoid nicknames. Provide one
or two mailing addresses with ZIP codes and the e-mail address you access most often.
Provide a landline telephone number and a cell phone number with area codes. Make it
easy for a recruiter to reach you quickly. Do not place silly, immature material on your
answering machine. If you provide a campus telephone number, place a date when it
may no longer be operable. List a business telephone number only if it is appropriate
for prospective employers to use.
Since recruiters typically spend only seconds scanning your résumé, stating your
career objective (sometimes referred to as your profile, professional background,
or simply as objective) is an ideal place to catch and maintain the recruiter’s atten-
tion. Employ the branding you have refined and focus your objective on what the
employer wants, not what you want. Make it other-directed rather than self-directed.
Make your objective brief with key words included in the announcements for this
Avoid “puffery,” words that sound impressive and mean nothing and clichés such
as “I’m a team player,” “I have great communication skills,” “I’m a problem solver,”
“I am highly motivated,” and “I give 110 percent.”7 Puffery and clichés will send your
résumé to the rejection pile. The remainder of your résumé must live up to your claims
and branding in your career focus.
Education and Training: If you are in the process of completing your edu-
cation and training or recently did so and your work experiences are minimal or
unrelated to the position, your educational record should come next. Indicate spe-
cifically how your education and training are a fit for the position you are seek-
ing in this organization. List your degrees or training in reverse chronological
order so the employer can detect quickly what you are doing now or recently com-
pleted. List degree, diploma, certificate or license, date of graduation or comple-
tion, school, location of the school if it shares the same name with others (such as
Loyola University in Chicago, Baltimore, and New Orleans and Indiana University
in Indiana and Pennsylvania) or has multiple campuses. If you are short on experi-
ences, provide a selective list of courses that are relevant to the opening. Do not
use abbreviations for courses, majors, or degrees because a recruiter may not know
if Eng. refers to English or engineering. List your grade point average (GPA) if it is
a B or better, and indicate the numerical system used at your college, for example:
3.35 (4.0 scale) or 3.35/4.0.
Make it
easy for
to locate you.
Target your
Make your
career focus
puffery from
your résumé.
record is most
important for
your first
can set you
apart from
the crowd.
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166 Chapter 8
Job-Related Experiences: The next résumé segment presents your experi-
ences relevant to this position with this organization. If you are young and just
completing your education and training, you may have had limited work or salaried
positions in your field, but you should have relevant experiences you can show-
case. These may be co-op programs through your university, internships (paid and
unpaid), research or teaching assistantships, and volunteer activities. If for instance
you are seeking a position in building construction, having experience in build-
ing a Habitat for Humanity home or a program to rehabilitate homes for the poor
and elderly can be impressive. Recruiters tend to rate leadership roles in student
organizations and volunteer community service as very important or above average
in importance. Show you are a doer by highlighting such leadership roles in your
Activities: The next section after experiences, lists activities and organiza-
tional memberships, including college, professional, and community activities and
groups. Be selective and continually update your résumés. High school activities
are excluded for college graduates, and college organizations and activities are
excluded once you have an established record in your career. Employers are inter-
ested in doers rather than joiners, so a long list of organizations minus leadership
roles may give a negative impression. Include honorary organizations, professional,
and pre-professional organizations in your field (such as the Public Relations
Student Society of America). Provide brief descriptions of any organization likely
be unfamiliar to an employer.
Volunteer Experiences: If you have significant volunteer experiences that may
not be directly related to a position but reveal important information about you, list
them as a segment in your résumé. Employers are becoming increasingly interested in
applicants who have shown interest in community involvement and are likely to become
involved in their communities if hired.
Do not list references because employers know you will provide references if
needed. Exclude personal information (ethnicity, age, marital status, parental status,
health or disabilities, height, and weight), a photo, and political, religious, and ethnic
memberships and activities that may pose EEOC problems for employers. You do not
break laws if you do so, but you are providing information that is not a bona fide occu-
pational qualification (BFOQ).
Types of Résumés
There are basically two types of résumés, chronological and functional. If you are
developing a chronological format, the most common résumé, list your experiences
(including internships, co-op arrangements, assistantships, unpaid positions, orga-
nizational activities) in reverse chronological order so the employer can see quickly
what you have done most recently. See Figure 8.1 for a sample chronological résumé.
List organization, title of your position or positions, dates, and what you did in
each position. Emphasize the skills and experiences most relevant for this opening.
Recruiters are most interested in applicant achievements and accomplishments. A
chronological résumé is easy to write and organize, emphasizes relevant experiences
and skills, and is easy for employers to scan quickly.
your job-related
Recruiters look
for leaders.
Provide only
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The Employment Interview 167
Figure 8.1 Chronological résumé
Nancy A. McWilliams
1214 Oak Drive,
Decatur, IL 62521
Objective: A position as a family case manager with a child services
agency that allows me to work with families and children in
need of services.
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(August, 2013 to present)
Bachelor of Social Work
Minor in Psychology
GPA: 3.17/4.0 overall and 3.4/4.0 in major
Experience: Court-Appointed Special Advocate for children (CASA)
September 2015 to present
Champaign County, Illinois
•  Acted as Educational Surrogate Parent for four children.
•  Worked with DCS Family Case Managers.
•  Counseled parents on following court orders. 
•  Worked with Children in Need of Services (CHINS).
•  Consulted with school and psychological counselors.
•  Wrote reports for Juvenile Court hearings.
Volunteer at the Crisis Center for Women
June 2014 to August 2015 
Urbana, Illinois
•  Registered women who came to the shelter.
•  Coordinated play activities for the children.
•  Assisted in maintaining security from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Horse Therapist at Bar Q Ranch
Summers of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Paris, Illinois
•  Worked as horse therapist for special needs children.
•  Conducted orientation sessions to inform and relax the children.
•  Guided the children in riding activities.
Activities: Vice-President and President of the Bachelor of Social Work
Student Association 2015 to present
•  Planned activities. 
•  Conducted monthly meetings. 
•  Coordinated the annual fundraiser. 
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168 Chapter 8
If you are developing a functional format, most appropriate for creative posi-
tions and those in which writing is important, place your experiences under headings
that highlight your qualifications for the position (see Figure 8.2). Typical headings
are management, sales, advertising, training, counseling, team building, organiza-
tional development, recruiting, finance, teaching, administration, supervision, project
manager, and marketing. Include a variety of experiences from different positions,
internships, and organizations under each heading. This is important when you have
had few paying positions or ones directly related to the opening. Your outside activi-
ties indicate motivation, communication skills, ability to work with people, work ethic,
ability to lead, and that you are not a narrow specialist.
A functional format focuses attention on relevant skills to match the ideal appli-
cant profile. It does not repeat the same skills and experiences under different posi-
tions, so it can be tighter and shorter. Some employers do not like functional résumés
because they often do not identify dates for education, training, and work experi-
ences, so they cannot detect gaps in employment.
You are not confined to chronological and functional résumé formats. If neither
seems ideal for you, consider blending the two so the end result presents a clearer and
more effective picture of you to potential employers.
Guidelines for Résumés
Regardless of the résumé type you select, follow these guidelines to make them precise,
informative, and persuasive.
Honesty Is the Best Policy: A conservative estimate is that one in six college
students lies on résumés and application forms, but some experts on résumés claim
that the percentage is as high as 50 percent.8 Applicants claim experiences they have
not had, courses they have not taken, graduation indexes they have not achieved,
and degrees they have not received. The sad fact is that the higher a person goes
in an organization, the more likely the person is to lie about employment gaps, job
titles, job responsibilities and achievements, claiming sole responsibility for team
efforts, and making up fictitious employers.
While some applicants may have something to hide, others believe that a little
“puffery,” a euphemism for lying, will get them a position and advancement. This is a
bad idea with potentially bad results. “When fitted onto résumés, falsehoods can sit
undetected indefinitely. Or, they can detonate at any moment, proving fatal to careers
and credibility.”9
Choose Words Carefully: Choose every word and phrase with care because many
are immediate turnoffs for employers. Employers find these words and phrases to be
meaningless: proven track record, responsible for, hard-working, goal-oriented, well-
organized, and ambitious. They prefer action verbs such as the following that show you
are a doer:
administered facilitated oversaw
advised fashioned performed
arbitrated formulated persuaded
Select the
résumé format
best suited
to you.
Pay attention
to content and
Dishonesty is a
candidate killer.
Select words
with care.
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The Employment Interview 169
Figure 8.2 Functional résumé
Nancy A. McWilliams
1214 Oak Drive,
Decatur, IL 62521
Objective: A position as a family case manager with a child services
agency that allows me to work with families and children in
need of services.
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(August, 2013 to present)
Bachelor of Social Work
Minor in Psychology
GPA: 3.17/4.0 overall and 3.4/4.0 in major
Experience: Consulting
•  With school systems as an Educational Surrogate Parent
•  With DCS Family Case Managers
•  With school and psychological counselors
•  Parents on following court orders
•  Children in Need of Services
•  Girls experiencing interpersonal conflicts
•  Horse therapist for special needs children
•  Play activities for children
•  Aquatic activities for girls
•  An annual fundraiser
•  Monthly meetings
•  Registration at a women’s shelter
•   Orientation sessions to inform and relax special needs chil-
dren for horse therapy
•  Reports for Juvenile Court Hearings
Activities: Vice-President and President of the Bachelor of Social Work
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170 Chapter 8
arranged founded planned
built generated recommended
budgeted improved reconfigured
coached increased researched
consulted instructed sold
counseled led solved
created maintained supervised
designed managed tested
directed modified trained
edited negotiated updated
eliminated operated wrote
evaluated organized
When inserting these action verbs into your résumé, however, you better be able to
back them up with examples and facts or they become meaningless puffery.
Proofread and Then Proofread Some More: Proofread every word and phrase
for correct spelling and grammar and check every comma, semicolon, colon, and
period. Look for the ever-present typo that is so easy to overlook. A spelling, gram-
matical error, or typo may be enough for your résumé to hit the wastebasket. Do not
take the chance and do not rely on spell-check to bail you out. Recruiters have lists of
legendary mistakes they have encountered on résumés.10
“My last employer fried me for no reason.”
“I am looking for my big brake.”
“Studied public rations.”
“Earned a diploma from a repudiated college.”
“Bare me in mind for in-depth research projects.”
“Ruining an eight-person team.”
“I am very interested in the newspaper add for the accounting position.”
Take Mechanics Seriously: Pay attention to appearance and layout. Print your
résumé on white, off-white, light gray, or light beige bond paper. Pay attention to
how the résumé is blocked so it looks neat, attractive, organized, carefully planned,
and uncrowded. Employers like white space on résumés, so indent sections carefully,
double-space parts, and leave at least one-inch margins all around. Center your name at
the top in bold letters so it stands out. Use different printer fonts so headings guide the
reader through important information about you. Employers prefer résumés with bullets
that separate and call attention to important information because this helps them scan
the résumé more efficiently. If you provide two addresses, place one on each side under
your name. If you provide one address, place it in the center or on the right side away
from staples and paper clips.
Make your
résumé easy
to review.
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The Employment Interview 171
Employers prefer a single-page résumé. However, a two-page or longer résumé
is acceptable if it is necessary to provide valuable information, experiences, and
insights. Do not try to adhere to the one-page rule by using a tiny font or narrow
margins to fit everything onto a single page. Employers prefer a less crowded two-
page résumé. If you develop a two-page résumé, print it front to back on one sheet
of paper because a second page may get misplaced or ripped off when your résumé
is taken from a file or briefcase. Signal with a page number or notation that there
is more on the back. Repeat your name at the top on the left and a page number on
the top right.
Be professional in everything you say and do in the résumé. Control your urges
to use script résumé fonts or to employ several font sizes and styles. Keep color and
graphics to a minimum unless you are applying for a position that places a high value
on creativity such as advertising, video production, and graphic design. In the some-
times zany world of résumés, we have encountered pictures of university mascots, pets,
and cute kittens in the top corners. One applicant printed his name in two inch high
letters to get our attention and be remembered. He was remembered but not in the way
he had hoped. An applicant to a law firm in Atlanta recently produced a résumé in a
font so fancy that it was virtually impossible to read.
The Electronically Scanned Résumé
Organizations are employing résumé scanning software to save time and money if they
will receive dozens or hundreds of applications for a position. Follow these basic rules
for mechanics and wording of a scanned résumé.
Mechanics are of critical importance because the scanner must be able to read
your résumé. Use black ink and only one side of 8 ½ inch white paper. Do not staple.
Margins should be at least 1.5 inches on both sides, and characters should be 75 or
fewer per line. Do not use boxes or columns. Employ size 11 to 14 fonts because the
scanner may not read smaller print. Most recommended typefaces are Times Roman
Numeral, Arial, and Times New Roman. Avoid fancy fonts. Use little punctuation
because punctuation may confuse a scanner. You may use bold face or all capital let-
ters. Avoid bullets (solid or hollow), italics, underlining, graphics, or spaces between
the letters of your name.
Key words are important because they will help in determining whether an
employer will arrange an interview or discard your résumé. Include words pertinent
to the job posting so the scanner is able to locate what the employer has programmed
it to look for. Have a clearly identifiable objective or profile linked to the descrip-
tion of the position you are seeking because employers may scan objectives to sort
résumés for different positions. Joyce Lain Kennedy, an authority on the electronic
job search, recommends, “The more keyword marketing points you present about
yourself, the more likely you are to be plucked from an electronic résumé database
now, in six months, or a year from now.”11 The Purdue Online Writing Lab recom-
mends replacing action verbs with nouns that are easier to scan. For example, change
manufacturing to manufacturing supervisor, design to design assistant, production to
production manager, and injection molding to injection molding inspector.12 Be sure
your résumé contains up-to-date terms, labels, and names the scanner is programmed
résumés must
be different.
Key words
are critical in
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172 Chapter 8
to detect. The following are examples of correct and incorrect terms for scannable
Yes No
human resources personnel
administrative assistant secretary
sales associate sales clerk
information systems data processing
environmental services housekeeping
accountant bookkeeper
facilities engineering maintenance
inside sales customer relations
meteorologist weatherman
server waiter
Organizations may ask for your résumé to be sent electronically to save time
and to create electronic files. Be sure your software system will send your résumé in
an attractive format. Instructors and students at some universities have reported that
organizations have requested all applicant files be sent on CD-ROMs. Paper files are
unacceptable. Unless told to do otherwise, include a cover letter that clearly identifies
the position you are applying for and stresses how you are a good fit. Always bring a
copy of your cover letter and résumé to the interview.
Online Résumés
A growing number of organizations have created online sites for posting résumés.
These sites make it easy for you to apply for a wide variety of positions with organi-
zations worldwide. Be cautious. The ease of posting your résumé online may make
you easy prey for unscrupulous Web searchers pretending to be employers to take your
money. Heather Galler of Carnegie-Mellon University has created a computer program
called “identity Angel” that searches online job boards for the “holy trinity” of informa-
tion thieves love to attain: name, address, and Social Security number. When locating
sources asking for such information, it sends a warning to potential targets of thieves
and frauds.13
Galler offers several suggestions. Read the privacy policy carefully to determine
how long your résumé will be active and how you can delete it. Be sure there is a pri-
vacy policy. If not, look elsewhere. Be aware of fake recruiters, particularly if they ask
for a driver’s license or other personal information under the pretense of needing this
for background checks. Ask recruiters for references and check to see if they are mem-
bers of local or national recruiter’s associations. Set up an alternative e-mail address,
use a cell phone, and provide a P.O. box as your address for job hunting. Do not provide
additional information to check your online listing because thieves may use spyware to
attain even more personal information about you.
Terms and
labels are
critical in
Use online
with caution.
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The Employment Interview 173
The Portfolio
Portfolios are essential if you are in fields such as photography, advertising, public
relations, art and design, journalism, architecture, teaching, and professional writing.
Your portfolio should be a small yet varied collection of your best work. Organize your
portfolio thematically and make it visually attractive. Provide excellent copies of your
work—not faded, soiled, marked-up, graded, or wrinkled samples. Employers focus on
how well you write, design, photograph, edit, and create, and the well-designed and
presented portfolio is the best means of exhibiting this. If you are going into broadcast-
ing, your portfolio must include an audio or videorecording of selections that illustrate
your best oral and video work. Quality, not quantity, sells.
Some colleges and universities are encouraging or requiring students to create
electronic portfolios that include a wide variety of materials in an attractive, compact,
and highly usable package. In addition to revealing what you have done and can do, the
e-portfolio demonstrates your ability to apply new technologies.
The Cover Letter
Your cover letter may be the first contact you have with an employer, so be positive and
to the point. The fundamental purposes of your cover letter are to gain this employer’s
attention and to entice this employer to read your résumé. The first purpose requires
you to make a good impression by revealing a positive attitude, pleasant personality,
motivation, and enthusiasm. The second purpose requires you to include highlights of
your education, training, and experiences that show you are interested in and qualified
for a specific position in the employer’s organization. Never send a résumé without
attaching a cover letter.
Mechanics of the Cover Letter: Make your letter brief, usually three or four
paragraphs in length, and never more than one page. See Figure 8.3. Provide margins of
1.5 inches left and right and adjust top and bottom margins to balance your letter on the
page. If you have difficulty placing all information you feel is absolutely necessary to
include on a single page, adjust the margins to keep the letter to one page. Use simple
to read fonts of 10 to 12 points. Ask another person to read your résumé. If the person
mentions the font, change it. Your letter must be neat, printed on white bond paper, and
professional with no typos, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, or misspellings.
One of our former journalism students applied for an editing position with the Cincin-
nati Enquirer and misspelled Cincinnati in the cover letter. The student did not get the
job, but the editor did send an irate letter, along with the student’s original letter, to the
student’s academic department head.
Content of the Cover Letter: Tailor each letter to the position and organization.
Form letters impress no one. Address your letter to a specific person involved in the hiring
process, and spell this person’s name correctly. Be careful when you address the person
as Mr. or Ms. For instance, first names such as Jordan, Chris, and Justice may be a man
or woman. Letters addressed “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sirs” don’t get posi-
tive responses. Organize your letter into three paragraphs.14 In the first paragraph, tell the
employer why you are writing, in which position you are interested, and why this position
Your portfolio
shows you in
The all-
purpose form
letter is rarely
Design and
target letters
to specific
positions and
Show interest
and enthusiasm
or do not apply.
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174 Chapter 8
Figure 8.3 Cover letter
1214 Oak Drive
Decatur, IL 62521
March 14, 2017
Ms. Denise Boardman, Director
Illinois Department of Children and family Services
401 Brown Street
Bloomington, IL 61701
Dear Ms. Boardman:
I am writing in response to the FCM position posted on your Web site 
last week and understand that the person selected for this position would
begin work on or about June 14, 2017. I am very interested in this position 
because it matches my career focus, education, and experiences.
I will graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May
of this year with a Bachelor of Social Work Degree. In my job as a CASA in
Marian County since 2015, I have worked closely with a number of FCMs in 
several cases involving CHINS. This has enabled me to observe their work 
with parents and children and to appreciate how critical their roles are in
maintaining families when possible and seeing that children are placed in
safe and loving environments when the family is no longer a viable option.
I believe that my experience as a CASA, a volunteer at the Crisis Center 
for Women, and as a horse therapist for children with special needs makes
me uniquely qualified for a position as FCM in the Department of Child 
I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my interest and background
in a position as a FCM. Enclosed is a copy of my résumé that provides 
additional details about my qualifications and experiences. Feel free to 
contact me at either of the telephone numbers listed on my résumé or by 
e-mail at I would be available for an interview
at your convenience.
Nancy A. McWilliams
Enclosure: résumé
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The Employment Interview 175
with this organization appeals to you. Reveal how you discovered this opening and that
you have researched both position and organization. In the second paragraph, explain
briefly how your education, training, and experiences—your qualifications—make you
an ideal fit for this position, with this organization, at this time. Be persuasive! You may
refer to your résumé, but do not insert large portions of it in the cover letter. Let your
cover letter and résumé do the jobs they are designed for. In the third paragraph, restate
your enthusiasm for the position and ask for an interview opportunity. Indicate when and
where you will be available for an interview. Mention enclosures and offer to send addi-
tional information if needed. Express appreciation for the employer’s consideration.
Creating a Favorable First Impression
Creating a favorable first impression is critical to the success of every interview, and
this occurs during the first few seconds or minutes. Sources agree that a good first
impression is likely to result in the recruiter looking for input that supports this initial
impression. If it is positive, the recruiter is likely to have a higher regard for you as
the interview progresses, reveal important job information, try to sell the position and
organization, and spend less time seeking information. There are many ingredients in
creating this favorable impression.
Be sincerely interested in taking part in the interview and show it. Enthusiasm is con-
tagious. On the other hand, if you have little interest in the position or organization,
are interviewing merely for the experience, or have not been able to find a position
that you really want, you are likely to find it difficult to get “fired up.” Authentic
enthusiasm is difficult to fake and, if you succeed, what have you accomplished?
Strive to communicate positive attitudes about yourself including your qualifica-
tions, relationships, current and past employers, and future. Never badmouth a school
or former employer. Be confident. If you feel you are not going to do well during an
interview, you probably will not.
Be thoroughly prepared to take an
active part in the interview and be
fully informed about the position
and organization. Be professional
and ethical in everything you say
and do during the interview.
Dress and Appearance
Dress and appearance are critical
elements in making a favorable
first impression. Your clothes and
accessories should support the
strong image you want to make,
an image that shows confidence,
attentiveness to details, under-
standing of what is appropriate
Be interested in
this interview
and show it.
■ Creating a favorable first impression is vital in the
employment interview.
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176 Chapter 8
dress and appearance for a formal business setting, respect for the interviewer, and
interest in the position and organization. “When you look good, you feel good and when
you feel good you are more likely to articulate intelligent and well thought out answers
to questions.”15 While many organizations allow business casual at the workplace, they
prefer to see how applicants would present themselves during a formal business presen-
tation or meeting. Remember: the organizations staff who may be dressing casually
already have jobs with this organization. Being overdressed is better than being under-
dressed. A casual or sloppy appearance may end your chances of further consideration.
As a rule, wear a conservative, solid-color, professional suit to most interviews.
Think competence rather than fashion. If you are unsure about appropriate dress for
an interview, contact someone from within the organization and ask discretely about
how you should dress. Other sources are professors, counselors in your career center,
or friends in the industry. Organizations and career fields have their own unique
cultures and environments. For example, recruiters in finance, government, human
resources, banking, sales, and hospitality are likely to prefer formal dress. Those in
public relations, advertising, graphic design, technology, and the trades may prefer
less formal dress such as Dockers and buttoned shirts and blouses. When in doubt,
dress up.
It is unnecessary to spend a fortune on interview attire, but invest in quality, well-
fitting clothing that will remain pressed and wrinkle free. Check for missing buttons or
un-removed tags. Be neat, clean, and lint free. Polish your shoes. Do not carry a book
bag or backpack. Cover up tattoos. Keep jewelry to a minimum. Use cologne sparingly.
Brush your teeth, particularly if you have just finished eating, comb your hair, clean
your hands and fingernails, and take a breath mint.
Your goal should be to have your dress and appearance play a strong supporting
role, one that generates positive attention and approval at the start of the interview.
Then you want the recruiter to focus attention on your interpersonal skills, answers, and
questions that indicate you are prepared and well-qualified for this position with this
organization. If the recruiter remembers you because of the way you looked, you are
probably in trouble.
Advice for Men
Standard interviewing attire for men is a two-piece dark suit (blue, gray, black) with
a white or pastel solid shirt and a contrasting but not “wild” tie. Wear conservative,
professional apparel to the interview, even if the interviewer may be dressed informally.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt even during the summer. Do not wear a turtleneck shirt. Wear
leather, laced business shoes with leather soles, preferably black or cordovan, and not
clunky looking. Your belt should match your shoes.
Try the sit-down test to check for fit. Almost anyone can wear clothes that are a bit
too tight when standing, but sitting down quickly reveals if the jacket, waistband, seat,
or collar is too tight or the shirt gaps at the waist. Insert one finger into the collar of
your shirt. If the collar is too tight, you need a larger shirt; if it is too loose, you need a
smaller shirt to avoid the sloppy look of a drooping collar.
Wear dark socks that complement your suit and cover at least half a calf so when you
sit down and cross your legs, no skin is visible. Tie size and design depend upon what
costs nothing
and pays
Dress for
a formal
Be on the
side in
dress and
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The Employment Interview 177
is in style, but it is always safe to wear a wide stripe, small polka dot, or conservative
pattern that is blue, red, gray, or burgundy.
Choose clothing that is appropriate for your body shape: regular, thin or slender,
heavy or muscular, and tall or short. A heavy, muscular male for instance, should
choose dark shades with small pinstripes. A thin or slender male may wear a greater
variety of clothing, and some plaids might add size and depth to the physical
A sport court or blazer is nearly always too casual except for informal gatherings or
dinners associated with the selection process. Your hair should be trimmed and neatly
combed or brushed. Facial hair is generally accepted (if neat and trimmed), but know
your industries preferences. Professional and conservative also applies to watches, ball-
point pens, briefcases, earrings, tattoos, and cologne. It is wise to play it safe and seek
every advantage.
Advice for Women
Makeup, hairstyle, and clothing are personal decisions that reveal a great deal about
your personality—who you are, your self-concept, and what you think of others. Take
them seriously. No makeup is probably too little, but if makeup calls attention to
itself, it is too much. Recruiters suggest small (not dangling) earrings with one per
ear, one ring per hand, and no noisy bracelets. Coloring is essential, and a cosmetic
counselor can help determine what is professionally appropriate for you. Keep per-
fume to an absolute minimum or use none at all. You do not want to be recalled for
your smell.
Wear a tailored two-piece suit with skirt or slacks and in navy, black, dark gray,
or brown. Skirt length should be to the bottom of the knees when standing and cover
your thighs when seated. If you must tug at your skirt when you sit down, it is too
short. Avoid skirts with long slits. Select a tailored, conservative blouse that matches
your suit while avoiding “see through” blouses or ones with plunging necklines. Wear
clear or plain styled stockings appropriate for your outfit. Low, closed-toe, and com-
fortable pumps are more appropriate than high heels. Carry a simple handbag and a
professional-looking briefcase.
Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication (voice, eye contact, gestures, and posture) are important
ingredients in every interview. Scott Reeves reports a typical example in which an
applicant looked very strong on paper but “offered a deadfish handshake, slouched and
fidgeted in his chair, failed to make eye contact with the interviewer and mumbled
responses to basic questions.” He was not hired.16 Interviewers react more favorably
toward applicants and rate them higher if they smile, have expressive facial expressions,
maintain eye contact, and have clear, forceful voices. Technology plays important roles
in the employment process, but recruiters prefer to interview applicants face-to-face
because they prefer “high touch” to “high tech” when selecting people who will join
and influence the futures of their organizations. They want to see, hear, and observe
you in action.
When in
doubt, ask
for help.
should not
call attention
to itself.
clothing can end
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178 Chapter 8
You communicate dynamism and energy through the way you shake hands, sit,
walk, stand, gesture, and move your body. Appear to be calm and relaxed, but sharp
and in control. Avoid nervous gestures, fidgets, movements, and playing with pens or
objects on the interviewer’s desk. Respond crisply and confidently with no sign of arro-
gance. When replying to questions, maintain eye contact with the recruiter. If there are
two or more recruiters in the room, glance at the others when answering a question but
focus primarily on the questioner, particularly as you complete your answer.
Speak in a normal conversational tone with vocal variety that exhibits confi-
dence and interpersonal skills. Interviewers prefer standard accents. If English is
your second language or you have an accent developed since birth, work on your
accent and pronunciation so interviewers can understand you clearly and effectively.
Do not hesitate to pause before answering difficult questions, but frequent
pauses may make you appear hesitant, unprepared, or “slow.” Interviewers interpret
pauses of one second or less as signs of ambition, self-confidence, organization, and
Interview Etiquette
Arrive at the interview a few minutes before the scheduled time. If you arrive late, the
recruiter is likely to assume the interview is of little importance to you and, if hired,
you are likely to arrive late for work. Avoid arriving too early. The recruiter may have
other work to do and does not want to assign staff to entertain you until your scheduled
time. Discard chewing gum before arriving, turn off you cell phone and keep it out of
sight, and do not have a cup of coffee or bottle of water in hand. Shake hands, if and
when the recruiter offers to do so, in a firm but not crushing manner. Smile. Introduce
yourself formally with no nick names. Place your briefcase and other belongings on
the floor and nothing personal on the recruiter’s desk or table. Avoid the temptation
to play with or rearrange items on the interviewer’s desk. Sit down when the recruiter
indicates you should, and then sit up straight but not stiff with your feet on the floor.
If the recruiter asks if you would like a glass of water, take it. Let the recruiter take the
lead with small talk during the opening and questions as the interview progresses. Do
not interrupt the recruiter.
When interviewing over a meal, give your full attention to the interaction
because this is a continuation of the interview, not a time until the interview resumes.
Mind your manners! Do not check your watch, peruse your résumé or organiza-
tional literature, or check your cell phone for messages. Be aware that the recruiter
may be testing you to see how you might act in the future when dining with clients
or upper management. Using proper etiquette during meals can make or break your
interview experience. Wait until others have become seated before you sit down or
until asked to do so. Never start eating until everyone at the table has been served.
Know how to place your napkin in your lap, how and when to use silverware prop-
erly, how to pass food to others, and how to eat soup. Do not place your elbows on
the table. Order an alcoholic drink only if the recruiter invites you to do so, and
then drink one slowly throughout the meal. If you do not drink alcoholic beverages,
simply refuse the offer tactfully. Let the recruiter initiate business. Say thank you at
the end of the meal.
Be alive and
Good commu-
nication skills
are important
in all
Be on time
and ready to
Learn and
practice proper
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The Employment Interview 179
Answering Questions
With a favorable first impression established, it is time to reveal the substance of your
Preparing to Respond
Be ready and eager to answer questions effectively. Concentrate on answering confi-
dently and thoroughly, and be prepared to address frequently asked questions.
• Tell me about yourself.
• Why do you want to work for us?
• What are your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
• What are your short-range career goals? Long-range goals?
• Why did you leave your position with __________?
• What did you like best in your position at __________? Like least?
• Why should we select you over the other applicants for this position?
• What do you know about our organization?
These traditional questions play major roles in selection interviews, particularly in the
opening minutes. Interviewers use them to get applicants talking and relaxed, and to
learn about them as human beings and professionals.
The nature of questioning has changed with interviewers asking more challenging
questions about your experiences in joblike situations to see how you might fit in and
function as an employee. Employers believe they can determine best how applicants
might operate in specific positions by placing them in these positions during the inter-
view. Task-oriented questions assess thinking and communication abilities and reveal
how well you can operate in stressful or surprise situations. Here are common on-the-
job question strategies:
• Behavior-based questions:
“Tell me about a time when you operated as part of a team to solve a vexing
financial problem.”
• Current critical incident questions:
“We are facing a situation in which we . . . If you were on our team, what would
you recommend we do to resolve this situation?”
• Historical critical incident questions:
“Two years ago we had a conflict between . . . If you had been the supervisor in
this situation, what would you have done?”
• Hypothetical questions:
“Suppose you had a customer who claimed his computer hardware was damaged
in shipment. How would you handle this?”
• Task-oriented questions:
“Here’s a tablet. Write a policy statement for preparing and sending press releases.”
Decisions are
made on
the total
Be ready to
questions to
show what
you can do.
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180 Chapter 8
Many employers are requiring would-be teachers to teach, salespersons to sell,
engineers to engineer, managers to manage, and designers to design. Job simulations,
role-playing, presentations, and day-long case studies challenge applicants to demon-
strate their knowledge, skills, experiences, maturity, and integrity on the job.
Structuring Answers
Questions that place applicants in job-like situations typically require them to tell nar-
ratives about experiences or would-be experiences. Good stories are internally consis-
tent, consistent with the facts employers hold to be true, relevant to questions asked and
the applicant’s claims, provide details that support claims, and reflect the applicant’s
beliefs and values.17 Try one or more of these patterns to structure your answers in a
way that tell your stories effectively. The following structural patterns will help you
with stories.
Mini-speech method: Approach questions, particularly ones that require you to
tell stories, as if you were giving a brief speech. This method is a good way to approach
critical incident and hypothetical questions that do not focus specifically on your past
experiences. Your speech would be in three traditional parts.
Introduction: Tell recruiters what you are going to tell them.
Body: Tell them.
Conclusion: Tell them what you told them.
STAR Method: The S.T.A.R. method is highly recommended for answering
behavior-based questions because it zeroes in on behaviors and skills exhibited in past
experiences that are highly relevant to the specific position being sought. It has four
parts adding up to the word “star.”
Situation: Describe the setting or background including when, where, and with whom.
Task: What needed to be done, why, and with what expectations?
Action: What action did you take and how did you do it?
Results: What were the results, accomplishments, consequences?
PAR Method: The P.A.R. method is a variation of the STAR approach and is rec-
ommended for behavioral-based questions. The goal is to focus on your past perfor-
mance while emphasizing experiences, skills, leadership, and ability to get a job done.
It has three parts.
P: The problem or task you were assigned
A: The actions you took solving the task or problem
R: The results or consequences of your actions
Responding Successfully
Listen carefully to the whole question; think before opening your mouth; structure
your answer clearly; provide substance; phrase your answer with good grammar and
choice of words; aim your answer precisely at the point of the question; and show
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The Employment Interview 181
enthusiasm and a positive attitude. If you are answering a behavior-based, critical
incident, hypothetical, or task question, do not hesitate to ask for additional clarification
or seek more information on background or organizational policies that may be impor-
tant to your response. Answer questions thoroughly but know when to stop. Knowing
when to stop may be a problem in telephone interviews because you do not have the
advantage of nonverbal cues from the recruiter to signal that you have answered the
question and it is time to move on.
Do not underestimate the importance of wording. For instance, while you are
answering a question about working in teams, the recruiter may be focusing on your
use of pronouns. If you use us, we, and our, you indicate that you work well in teams.
If you use I, me, and mine, you indicate you work better alone. Use action verbs to
show you are a doer and technical jargon to show experience and familiarity with
your field and the position for which you are interviewing. Qualifiers such as “maybe,”
“perhaps,” and “sort of” communicate hesitancy and that you are unsure of yourself.
Avoid meaningless slang such as “you know,” “know what I’m sayin’,” “know what I
mean,” “and stuff like that,” and “that sort of thing.” A Marist College poll identified
words such as “actually,” “whatever,” “awesome,” and “literally” and phrases such as
“twenty-four seven,” “It is what it is,” and “At the end of the day” to be among the most
annoying.18 We would add “ton of” as in “I have a ton of experience.”
Be honest and authentic in your answers. If you appear evasive or hesitant in
responding, the recruiter may interpret this as evidence of dishonesty or fear of reveal-
ing something the recruiter has a right to know. Do not create and rehearse answers that
merely sound good or provide what you think the recruiter wants to hear. Beware of
sources, particularly the Internet, that offer sure-fire answers to a variety of common
interview questions. There is rarely a single correct answer to any question. Five recruit-
ers from the same organization may be seeking different answers to the same question.
Your attitudes can make or break an interview. Be positive and realistic about
yourself and your future but not arrogant or cocky. Speak positively about your educa-
tion, training, experiences, and former employers. Show sincere interest in this position
with this organization. Be flexible in the position you are seeking and willing to bend a
little to fit a position and organizational needs. No one is going to start at the top.
Use your head instead of your mouth. One of the authors remembers too well
answering this question during one of his first interviews, “Tell me about yourself”
with “Well, there’s not much to tell.” Recruiters tell similar stories. When one recruiter
asked “Why should I hire you?” one applicant replied that he would be a great asset
to the company softball team while another said he was bored with watching televi-
sion. In another instance, an applicant defended his résumé by declaring, “My résumé
might look like I am a job hopper. But I want you to know that I never left any of those
jobs voluntarily.” Unthinking applicants often reveal symptoms of the “foot-in-mouth
Responding to Unlawful Questions
Applicants, particularly women, continue to encounter unlawful questions even though
federal and state laws have existed for decades and most organizations train employ-
ees to follow EEO guidelines. Violations range from mild infractions such as “What
Listen and
think, then
Think before
you speak.
Do not be
by unlawful
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182 Chapter 8
does your husband do?” to sexual harassment. Some are accidental during informal
chatting with applicants and some are due to curiosity, tradition, lack of training, igno-
rance of the laws or arrogance.
Unlawful questions pose dilemmas for applicants. If you answer an unlawful ques-
tion honestly and directly, you may lose the position. If you refuse to answer an unlaw-
ful question (almost impossible to do graciously), you may lose a position because you
are uncooperative, evasive, or “one of those.”
Be prepared to answer unlawful questions tactfully and effectively. First, review the
EEO laws and exercise in Chapter 7 so you can determine when a question is unlawful.
Exercise #1—Which Questions Are Unlawful and Why?
If you are a Hispanic, female college graduate interviewing for a management position
for a national retail chain, which of these questions would be unlawful? Why? How
might you reply?
1. Where are you from?
2. Any marriage plans?
3. Tell me about your internship at Macy’s.
4. Where do you hope to be in your career in five years?
5. How long would you expect to work for us?
6. How well do you speak Spanish?
7. Which religious holidays do you observe?
8. Do you have a significant other?
9. What do you do after work?
10. I see you have a hearing aid; how might that affect your work with us?
Second, be aware of tricks recruiters use to get unlawful information without appear-
ing to ask for it. For example, a benefits person may ask you which health insurance plan
you would choose if hired; your answer may reveal that you are married and have chil-
dren, that you are a single parent, or that you have a serious medical problem. During
lunch or dinner or a tour of the organization’s facilities when you are least expecting
serious questions, an employer, perhaps a female, may probe into child care under the
guise of talking about her own problems: “What a day! My daughter Emily woke up this
Review EEO
laws and your
Beware of
recruiter tricks
to get unlawful
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The Employment Interview 183
morning with a fever, my husband is out of town, and I had an eight o’clock conference
downtown. Do you ever have days like this?” You may begin to tell problems you have
had with your children or family members and, in the process, reveal a great deal of irrel-
evant, unlawful, and perhaps damaging information without knowing it. Employers have
learned how to get unlawful information through lawful questions. Instead of asking, “Do
you have children?” an employer asks, “Is there any limit on your ability to work overtime
(evenings, weekends, holidays)?” Others use coded questions and comments.
• “Our employees put a lot into their work” means “Older workers like you don’t
have much energy.”
• “We have a very young staff ” means “You won’t fit in.”
• “I’m sure your former company had its own corporate culture, just as we do
here” means “Hispanics need not apply.”
• “We are a very traditional company” means “We don’t hire women beyond
clerical staff.”
Third, determine how important the position is for you. Your primary goal is to get
a good position, and if you are hired, you may be able to change organizational attitudes
and recruiters’ practices. You can do nothing from the outside. If questions are gross
violations, consider reporting the recruiter to his or her superior or to the career center.
If this person is typical of the organization or a person you would report to if hired, you
might be wise to look elsewhere.
Fourth, practice using a variety of answer tactics. For example, try a tactful refusal
that is more than a simple “I will not answer that question because it is unlawful.”
1. Interviewer: How old are you?
Interviewee: I don’t think age is important if you are well qualified for a position.
2. Interviewer: Do you plan to have children?
Interviewee: My plans to have a family will not interfere with my ability to perform the
requirements of this position.
Use a direct, brief answer, hoping the interviewer will move on to relevant, lawful
1. Interviewer: What does your wife do?
Interviewee: She’s a pharmacist.
2. Interviewer: Do you attend church regularly?
Interviewee: Yes, I do / No, I don’t.
Pose a tactful inquiry such as the following that skirts the question and attempts to
guide the recruiter away from the unlawful inquiry with a job-related question.
1. Interviewer: What does your husband do?
Interviewee: He’s in construction. Why do you ask?
Consider your
needs and
desires before
Be tactful!
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184 Chapter 8
2. Interviewer: You seem confined to a wheelchair; how might this affect your work
Interviewee: I am quite mobile in my chair. How is my disability relevant for a
position as a computer software designer?
Try to neutralize the recruiter’s obvious concern.
1. Interviewer: Do you plan on having a family?
Interviewee: Yes, I do. I’m looking forward to the challenges of both family and
career. I’ve observed many of my women professors and fellow workers handling
both quite satisfactorily.
2. Interviewer: What happens if your husband gets transferred or needs to relocate?
Interviewee: The same that would happen if I would get transferred or asked to
relocate. We would discuss location moves that either of us might have to consider
and make the best decision.
Try to take advantage of the question to support your candidacy.
1. Interviewer: Where were you born?
Interviewee: I am quite proud that my background is ___________ because it has
helped me work effectively with people of diverse backgrounds.
2. Interviewer: Are you married?
Interviewee: Yes, I am, and I believe that is a plus. As you know, studies show that
married employees are more stable and dependable than unmarried employees.
You might try what Bernice Sandler, an authority on discrimination in hiring, calls a
tongue-in-cheek test response that sends an unmistakable signal to the recruiter that
he or she has asked an unlawful question. This tactic must be accompanied by appropri-
ate nonverbal signals to avoid offending the interviewer.
1. Interviewer: Who will take care of your children?
Interviewee: (smiling, pleasant tone of voice) Are you trying to see if I can recog-
nize an unlawful question in the selection process?
2. Interviewer: How long do you expect to work for us?
Interviewee: (smiling, pleasant tone of voice) Is this a test to see how I might reply to
an unlawful question?
Asking Questions
Most of the people seeking positions review lists of common recruiter questions on the
Internet and in publications and mull over how they would answer them. Unfortunately,
few job-seekers give much thought to the questions they will ask. Nearly all recruiters
work for you.
Be careful when
being clever.
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The Employment Interview 185
will provide you with time to ask questions, so plan to take full advantage of these
opportunities to reveal your preparation, maturity, professionalism, interests, and moti-
vation. A major mistake recruiters identify is having too few questions to ask or none at
all. Successful applicants ask more questions than unsuccessful applicants.
Guidelines for Asking Questions
Ask open-ended questions that delve into the position and organization and follow-up
with probing questions to get complete and insightful answers. Always prepare more
questions than you are likely to have time to ask. If the interviewer answers all of your
questions while giving information, do not ask a question merely to ask a question.
Simply reply, “You have answered all of my questions.” If a question were important,
you would have given it careful thought and included it on your list. Your “off the top
of the head” question is likely to be poorly phrased and do more harm than good.
Review the question guidelines in Chapter 3 and the following guidelines for
employment interviews.
• Avoid the “me . . . me . . . me . . .” syndrome in which all of your questions
inquire about what you will get, how much you will get, and when you will get
it. These questions indicate that you are self-centered and care little about others,
including future colleagues and organizations. Organizations expect you to be
team-oriented and organization-centered with a healthy desire for rewards and
• Avoid questions about salary, promotion, vacation, and retirement during
screening interviews and never pose them as your first questions. If salary is
your primary concern when choosing a position and organization, the recruiter
will turn to others. Recruiters expect you to be interested in rising to higher
levels within their organizations, but they also expect you to be interested in and
dedicated to the position for which you are interviewing. If time away from work
is a primary concern, then perhaps you have little interest in working for them.
• Do not waste time asking for information that is readily available on the
organization’s Web site or in the library. If answers to your questions are
readily available on Web sites and company literature, you have obviously
expended little effort researching the position and the organization.
Question Pitfalls
In addition to common question pitfalls, applicants have some pitfalls of their own.
These are centered on common wording that can produce a negative impression at a
critical time late in the interview.
Exercise #2—Applicant Pitfalls
Rephrase each of the following bad question to make it a good question.
1. The have to question may sound like you will be an unhappy and uncooperative
Asking good
results in
more than
Ask your
important ques-
tion first.
ask probing
Prepare a
schedule to
avoid question
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186 Chapter 8
Bad: Would I have to travel much?
2. The typology question focuses on type rather than explanation that is desired.
Bad: What type of training program do you have?
3. The pleading question (often a series of them) seems to beg for answers.
Bad: Could you please tell me about your expansion plans?
4. The little bitty question may indicate lack of interest in detailed information,
perhaps asking a question merely to ask a question.
Bad: Tell me a little bit about your facility in Atlanta.
5. The uninformed question may exhibit lack of maturity or background study prior
to the interview.
Bad: Tell me about benefits and stuff like that.
Prepare a moderate schedule of carefully phrased questions. Order them accord-
ing to importance because you may not get the opportunity to ask five or six ques-
tions in a 20- to 25-minute interview, particularly if your questions are open-ended
and you probe into answers. Also, the recruiter will assume that you will ask your
most important questions first or second. If these are salary and benefits, this is a
major turnoff.
Sample Applicant Questions
The following sample applicant questions show interest in the position and the organi-
zation, are not overly self-centered, and meet question guidelines:
• Describe your ideal employee for me.
• Tell me about the culture of your organization.
• How does your organization encourage employees to come up with new ideas?
• How much choice would I have in selecting geographical location?
• What is a typical workday for this position?
• What is the possibility of flexible working hours?
• How does your organization evaluate employees?
• What characteristics are you looking for in applicants for this position?
• How might your organization support me if I wanted to pursue an MBA?
• How often would I be working as part of a team?
• What, in your estimation, is the most unique characteristic of your organization?
• How might an advanced degree affect my position in your organization?
How you ask
may be more
important than
what you ask.
Adapt your
to each
position and
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The Employment Interview 187
• Tell me about where other persons who have held this position have advanced
within the organization.
• What do you like most about working for this organization?
• Tell me about the merger with TelEx.
• I noticed in The Wall Street Journal last week that your stock has risen almost
4 percent during this economic recession. What explains this increase?
• Tell me about the people I would be working with.
• Tell me about your training program.
• What major departmental changes do you anticipate during the next five years?
• What is the most important criterion for selecting a person for this position?
The following questions may help with a variety of positions in new and startup
• Which of your products are most in demand?
• Who are your major competitors?
• How much collective experience do your top officers have in the field?
• What are your plans for going public?
• Who are the major regulators of your business?
The Closing
The closing stage of the employment interview is usually brief. Play an active role in
the closing but avoid saying or doing anything that may harm what has been a strong
interview. Express your interest in the position and organization. And discover what
will happen next, when, and whom you should contact and how if you need to get in
touch about the position. Ask for the position tactfully.
The interview “Is not over ’til it’s over.” When a member of the organization
walks you to the outer office, the elevator, or the parking lot, the interview is not
over. When a person takes you on a tour of the organization or the area, it is not over.
When a person takes you to lunch or dinner, it is not over. The employer will note
everything you do and say. Positions are lost because of the way applicants react
during a tour, converse informally, meet other people, eat dinner, or handle alcoholic
Evaluation and Follow-Up
Debrief yourself immediately following each interview. Jot down your answers to tough
questions, information the recruiter provided, and the recruiter’s answers to your ques-
tions. Make a list of pros and cons of the position and organization and what you don’t
know that would be critical in making a decision. Do you think you did well or not so
well? Be careful not to overreact. Your perceptions of what took place during the inter-
view may be greatly exaggerated toward the positive or the negative.
Be aware
of everything
you say
and do.
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188 Chapter 8
Ask questions such as these during your postinterview debriefing:
• How adequate was my preparation?
• How effective was I during the opening?
• How appropriate were my dress and appearance?
• What opportunities to sell myself did I hit and miss?
• How thorough and to the point were my answers?
• How well did I adapt my questions to this organization and position?
• How effectively did I show interest in this organization and position?
• How much information on this position and organization did I obtain to make
a good career decision?
Follow up the interview with a brief, professional letter thanking the interviewer for
the time given you. Promptness is less important than content. Avoid firing off letters
with little thought. Lisa Ryan, managing director for recruiting at Heyman Associates of
New York, tells the story about walking a person to the elevator and finding an e-mail
thank-you note waiting for her when she returned to her office moments later. The candi-
date had e-mailed her from the elevator. She recommends that you “put some substance
into your thank-you note.”19 Emphasize your interest in this position and organization.
The thank-you letter provides an excuse to contact the interviewer, keeps your name alive,
and includes additional information that might help the organization decide in your favor.
Handling Rejection
All applicants face rejection, even when they feel interviews went well. Potential employ-
ers reject applicants for a variety of reasons, often because of fit or because another appli-
cant has a valued experience or skill. They may interview dozens of people for a single
position and must make difficult choices. You will never hear from some recruiters.
How you handle rejections influences your attitudes, attitudes that may lead to
further rejections. One writer warns: “Don’t be a victim. The worst thing tired and
frustrated job seekers can do is to conclude that employer reps and hiring managers are
out to get them, that the job search process is out of their control, and that they’re the
victims of some evil, monolithic power.”20 Do not take rejection personally.
Use each interview as a learning process. Ask what you might do differently in the next
interview. How did you handle behavioral-based and critical incident questions? How effec-
tive were your questions? How thorough was your preparation? How qualified were you for
this position? What might you have done or not done to turn off for the recruiter?
Technology enables you to communicate instantly and to send and check information
immediately. The scanning of résumés and the use of the Internet as sources for positions
and résumé storage are changing the face of job searching. Personality, integrity, and drug
tests are adding a new dimension to the process.
Be thorough
in your
write thank-you
Learn from
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The Employment Interview 189
We have become a part of the global community and economy and are undergoing a
second industrial revolution moving from a manufacturing to a service- and information-
oriented society. The best positions in the future will go to those who understand and are
prepared for the selection process. You must know yourself, the position, and the organization
to persuade an employer to select you from hundreds of other applicants. The job search
must be extensive and rely more on networking and hard work than merely appearing at your
college career center for an interview. Your résumés and cover letters must be thorough, pro-
fessional, attractive, adapted to specific positions with specific organizations, and persuasive.
Interviewing skills are increasingly important because employers are looking for
employees with communication, interpersonal, and people skills. You can exhibit these
best during the interview. Take an active part in the opening, answer questions thoroughly
and to the point, and ask carefully phrased questions about the position and the organiza-
tion. Take an active part in the closing, and be sure the interviewer knows you want this
position. Close on a high note.
Follow up the interview with a carefully crafted thank-you letter that expresses again
your interest in this position and organization. Do an insightful evaluation that addresses
strengths and weaknesses and with future interviews in mind.
Career/job fair
Career objective
Chronological format résumé
Cover letter
Determinate interview
Electronically scanned
Fee-paid positions
First impression
Functional format résumé
Honesty tests
Integrity interview
Joblike situations
Mini-speech method
Network tree
Nonverbal communication
PAR method
Percentage agencies
Placement agency
Screening interview
Social media
STAR method
Successful applicants
Unsuccessful applicants
A Career in Computer Technology
You are a recent graduate with a degree in computer science and media technology and
design. Although you are confined to a wheelchair because of a swimming accident while
in high school, you have managed to get around a large university campus for four years
and played in a wheelchair basketball league. Your interest is in a computer design position
that would require you to travel to a variety of locations in the United States and Japan to
confer with other designers and check out technological developments.
Employment Role-Playing Cases
Key Terms and Concepts
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190 Chapter 8
Managing a Corporate Farm
You grew up on a 1700-acre grain farm in eastern Kansas and will graduate this spring in
the animal science department at Kansas State University. Since there is no opportunity
to manage the family farm and your interests are in livestock rather than grain, you are
interviewing for positions with corporate farms. You have an appointment with a recruiter
for Prairie Farms, a corporation that owns both grain and livestock farms in the Midwest and
Southwest. The opening is for a manager of Bar Y farms in South Dakota that includes herds
of beef cattle and bison. It is a major supplier for specialty steak restaurants in the Midwest,
particularly Omaha, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Chicago.
A Buyer for a Major Department Store
You are in your mid-twenties and have worked with a specialty women’s clothing store
since graduating from college three years ago with a degree in retail management. You
have a good record as a sales associate, and many of your customers seek you out for
assistance. Your real professional interest is serving as a buyer rather than a career primar-
ily in sales. You are interviewing in Chicago for a buyer position with Macy’s. This would be
your dream job.
A Public Relations Position
You recently graduated from college with a major in general communication rather than a
specialty because you weren’t sure what you wanted to do. The position you are applying
for is with a public relations and advertising agency. Its advertisement specified a degree
and experience in public relations. While you only took a couple of public relations courses
in college, you have worked with local politicians on their campaigns and with the intercol-
legiate communications office. You helped write press releases and organize events.
Student Activities
1. Contact five college recruiters from different corporations of diverse sizes. See if they
use a behavior-based, talent-based, or trait-based system. If so, why do they use this
system and how have they modified it over time to suit their specific needs? If they
do not use such a system, why have they decided not to do so? If they have aban-
doned one of these systems after trying it for a few years, why did they abandon it?
2. Visit your college career center to discover the services and materials they offer.
How do they counsel students who are trying to determine careers they might be
interested in and qualified for? How can they help you arrange and prepare for
3. Take the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator. How do the results compare to your self-
perceptions? How might these results help determine career paths and positions?
4. Interview five recent college graduates with your major. How large were their net-
works, and how did they use these networks to locate positions? Who on their net-
works proved most helpful? How many interviews were involved in the hiring process
for their current positions? Did they experience panel interviews as well as traditional
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The Employment Interview 191
one-on-one interviews? How did screening interviews differ from determinate inter-
views? What were the most critical questions they were asked? What were the most
critical questions they asked?
1. Charles J. Stewart, Interviewing Principles and Practices: Applications and Exercises
(Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2014)
2. Deborah Shane, “52% of U.S. Companies Say Job Applicants Are NOT Qualified?”
-how-can-that-be, accessed July 13, 2012.
3. Susan Adams, “Networking Is Still the Best Way To Find a Job, Survey Says,” http://
-a-job-survey-says, accessed July 27, 2012.
4. Carole Martin, “Ten Interview Fashion Blunders,” http://career advice monster, accessed August 10, 2012.
5. Barbara Safini, “Hot Job Site:,”
articles/2011/01//10/hot-job-site-brand-yourself-com, accessed July 30, 2012.
6. Richard N. Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016 (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed
Press, 2016), p. 53.
7. Wes Weller, “5 Tips for Turning Your Resume into an Interview,” http://blog.hiredmy-way
.com/5-tips-for-turning-your-resume-into-an-interview, accessed August 3, 2012; Fleur
Bradley, “10 Phrases to Ban from Your Resume,” 37219334
/ns/business-careers/t/phrases-ban-your-resume, accessed August 3, 2012.
8. Kim Isaacs, “Lying on Your Resume,”
-letters/resume-writing-tips/lying-on-your-resume/article.aspx, accessed July 13, 2012.
9. “Lying on Resumes: Why Some Can’t Resist,” Dallas Morning News, The Integrity
Center,, accessed October 2, 2006.
10. Anne Fisher, “Wd u rite a resume like this?” June 4, 2014,
/resume-errors-snafus, accessed January 14, 2016.
11. “The New Electronic Job Search Phenomenon,” an Interview with Joyce Lain
Kennedy, Wiley,
.html, accessed December 2, 2008.
12. “Scannable Resumes Presentation,”
resource/700/1, accessed August 7, 2012.
13. Annette Bruzzeze, “Online Resumes Can Trigger Identity Theft,” usatoday.30.usatoday
.com, accessed January 14, 2016.
14. Cover letters: types and samples; Louise M. Kursmark, Best Resumes for College
Students and New Grads (Indianapolis: JIST Works, 2012).
15. Carole Martin, “The 2-Minute Drill,”
/interview-appearance/the 2-minute-drill/article.aspzx, accessed August 10, 2012;
ste70537_ch08_155-192.indd 191 20/12/16 6:29 pm

192 Chapter 8
Carole Martin, “10 Interview Fashion Blunders,”
-interview/interview-appearance/10-interview-fasion-blunders/article.aspx, accessed
August 10, 2012.
16. Reeves, “Is Your Body Betraying You in Job Interviews?”, accessed
October 20, 2006.
17. Steven M. Ralston, William G. Kirkwood, and Patricia A. Burant, “Helping Interviewees
Tell Their Stories,” Business Communication Quarterly, September 2003, pp. 8–22.
18. Marist Poll, “12/16: Whatever, Still Most Annoying Word, You Know. Like, Seriously?
Just Sayin’,”
-know-like-seriously-just-sayin’/, accessed August 31, 2012.
19. Kris Maher, “The Jungle: Focus on Recruitment, Pay and Getting Ahead,” The Wall
Street Journal, January 14, 2003, p. B10.
20. “Job Seekers, Take Heart—and Control,” BusinessWeek Online, http://www, accessed September 11, 2006.
Boldt, Arnold G. No Nonsense Interviews. Wayne, NJ: Career Press, 2008.
Bolles, Richard N. What Color Is Your Parachute 2016. A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters
and Career-Changers. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2016.
DeCarol, Laura. Resumes for Dummies. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2015.
Enelow, Wendy S., and Shelly Goldman. Insider’s Guide to Finding a Job. Indianapolis,
IN: JIST Works, 2005.
Martin, Carole. What to Say in Every Job Interview. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013.
ste70537_ch08_155-192.indd 192 20/12/16 6:29 pm

The Performance Interview9C H A P T E R
When an organization attracts an employee who appears to be an ideal fit for its organizational culture and position and the new employee believes this position
with this organization is an ideal career and life choice, both parties initiate a mutual,
professional relationship. The employer’s goals should be to develop, empower, and
ultimately to retain the best talent the organization can attract. The millennial popu-
lation from which employers must locate this talent values collaboration, mentoring,
development, professional and personal growth, and opportunities to make a difference.
Conducting frequent performance reviews is essential to achieving the goals of both
Unfortunately, the performance review can be one of the most trying of manage-
ment responsibilities, and much of this is due to its history. Until recently, reviews were
called “appraisals” and were annual or semi-annual, top-down, judgmental processes
with little input from the employee. After an exhaustive review of the literature and
research on the “appraisal process,” Michael Gordon and Vernon Miller drew two con-
clusions: that the process is the “source of widespread dissatisfaction” and “is an indis-
pensable management responsibility.”1 Those of us who have been intimately involved
in performance reviews can relate to these findings. In place of the traditional judgmen-
tal process, Gordon and Miller advocate an interview that is “a conversation about per-
formance” that serves as the “defining moment in the appraisal process.”2 Their review
also revealed that few interview parties are trained in conducting and taking part in
these conversations.
Fortunately, this new vision Gordon and Miller advocate is transforming how orga-
nizations are approaching the review process. Instead of the superior to subordinate
relationship practiced in the past, the emphasis is on collaborating with employees to
develop, empower and retain them. The interviewer is identified as a coach with all
this word implies—to tutor, mentor, teach, inform, guide, and nurture. This philosophy
of the performance review is an ideal fit with the millennial generation that will soon
dominate the workforce.
The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to the notion of the perfor-
mance review interview as a coaching process, to ways of preparing effectively for
these critical organizational conversations, to a variety of review models, to the prin-
ciples of conducting and taking part in performance interviews, and to the performance
problem interview. Let us begin by approaching the performance interview as a coach-
ing event.
The perfor-
mance interview
The interview is
the key to the
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194 Chapter 9
Approaching the Interview as a Coaching Opportunity
Author and management consultant Garold L. Markle advocates what he calls “cata-
lytic coaching” designed to “energize and engage the human spirit at work.” He claims
this approach “spells the end of the performance review” as we have known it. Markle
describes catalytic coaching as:
A comprehensive, integrated performance management system built on a paradigm
of development. Its purpose is to enable individuals to improve their production
capabilities and rise to their potential, ultimately causing organizations to generate
better business results. It features clearly defined infrastructure, methodology and
skill sets. It assigns responsibility for career development to employees and estab-
lishes the boss as developmental coach.3
Catalytic coaching is future rather than past centered, places responsibility on the
employee rather than the superviser, and deals with salary indirectly. The supervisor is
a coach rather than evaluator.
When we reviewed several performance review models designed to develop
employees and enhance performance, the notion of coaching—effective communication
in a nonjudgmental atmosphere—was the centerpiece of each. Former pro-football
coach Don Shula and former pro-football player Ken Blanchard have developed a set of
basic principles that appropriately spell out the word “coach.”4
• Conviction driven—Never compromise your beliefs.
• Overlearning—Practice until it’s perfect.
• Audible ready—Respond predictably to performance.
• Consistency of leadership—Consistency in performance.
• Honesty based—Walk the talk.
The coaching philosophy heightens the need for frequent contacts, discussions, and
interviews between supervisors and employees that result in more favorable job-related
performance ratings.5 Conversations about performance become reviews of prior dis-
cussions connected closely to developmental and coaching plans. Employees know
what to expect and are not be confronted with surprises.
Establish a relaxed and supportive climate that is based on mutual trust. Employ-
ees must see fairness in the process, and Gordon and Miller claim “the nature of the
communication that takes place” is “critical in creating” this sense of fairness.6 They
want to be treated sensitively without being judged and to get credit and rewarded for
what they have done. Trust encourages employees to participate actively and equally in
all aspects of the review and makes them feel free to express feelings and ideas.
You play a major role in creating a positive and supportive climate by con-
tinually monitoring the employee’s progress, offering psychological support in the
forms of praise and encouragement, helping correct mistakes, and offering sub-
stantial feedback. Base your review on performance, not on the individual. Provide
performance-related information and measure performance against specific standards
Create a
climate that
involves the
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The Performance Interview 195
agreed upon during previous reviews. Providing feedback on a regular basis can avoid
formal, once-a-year “tooth- pulling” reviews both parties dread. Identify poor perfor-
mance immediately before damage to the organization and the employee is irrepa-
rable. Avoid surprises during the interview caused by withholding criticisms until the
formal review session.
Preparing for the Performance Interview
Training is essential because you must know how to create a genuine dialogue
with the interviewee. Be attentive by not talking when the other wants to talk and
by encouraging the employee to speak freely and openly. Be an active listener by
asking appropriate and tactful questions. Provide guidance and support. Avoid
“Why” questions that place the interviewee on the defensive and may intentionally
or unintentionally communicate disapproval, disbelief, or mistrust. Playing the role
of evaluator reduces the two-way communication process and affects your relation-
ship negatively. Credible interviewers who know how to handle performance-related
information, assign goals, and give feedback that is equitable, accurate, and clear.
Reviewing Rules, Laws, and Regulations
There are no laws that address the performance review directly, but several EEO laws and
guidelines pertain to the review process. Be familiar with laws such as the following Title
VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 forbid discrimination based on
age, race, color, gender, religion, national origin, and physical and mental impairments. All
elements of the employment process
are covered by civil rights laws and
EEO guidelines, including hiring,
training, compensating, promoting,
transferring, and discharging.
Be careful when assessing
traits such as honesty, integrity,
appearance, initiative, leadership,
attitude, and loyalty that are dif-
ficult to rate objectively and fairly.
“Using unreliable and unvalidated
performance appraisal” systems
may cause serious legal problems
because personal preferences,
prejudices, and first impressions
may lead to intentionally inflating
or deflating performance ratings to
get even, punish employees, or pro-
mote them to another department.7
“Too seldom”
is a common
Be careful of
judging what
you cannot
■ Supervisors at all levels have found it useful to talk periodically
with each subordinate about personal and work-related issues.
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196 Chapter 9
Laws do not require performance reviews, but ones conducted must be stan-
dardized in form and administration, measure work performance, and be applied
equally to all employees. Communication between “superiors” and “subordinants”
in reviews may lead to ritual forms of address “that are guided by commonly under-
stood cultural and social stereotypes, traditional etiquette, and gender-specific
rules.”8 If so, do not be surprised if you violate EEO laws and guidelines. As the
American workforce grows older, age discrimination is becoming a prominent area
of litigation.
Diane Chinn and Maurice Baskin, two authorities on performance reviews and
EEO laws, offer suggestions to make all reviews conform to the law and avoid law-
suits.9 Supervisors who conduct performance reviews must receive detailed written
guidelines and instructions and be trained in conducting all aspects of reviews, particu-
larly the interview. They must follow these guidelines to the letter. Have two or more
staff review employees separately as cross-checks on accuracy and avoidance of bias.
Be sure performance appraisals are reviewed with employees, making sure employ-
ees have the opportunity to offer suggestions and raise concerns before signing them.
Employees should have full access to all records pertaining to their work.
Selecting Review Model
Theorists and organizations have developed several performance review models that
meet EEO laws and conduct fair and objective performance-centered interviews
applicable to different types of positions and organizations. Their goals are to estab-
lish competencies, set goals and expectations, monitor performance, and provide
meaningful feedback.
Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) Model
In the behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS) model, interviewers iden-
tify skills essential to a specific position through a position analysis and set stan-
dards with the aid of industrial engineers. Typical jobs with behaviors identified
and standards set include telephone survey takers (at so many telephone calls
per hour), meter readers for utility companies (at so many meters per hour), and
data entry staff or programmers (at so many lines of entry per hour). Job analysts
identify specific skills and weigh their relative worth and usage. Each job has spe-
cific measurable skills that eliminate game-playing and subjective interpretation by
Employees report high levels of review satisfaction with the BARS model because
they feel they have greater impact upon the process and see interviewers as supportive.
They know what skills they are expected to have, their relative worth to the organization,
and how their performance will be measured. However, not every job has measurable
or easily identifiable skills, and arguments often arise over when, how, and by whom
specific standards are set. Gordon and Miller discovered that “Raters distort the evalua-
tions they make on subjective instruments in order to achieve goals other than providing
Age will play
an ever-greater
role as baby
boomers turn
50 and 60 in
focuses on
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The Performance Interview 197
an accurate assessment of the employee’s performance (e.g., maintaining interpersonal
relationships and group harmony).”10
Management by Objectives (MBO) Model
The management by objectives model involves a supervisor and an employee in a
mutual (50-50) setting of results-oriented goals rather than activities to be performed.
Advocates of the MBO model contend that behaviorally based measures can account
for more job complexity, be rated directly to what an employee does, and minimize fac-
tors the employee cannot control. This model is designed to be less role ambiguous and
subjective than person-based measures by making clear which behaviors are required
for a specific job. It facilitates performance feedback and goal setting by encouraging
employer-employee discussions regarding strengths and weaknesses.
The MBO model classifies all work in terms of four major elements: inputs, activi-
ties, outputs, and feedback. Inputs include equipment, tools, materials, money, and staff
needed to do the work. Activities refer to the actual work performed: typing, writing,
drawing, calculating, selling, writing, shipping. Outputs are results, end products, dol-
lars, reports prepared, or services rendered. Feedback refers to subsequent supervisor
reaction (or lack of it) to the output. When you act as a performance review interviewer
using an MBO model, keep several principles in mind.
1. Always consider quality, quantity, time, and cost. The more criteria you use, the
greater the chances that the measurement will be accurate.
2. State results in terms of ranges rather than absolutes. Allow for freedom of move-
ment and adjustment.
3. Keep the number of measurable objectives critical to performance to no more than
six or eight, and set a mutual environment.
4. Try for trade-offs between mutually exclusive aims and measures. An objective
that is too complex may be self-defeating. For example, attempts to reduce labor
and decrease cost at the same time may create more problems than you solve.
5. When the value of the performance is abstract, initiate practices that make it
6. If you cannot predict conditions on which performance success depends, use a
floating or gliding goal that enables you to adapt to changing circumstances.
Unfortunately the strengths of the MBO model, including its interactive nature
and adaptability to complex positions, have led many organizations to abandon it
because of “the large number of meetings required and the amount of documen-
tation necessitated.” Gordon and Miller write that unlike other models, it cannot
be standardized to facilitate comparisons “across individuals or organizational
Universal Performance Interviewing (UPI) Model
William B. Cash developed the universal performance interviewing model and tested
it in more than 40 organizations.12 This model begins with four basic questions that can
focuses on
model applies
four criteria to
each position:
quantity, time,
and cost.
Do not
too many
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198 Chapter 9
serve as guidelines for fairness and comparisons among employees. Interviewers must
be able to specify what is missing or not being done well so they can provide feedback
to institute change.
1. What is not being done that should be?
2. What expectations are not being met at what standard?
3. Could the person do it if motivated?
4. Does the individual have the skills to perform as needed?
Narrow each problem to a coachable answer. For example, maybe no one has
emphasized that getting 100 percent of customers’ numbers at the beginning of calls is
critical because the customer number drives the system and makes it easier to access
billing and other information under that number. Maybe the employee knows the cus-
tomer’s number by heart and intends to place it in the correct position on the screen
after the customer hangs up. The observation judgment dilemma has always been a
problem for performance reviewers.
The four questions in conjunction with six key words shown in Figure 9.1
enable interviewers to make several observations about performance. This model
can be  employed with others (such as the popular 360-degree review process)
or with separate observations by supervisors, peers, and customers (internal and
external) that can be compared to one another for consistency, trends, and rater
A sheet of paper with the four questions in columns can provide the bases for
coaching sessions that take place weekly for production workers and monthly for
professionals. A summary session may be done quarterly with an annual review to
set goals for the coming year, review progress, and look at developmental needs.
Once you have answered the four basic questions, start on the model with keep.
When an employee is doing something well, make sure the person knows you appreciate
a job well done. Then go to stop, followed by start, less, more, and finishing with a time
frame for improving performance. The word now emphasizes the importance of making
appropriate changes immediately. Define now specifically in terms of weeks or perhaps
focuses on
and work
why perfor-
mance is
Figure 9.1 Six key words in the universal performance interviewing model
Reviews must
as well as
(2) Stop (3) Start
(4) Less (1) Keep
(5) More
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The Performance Interview 199
The universal performance interviewing model enables the coach to start
with positive behavior for the employee to maintain, followed by behaviors to be
corrected now. This begins the interview on a positive note. The stop list should
be the shortest and reserved for behaviors that are qualitatively and procedurally
incorrect, place an employee at risk, or are destructive to others in the workplace.
Present each of the four questions and the six words at different verbal and
nonverbal levels, including hints, suggestions, and corrections. For example, you
might say:
I want you to stop doing . . . You must do more of . . .
I want you to start doing . . . now You must do less of . . .
Interviewers may spend too much time on the analytical end and too little time on a
specific behavior to be altered and how. If there is no specific alternative behavior, do
not discuss it.
Use the customer service representative mentioned earlier as an example.
Assume that the representative knows many customer numbers because of the
frequency of calls from them and has the numbers memorized. She thinks it is unnec-
essary to log each number into the system until she has finished discussing specific
problems with customers. One of the following styles may present the problem without
making it worse.
• Hint: (smiling pleasantly) I noticed you were busy this morning when I stopped
by to observe you. I just thought it might be easier for you to record each
customer’s number at the beginning of your conversation.
• Suggestion: (neutral facial expression and matter-of-fact vocal inflections)
Just one idea came to mind from my observation this morning. I’d like to see
you record each customer’s number early so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of
answers to other callers.
• Correction: (stern voice and face) Based on my observation this morning, you
must be sure to record each customer’s number before you do anything else on
the system for that number. This number drives our entire system, and problems
result when it is not recorded immediately.
A major purpose of every performance interview is to provide accurate feedback
to the employee about what must be altered, changed, or eliminated and when. Most
employees want to do a good job, and the performance mentor or coach must provide
direction for resolving the problem.
Another part of the model, crucial in performance interviews, are the two Ss—
specific and several. Performance interviews are not guessing games. The two Ss
enable interviewers to provide specific examples to show the problem is not a one-time
Figure 9.2 includes all parts of the universal performance interviewing model. It
enables you to measure or observe on-the-job behavior and either compare it to goals or
quickly correct the smallest error.
Play the role
of coach
rather than
evaluator or
Don’t turn a
mole hill prob-
lem into
a mountain.
Hint and
Vague com-
ments and
may harm
and fail to
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200 Chapter 9
The 360-Degree Approach
The 360-degree approach, while controversial, has gained acceptance in many large
organizations. It enables them to receive input on employee performance from major
constituents such as clients, customers, subcontractors, supervisors, and peers.
Although firms employ different 360-degree processes, an employee typically
meets with a mentor or coach to select a review team that may include a direct super-
visor, staff at the same level as the employee, colleagues, and staff from other depart-
ments within the organization. The process requires a review team with interpersonal
and coaching skills. Each member of the review team fills out a questionnaire cover-
ing the employee’s skills, knowledge, and style. When the completed questionnaires
are summarized, scored, and displayed on a spreadsheet, the facilitator takes the raw
data and interviews each team member. The employee receives the data prior to an
interview with the team. The purpose of the review interview is to provide objective,
behavior-based feedback, and suggestions for improvement. Compliments are integral
to the process.
The facilitator may ask the employee to start with reactions to the data and then
ask open questions with neutral probes. For example:
• Tell me about your responsibilities in R&D.
Tell me more.
Explain it to me.
Describe your frustrations with the consultants’ training manual.
• If you were going to take on a similar project, what would you do more or
less of?
• When you identified people in accounting as “bean-counters”, what did you
How did they behave?
What did they say?
What did they do?
The 360-
The 360-
uses a team
Employ open
questions and
probe into
Figure 9.2 The universal performance interviewing model
(2) Stop (3) Start
(4) Less
(1) Keep
(5) More
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The Performance Interview 201
Once the feedback session is completed, both parties formulate a plan for improvement.
The use of multisource feedback for employee development works best in
organizations that use a goal-setting process from the top down. The 360-degree
approach has a number of pluses. The questionnaires and interview provide objec-
tive data and feedback necessary for employee improvement and development
because this feedback emanates from multiple sources: supervisors, peers, sub-
ordinates, and clients. The employee controls who gives feedback but is able to
read, hear, and discuss the data that provide documentation for dealing with the
performance review.
Although the 360-degree approach is used widely as a performance review
model, its critics raise serious questions that organizations need to address to make
it reliable and effective.13 Some critics see the 360-degree approach as too similar
to the old appraisal system in which superiors placed undue emphasis on what the
employee was not doing well. They also cite untrained staff with little experience in
important areas leading to deficient data on performance. Careful selection of the
review team with strong employee input can reduce the influence of superiors, and
training can resolve lack of experience and expertise of team members. Another criti-
cism is that anonymous input from the team may be inaccurate, incompetent, and
biased. Organizations must build transparency into the system that provides quality
input while protecting the employee and members of the team. Critics also attack
the underlying assumption that more people involved necessarily make for better
performance reviews. Limiting the number of team members can resolve this con-
cern. Garold Markle criticizes the 360-degree approach as too time-consuming on the
parts of employee and staff. It may take weeks or months to complete. Organizations
selecting this approach must develop tight time-lines for conducting and completing
performance reviews using this system so they do not consume too many resources
and drag on too long. Timely feedback and improvements in performance are essen-
tial to all review models.
Choosing from among these models, modifying one of them, or creating a model
that seems best for your organization and employees is critical to the review process.
Unfortunately, studies reveal that many organizations try one model or system after
another and often adopt one that other organizations are abandoning.14
Be aware of
pluses and
minuses of
each review
Select a model
best suited to
your organi-
zation and
As you begin to think seriously about specific
careers and organizations, investigate how organi-
zations assess the performance of employees. Use
the Internet to discover the types of performance
review models used by employers in which you have
a career interest. Access two types of resources. First,
research employers through general resources such
as CareerBuilder (,
MonsterTrak (, and
Monster ( Second, check
the Web sites of specific organizations such as
Pricewaterhousecoopers (, Ford
(, and Electronic Data Systems
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202 Chapter 9
The Performance Interview
Selecting or modifying a performance review model for your organization and employ-
ees is central to developing, empowering, and retaining the best talent. The best model
will fail to achieve these goals, however, if it is not planned and conducted skillfully
or if either party is dissatisfied with its nature or outcome. Effective communication is
critical in every performance review.
Planning the Interview
Understand the nature of the employee’s position and work and then design forms and
questionnaires that focus on relevant and measurable goals. Pay particular attention
to the fit between the employee, the position, and the work performed. What is the
primary purpose of this interview, particularly if it is one among several interviews?
Study the employee’s past record, recent performance reviews, and reports from the
person’s mentor or coach. Review the employee’s self-evaluation if one is part of the
Know yourself. Do you have potential biases that may affect the interaction?
If so, how can you minimize or eliminate them? How comfortable are you with a
developmental perspective that is employee-directed, bottom-up, skill-based, now- and
future-oriented, and collaborative in nature? If a performance review team is involved,
how comfortable and effective are you as a facilitator or as a team member?
What is the nature of your past and current relationship with the employee? If
you are serving as the employee’s mentor or coach, how amicable and collabora-
tive is this relationship? What is the level of trust between you and the employee
and between each member of the review team and the employee? Effective commu-
nication and cooperation suffers whenever an employee has serious concerns about
the fairness of any part of the review process and any member of the review team.
Research indicates, for instance, that reviewers evaluate employees differently when
their relationships differ.
Opening the Interview
Provide privacy because the interview may delve into sensitive matters. Choose a
seating arrangement that is comfortable, enhances communication, and avoids any
semblance of superior and subordinate positions. Greet the employee in a warm
and friendly manner and begin with some small talk. Do not prolong the opening,
however, because this may enhance apprehension of what may be coming. Fear of
performance reviews often comes from a history of unpleasant and nonproductive
encounters with interviewers and teams, and this history may interfere with the com-
munication between you and the employee in this interview. As a result, the review
process may fail to achieve its full potential unless you can defuse such concerns and
fears at the outset.
Begin orientation by noting that this is a routine part of the review process and not
the result of some major problem or concern. Emphasize that it is a collaborative effort
to develop and empower each employee to grow professionally and personally and to
make a difference within organization and community. Provide a brief outline of how
Select and
the perspective
of the
both parties
and the
nature of the
Be prepared
but flexible in
opening the
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The Performance Interview 203
the interview will proceed with the employee’s input. If the employee wants to address
a relevant topic or issue first, do it. No interview plan should be set in stone if it is to be
a professional conversation about performance. Encourage the employee to ask ques-
tions, provide input, introduce topics, and participate freely.
Discussing Performance
Communication skills are essential when discussing performance. Be aware of nonver-
bal cues you and the interviewee may be exchanging. It is often not what is said but
how it is said. Avoid words and actions that either party may perceive as accusatory
or threatening or to insinuate criticism, skepticism, or blame. Be an active listener, and
adapt your listening approach to the changing needs of the interview, listening for com-
prehension when you need to understand, for evaluation when you must appraise, with
empathy when you must show sensitivity and understanding, and for resolution when
developing courses of action to enhance performance.
Maintain an atmosphere that ensures two-way communication beyond Level 1 by
being sensitive, providing feedback and positive reinforcement, reflecting feelings, and
exchanging information. Feedback may be your most important skill. Consider using
more than one interviewer because research indicates that the team approach produces
higher judgment validation, better developmental action planning, greater compli-
ance with EEO laws, more realistic promotion expectations, and reduced perception of
Make the discussion full and open between both parties with the goal of improving
individual and organizational performance. Keys to success are your abilities to com-
municate information effectively and encourage open dialogue. Strive to be a coach in
career management and development.
Discuss the interviewee’s total performance, not just one event. Begin with areas
of excellence so you can focus on the person’s strengths. Strive for an objective, posi-
tive integration of work and results. Cover standards that are met and encourage the
interviewee to identify strengths. Communicate factual, performance-related informa-
tion and give specific examples.
Excessive praise or criticism may create anxiety and distrust. Employees expect
and desire to discuss performance weaknesses. An employee who receives no
negative feedback or suggestions of ways to improve will not know which behavior to
change. Discuss needed improvements in terms of specific behaviors in a construc-
tive, nondirective, problem-solving manner. Employees are likely to know what they
are not doing, but unlikely to know what they should be doing. Let the employee
provide input. Probe tactfully and sensitively for causes of problems. On the other
hand, do not heap criticism upon the employee. The more you point out shortcom-
ings, the more threatened, anxious, and defensive the employee will become. As a
perceived threat grows, so will the person’s negative attitude toward you and the
review process. It is often not what is intended that counts but what the other party
believes is intended.
There are many ways to ruin a performance review. The halo effect occurs when
you give favorable ratings to all duties when the interviewee excels in only one. The
pitchfork effect leads to negative ratings for all facets of performance because of a
Use all of
your listening
Feedback is
central in
Develop a
true dialogue
with the
Strive for a
praise and
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204 Chapter 9
particular trait you dislike in others. The central tendency causes you to refrain from
assigning extreme ratings to facets of performance. The recency error occurs when you
rely too heavily on the most recent events or performance levels. The length of service
of an interviewee may lead you to assume that present performance is high because
past performance was high. The loose rater is reluctant to point out weak areas and
dwells on the average or better areas of performance. The tight rater believes that no
one can perform at the necessary standards. And competitive raters believe no one can
perform higher than their levels of performance.
Summarize the performance discussion and make sure the employee has had
ample opportunity to ask questions and make comments before establishing goals.
Use reflective probes and mirror questions to verify information received and feed-
back given. Use clearinghouse questions to be sure the employee has no further
concerns or comments.
Setting New Goals and a Plan of Action
Although you are likely to focus on past and current performance early in the inter-
view, it is vitally important that you look toward future goals, growth, and paths for the
employee. The millennial generation is heavily interested in professional and personal
growth and opportunities to make a difference.
Review previous goals before setting new ones because both parties must be
able to determine when goals have been met and why. Make goals few in number,
specific and well-defined rather than ambiguous, practical, neither too easy nor too
difficult, and measurable. Avoid either-or statements, demands, and ultimatums.
Combining feedback and employee suggestions with clear goal setting—while avoid-
ing intentional or unintentional imposition of goals—produces the highest employee
satisfaction. Decide upon follow-up procedures with the employee and how goals
will be implemented.
Closing the Interview
Do not rush the closing. Be sure the interviewee understands all that has transpired.
Conclude on a note of trust and open communication and with the feeling that this
has been an important session for interviewee, interviewer, and the organization.
If you have filled out a required form, sign off on all agreements. If organizational
policy allows, permit interviewees to put notes by items they feel strongly about.
Provide a copy of the signed form as a record of the plan for the coming perfor-
mance period.
The Employee in the Performance Review
Maintain complete, detailed, accurate, and verifiable records of your career activi-
ties, initiatives, accomplishments, successes, and problem areas. Make a list of goals
set during the last performance review. Keep letters and e-mails that contain positive
and unsolicited comments from supervisors, co-workers, subordinates, clients, cus-
tomers, and management. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses and be prepared for
Use question
tools to gain
and verify
Focus on the
future and not
the past.
The inter-
viewee must
be an active
Close with
the perception
that the
has been
for both
Do a self-
before the
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The Performance Interview 205
corrective actions with ideas to improve on your own. Self-criticism may soften criti-
cism from others.
At least half of the responsibility for making the performance interview a suc-
cess rests with you. Approach the interview as a valuable source of information on
prospects for advancement, a chance to get meaningful feedback about how the organi-
zation views your performance and future, and an opportunity to display your strengths
and accomplishments. Be prepared to give concrete examples of how you have met or
exceeded expectations. Prepare intelligent, well-thought-out questions, and be ready to
discuss career goals.
Maintain a productive, positive relationship with the interviewer. Avoid defen-
siveness unless there is something to become defensive about. If the interviewer
puts you on the defense, maintain direct eye contact and clarify the facts before
answering charges. Ask, “How did this information come to your attention?” or
“What are the exact production figures for the third quarter?” This gives you time
to formulate thorough and reasonable responses based on complete understanding of
the situation. Answer all questions thoroughly. Ask for clarification of questions you do
not understand. Offer explanations, not excuses. Assess your performance and abilities
reasonably, and be honest with yourself and your supervisor. Realize that what you are,
what you think you are, what others think you are, and what you would like to be may
describe different people.
The performance review interview is not a time to be shy or self-effacing. Mention
achievements such as special or extra projects, help you have given other employees,
and community involvement. Be honest about challenges or problems you expect to
encounter in the future. Correct any of the interviewer’s false impressions or mistaken
assumptions. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
If you are confronting a serious problem, discover how much time is available to
solve it. Suggest or request ways to solve your differences as soon as possible. The
interviewer is not out to humiliate you, but to help you grow for your own sake and
that of the organization. Keep your cool. Telling off your supervisor may give you a
brief sense of satisfaction, but the person will still be your supervisor and the problem
will be worse. Do not try to improve everything at once. Set priorities with manageable
short- and long-range goals.
During the closing, summarize or restate problems, solutions, and new goals in
your own words. Be sure you understand all that has taken place and agreements for the
next review period. Close on a positive note with a determination to meet the new goals.
The Performance Problem Interview
Employee problems range from excessive absences, simple theft, failure to follow
rules and procedures, and insubordination with supervisors to actions that threaten
the well-being of fellow employees and supervisors, the organization, or customers
and clients. The current practice is to handle all but extreme cases as a performance
problem that requires coaching and to avoid the use of the term discipline that implies
guilt. In many states, employers must show just cause for disciplining or terminating
an employee.
Avoid unnec-
essary defen-
A good
offense is
better than
a good
Leave your
temper at
the door.
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206 Chapter 9
Determine Just Cause
When “just cause” pertains to employment, it means that an employer must have sufficient
justification for disciplining an employee to improve performance (rather than as punish-
ment) or to terminate employment because of “misconduct irreconcilable or inconsistent
with the contract of employment.”15 The opposite of just cause is at will which means that
“either party may terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason.”16
Seven tests have become standard criteria employed in both union and nonunion
discipline and termination actions.17 They can serve as guides when conducting perfor-
mance problem interviews.
• Was the employee given clear and unambiguous warning of possible disciplinary
consequences for failure to follow a rule or directive?
Follow an oral warning with a written warning within a short time.
• Was the rule or directive reasonably related to the orderly, efficient, and safe
operation of the organization?
This rule or directive must be applied routinely and equally to all similar
• Before taking action, was the alleged incident investigated timely to determine if
the employee had in fact disobeyed a rule or directive?
Timely usually means that an investigation occurred within one to three days.
• Was the investigation conducted fairly, objectively, and in an impartial manner?
Did the employer interview all parties involved and obtain all necessary proof
and documentation?
• Was adequate evidence and documentation gathered to prove that a violation of
a rule or directive had occurred?
Write down the problem in detail and obtain necessary proof and records before
arranging for a performance problem interview.
• Were all employees determined to be in violation of a rule or directive given
equal treatment?
Each organizational investigation of a performance problem must be conducted
in exactly the same manner with no evidence of discrimination.
• Is the penalty applied reasonably related to the seriousness of the problem and
the employee’s total performance record?
Penalties must be appropriate for the performance problem and progressive
rather than regressive in nature.
Prepare for the Interview
Prepare for performance problem interviews by taking part in realistic role-playing
cases. These rehearsals can lessen anxiety and help you anticipate employee reactions,
questions, and rebuttals. The variety of situations and interviewees encountered can
help you refine your case-making, questioning, and responding.
Treat all
fairly and
The punishment
must fit the
conducting the
real thing.
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The Performance Interview 207
Prepare for common employee responses that occur in the majority of performance
problem interviews.
1. Apparent compliance: overpoliteness and deference, apologies, promises, or state-
ments of good intentions.
2. Relational leverage: statements that they have been with the organization longer
than the interviewer and therefore know best, that they are the best and you can’t
fire or discipline them, reference to friends or relatives within the organization, or
reference to your close relationship to them.
3. Alibis: claims of tiredness, sickness, being overworked, budget cuts, family
problems, it’s someone else’s fault, or poor instructions or information.
4. Avoidance: disappearing on sick leave or vacation, failure to respond to memos or
phone calls, or failure to make an appointment.
Review how you know the employee has committed an infraction that warrants
an interview. Did you see the infraction directly, as in the case of absenteeism, poor
workmanship, intoxication, harassing another employee, or insubordination? Did you
find out indirectly through a third party or by observing the results (such as lateness
of a report, poor quality products, or goals unmet)? Were you anticipating an infrac-
tion because of a previous incident, behavior, or stereotype? For example, African-
Americans and other minorities are often watched more closely than others because
supervisors believe they are more likely to violate rules. On the other hand, supervi-
sors tend to be lenient with persons they perceive as likable, similar to themselves,
or possessing high status or exceptional talent. Supervisors may avoid confronting
persons they know will “explode” if confronted. Avoid the practice of gunnysack-
ing (a word based on the old burlap bag) in which you store up several grievances
before dumping them on an employee all at once. While evading confrontation for a
time, gunnysacking merely delays the inevitable, significantly worsens your relation-
ship with the employee, and clouds the issue that has finally brought the employee’s
behavior to this point. The interviewee is likely to be hostile with attention diverted
to prior behaviors instead of the current and probably most important one. Delay is
not the easy way out.
Decide whether the perceived problem warrants a review. Absenteeism and low
performance are generally considered more serious than tardiness and horseplay.
Determine the cause of the infraction because this will affect how you conduct the
interview and determine what action to take.
Review the employee’s past performance and history. Two basic reasons for
action are poor performance and a troubled employee. When a person’s perfor-
mance gradually declines, the cause may be motivational, work-related, or lack of
mentoring. Drops in performance are indicated by swings in the employee’s behavior
or mood. Keep an eye on indicators such as attendance, quality or quantity of work,
willingness to take instructions, cooperation with supervisors, and interactions with
colleagues and clients.
When an employee’s performance declines suddenly, causes may be a marital prob-
lem, a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, problem with a child, money problems,
Be prepared
for common
reactions and
evidence do
you have
of the
between the
severity of
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208 Chapter 9
a gambling habit, alcohol or drug dependency, or a physical or mental health problem.
Clinical depression is common. These employees may need medical help or profes-
sional counseling. Know your limits. Coaching and mentoring may do more harm than
good. Know that EEO laws restrict actions of employers in some of these situations.
Review Chapter 11 on the counseling interview to see which problems lay counselors
can and cannot address.
What is your relationship with the employee at this time? Often neither party
may want to take part, and you may have delayed the interview until there is no
recourse and multiple problems have piled up. As problems come to a head, you
and the employee may come to dislike and mistrust one another, even to the point of
verbal and nonverbal abuse.
Keep Self and the Situation under Control
While you want to head off a problem before it becomes critical, do not conduct a
performance problem interview when you are angry. You will be unable to control the
interview if you are unable to control yourself. Trust, cooperation, and disclosure are
difficult to attain in a threatening environment.
When one party has difficulty containing anger or animosity, follow these
• Hold the interview in a private location. Meet where you and the employee can
discuss the problem freely and openly.
• When severe problems arise, consider delaying a confrontation and obtaining
assistance. Let tempers cool down. You may want to consult a counselor or call
security before acting.
• Include a witness. The witness should be another supervisor because using one
employee as a witness against another employee is dangerous for all parties
involved. Follow to the letter all procedures spelled out in the union contract and
organizational policies.
Focus on the Problem
Deal in facts, such as absences, witnesses, departmental records, and previous disci-
plinary actions. Do not allow the situation to become a trading contest: “Well, look at
all the times I have been on time” or “How come others get away with it?”
• Record all available facts. Unions, EEOC, and attorneys often require complete
and accurate records. Take detailed notes, record the time and date on all
material that might be used later, and obtain the interviewee’s signature or
initials for legal protection. Establish a paper trail.
• Do not be accusatory. Avoid words and statements such as troublemaker, drunk,
thief, and liar. You cannot make medical diagnoses so avoid medical terms.
• Preface remarks carefully. Begin comments with phrases such as “According to
your attendance report . . . ,” “As I understand it . . . ,” and “I have observed . . .”
These force you to be factual and avoid accusing an employee of being guilty
until proven innocent.
are critical in
anger can
destroy an
Deal with
facts rather
than impres-
sions and
Ask questions
that draw
out the
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The Performance Interview 209
• Ask questions that enable the employee to express
feelings and explain behavior. Begin questions with
“Tell me what happened . . . ,” “When he said that,
what did you . . . ,” “Why do you feel that . . . ?”
Open-ended questions allow you to get facts,
feelings, and explanations from the employee.
Avoid Conclusions during the Interview
A hastily drawn conclusion may create more problems
than it solves. Some organizations train supervisors
to use standard statements under particular circum-
stances. If you are sending an employee off the job,
you may say:
“I do not believe you are in a condition to work, so I
am sending you home. Report to me tomorrow at . . .”
“I want you to go to medical services and have a
test made; bring me a slip from the physician when
you return to my office.”
“I’m sending you off the job. Call me tomorrow morn-
ing at nine, and we can discuss what action I will take.”
Such statements give you time to talk to others, think
about possible actions, and cool-off.
Closing the Interview
Conclude the interview in neutral. If discipline is appropriate, do it. Realize, however,
that delaying action may enable you to think more clearly about the incident. Be con-
sistent with organizational policies, the union contract, and all employees. Refer to
your organization’s prescribed disciplinary actions for specific offenses.
Performance reviews should play an integral role in developing, empowering, and retaining
employees. They should occur frequently and be collaborative efforts to further the goals of
both employee and employer. Avoid top-down appraisals in which the superior is a judge
and disciplinarian. Strive to be a coach or a mentor in reviews that are professional conver-
sations about performance with an emphasis on the future rather than the past. There are a
number of performance models you might employ. Select or modify one that is best suited
to your organization and the work an employee performs and which assesses performance
accurately and positively. If you detect problems in performance or on-the-job behavior, do
not let them accumulate and then drop them on the employee all at once, a practice that is
called gunnysacking. Help employees gain insights into their performance and behavior and
how each affects them, fellow employees, clients, and the organization.
Be slow
to draw
■ Never conduct a performance review
interview when you are angry and conduct
the interview in a private location.
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210 Chapter 9
Key Terms and Concepts
360-degree approach
At will
Behavior-based feedback
Behaviorally anchored
rating scales
Catalytic coaching
Central tendency
Competitive rater
Halo effect
Just cause
Loose rater
Management by objectives
Multisource feedback
Pitchfork effect
Recency error
Supportive climate
Tight rater
Universal performance
interviewing model
Performance Review Role-Playing Cases
An Aircraft Maintenance Specialist
The interviewer is the Maintenance Supervisor at the central maintenance repair facility
for Mid-American Airlines, a regional carrier. He is conducting a quarterly performance
review interview with a maintenance specialist who joined the airline three years ago
right out of a university aviation technology program. His record has been excellent
with only a few minor problems that appear to have been resolved. Unfortunately, the
airline has suffered from a great deal of bad publicity following two recent incidents in
which rows of seats came unbolted during flights. No injuries have occurred, but the
FAA and consumer advocacy groups are demanding answers. Since the interviewee
is primarily responsible for checking and repairing passenger seats, the interviewer
will probe into reasons for these potentially deadly occurrences and discover what
the interviewee has done and plans to do to make certain no seats come loose in
flight again.
A Volleyball Coach
The interviewer is the Athletic Director at Forbes College and reviews the performance of
all coaches prior to the start of their seasons in late August and when seasons end from
January to May. The interviewee is the head coach of the women’s volleyball team that has
won 54 percent of its games each of the past three years. This year is expected to be the
break-out year because the team is loaded with experience and has two highly recruited
players. This interview will focus on the prospects for a stellar season and how the coach
is working at motivating the team individually and as a whole. Her teams traditionally start
strong and then fade near the end of the season. Degree of success this season may
determine the coach’s future at Forbes College.
A Retail Manager
The interviewer is the manager of a large department store and conducts performance
reviews with the departmental managers semi-annually. The employee is the Women’s
Department Manager. She is forty-two years old and a single mother of four children
ages thirteen to nineteen. The interviewee does an excellent job. She anticipates
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The Performance Interview 211
problems, thinks of a variety of appropriate solutions for every problem, and is highly
professional in manner and dress. Unfortunately, she is starting to come in late for work
rather frequently and seems to have ready-made excuses for each occasion, some of
which are barely believable. The interviewer must determine how to approach this man-
ager about the effects her tardiness are causing in her department without affecting
her outstanding work. She does not want to lose this manager, but she must help her to
correct this problem.
A Troubleshooter
The interviewer is the vice president of a large paper products manufacturer that has plants
throughout the United States and in several other countries. He oversees plant manag-
ers and engineering troubleshooters who travel weekly to different plants to resolve pro-
duction problems, set up and troubleshoot new computer systems, and train personnel
in operating new production equipment. The interviewee, a former plant manager, is an
excellent troubleshooter, but he is becoming unhappy with the constant travel and being
away from his family. This performance interview is aimed at keeping the interviewee
happy and on the job as well as reviewing performance.
Student Activities
1. Interview a human resources director at a medium-to-large organization about
performance reviews. Ask questions such as: Which performance review system
or model do you employ? Why did you select this system? How did you adapt this
model to your organization? How do you train interviewers to be coaches rather
than judges? How do you address potential bias in performance reviews?
2. Compare and contrast Garold Markle’s “catalytic coaching” approach to performance
review with the behaviorally anchored rating scales model, the management by
objectives model, and the universal performance interviewing model. How might the
catalytic coaching approach alter each and improve each?
3. Contact supervisors at three different types of organizations: industrial, academic,
and nonprofit. Ask about the types and severity of behavioral problems they have
encountered among employees during the past three years. What were the causes
of these problems? How did they use performance interviews to address these prob-
lems? Who were involved in these interviews? How were interviews adapted to type
and severity of behavioral problems? How effective were the interviews in resolving
the problems short of dismissal?
4. Terminating employees is always a difficult decision for organizations to make
and is fraught with problems ranging from an angry employee, to lawsuits for
unfair and unjustified termination, to violence following termination. Interview
three people who have experience in terminating employees to discover how
they prepare cases for termination, conduct performance problem interviews that
will result in termination, and how they attempt to safeguard against lawsuits and
potential violence.
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212 Chapter 9
1. Michael E. Gordon and Vernon D. Miller, Conversations About Job Performance: A
Communication Perspective on the Appraisal Process (New York: Business Expert
Press, 2012), p. 7.
2. Gordon and Miller, p. x.
3. Garold L. Markle, Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review (Westport,
CT: Quorum Books, 2000), p. 4.
4. Taken from Everyone’s a Coach by Don Shula and Ken Blanchard. Copyright 1995
by Shula Enterprises and Blanchard Family Partnership. Used by permission of
Zondervan Publishing House (
5. K. Michele Kacmar, L. A. Witt, Suzanne Zivnuska, and Stanley M. Gully, “The Interac-
tive Effect of Leader-Member Exchange and Communication Frequency on Perfor-
mance Ratings,” Journal of Applied Psychology 88 (2003), pp. 764–772.
6. Gordon and Miller, pp. 25–26.
7. “Performance Appraisal,”,
-appraisal?&print=true, accessed October 9, 2009.
8. H. Lloyd Goodall, Jr., Gerald L. Wilson, and Christopher F. Waagen, “The Performance
Appraisal Interview: An Interpretive Reassessment,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 72
(1986), pp. 74–75.
9. Diane Chinn, “Legal Implications Associated With a Performance Appraisal,” http://
.htm, accessed September 28, 2012; Maurice Baskin, “Legal Guidelines for Associa-
tions for Conducting Employee Evaluations and Performance Appraisals,” http://www, accessed
September 28, 2012.
10. Gordon and Miller, pp. 21 and 23.
11. Gordon and Miller, p. 25.
12. This explanation comes from a booklet prepared by Baxter/Travenol Laboratories
titled Performance Measurement Guide. The model and system were developed
by William B. Cash, Jr., Chris Janiak, and Sandy Mauch.
13. Vernon D. Miller and Fredric M. Jablin, “Maximizing Employees’ Performance
Appraisal Interviews: A Research and Training Agenda,” paper presented at the 2003
annual meeting of the National Communication Association at Miami Beach;
correspondence with Vernon Miller, December 12, 2008; Markle, pp. 76, 78.
14. Gordon and Miller, pp. ix and 17.
15. “Just Cause Definition,”
.aspx, accessed October 4, 2012; Diane Chinn, “Standard of Proof in an Employee’s
Discipline Case,”
-case-14236.html, accessed October 4, 2012.
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The Performance Interview 213
16. Kirk A. Johnson and Elizabeth Moser, “Improvement #4: Limit ‘Just Cause’ Discipline
and Discharge Clauses,”, accessed October 4, 2012.
17. “What Is Just Cause?”,
accessed October 4, 2012; “Seven Tests of Just Cause,”
/guides/managing-hr/er-labor/disciplinary/just-cause, accessed October 4, 2012;
Diane Chinn, “Standard of Proof in an Employee’s Discipline Case”; Improvement #4.
Fletcher, Clive. Appraisal, Feedback, and Development: Making Performance Work.
New York: Routledge, 2008.
Harvard Business Review Staff. Harvard Business Review on Appraising Employee
Performance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2005.
Markle, Garold L. Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review. Westport,
CT: Quorum Books, 2000.
Gordon, Michael E., and Vernon D. Miller. Conversations About Job Performance:
A Communication Perspective on the Appraisal Process. New York: Business
Expert Press, 2012.
Winter, Graham. The Man Who Cured the Performance Review. New York:
John Wiley, 2009.
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The Persuasive
Interview10C H A P T E R
A great many interviews such as investigations, survey research, employment, and performance review contain elements of persuasion. This chapter, how-
ever, focuses on interviews in which persuasion is the primary and dominant purpose.
Sales interviews come immediately to mind, but you take part in a persuasive interview
whenever one party is attempting to influence how another party thinks, feels, and/
or acts. The parties may be attorney and client, customer and sales associate, student
and professor, voter and candidate, parent and child, or a believer and nonbeliever. The
pervasiveness of persuasion in our daily lives led Roderick Hart to write that “one must
only breathe to need to know something about persuasion.”1 Too often we think of per-
suasion as something done to rather than done with another party, but the persuasive
interview like all interviews should be a mutual interaction in which both parties play
active and critical roles.
The objectives of this chapter are to enable you to understand the ethics and
responsibilities of each party in persuasive interviews. Each must be active, critical,
and open-minded. Each must know, understand, and respect one another. Each must be
thoroughly informed on the issue and situation. And each must know how to structure,
develop, and support positions on issues that range from simple efforts to persuade a
friend to try a new restaurant to highly complex interviews dealing with social, politi-
cal, religious, and commercial issues.
The Ethics of Persuasion
Since the persuasive interview is a mutual activity in which the intent is to alter or
sustain the other party’s ways of thinking, feeling, and or acting, both parties “have
the responsibility to uphold appropriate ethical standards of persuasion.”2 This is easy
to say, but it is often difficult to determine which ethical standards are most appropri-
ate for specific situations with diverse parties. We will begin by trying to distinguish
between what is ethical and what is unethical in persuasive interactions.
What Is Ethical?
Johannesen claims that “Ethical issues focus on value judgments concerning degrees
of right and wrong, virtue and vice, and ethical obligations in human conduct.”3 Value
judgments mean that each party must determine what is ethical according to personal
and prevailing societal values and make judgments about the degree of right or wrong,
goodness or badness in highly diverse situations and actions. The words we use every
You cannot
avoid persua-
sion in our
Ethics and
persuasion are
When do you
cross ethical
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216 Chapter 10
day indicate how each of us struggles when determining degrees of right or wrong.
For instance, when someone tells an untruth—a lie, we may call it a misstatement,
coloring the truth, misleading, hedging, or placing a spin on an issue depending upon
the severity of the lie, the repercussions, or who said it and in what context and situa-
tion. If a person is charged with stealing—a theft, we may call it pocketing, sampling,
freeloading, cheating, or making a bad decision. In other words, each of us makes value
judgments and assigns degrees of right and wrong, goodness and badness, and these
may depend on our relationships with persons, situations, and actions.
Every persuasive strategy and tactic presented in this chapter, including careful
analysis and adaptation to the other party, may be manipulated or misused and, there-
fore, become unethical. Ethical standards, or lack thereof, vary greatly in our society, so
how can we come up with an acceptable code of ethics to guide us in persuasive inter-
views? Since persuasion is pervasive in most societies, each of us has the responsibility
to develop one.
Fundamental Ethical Guidelines
As you proceed toward a personal code of ethics for persuasion, start with the propo-
sition that you must be responsible for what you do when trying to alter or sustain
the way another person thinks, feels, or acts. The golden rule—Do unto others as you
would have them do unto you—is a good place to start because you know what you
do not want others to do to you. Gary Woodward and Robert Denton offer a starting
point that is close to the golden rule, “ethical communication should be fair, honest,
and designed not to hurt other people.”4 In other words, follow the physicians’ maxim,
“First, do no harm.”
Be Honest: Most likely you are basically honest and seldom tell outright lies, but
you might “fib” a bit about missing a class or being late for work, “exaggerate” a little
to gain approval or sympathy, or “fudge” on a desire or motive. If you are truly honest,
however, you will not conceal your true motives, compromise your ideas and ideals to
gain an advantage, fail to divulge disbelief in what you advocate, or camouflage unwill-
ingness to fulfill commitments and promises. Herbert Simons suggests that you ask
“Could I justify my act publicly if called on to do so?”5
Be Fair: If you follow the golden rule, fairness will not be a problem. Ask yourself:
How vulnerable is the other party because of status difference (authority, expertise, age,
health, finances, position held)? How serious are the possible consequences of this inter-
view? How adequate and fair are my arguments, facts, language, tactics, and claims?
Am I stockpiling objections and grievances until late in the interview? Am I throwing in
irrelevant, trivial, or far-fetched ideas and arguments to derail the interview? Strong and
sometimes emotional disagreements are common in persuasive interviews, but unfair
tactics may result in irreparable harm to this and future interactions with this party.
Be Skeptical: Trust others, but do not be gullible. Every con artist depends on
your assistance and gullibility. Balance your trust with skepticism. Do not let greed or
getting something for nothing make you a willing accomplice. Be wary of simplistic
assertions, claims, promises, and solutions that guarantee quick fixes and really good
deals. Slick operators may succeed for years because clients ask few questions, do no
research, and refuse to listen to those who urge caution.
What are the
of the golden
Being fair is the
basis of ethical
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The Persuasive Interview 217
Be Thoughtful and Deliberate in Judgment: The “buyer beware” notion of
ethics, alive and well in Ponzi schemes, places the burden of proof on you, the per-
suadee. Listen, think, question, synthesize, and research, then decide whether or not to
accept a person, idea, or proposal. Both parties in persuasive interviews must ask criti-
cal questions and demand answers supported by solid evidence. Research indicates that
people are typically more interested in appearance than substance. If you like the other
party who looks like you, acts like you, sounds like you, talks like you, and appears
to have the right connections (persons, religions, businesses, political parties, finan-
cial institutions), you may assume proposals are logical and acceptable. The appear-
ance of reasoning may be more important than substance. You may accept sources and
“experts” as long as they agree with your preconceived beliefs, attitudes, and values.
Be Open-Minded: Being open-minded does not mean that you do not have strong
beliefs, attitudes, values, and commitments. It does mean that you do not automatically
assume that persuaders of certain professions, political parties, religions, races, genders,
ages, or cultures are trustworthy/untrustworthy, competent/incompetent, caring/uncar-
ing. This is “persuader profiling.” Likewise, do not automatically accept or reject pro-
posals that challenge the ways things have always been done or that appear to be new.
Be Responsive: Provide feedback so the other party understands your needs, limitations,
and perceptions of what is taking place and being agreed to. Reveal what you are thinking
and how you are reacting. Be actively involved in the interview from opening through clos-
ing. Johannesen writes that “persuasion can be seen as a transaction in which both persuad-
ers and persuadees bear mutual responsibility to participate actively in the process.”6
With ethical issues and responsibilities clearly in mind, let us focus on the roles of
persuader and persuadee and how each should prepare for and take part in persuasive
Part 1: The Interviewer in the Persuasive Interview
Success in any persuasive interview is never guaranteed because interviewees and
situations vary greatly, and they may change from hour to hour, day to day, or season
to season. Your chances of success are significantly improved, however, if your persua-
sive interview can satisfy five criteria.
1. Your proposal appears to create or address this interviewee’s needs, desires,
or motives.
2. Your proposal and you (including your profession and organization) appear to be
consistent with this interviewee’s values, beliefs, and attitudes.
3. Your proposal appears to be feasible, practical, or affordable for this interviewee.
4. Your proposal’s advantages appear to outweigh its disadvantages for this interviewee.
5. There appears to be no better course of action for this interviewee.
Each of these criteria focuses on the party you are going to interview, not on stu-
dents, clients, customers, or contributors in general. The advantage of the interview is
that you can tailor your persuasive effort to each party, but this tailoring requires
you to learn everything that is relevant about a party as you prepare for an interview.
too often
Be open to
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218 Chapter 10
The lack of information on interviewees is what makes the success rate of “cold calls”
very low. Estimates are that only 5 to 10 people out of 100 will listen to cold calls, 2 to
3 may be interested, and only 1 will “buy.”7
Analyzing the Interviewee
Learn everything you can about the interviewee so you can tailor your message to this
person rather than create a generic approach that is “sort of” adapted. Seek answers to
four questions. What are the interviewee’s personal characteristics? What are the inter-
viewee’s educational, social, and economic backgrounds? What are the interviewee’s
cultural differences? What are the interviewee’s values, beliefs, and attitudes? What are
the interviewee’s feelings?
Personal Characteristics
Take into consideration relevant personal characteristics such as age, gender, race, size,
health, disabilities, physical fitness, appearance, and intelligence. Any one or a com-
bination of these characteristics may affect what a person is able to do or wants to
do. Avoid societal stereotypes such as elderly people are slow and gullible, blonds are
dumb, Hispanics are illegal aliens, women are technically challenged, and those with
poor health lead unhealthy lives. Each one of us is a composite of personal characteris-
tics that defy stereotypes. Research indicates, however, that level of intelligence tends
to make interviewees less receptive to persuasion. Highly intelligent interviewees are
more influenced by evidence and logical arguments and tend to be highly critical. Both
factors make them more difficult to persuade.8
Educational, Social, and Economic Backgrounds
The level of educational attainment often affects interviewees in significant ways. For
example, college graduates tend to be more involved in public affairs, the sciences,
and cultural activities, to have good jobs with good incomes and to like them, to hold
fewer stereotypes and prejudices, and to be more critical in thinking, flexible, and inde-
pendent in attitudes.9 Socioeconomic background, including the interviewee’s member-
ships, are important because attitudes are strongly influenced by the groups to which
we belong. The more committed an interviewee is to various groups, the less likely you
are to persuade with an effort that conflicts with group norms. Charles Larson writes
that a major determinant of behavior intention is Normative influence, “a person’s
belief that important individuals or groups think it is advisable to perform or not to
perform certain behaviors.”10 How relevant are an interviewee’s occupation, income,
avocations and hobbies, superior/subordinate relationships, marital status, dependents,
work experiences, and geographical background? These affect frames of reference—
the persuadee’s way of viewing people, places, things, events, and issues.
Identify cultural differences that may affect an interview. For instance, Western cultures,
such as the United States, are “me” centered and stress the importance of individual
are powerful
outside forces.
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The Persuasive Interview 219
accomplishment, leadership, and accumulation of awards and things. Others, particu-
larly in Asia, are “we” centered and stress the importance of the group or team and see
those who stress self and claim individual achievement as distasteful and offensive.
Some cultures consider bribery a normal part of business. Others feel it is necessary to
give gifts as part of the process. Bargaining is an essential part of persuasion in many
cultures, often preceded by a relationship-building period over dinner or tea. In the
United States, “time is money,” so Americans expect others to be on time. In Great
Britain it is considered “correct” to be 5 to 15 minutes late, and in Italy a person may
arrive two hours late and not understand why you are upset.
Each culture has a set of generally accepted values—fundamental beliefs about ideal
states of existence and modes of behavior that motivate people to think, feel, or act in
particular ways.11 Values, often referred to as “hot buttons” by college recruiters, sales
representatives, and politicians, are the foundations of beliefs and attitudes. The fol-
lowing scheme of values includes those central to the American value system, the hot
buttons that motivate interviewees to think, feel, or act in certain ways at certain times.
Determine which ones are most relevant to this interviewee.
Survival Values
Peace and tranquility Preservation of health
Personal attractiveness Safety and security
Social Values
Affection and popularity Generosity
Cleanliness Patriotism and loyalty
Conformity and imitation Sociality and belonging
Success Values
Accumulation and ownership Material comfort
Ambition Pride, prestige, and social recognition
Competition Sense of accomplishment
Independence Values
Equity and value of the individual Freedom from restraint
Freedom from authority Power and authority
Progress Values
Change and advancement Quantification
Education and knowledge Science and secular rationality
Efficiency and practicality
Values are the
“hot buttons”
pushed in
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220 Chapter 10
Recall recent encounters urging you to contribute to a Habitat for Humanity home, help
victims of a flood, or change auto insurance. Appeals may have centered on values such
as prestige, generosity, considerateness, security, belonging, peace, and salvation. Deter-
mine which values are most relevant to this interviewee with this issue in this situation.
Political, economic, social, historical, and religious beliefs emanate from values.
Determine which beliefs relate to a topic and proposal. If equity and value of the individ-
ual are important values, an interviewee is likely to support equal rights and opportunities
for women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. If education and knowledge are impor-
tant values, a persuadee is likely to support increased funding for schools, give to college
fund-raising campaigns, and be interested in books and computer databases.
Attitudes are relatively enduring combinations of beliefs that predispose people
to respond in particular ways to persons, organizations, places, ideas, and issues. If
you are a conservative, you are likely to react predictably to things you consider to be
liberal. The reverse is true if you are a liberal. Attitudes come from beliefs that come
from cherished values. Determine the interviewee’s probable attitude toward the need
or desire you will develop and the proposal you will make.
Consider the other party’s probable attitudes along an imaginary scale from 1 to 9
with 1, 2, and 3 indicating strongly positive; 4, 5, and 6 indicating neutrality or ambiva-
lence; and 7, 8, and 9 indicating strongly negative.
Values are the
of our belief
tend to
Strongly for Undecided/neutral               Strongly against
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
From what you know about this interviewee, where along this scale is this person’s atti-
tude likely to rest? If on positions 1 or 2, little persuasive effort may be required. If on
positions 8 or 9, persuasion may be impossible beyond a small shift in feeling or think-
ing. If the attitude is on positions 4, 5, or 6, theoretically you should be able to alter
ways of thinking, feeling, or acting with a good persuasive effort. This may not be the
case, however, if an interviewee is strongly committed to remaining neutral, undecided,
or noncommitted.
The interviewee’s attitude toward the interviewer (credibility, image) is the
most important determinant of success. You must assess the interviewee’s atti-
tudes toward you, your profession, and the organization you represent. Several
dimensions determine your credibility, including trustworthy/safe (honest, sincere,
reliable, fair), competent/expert (intelligent, knowledgeable, good judgment, expe-
rienced), goodwill (caring, other-centered, sensitive, understanding), composure
(poised, relaxed, calm, composed), and dynamic/energetic (decisive, strong, indus-
trious, active). Think of your previous experiences with this person. If an inter-
viewee dislikes you, distrusts your organization, or sees your profession as dishonest
or untrustworthy, you must alter these attitudes during the interview or you will
fail. To create and maintain high credibility with an interviewee, your appearance,
manner, reputation, attainments, personality, and character must communicate trust-
worthiness, competence, caring, composure, and dynamism. People react favorably
to highly credible interviewers who are similar to them in important ways and appear
Know what
is possible,
likely, and
Low credibility
may undermine
the best effort.
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The Persuasive Interview 221
to share their values, beliefs, and attitudes. While they want interviewers to be similar
to them, they also expect them to be wiser, braver, more knowledgeable, more expe-
rienced, and more insightful.
Emotions, sometimes called feelings or passions, significantly influence how people
think, feel, and act. Along with values, emotions are “hot buttons” you need to discover
and push if you hope to persuade. Some emotions are necessary for survival including
hate, fear, anger, love, and sexual attraction. Others are necessary for social involve-
ment: pride, shame, guilt, sympathy, pity, humor, joy, and sadness. Be aware of the
other party’s mood, why the party feels that way, and how it is likely to affect the inter-
view. With mood of the interviewee in mind along with topic, situation, and purpose,
determine which emotions you must appeal to in this interview.
The relationship of values, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions in persuasive inter-
views is indicated in Figure 10.1. The process begins with values (our fundamen-
tal beliefs about existence and behavior), which lead to specific beliefs (judgments
about what is probably true or believable), which form attitudes (organizations of
relevant beliefs that predispose us to respond in particular ways), which may result
in judgment or actions toward persons, places, things, ideas, proposals, and acts.
Specific values and emotional appeals serve as triggering devices for judgments and
actions. Altering or reinforcing an interviewee’s thinking, feeling, or acting is a com-
plex process.
Analyzing the Situation
The interview situation is a total context of persons, relationships, motives, events,
time, place, and objects. Study each element carefully.
Study the atmosphere in which the interview will take place: a regularly scheduled
event, an emergency, a crisis, a moment of opportunity, a major event, or a routine
interaction. Will the climate be hostile, friendly, ambivalent, or apathetic?
How we
feel may
determine what
we do.
The “why” of
the interview
may vary signifi-
cantly between
Figure 10.1 The relationship of values, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions
Values } Beliefs } Attitudes }         } Judgment/Action }
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222 Chapter 10
Timing may be critical. Is this an
ideal time to conduct this inter-
view? Is it too early or too late?
Contacting a potential donor for a
charity months in advance of the
annual campaign may be too early
for the interviewee to think about
making a commitment but the day
after the campaign ends may be
too late. Beware of events that pre-
ceded this interview. Are you the
third employee of the day to request
taking off Presidents Day? Certain
times of the year are ideal for some
interviews and terrible for others.
For instance, prior to Christmas is
great for sales but immediately after Christmas is bad for home improvements and car
sales. Prior to the end of the year is good for charities and fund-raising for colleges
because people are looking for tax deductions, but the months prior to the April 15 tax
deadline are not good times for either request.
Physical Setting
Provide for privacy and control interruptions, especially telephone calls. Make an appoint-
ment if you do not know how much time the interview will take.
Will you be the host (the interview is in your office or residence); a guest (the
interview is in the interviewee’s place of business or residence); or on neutral ground (a
conference room, restaurant, hotel, club)? If you are trying to recruit a student for your
university, your campus on a beautiful fall day when leaves are turning and following a
big football game might be perfect. If you are selling a life insurance policy, you might
select the interviewee’s home surrounded by family members, furnishings, and valued
possessions the family would want protected in case of an accident or death.
Outside Forces
Outside forces may have considerable influence on what you can and cannot do, need
and need not do in a persuasive interview. If, as a dedicated alumnus of your alma
mater, you are trying to persuade a top basketball player in your area to accept an aca-
demic scholarship at the small college from which you graduated, you must know if
mom and dad are urging her to wait on a possible full-ride athletic offer from a presti-
gious university, a favorite uncle is urging her to consider his alma mater, or a signifi-
cant other is urging her to play closer to home. Awareness of outside influences may
determine which values, beliefs and attitudes you must appeal to and which values and
emotions may lead the interviewee to the action you prefer.
Timing may be
On whose
turf will the
take place?
may wage
■ The persuasive situation is a total context of persons,
relationships, events, time, place, and objects.
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The Persuasive Interview 223
Researching the Issue
Be the best informed and most authoritative person in each interview. Investigate all
aspects of the issue, including events that may have contributed to the problem, rea-
sons for and against change, evidence on both sides of an issue, and possible solutions.
Search for up-to-date information. You are taking part in a persuasive interview, not
giving a speech to an audience of one in which the interviewee can ask for proof, chal-
lenge assumptions, generalizations, and claims, and ask for documentation of a source
at any time during the interview. Parties are impressed with persuaders who reply to
inquiries with facts and documentation rather than generalities and evasions. Determine
prior to the interview what the interviewee knows about an issue and attitudes held
toward the issue and possible solutions.
Do not overlook any potentially valuable source of information: the Internet, e-mail,
interviews, letters, pamphlets, questionnaires, surveys, unpublished studies, reports,
newspapers, periodicals, professional journals, and government documents. Use your
own experiences and research. Know which sources are available to and respected by
the interviewee.
Types of Evidence
Search for a variety of evidence to support your need and proposal. Collect examples,
both factual and hypothetical, to illustrate your points. People like good stories that
make problems real. Gather statistics on relevant areas such as inflation, growth rates,
expenses, benefits, insurance coverages, profits and losses, causes and effects. Collect
statements from acknowledged authorities on the topic as well as testimonials from
those who have joined, attended, purchased, signed, or believed. Look for comparisons
and contrasts between situations, proposals, products, and services. Locate clear and
supportable definitions for key terms and concepts.
Distinguish opinion (something that is assumed, usually cannot be observed, can be
made at any time, and either is or should be believed tentatively) from fact (something
that can be or has been observed, is verifiable, and is thought of as securely established).
Present your evidence effectively, including thorough documentation of your sources.
The substance of your persuasive interview enhances the long-term effect of your inter-
view and is particularly important if a decision will not be made for weeks or months.
Planning the Interview
After analyzing the interviewee, studying the situation, and researching the topic, tailor
the interview to this interviewee.
Determine Your Purpose
If you know the interviewee will be a “hard sell” because of a value, belief, and attitude
system, then your purpose may be merely to influence thinking or feeling in a minor
way. Getting the interviewee to think about an action or to admit there is a problem may
You must
have the facts
and know
how to use
The effect of a
lasts longer.
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224 Chapter 10
be a major success for a first interview. Later you might move the interviewee toward
a more significant change or action. On the other hand, if an interviewee contacts you
and tells you he or she wants to change auto insurance companies, is interested in an
investment, or would like to take a tour of China, you may move quickly through need
and desire to solutions with a good chance of success.
Set a realistic goal for each interview. Significant changes come in increments
after a series of interviews. Do not assume after one interview that an interviewee is
not interested or will not change. Authorities on sales interviews claim that it typically
takes five contacts before a sale is made. Be patient.
Select Main Points
Select reasons to establish a need or desire. Do not rely on a single reason because the
interviewee may see little urgency in a problem that is so simple or unidimensional or
find it relatively easy to attack or reject only one point. Research indicates that more
points enhance the effectiveness of persuasion over time.13 On the other hand, six or
eight points may make an interview too long and superficial as you rush through so
many points. An interviewee may become overloaded with information and complex
arguments and end up confused or bored.
After selecting and developing reasons for a change, ideally three or four, deter-
mine the strength of each for this interviewee in this situation at this time. Deter-
mine the order in which you present points. Assume that you are trying to recruit a
top merit scholar for your university and your research indicates this interviewee has
three major criteria for choosing a university, ranked in this order: available majors,
academic reputation, and financial aid. Introducing your strongest point first or last
(available majors) is about equal in effect. If there is any possibility you might run
out of time or be interrupted before presenting all of your points or reasons, start with
your strongest point.
Develop Main Points
Develop each point into what the interviewee will see as a valid and acceptable logical
pattern. Effective interviews are carefully crafted blends of the logical and the psycho-
logical. You have choices to make.
Arguing from accepted belief, assumption, or proposition involves three explicitly
stated or implied assertions (statements you believe and clearly want others to believe).
For instance, a fire inspector might argue this way:
Assertion #1: All residents should have working fire and smoke alarms in their
Assertion #2: You reside in an apartment.
Point: You should have working fire and smoke alarms in your apartment.
You need not state all three parts of this pattern if the interviewee is likely to pro-
vide the missing assertion or conclusion. Regardless, your argument rests on the
first assertion that is the critical belief, assumption, or proposition. For instance,
you might leave the second assertion unstated and let the interviewee provide it.
Be realistic but
not defeatist.
Do not make
the need too
Know the
strength of
each point
and intro-
duce it
Your assertions
must lead to
your conclusion.
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The Persuasive Interview 225
This involves the interviewee in the process and encourages self-persuasion. This
strategy is possible with all patterns of argument.
Assertion #1: All residents should have working fire and smoke alarms in
their apartments.
Assertion #2: (left unstated)
Point: You should have working fire and smoke alarms.
You might state your assertions and let the interviewee draw the conclusion.
Assertion #1: All residents should have working fire and smoke alarms in
their apartments.
Assertion #2: You reside in an apartment.
Point: (left unstated)
Arguing from condition is based on the assertion that if something does or does not
happen, something else will or will not happen. You might reason this way with a friend.
Assertion #1: If you continue to text while driving, you’re going to have a
serious accident.
Assertion #2: I know you’re going to continue texting while driving.
Point: So you’re going to have a serious accident.
Weigh conditions carefully and support them effectively. As with arguing from accepted
belief, you may invite the interviewee to fill in a missing part or parts.
Arguing from two choices is based on the assertion that there are only two possible
proposals or courses of action. You remove one by showing it will not work or resolve a
problem, and conclude the obvious.
Assertion #1: Only United and Delta provide nonstop service to Albuquerque
from here.
Assertion #2: I have flown both, and Delta has always provided the best service.
Point: I recommend Delta.
You must be able to limit the choices to two and then convince the interviewee that one
is unacceptable so yours is the only option.
Arguing from example leads to a generalization about a whole class of people, places,
things, or ideas from a sample of this class.
Sample: A survey of recent female college graduates found that 25 percent
reported being sexually assaulted while in college.
Point: One in four female college students are sexually assaulted while
attending college.
The quality of the sample, as in the survey interview, is critical in argument from example.
Arguing from cause–effect is related to example because interviewers often use a
sample as proof of a causal relationship. Unlike the argument from example that leads
to a generalization, this argument attempts to establish what caused a specific effect.
Your evidence
must warrant
your conclusion.
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226 Chapter 10
Evidence: In a study of 200 auto accidents that involved teenage drivers, law
enforcement officers said speed was the leading cause.
Point: Speed is the cause of most accidents involving teenage drivers.
Your evidence must convince the other party that this is the only or major cause
of an effect.
Arguing from facts, unlike arguing from example, does not rely on a sample of a
class of people, places, things, or ideas to prove a point but on a body of facts to prove
a point that best explains a phenomenon.
Facts: While investigating the storm damage caused in a two-county area on
August 5, we noted that the storm had moved in a nearly straight line. In open
areas, there was no evidence of a twisting motion in grass and weeds. Trees and
small buildings were knocked down but not twisted. No one heard the tell-tale
freight train sound of a tornado.
Point: The storm damage was the result of straight line winds and not a tornado.
Arguing from analogy occurs when you point out that two things (people, places,
objects, proposals, ideas) have important characteristics in common and draw a conclu-
sion based on these similarities.
Similarities: This tragic accident is very similar to one during spring break
last year. A young, male college student was on spring break with
several friends, and the weather was too cool to spend much time
on the beach. They spent nearly all day around the indoor pool at their
hotel drinking a variety of alcoholic beverages. This student was seen
walking into the parking garage around 10:00 p.m. and appeared to be very
drunk. A little after 11:30 p.m., a person walking his dog found the student’s
body outside the parking garage. The student was pronounced dead at
the scene.
Point: Unfortunately, he too was drunk and fell from the garage like the student did
last year.
The number of significant similarities are critical in developing this argument.
Select Strategies
Over many years, theorists have developed theories from real world observations and
research to explain how people become convinced to alter or sustain their ways of
thinking, feeling, and acting. These theories have evolved into highly useful strategies
for persuasive interviews.
Identification Theory
Kenneth Burke claims that you persuade others by identifying with them, by estab-
lishing consubstantiality (substantial similarity) with them. The overlapping circles
in the interviewing model developed in Chapter 2 are based on Burke’s theory that you
Beware of
false causes.
How similar are
the similarities?
When you
think theo-
ries, think
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The Persuasive Interview 227
must literally talk the other’s language through “speech, gesture, tonality, order, image,
attitude, identifying your ways with theirs.”13 There are several ways to establish this
common ground with an interviewee.
• Associating with groups to which you both belong, shared cultural heritage or
regional identification, programs you both support.
• Disassociating from groups, cultures, regions, or programs the interviewee
opposes or is distant from.
• Developing appearance and visual symbols that establish identification such as
dress, hairstyle, makeup, jewelry, political buttons, or religious symbols.
• Sharing language such as jargon, slang, colloquialisms, and in-group words and
• Employing content and values important to the interviewee.
Balance or Consistency Theory
According to balance and consistency theories, human beings strive for a harmoni-
ous existence with self (values, beliefs, and attitudes) and experience psychological
discomfort (dissonance) when aspects of existence seem inconsistent or unbalanced.
You may experience source-proposition conflict when you like persons but detest their
positions on issues or dislike persons but favor their products or services. You experi-
ence attitude-attitude conflict when you oppose government involvement in your life
but want the government to outlaw hate speech and require prayer in the public schools.
You experience perception-perception conflict when you see Mexico as a beautiful
but dangerous place to vacation. You experience a behavior-attitude conflict when you
believe strongly in law and order but use a fake ID to get into bars.
You may create psychological discomfort (dissonance) by attacking a source or
pointing out attitude, perception, and behavioral conflicts. Then you show how the
interviewee can bring these inconsistencies into balance by providing changes in
sources, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors. If you detect an interviewee is experienc-
ing psychological discomfort, bring about balance or consistency by helping the inter-
viewee see no inconsistency, perceive the inconsistency to be insignificant, or tolerate
Inoculation Theory
According to inoculation theory it is more effective to prevent undesired persuasive
effects from occurring than using damage control afterward. For example, a few years
ago one of the authors received a telephone call from the state police warning him of
solicitors who were claiming to be representatives of a state police sponsored charity
for children and relating what solicitors were telling contributors. The caller hoped
the preemptive call would prevent the author from being victimized and maintain the
credibility of legitimate state police charities.
In this strategy, you forewarn the interviewee, perhaps by exposing the interviewee
to small “doses” of a potential persuader’s language, arguments, and evidence so the
are important
in perceiving
Not all inter-
viewees are
happy with
An inter-
viewer may
create or
An inocula-
tion strategy
immunizes an
from future
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228 Chapter 10
interviewee can resist the effort. You might provide arguments and evidence the inter-
viewee may use when confronting an interviewer.
Induced Compliance Theory
According to the induced compliance theory, you may change an interviewee’s think-
ing, feeling, or acting by inducing her or him to engage in activities counter to values,
beliefs, and attitudes. Participation in counteractivities may bring about self-persuasion.
Apply enough pressure so an interviewee will comply without feeling there is no choice.
Feeling coerced may prevent change.
There are a variety of ways to induce compliance. You might induce an interviewee
to espouse a belief or counterattitude to understand or appreciate the other side of an
issue, such as a liberal position on sex education or a conservative position on health care
reform. You might induce an interviewee to take part in an unaccustomed or unattractive
activity, such as going to a religious service or helping at a homeless shelter. You might
induce an interviewee to play an opposite role, such as a superior instead of a subordi-
nate, teacher instead of a student, parent instead of a child. You might induce a party to
act to receive a reward or avoid a punishment, such as tickets to a concert or a speeding
Psychological Reactance Theory
According to psychological reactance theory, people react negatively when someone
threatens to restrict a behavior they want to engage in. They may value the restricted
behavior more and want to engage in it more frequently, or devalue alternatives they feel
“stuck with” and resent the restricting agent. Organizations produce limited editions of
books, stamps, coins, and cars to enhance demand for them. Tickets to the NCAA March
madness are of great value because they are scarce. Interviewees may be less in favor of
giving to the college development fund or joining their athletic booster clubs when feel-
ing forced to do so. When possible, avoid real or perceived pressure on the other party to
think, feel, or act differently. Make your proposal attractive, make scarcity or a deadline
known without appearing to threaten, develop a serious need without excessive appeals
to fear, and offer choices.
Conducting the Interview
The purpose of the opening is to create mutual interest in the interview and estab-
lish trust between the interview parties. Encourage the other party to play an active
role throughout the interview because it is not a persuasive presentation but a collab-
orative effort toward altering or changing ways of thinking, feeling, or acting. Be flex-
ible and adaptive.
Tailor your opening to this party, at this time, and in this situation. From what you know
about this interviewee and your relational history, how can you gain attention, create
interest, establish rapport, and provide orientation to motivate the interviewee to take an
active part in a collaborative effort? Avoid the temptation to rely on a standard opening
There are
many ways to
trigger self-
behavior may
lead to
persuasion or
Avoid routine
openings even
for routine
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The Persuasive Interview 229
such as those used in cold calls. Most of us are turned off by “one size fits all” openings,
so it is no mystery why these interviews usually fail within the first few seconds.
If you have had little or no opportunity to study the interviewee ahead of time,
use the first few minutes of the interview to discover how you can best adapt to this
person. Take note of the interviewee’s dress, appearance, and manner. Ask a few ques-
tions designed to discover background, interests, and attitudes critical to this interview.
Listen to what the interviewee “says” verbally and nonverbally. If the party consists of
more than one person, detect who is the leader or spokesperson.
Review the opening techniques and principles discussed in Chapter 4. Select the
techniques suitable for this party and situation. Begin with a warm greeting and use the
interviewee’s name. If the person is a stranger, do not make your greeting sound like a
question. This suggests you are unsure of the person’s name or identity, unsure of your-
self, or not prepared. If you know the interviewee well and both the situation and your
relationship warrant it, use the person’s first name or nickname.
It may be necessary to introduce yourself (name, position, title, background), your
organization (name, location, nature, history, products, services), state the purpose
of the interview. Orientation is essential when you have not made an appointment or
arrangements ahead of time. Each party must understand the purpose of the interview,
how it will proceed, and how the parties will share control. Be brief.
You may begin with a sincere inquiry about family or mutual friends or small talk about
the weather, sports, highway construction, or campus facilities. Do not prolong this stage.
Be conscious of the interviewee’s situation and preferences. If a person replies immediately
after the greeting, “What can I do for you?” the person wants to get down to business.
Cultures differ in amount of acceptable small talk and socializing. Most Americans
want to “get to the point” and “get the job done.” Japanese and other cultures desire to
get acquainted, to follow “interaction rituals,” and to go slower in making commitments
and decisions.14 Do not prolong this stage. Involve all members of the other party from
the start so each plays an active role throughout the interaction. Americans, particularly
males, take turns unevenly during interactions and speak at length during each turn.
Japanese and others take turns evenly and make shorter statements.
Need or Desire
Create a need or desire by developing in detail the three or four points you developed
in the preparation stage. Introduce them in the order you believe will be most effective,
strongest point first or last with weaker points in the middle.
Develop One Point at a Time
Explain each point thoroughly. Provide sufficient evidence that is factually based,
authoritative, recent, and well documented. Use a variety of evidence so the inter-
viewee is neither buried under an avalanche of figures nor bored with one story after
another. Incorporate the values, beliefs, and attitudes important to this interviewee.
Encourage Interaction
You are more likely to persuade when the interviewee is actively involved. Stress
how each point affects this interviewee’s needs and desires. Try to get some sort of
If the opening
fails, there will
be no body or
Neither rush
nor prolong the
reticence by
involving the
and often.
Don’t lecture;
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230 Chapter 10
agreement before going to your next point, but do not ask for an agreement until you
have established something upon which you both can agree.
With one point developed and agreed upon, move to point two, then three, and so
on. Do not rush through a point or jump to the next one if the interviewee raises an
objection or poses a question. Move on when the interviewee seems ready. Be patient
and persistent.
Your persuasive effort cannot rely on a schedule of questions, particularly when an
interviewee sees no need, has no desire, or is unaware of options. Questions do play
important functions, however, because they involve the interviewee as an active par-
ticipant, discover information you do not have, reveal feelings and attitudes, and bring
potential objections to the table.
Information-Gathering Questions
Ask questions to determine knowledge level and to draw out concerns and objections.
Listen carefully to responses and probe for accuracy and details.
• What concerns you most about this situation?
• What do you know about the city-university plans to revitalize the village?
• How frequently do you use the city bus system?
Verification Questions
Use reflective, mirror, and clearinghouse questions to check the accuracy of assump-
tions, impressions, and information obtained before and during an interview. You may
assume you have answered an objection or gotten an agreement when you have not. Be
certain an interviewee understands the significance of your evidence and points. An
interviewee’s silence may indicate uncertainty, confusion, or disagreement as well as
understanding and agreement.
• Does this answer your concerns about your student loan?
• You appear to be very concerned about the safety of traveling to Europe at this
• Are we in agreement on the need to delay the strategic planning process until we
hire a new director?
Encouraging Interaction Questions
Employ questions to encourage the other party to play an active role in the interview.
When a party knows what to expect in an interview and feels free to ask questions, you
are more likely to receive meaningful feedback and draw out noncommittal interviewees.
• What do you like best about this new facility?
• How was your tour of the digital library?
• What are your thoughts about the proposed three-semester schedule?
play unique
roles in
Use questions
to analyze
the inter-
can clarify
and verify
Questions can
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The Persuasive Interview 231
Attention and Interest Questions
Use questions to keep interviewees tuned in to what you are saying. They may be
busy or preoccupied with other concerns, and interesting, challenging, and thought-
provoking questions will maintain interest and attention and encourage participation.
• How would you feel if your insurance company refused to cover your child born
with a physical problem?
• Do you remember the winter of 2010 when your power went out for six days?
• What would you do if your company suddenly went out of business?
Agreement Questions
Use questions to obtain small agreements that lead to bigger agreements. Getting agree-
ment after each point is likely to lead to agreement at the end. Ask for agreement or
commitment only after you have developed a point thoroughly. A barrage of generaliza-
tions and claims will not establish a need. Use a yes-response question (often in the form
of a statement) to control the interview and lead to an agreement.
• You don’t want to risk your child’s education, do you?
• This is a great time to invest in a new house, isn’t it?
• Do you want to run the risk of driving on worn-out tires?
Objection Questions
Use questions to respond tactfully to objections and draw out unstated questions and
objections. Get these on the table at the proper time.
• How important is this objection to taking on-line courses?
• You say you are concerned about traveling to Europe at this time; why is that?
• What additional information do you need to remove your doubts?
Use leading and loaded questions sparingly because high-pressure tactics turn off
Adapting to the Interviewee
From all that you have learned about the interviewee, determine the interviewee’s prob-
able predisposition toward you, the issue, and your proposal. Then select strategies
most appropriate for interviewing this party at this time.
Indecisive, Uninterested Interviewees
If an interviewee is indecisive, uninterested, or uncertain, use opening techniques to get
the interviewee’s attention and generate interest in the issue. Lead off with your stron-
gest point and provide a variety of evidence that informs and persuades. Use questions
to draw out feelings and perceptions and involve the interviewee.
Emphasize the urgency of the problem and the necessity of acting now. Use
moderate fear appeals to awaken the interviewee to dangers to self, family, or friends.
Appeal to values such as preservation of health, safety and security, freedom from
can sustain
and interest.
Questions can
attain agree-
ments and
Do not try to
questions for
The inter-
viewee may
see no personal
need or
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232 Chapter 10
restraint, ownership, and value of the individual. Show how this interviewee can make
a difference.
Hostile Interviewees
If an interviewee may be hostile, be sure your impression is accurate. Do not mistake
legitimate concerns or objections or a gruff demeanor for hostility. If a person is truly
hostile, determine why; then consider a common ground approach.
• A yes-but approach begins with areas of agreement and similarity and
gradually leads into points of disagreement. It lessens hostility and disagreement
later by establishing common ground early on.
• A yes-yes approach gets an interviewee in the habit of agreeing, so when you
reach apparent disagreements, the person will be less likely to disagree.
• An implicative approach withholds an explicit statement of purpose or intent
to avoid a knee-jerk negative reaction from the interviewee. You want the
interviewee to see the implications of what you are saying, perhaps feeling they
came up with the concerns and solution.
Regardless of the common ground approach, listen, be polite, and avoid defensive-
ness or anger when working with hostile interviewees. Hostility may result from lack of
information, misinformation, or rumors. Respond with facts, expert testimony, exam-
ples, stories, and comparisons that clarify, prove, and resolve issues between parties.
Be willing to accept minor points of disagreement and to admit your proposal is not
perfect; no proposal is. Employ shock-absorber phrases that reduce the sting of criti-
cal questions: “Many residents I talk to feel that way, however . . .” “That’s an excellent
question, but when you consider . . .” “I’m glad you thought of that because. . . .”
Closed-Minded and Authoritarian Interviewees
A closed-minded or authoritarian interviewee relies on trusted authorities and is con-
cerned about who supports a proposal. Facts alone, particularly statistics, will not do the job.
Show that the interviewee’s accepted authorities support your persuasive efforts. The closed-
minded and authoritarian person has strong, unchangeable central values and beliefs. Identify
yourself and your proposal with these values and beliefs only when you truly share them.
Do not bypass hierarchical channels or alter prescribed methods. Authoritarians
react negatively to interviewers who do not belong or appear to be out of line, and may
demand censure or punishment for appearing to violate accepted and valued norms.
Skeptical Interviewees
If the interviewee is skeptical, begin the interview by expressing some views the inter-
viewee holds—a yes-but or yes-yes approach. Maintain positive nonverbal cues such
as a firm handshake, good eye contact, a warm and friendly manner, and appropriate
appearance and dress. If the interviewee feels you are young and inexperienced, allude
tactfully to your qualifications, experiences, and training and provide substantial and
authoritative evidence. Be well prepared and experienced without bragging. Avoid
undue informality and a cocky attitude. If the interviewee sees you as argumentative,
Do not
there will
be hostility.
You must get
to the point
in a reasonable
of time.
most appro-
priate for
each party.
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The Persuasive Interview 233
avoid confrontations, attacks on the person’s position, and demands. If the interviewee
thinks you are a know-it-all, be careful when referring to your qualifications, experi-
ences, and achievements.
If the interviewee has concerns about your organization, try to withhold its name
until you have created personal credibility with the interviewee. If the name must come
out early in the interview, try to improve its image by countering common mispercep-
tions, relating how it has changed, or identifying its strengths. You may have to dis-
tance yourself from some elements or past practices of your organization.
Shopping-Around Interviewees
Interviewees may shop around before making a major purchase or decision and will
face counterpersuasion from other interviewers. When meeting with a shopper or an
undecided interviewee, forewarn and prepare the interviewee. Provide the interviewee
with supportive arguments, evidence, and responses to questions or points others are
likely to raise. Give small doses of the opposition’s case (inoculation theory) to show
the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Develop a positive, factual, nonemotional
approach that addresses the competition when necessary but dwells primarily on the
strengths of your position and proposal.
Intelligent, Educated Interviewees
The highly intelligent or educated interviewee tends to be less persuasible because
of knowledge level, critical ability, and faculty for seeing the implications behind argu-
ments and proposals. Such interviewees “are more likely to attend to and comprehend
the message position but are less likely to yield to it.”15 For example, they are likely to
see through the good guy–bad guy approach used in many situations.
When working with highly intelligent and educated interviewees, support your
ideas thoroughly, develop arguments logically, and present a two-sided approach that
weighs both sides of the issue. Minimize emotional appeals, particularly if the inter-
viewee is neutral or initially disagrees with your position and proposal. Encourage the
interviewee to ask questions, raise objections, and be an active participant.
If an interviewee is of low intelligence or education, develop a simple, one-sided
approach to minimize confusion and maximize comprehension. A complex, two-sided
approach and intricate arguments supported by a variety of evidence may confuse the inter-
viewee. Use examples, stories, and comparisons rather than expert testimony and statistics.
The Solution
When you have presented the need, summarized your main points, and gotten impor-
tant agreements, you are ready for solutions.
Establishing Criteria
Begin the solution phase by establishing criteria (requirements, standards, rules, norms,
principles) that any solution should meet. If the interviewee is obviously ready to move
into this phase of the interview before you have presented all of your points, move on.
Establish a set of criteria with the interviewee for evaluating possible solutions. This
process is natural to us. For example, when selecting a college major, you may have
Image or
credibility may
be the major
cause of
Be prepared
for interviewees
facing counter-
A two-sided
but does not
each side.
criteria is
natural but
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234 Chapter 10
considered courses, core requirements, specialties, careers, faculty, availability of intern-
ships, and marketability when you graduate. In simple decisions such as selecting a
place to eat, you have criteria in mind, such as type of food and beverage, cost, distance,
location, atmosphere, music, availability of large screen television for watching a foot-
ball game, and preferences of others. Use this natural process in persuasive interviews.
As you think of criteria prior to the interview and develop them with the inter-
viewee during the interview, realize that not all criteria are of equal importance. For
example, admissions directors at state universities have found that quality of school is
the most important criterion for out-of-state applicants while cost is number 1 and qual-
ity is number 2 for in-state students. The situation can influence criteria. For instance,
cost may override all other criteria during economic recessions.
Establishing a set of criteria involves the interviewee in the process; shows that
you are attempting to tailor your proposal to his or her needs, desires, and capabilities;
provides a smooth transition from the need to the solution; and reduces the impression
that you are overly eager to sell your point. Agreed-upon criteria enable you to build
on a foundation of agreements, provide an effective means of comparing and assessing
solutions, and deal with objections.
Considering the Solution
Present your solution in detail. Do not assume the interviewee will understand the details
and nature of the solution you have in mind unless this becomes clear during the inter-
view. It is best to err on the side of too much information.
If you consider more than one solution, deal with one at a time. Explain a solution
in detail and use whatever visual aids might be available and appropriate: booklets and
brochures, drawings and diagrams, graphs, letters, pictures, slides, computer printouts,
sketch pads, swatches of materials, objects, and models. Interviewees may remember
only about 10 percent of what they hear but 50 percent of what they do and 90 percent
of what they both see and do.16
Approach the solution positively, constructively, and enthusiastically. Believe in
what you are presenting and show it. Emphasize the strengths and benefits of your
proposal rather than the weaknesses of the competition. Avoid negative selling unless
the competition forces you to do so as a matter of self-defense. The interviewee will be
more interested in the advantages of your proposal than the disadvantages of another.
Help interviewees make decisions that are best for them. Encourage questions and
active involvement. Use repetition to enhance understanding, aid memory, gain and
maintain attention, and make the interviewee aware of what is most important. Educate
interviewees about options, requirements, time constraints, and new features.
Handling Objections
Perhaps nothing seems more threatening than the thought of an interviewee raising unex-
pected or difficult objections. Encourage the interviewee to voice objections to reveal the
interviewee’s concerns, fears, misunderstandings, and misinformation. Do not assume
agreement because the interviewee raises no questions or objections. Watch for nonver-
bal clues such as restlessness, fidgeting, poor eye contact, raised eyebrows, confused
expressions, signs of boredom, or silences. Find out what is happening within.
Criteria are
designed to
evaluate and
to persuade.
Seeing is
You cannot
address an
objection you
do not hear.
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The Persuasive Interview 235
Objections are numerous and often issue, goal, situation, or interviewee specific.
• Procrastination: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.
Let me think about it.
I’ve still got three weeks before that paper is due.
My old truck is doing fine, so I’ll wait awhile.
• Cost: That’s a lot of money.
That iPhone is too expensive for me.
I didn’t expect remodeling to cost that much.
That’s pretty expensive for a two-day conference.
• Tradition: We’ve always done it this way.
That’s how we’ve always done business.
We’ve always had our reunions in Eagle River.
My grandfather chose that line of clothing when he opened the business in 1924.
• Uncertain future: Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
My job is rather iffy right now.
The economy is struggling, so I’m reluctant to hire new staff.
At my age, I don’t buy green bananas.
• Need: What’s the problem?
We’ve got good investments, so we don’t need life insurance.
The current performance review system is working just fine.
We don’t have much crime around here, so we don’t need an alarm system.
How to Approach Objections
Anticipate objections to eliminate surprises. Think about handling each objection as a
series of steps.
Plan how to respond to reduce surprises.
Listen carefully, completely, and objectively, never assuming you understand the
other person’s point or concern until you have heard it.
Clarify the objection, making sure you understand exactly what it is and its impor-
tance before you respond.
Respond appropriately, tactfully, and seriously. If an objection is serious to the
interviewee, it is serious. There are four common strategies for handling objections.
Minimize the Objection
Minimize an objection by restating it to make it less important or by comparing it to
other weightier matters. Provide evidence to reduce its importance.
1. Interviewee: I’ve thought about changing majors from building construction technology
to civil engineering, but I think it would take me an extra year of coursework before I
could graduate.
2. Interviewer: I’ve looked into the coursework in both majors and the transcript you
sent me, and you would not be a year behind. In fact, it would take a bit less than
one semester, and you could make most of this up with summer school classes.
ing, tact, and
Reduce the
importance of
the objection.
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236 Chapter 10
Capitalize on the Objection
Capitalize on an objection to clarify your point, review the proposal’s advantages, offer
more evidence, or isolate the motive behind the objection. Convert a perceived disad-
vantage into an advantage.
1. Interviewee: I would like to study abroad for a semester, probably in Germany, but
alumni I talk to say that it is very expensive to live and study in Europe.
2. Interviewer: That was true a few years ago when they studied abroad in Europe
because the U.S. dollar was worth only about eighty cents to one Euro. Now the
reverse is true, and the U.S. dollar is worth much more than the Euro. This makes
living and traveling abroad much cheaper. Now is a great time to study abroad.
Don’t wait.
Deny an Objection
Deny an objection directly or indirectly by offering new or more accurate information
or by introducing new features of a proposal. You cannot deny an objection by merely
denying it; prove it.
1. Interviewee: I’ve heard that your group, Families Against Gun Violence, wants
to ban all sales of military style guns, even those used in competitive shooting
matches. I have my 2nd Amendment rights and want them protected from groups
like yours.
2. Interviewer: I’ve heard those claims before. Actually, many of us own and shoot
military style weapons as a sport. All we want to do is ban large clips or magazines
that hold ten or more rounds that enable killers to shoot school kids, shoppers,
fellow workers, and even police officers without having to reload. These innocent
victims have little or no chance against a shooter who has a magazine holding thirty
rounds or more.
Confirm an Objection
Confirm an objection by agreeing with the interviewee. It is better to be honest and
admit problems than to offer weak defenses.
1. Interviewee: I’ve been looking into tours of New Zealand and Australia, but they are
running nearly $10,000 per person. That is really expensive.
2. Interviewer: Yes it is. Much of this is due to high air fares for such long flights.
Approach the closing positively and confidently. Do not pressure the interviewee or
appear too eager. Interviewers may hesitate to close, fearing they may fail to persuade,
while interviewees fear they will make a wrong decision. Hesitation to ask for a sale is the
major cause of failure to sell.
The closing consists of three stages: (1) trial closing, (2) contract or agreement,
and (3) leave-taking.
Take advan-
tage of the
If you deny
it, you must
prove it
isn’t so.
Do not try to
deny the
Both parties
may fear the
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The Persuasive Interview 237
Trial Closing
Close as soon as possible and do not continue talking if the interviewee is sold on your
proposal. You may talk yourself out of an agreement.
As you approach the end of the solution phase, watch and listen for verbal and non-
verbal cues that the interviewee is moving toward a decision. Verbal cues include ques-
tions and statements such as “How soon will the new software be available?” “Your
idea appears sound.” “This looks like a great tour.” Nonverbal cues include enthusiastic
vocal expressions, head nods, smiles, exchange of glances between interviewees, or
handling brochures, pictures, and written reports.
Yes-response and leading questions verify that the interviewee is ready to close:
“I’m sure you can see this is the best way to go.” “You want this condo, don’t you?”
“Do you want to face a lawsuit?” After you ask a trial closing question, be quiet! Give
the interviewee time to think and self-persuade. Silence communicates confidence and
gives the interviewee an opportunity to raise unanswered questions and objections.
If you get a no to your trial closing question, ask why. You may need to review the
criteria, compare advantages and disadvantages of acting now, or provide more informa-
tion. An interviewee may not be ready to act. Fear of possible consequences and how
others may react (outside forces) may overcome a need or desire.
If you get a yes to your trial closing question, lead into the contract or agreement
stage: “We can sign off on this today.” “We can have this equipment installed within two
weeks.” “It would be a relief to have this decision made.”
Contract or Agreement
After a successful trial closing, move to
the contract or agreement stage. This is
a critical time because the interviewee
knows the closing and a commitment are
coming. Be natural and pleasant. Main-
tain good communication. Consider clos-
ing techniques appropriate for this stage.
• An assumptive close addresses part
of the agreement with a phrase, such
as “I assume that you prefer . . .”
• A summary close summarizes
agreements made as a basis for
• An elimination of a single objection close responds to the single objection that
stands in the way of an agreement.
• An either-or close limits the interviewee’s choices, then shows that the solution
you advocate has the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages.
• An I’ll think it over close acknowledges the interviewee’s desire to think about a
decision. Try to discover the level of interest and why the interviewee is hesitating.
Know when
to stop
Probe insight-
fully and
into negative
Select closing
techniques most
appropriate for
this interview
and interviewee.
■ The contract or agreement stage is critical because
the interviewee knows a commitment is imminent.
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238 Chapter 10
• A sense of urgency close stresses why an interviewee should act now.
• A price close emphasizes the savings possible or the bottom line of the offer.
When the contract or agreement is completed, no agreement or contract is reached, or another
interview is necessary, conclude pleasantly and positively. Do not let the leave-taking phase
be abrupt or curt. You may undo the rapport, trust, and case you worked hard to establish.
Adapt verbal and nonverbal leave-taking techniques or combine them to suit each
interviewee. Be sincere and honest in this final closing phase, and make no promises you
cannot or will not keep because of personal or authority limitations, organizational poli-
cies, laws, or time constraints.
Summary Outline
This outline summarizes the elements in the structure of a persuasive interview that
covers need/desire and solution.
I. Opening the interview
A. Select the most appropriate techniques from Chapter 4.
B. Establish rapport according to relationship and situation.
C. Provide appropriate orientation.
II. Creating a need or desire
A. Provide an appropriate statement of purpose.
B. Develop a need point-by-point with maximum involvement of and careful
adaptation to the other party.
1. Use appropriate argument patterns.
2. Provide a variety of evidence.
3. Employ effective strategies.
4. Appeal to important values and emotions.
5. Obtain overt agreements as you proceed, being sure to point out
how the interviewee party is involved or must be concerned.
C. Summarize the need or problem and attain overt agreements from the
III. Establishing criteria
A. Present the criteria you have in mind, explaining briefly the rationale and
importance of each criterion.
B. Encourage the interviewee to add criteria.
C. Involve the interviewee in the discussion of criteria.
D. Summarize and get agreement on all criteria.
IV. Presenting the solution
A. Present one solution at a time.
1. Explain the solution in detail using visual aids when possible.
2. Evaluate the solution using agreed-upon criteria.
B. Respond to anticipated and vocalized objections.
C. Get agreement on the appropriateness, quality, and feasibility of the
preferred solution.
should reinforce
all you have
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The Persuasive Interview 239
V. Closing the interview
A. Begin a trial closing as soon as it seems appropriate to do so.
B. When the trial closing is successful, move to a contract or agreement with
the interviewee.
C. Use appropriate leave-taking techniques discussed in this chapter and
Chapter 4.
You will not develop all parts of this plan in every interview. If an interviewee
agrees with the need or problem prior to the interview, merely summarize the need
in the opening and move directly to criteria. An interviewee may see the need but not
agree with your proposed solution. Or an interviewee may feel constraints making
any move impossible at this time. Feasibility is the central concern in this interview,
not need or a specific proposal. The interviewee may like your proposal but see no
personal need.
Part 2: The Interviewee in the Persuasive Interview
Remember that persuasion is done with and not to another and both parties are respon-
sible for making the interview a success. With these principles in mind, let us focus on
the interviewee in the persuasive interview.
Be an Informed Participant
Interviewees often have little or no training in persuasion and may have scars from
failed persuasive encounters. The remainder of this chapter introduces you as inter-
viewee to the tricks of the trade to level the persuasive playing field.
Psychological Strategies
Interviewers use strategies designed to create psychological discomfort—dissonance—to
alter your ways of thinking, feeling, and/or acting. For instance, standard/learned prin-
ciples may automatically guide an action or decision. You may believe, for example, that:
You get what you pay for.
If it’s expensive, it’s got to be good.
Sales save money.
If an expert says so, it must be true.
If it meets industry standards, it’s safe.
Upscale retailers depend on these standard/learned principles to move expensive, high-
quality items ranging from jewelry to automobiles.
In the contrast principle, interviewers know that if a second item is fairly differ-
ent from the first in attractiveness, cost, or size, it seems more different than it actually
is. If I want to rent you an apartment, I may show you a rundown one first and then a
somewhat better apartment. You may see the second apartment as substantially rather
than moderately better. If a tour agent can persuade you to go on an expensive cruise
There is no
set pattern
for all
We may act
during persua-
sive interviews.
Look for real
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240 Chapter 10
down the Danube River in Europe, the optional excursions may appear quite reasonable
in comparison.
The rule of reciprocation instills in you a sense of obligation to repay in kind
what another provides. For instance, if a person gives you a free soft drink and then
asks you to buy a raffle ticket, you feel obligated to buy the ticket even though it may
cost more than the soft drink. This process is at work every time you open your mail
and discover yet another packet of personalized address labels. You are likely to send
in a donation or not use the labels even though you did not request them. If you use the
labels and do not send in a donation, you may experience psychological discomfort and
fear shame if someone discovers your action.
In a reciprocal concessions strategy, you feel a sense of obligation to make a
concession in response to a concession. Parties employ this psychological strategy in
employment-management negotiations when an employee concedes on health care and
the other then feels obligated to concede on retirement benefits. This strategy occurs
in everyday interactions such as when a roommate agrees to provide the car for spring
break and you feel obligated to pay for the gas.
A rejection then retreat strategy begins with one proposal that makes a second
more acceptable. If you reject the first you may feel both obligated or relieved to agree to
the second. One study discovered that if Boy Scouts asked persons to purchase $5 circus
tickets and were turned down, the same persons were likely to say yes to a second pro-
posal of a $1 chocolate bar. The Boy Scouts gained either way, and the persuadees felt
good about helping out for a lesser amount. Salespersons often start with the top of the
line and then retreat to a fallback position if necessary.
In undercover or stealth marketing, an interviewer party of two or more persons
pretends to be a friendly, disinterested party, and not a sales representative. For exam-
ple, two people appearing to be tourists or visitors ask a person passing by if she will
take their picture. The cooperative passerby agrees and just happens to notice that the
couple has a very interesting and attractive digital camera, and asks about it. The party,
who just happen to be undercover sales reps for this camera company, gladly comply.
The persuadee has no idea that a sales interview is taking place.
Be a Critical Participant
Language Strategies
Woodward and Denton write that language “is far more than a collection of words and
rules for proper usage. Language is the instrument and vehicle of human action and
expression.”17 Skilled interviewers are keenly aware of the power and manipulation
of verbal symbols, but too many of us see these symbols as merely words and rules.
Larson warns that “as receivers, we need to get to the bottom of persuasive meanings;
carefully analyzing the symbols used or misused by persuaders can help us get there.”18
The following are common language strategies.
Framing and Reframing
Persuaders use language to frame or construct the way you see people, places, things,
and objects. For instance, jargon substitutes peculiar words for common words. While
We feel
obligated to
return favors.
One conces-
sion deserves
another, or not.
Persuaders may
ask for a lot and
settle for less.
Seek the
meanings of
Jargon is not
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The Persuasive Interview 241
some jargon seems harmless enough (schedule irregularity for airline flight delay),
others can hide the truth (terminological inexactitude for lie), make something sound
more technical than it is (emergency exit light for a flashlight), more valuable than it is
(garment management system for one hook and two hangers), or less severe (collateral
damage for the killing of civilians during military actions).
Strategic ambiguities are words with multiple or vague meanings. Persuaders want
you to interpret the words according to their specific needs or perceptions without asking
embarrassing, negative, or insightful questions. If a politician claims to be a conservative or
moderate, what exactly is this person? What is a lifetime guarantee or a limited warranty?
What is an affordable apartment or a top salary? What is free-range poultry or poultry
raised the old-fashioned way? We pay premium prices for lite, diet, natural, and low-carb
products without knowing how these differ from ones that are not.
Imagery—word pictures—contains multisensory words to color what you have
experienced, will experience, may experience, or experience indirectly. A representa-
tive of a travel agency, with the aid of leaflets, posters, and Web sites, will help you
visualize skiing in Switzerland, visiting the Aztec ruins in Mexico, surfing in Hawaii,
or seeing the wildlife of Kenya. On the other hand, an interviewer might employ the
same tactics to paint a negative picture complete with apocalyptic images and dire pre-
dictions if you vote for a political opponent, purchase a competing product, join a dif-
ferent religious group, accept a scholarship with another school, or travel to Kenya,
instead of South Africa.
Euphemisms substitute better sounding words for common words. Cadillac was
the first to substitute preowned for used cars to emphasize ownership rather than use.
Real estate agencies are now substituting the word “bought” for “sold” to emphasize
purchasing rather than selling. You might find an inexpensive interview suit but not a
cheap one and purchase it from a sales associate rather than a clerk. A lifelike Christ-
mas tree sounds better than an artificial one. When you walk into a women’s depart-
ment for clothing, you may see signs for “women’s sizes” that sound better than “large
sizes.” On the other hand, when you walk into a men’s department, you may see signs
for “large men’s sizes” but not “petite men’s sizes.” Words make a difference. Would
you go into a favorite campus hangout and order a “diet Beer?” You might well order a
“lite beer.”
Differentiation is not an attempt to find a better-sounding word but to alter how
you see reality. For example, when an animal rights advocate wants you to become an
animal guardian instead of an animal owner, this person wants to change how you see
your relationship with your pet. Calling female members of an organization, women,
is not “political correctness”—a euphemism—but an effort to change perceptions of
the abilities, capabilities, and maturity of women compared to girls. The purposes of
euphemisms and differentiation are very different; the first wants to make something
sound better while the second seeks to change your visions of reality.
Appealing to the People
Interviewers appeal to your faith in the rule and wisdom of “the people,” follow-
ing Lincoln’s adage that “you can fool all of the people some of the time and some
of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” The
Ambiguities say
little but sound
like a lot.
substitutes for
replace sub-
stance with
Words may
alter reality.
For many of us,
the majority
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242 Chapter 10
ad  populum tactic claims to speak on behalf of the people—the alleged majority—such
as voters, students, employees, college athletes, consumers, and small business owners.
It is the “common folk,” of course, not the elite, the government, the administration, or
the executives. When, for instance, an attorney claims that he is “here for the people,”
who are these people?
The bandwagon tactic urges you to follow the crowd, to do what everyone else
is allegedly doing, buying, wearing, attending, or voting. It appeals to your desire to
belong and conform, often accompanied by a note of urgency: “Everyone’s going,”
“Football tickets are really going fast,” and “The party is behind Jim in this election.”
Listen for qualifiers such as nearly, probably, almost, and majority. Ask for numbers or
names of those who have signed a petition, agreed to a change, or joined an organiza-
tion. Be cautious of phrases such as, “people in the know” and “those who are on the
move” that are designed to pressure and flatter.
Simplifying the Complex
Interviewers attempt to reduce complex problems, issues, controversies, and situations
to their simplest elements. The thin entering wedge, also known as the domino effect
or the slippery slope, claims that one decision, action, or law after another is lead-
ing toward disastrous consequences. Talk to a person who is against censorship, gun
control, or same-sex marriages and you are likely to hear how censorship of books
in public schools is one more step toward censoring all reading materials, how the
registration of handguns is yet another step toward outlawing and confiscating all guns,
and how same-sex marriage is a slippery slope toward the destruction of the home and
the family. Look for evidence of a related, intentional string of actions that are tipping
dominos, producing wedges, or sliding down a dangerous slope.
Slogans are clever words or phrases that encapsulate positions, stands, or goals.
They are a vague but powerful means to alter the way you think, feel, or act because
they are catchy and entice you to fill in the meaning—to self-persuade. Interviewers rely
on slogans to attract customers, recruits, contributors, and loyalty and may change them
to communicate different messages. For instance, when Purdue University changed its
slogan from “Touching tomorrow today” and then “Discover Purdue” with “Purdue:
It’s Happening Here,” the president explained that “there is a tremendous amount of
excitement around campus. . . . I think this theme is just trying to capture that sense of
energy, momentum and pride that we have at Purdue.”19 Ask what slogans mean and if
they truly represent a person, organization, campaign, or solution.
An interviewer may polarize people, organizations, positions, or courses of action
by claiming that you have only a choice of two: conservative or liberal, friend or foe,
Chevy or Ford, wind power or nuclear power, for gun control or against gun control. It is
a simplistic but persuasive view of the world. Are you either a conservative or liberal, a
mixture of each, or something else?
Dodging the Issue
Interviewers may attempt to dodge critical issues, questions, or objections. Ad homi-
nem (getting personal) dodges undesired challenges by discrediting a source because of
age, culture, gender, race, affiliation, or past positions, statements, or claims. A parent
Have an
inquiring mind.
Fear of chain
reactions may
stifle any action.
Slogans are
clever phrases
and more.
Polarizing limits
our choices and
our thinking.
Attacking a
source does
not address the
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The Persuasive Interview 243
may tell a child to “just consider the source” when the child is called a name or has a
belief challenged. An acquaintance may urge you to ignore research conducted by a
known conservative or liberal, government agency or corporate association, religious
or secular organization. Insist that the interviewer address the issue, point, or substance
of the research.
You have used the tu quoque tactic since childhood to dodge an issue or objec-
tion by revolving it upon the challenger or questioner: “You’re one too,” “It takes one
to know one,” or “So do you.” These are classic tu quoque responses. If you question
a political candidate about taking money from special interests, the person may reply,
“All politicians take money from special interests” or “Your candidate has accepted
money from labor unions and trial lawyers.”
Interviewers may dodge issues by transferring guilt to others, making the accuser,
victim, or questioner the guilty party. Cheating on an exam is the professor’s fault; fail-
ing to report all income on a tax report is the IRS’s fault; parking illegally is the col-
lege’s fault for not providing enough parking places. Defense attorneys turn victims of
crimes into the guilty parties, particularly in rape and abuse cases.
Logical Strategies
As discussed earlier, persuaders develop arguments into what appear to be valid and
acceptable patterns. It is important to recognize and challenge these patterns.
Argument from example is a statement, based on a sample, about the distribution
of some characteristic among the members of a whole class of people, places, or things.
If you recognize this pattern, ask
• What is the total amount of this sample?
• What is the nature of this sample?
• When was the sample taken?
• What is the interviewer asserting from this sample?
Beware of the hasty generalization in which the persuader generalizes to a whole
group from one or a few examples. For instance, a friend may warn you against dining at
a particular restaurant because he had a bad meal there once.
Argument from cause-to-effect addresses what caused an effect. Ask questions
such as
• Was this cause able to generate this effect?
• Was this cause the only possible cause?
• Was this cause the major cause?
• What evidence is offered to establish this causal link?
• Is a coincidence mistaken for the cause?
Beware of the post hoc or scrambling cause–effect fallacy that argues simply
because B followed A, A must have caused B. For instance, I got the flu the day after I
got that flu shot, so the shot gave me the flu.
Sharing guilt
does not
remove guilt.
Blaming others
is an attempt to
dodge respon-
The logical and
are inseparable.
Always check
the sample
from which
Be careful of
seen as causes.
Just because B
followed A, it
does not mean
that A caused B.
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244 Chapter 10
Arguing from fact or hypothesis offers the best explanation for a body of facts
and is the type of reasoning investigators use when trying to explain murders, disasters,
accidents, and teams losing in the NCAA’s March madness.
• How frequently is this hypothesis accurate with these facts?
• Is the body of facts sufficient?
• What facts would make the claim more or less convincing?
• How simple or complex is the hypothesis?
Arguing from sign is a claim that two or more variables are related in such a way
that the presence or absence of one may be taken as an indication of the presence or
absence of the other. For example, if the flag on the post office is at half-mast, you
may reason that someone of importance has died. Ask these questions when hearing an
argument from the sign:
• What is the relationship between the variables?
• Is the presence or absence verifiable?
• What is the believability or reliability of the sign?
Arguing from analogy compares two people, places, things, or proposals that
have several important characteristics and then claims they share other important char-
• How similar are the similarities?
• Are enough similarities provided?
• Are important dissimilarities ignored?
• Are the similarities critical to the claim?
Arguing from accepted belief, assumption, or proposition is based on a statement
that is thought to be accepted or proven. The remainder of the argument follows from this
assertion, such as: Using marijuana leads to use of hard drugs such as heroin and coke.
John is using marijuana, so he will eventually turn to hard drugs. Ask these questions:
• Do you accept the foundational assertion?
• Do the other assertions follow logically from this assertion?
• Does the claim necessarily follow from these assertions?
Beware of arguments based on alleged self-evident truths that cannot be questioned
or disputed because they are “fact.”
In argument from condition, an interviewer asserts that if something does or
does not happen, something else will or will not happen. “If you stop smoking, you will
not get lung cancer.” The central focus is the word if. Ask these questions:
• Is the condition acceptable?
• Is this the only condition?
• Is this the major condition?
Be a super-
sleuth when
A sign may
have many
meanings or no
Look for impor-
tant differ-
ences as well
as important
Identify the
major assertion
upon which the
argument rests.
“If” arguments
may ignore
obvious or
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The Persuasive Interview 245
Look closely at the evidence an interviewer offers (or does not offer) to gain attention
and interest, establish credibility and legitimacy, support arguments, develop a need,
and present a solution. Evidence includes examples, stories, authorities or witnesses,
comparisons and contrasts, statistics, and key definitions. Question the acceptability of
the interviewer’s evidence.
• Is the evidence trustworthy? Are the persuader and the persons and organizations
being cited unbiased and reliable? Are the sources of the evidence (newspapers,
reports, Internet, publications) unbiased and reliable?
• Is the evidence authoritative? What are the training, experience, and reputation
of the authorities or witnesses being cited? Were they in positions to have
observed the facts, events, or data?
• Is the evidence recent? Is it the most recent available? Are newer statistics or
findings available? Have authorities changed their minds?
• Is the evidence documented sufficiently? Do you know where and how the
statistics or results were determined? Who determined them? Where and when
were they reported?
• Is the evidence communicated accurately? Can you detect alterations or deletions
in quotations, statistics, or documentation? Is the evidence cited in context?
• Is the evidence sufficient in quantity? Are enough authorities cited? Enough
examples given? Enough points of comparison made? Adequate facts revealed?
• Is the evidence sufficient in quality? Are opinions stated as facts? How
satisfactory is the sample used for generalizations and causal arguments? Does
proof evidence (factual illustrations, statistics, authority, detailed comparisons)
outweigh clarifying evidence (hypothetical illustrations, paid testimonials,
figurative analogies, and metaphors)?
Be an active participant. Each interview has the potential of altering or reinforcing
the way you think, feel, or act, including the money you spend, the votes you cast, the
relationships you establish or maintain, the possessions you protect, the work you do,
and the life you lead. Ask questions to obtain information and explanations, probe into
vague and ambiguous words and comments, and reveal feelings and attitudes that may
lie hidden or merely suggested. There are no foolish questions, only questions you fail
to ask.
The Opening
Be alert and active from the first moments of the interview. If it is a “cold call” in
which you have had no time to prepare, use carefully phrased questions to discover the
identity, position, and qualifications of the interviewer. Discover the real purpose and
intent of the interview.
Too many persuadees play passive roles during openings. Here is an exam-
ple from an interview in one of our classes. The persuadee is head of surgery at
Assess the
reliability and
expertise of
Insist on both
quantity and
quality of
Be an active
and critical
player in the
Play an active
role in the
because it
initiates the
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246 Chapter 10
this hospital, believes in following strict hierarchies with surgeons at the top, feels
physicians rather than nurses should detect and address real problems, and is all
Persuader: Dr. Smalley, I’m Lilly McDowell, one of the surgical nurse supervisors.
Persuadee: Hi Lilly, have a seat.
Persuader: I’d like to talk to you about the problems we are having with surgical patients
after they leave the hospital and a solution to this problem.
Persuadee: Okay.
Persuader: Well, we have discovered that . . .
The interviewee does not exhibit his personality or attitudes and learns little about
the purpose of this interview, how long it will take, or the nature of the problem. He
allows the interviewer to launch into the need without question even though the inter-
viewer appears to be encroaching on his authority and status, his area of expertise and
responsibility, and does not explain the nature of the problem or how it was determined.
Need or Desire
If an interviewer attempts to conduct an interview without a clear purpose and in which
the need is a collection of generalizations and ambiguous claims, insist on a point-
by-point development with each point crafted carefully and logically, supported with
adequate evidence, and adapted to your values, beliefs, and attitudes. Beware of fal-
lacies and tactics that dodge your questions and objections. If an interviewer attempts
to introduce another point rather than address your concerns, insist on answers to your
questions and objections and get agreements before proceeding to another point.
Weigh evidence carefully. Be on guard against psychological strategies designed to
manipulate your reactions and make you feel obligated to reply in kind. Do not tolerate
negative selling or mudslinging. Insist on getting agreements before going into criteria
or a solution.
Establishing criteria with the interviewer that any solution should meet is a critical
part of the persuasion process. An interviewer may come to an interview with a list of
criteria, and this helps the process and shows planning. Take an active part in establish-
ing criteria. Are the criteria clear? Do you wish to modify some criteria? Which are the
most important criteria? Are there criteria you wish to add?
An interviewer may claim there is only one obvious solution to the need or desire
agreed upon. There is rarely only one solution to any problem. Insist upon a detailed
presentation of each possible solution. Ask questions and raise objections. Be sure the
criteria are applied equally to each solution to determine which is best for you in this
situation. If possible, insist on seeing, feeling, hearing, or experiencing the product or
Ask questions,
arguments, and
demand solid
Criteria enable
you to weigh
Be sure the
solution meets
the need and
is the best
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The Persuasive Interview 247
When you have agreed upon a solution or course of action, beware of qualifiers or
“add-ons” such as guarantees, rebates, accessories, processing fees, and commitments.
What exactly is a “lifetime” warranty or guarantee? The persuader may hope that
since you have made the big decision, you will agree to small decisions—the contrast
principle discussed earlier. What are you getting that is “free”?
The Closing
Do not rush into making a decision or commitment. You have little to gain and much to lose.
A common tactic is to create a psychological reaction by claiming the possibility of censor-
ship or the scarcity of a product. An organization may produce a limited number of books,
coins, cars, or positions to make them more in demand, to urge you to act quickly before it is
too late.
Take time to think about a decision; sleep on it. Be sure your questions and objec-
tions are answered satisfactorily. Understand the possible ramifications of your deci-
sion. Consider getting a second or third opinion. Talk to persons who have relevant
expertise or experiences. Check out competing products, candidates, offers, and pro-
grams. For instance, visit several universities before deciding where to pursue a gradu-
ate or professional degree; try out several laptops before deciding which to purchase;
listen or talk to different political candidates before voting.
Take your time
when making a
final decision.
Assume you are going to purchase a new car upon
graduation. You want to be thoroughly informed and
prepared when you contact sales representatives so
you can make an intelligent decision and get a good
deal. Use the World Wide Web to access information
on brands, models, features, comparative prices, and
assessments by automotive experts. Sample manufac-
turer sites are Toyota (, Acura
(, Mazda (http://mazdausa
.com), Buick (, and
Chrysler ( What infor-
mation is readily available on the Internet, and why is
this so? What information is not included on the Inter-
net, and why is this so? What are common persuasive
tactics used on the Internet? What questions does your
research suggest you pursue during interviews?
Good persuasive interviews are ones in which both parties are actively involved in inter-
personal interactions in which both parties speak and listen effectively. Persuasion should
be done with not done to another party.
Good persuasive interviews are honest endeavors conducted according to funda-
mental ethical guidelines. They are not games in which the end justifies the means or
buyer beware is a guiding principle. The appeal should be to the head and the heart
rather than relying on emotional hot buttons that will override critical thought and decision
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248 Chapter 10
Good persuasive interviews are carefully researched, planned, and structured, yet
they remain flexible enough to meet unforeseen reactions, objections, and arguments.
The interviewer adapts the effort to this persuadee; develops, supports, and docu-
ments important reasons for a change in thinking, feeling, or acting; and presents a
detailed solution that meets criteria agreed upon by both parties. Persuasion often
entails several contacts in which the persuader and persuadee reach incremental
Good persuasive interviews involve the interviewee as a responsible, informed, criti-
cal, and active participant who plays a central role. The interviewee acts ethically, listens
carefully, asks insightful and challenging questions, raises important objections, challenges
evidence and arguments, recognizes common persuasive tactics for what they are, and
weighs solutions according to agreed-upon criteria.
Key Terms and Concepts
Ad hominem
Ad populum
Agreement questions
Analyzing the interviewee
Arguing from accepted
Arguing from analogy
Arguing from cause–
Arguing from condition
Arguing from example
Arguing from facts
Arguing from two choices
Argument from sign
Attention and interest
Attitude–attitude conflict
Balance or consistency
Bandwagon tactic
Behavior–attitude conflict
Buyer beware
Closed-minded or authori-
tarian interviewee
Cold calls
Contract or agreement
Contrast principle
Domino effect
Encouraging interaction
False dichotomy
Hasty generalization
Hostile interviewee
Identification theory
Implicative approach
Indecisive interviewee
Induced compliance
Intelligent interviewee
Interrelated conditions
Normative influence
Objection questions
One-sided approach
Post hoc fallacy
Psychological discomfort
Psychological reactance
Psychological strategies
Reciprocal concessions
Rejection then retreat
Rule of reciprocation
Scrambling cause–effect
Self-evident truths
Shock-absorber phrases
Skeptical interviewee
Slippery slope
Stealth marketing
Strategic ambiguities
Thin entering wedge
Transferring guilt
Tu quoque
Trial closing
Two-sided approach
Undercover marketing
Verification questions
Yes-but approach
Yes-yes approach
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The Persuasive Interview 249
Persuasion Role-Playing Cases
Acquiring a Commuter Airline Service
The interviewer is the manager of a university-operated airport that had provided com-
mercial passenger service to the area since the 1950s. Unfortunately, the convenience
and limo service every two hours to an international airport just 65 miles away and the cost
of commuter airline tickets resulted in several airlines coming and going over the years
because of lack of passengers. Nighthawk Air is the only airline continuing to serve the
airport with two morning and two afternoon flights to Detroit. It has announced that it will
discontinue service on December 1. The interviewer is scheduling interviews with several
commuter airlines in an effort to persuade them to begin service in December.
The interviewee is chief of operations for Eastern-Southern, a four-year-old commuter
airline serving Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Its long-range plans are
to extend service to Pennsylvania and Ohio. Competition from large airlines and airline
consolidations have made these plans tenuous at best. She is willing to listen to the inter-
viewer from a service area that might be in the airline’s future, but she is well aware of the
number of airlines that have come and gone from his airport. There would have to be guar-
antees of reasonable passenger numbers and some financial incentives. The interviewer
has a good background in the aviation industry but little management experience or suc-
cess in selling commuter service to his campus and community.
Adoption of the New Line of Clothing
The interviewer is 24 years old and is the assistant manager of Abbey’s, a women’s
clothing store in a shopping mall close to a college campus. The three lines of cloth-
ing and the selection of jewelry clearly appeal to “mature” women in their late 30s and
older, not the college customer but her mother. The interviewer wants to persuade the
owner–manager to eliminate at least one line of clothing and replace it with one or
ones that will attract the teenage and young adult clientele. The selection of jewelry
would be mixed in appeal. The interview is taking place in the interviewee’s office at
8:00 a.m. before the shop opens at 9:30.
The interviewee has owned Abbey’s for nearly 20 years and has been satisfied with
sales and the number of repeat customers she attracts. Ego involvement is high because
the interviewee personally selected the shop’s brands and jewelry and travels to Chicago,
San Francisco, and New York to make stock selections. She sees Abbey’s as offering a
distinct alternative, one of the very few remaining in the area, to all of the “teeny-bopper”
stores that populate the local mall that have nothing for women over 30. The interviewer is
seen as a very hard worker with excellent communication skills but highly interested in her
own tastes in clothing and jewelry. She is part of her generation, but this does not prevent
her from interacting with and selling to women several years older.
A Drought-Resistant Seed Corn
The interviewer is a sales representative for Millennium Hybrids, which has developed a
new drought-resistant seed corn that has proven highly successful in tests in drought-prone
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250 Chapter 10
areas of the midwestern states and Colorado. It was developed following the disastrous
summer of 2012 when widespread drought reduced corn production by some 53 per-
cent. It is more expensive than traditional hybrids, but predictions are for more summers
like that of 2012 over the next several years. The interviewer first met the interviewee, a
farmer-owner of a 3000-acre grain farm in western Iowa, when he was doing research on
seed corn at Iowa State University.
The interviewee has used seeds from Millennium Hybrids in the past but switched to
King Hybrids after he lost more than 80 percent of his crop in 2012. He believed King’s
seed corn was more drought resistant. Although he is willing to talk about the new Millen-
nium hybrid, he has been happy with the King Hybrids and its sales representative who
has worked very closely with him during the past two years.
Preserve a Historical Home
The Harrison home was built in the country west of New Goshen in the early 1850s
and remained in the family until 1932, when it was willed to the Jefferson County His-
torical Society along with many of its original furnishings. Since then, it has served as a
historical attraction, a place to house and exhibit the Society’s wealth of artifacts, and
a space for offices. Many of the materials used to build this home were imported from
Italy, Switzerland, and Germany and then transported up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers
before being loaded onto wagons for their trip to the building site seven miles from
New Goshen. Recently the Historical Society announced that the Harrison home was
now too small for all of its holdings and that it could no longer afford the upkeep of the
aging building. It plans to sell it and move into the former Jefferson County Academy, a
much larger building that is also of significant historical value. The interviewer, a retired
college history teacher, hopes to persuade the director of the State Department of His-
toric preservation to provide a grant that would enable the Historical Society to maintain
the home.
The director of the State Department of Historic Preservation has read a detailed
proposal from the persuader and is sympathetic. However, her agency is swamped with
requests to preserve old homes, schools, and buildings throughout the state. Each request
seems to have merit but funds are limited and efforts to reduce the federal budget have
eliminated or greatly reduced funds for preservation of structures. The director is inter-
ested in how much money the persuader is willing to invest in the Harrison home and what
efforts he is willing to undertake to raise additional funds.
Student Activities
1. Locate a professional (sales representative, recruiter, fund-raiser) who conducts
persuasive interviews on a regular basis and spend a day on the job with this
person. Observe how this person prepares for each interview, selects strategies,
opens interviews, develops needs and solutions, closes interviews, and adapts
to interviewees.
2. Select three persons in different career fields (e.g., sales, medicine, athletics, lobby-
ing, recruiting, advocacy) who have extensive experience in persuasive interviewing.
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The Persuasive Interview 251
Probe into how they prepare for and try to persuade three of the following types of
interviewees: indecisive, hostile, closed-minded, skeptical, shopping around, highly
educated. Which do they find most difficult? What are their most effective strategies
for each? Which value and emotional appeals do they use most often and why?
3. Identify an acquaintance or family member who is known for driving hard bargains. Go
with this person to a persuasive interview; it need not be a sales situation. Observe the
role this person plays in the opening, how this person handles the need or desire, the
information this person obtains, objections and questions raised about the solution,
and how this person negotiates a final decision. If this interviewee threatens to go to a
competitor or a person higher up in an organization, how does the interviewer react?
4. Keep a log over a two-week period of the telephone and e-mail solicitations you
receive. How well are these adapted to you as a person and to your needs, desires,
and motives? Which values and emotions do they use as triggering devices? How
ethical are their tactics? Which types of evidence do they employ? How do they react
when you raise questions or objections? How do they close the interviews?
1. Roderick P. Hart, “Teaching Persuasion,” in Teaching Communication: Theory,
Research, and Methods, John A. Daly, Gustav W. Friedrich, and Anita L. Vangelisti, eds.
(Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999), p. 133.
2. Richard L. Johannesen, “Perspectives on Ethics in Persuasion,” in Charles U. Larson,
Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learn-
ing, 2013), p. 41.
3. Johannesen, p. 41.
4. Gary C. Woodward and Robert E. Denton, Jr., Persuasion and Influence in American
Life (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2009), p. 350.
5. Herbert W. Simons, Persuasion in Society (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001), p. 374.
6. Johannesen, p. 46.
7. Charlie Lang, “Making Cold Calls Enjoyable . . . Impossible?” Articlebase, http:// impossible-46,
accessed October 17, 2009.
8. Deirdre Johnston, The Art and Science of Persuasion (Madison, WI: Brown & Bench-
mark, 1994), p. 185; Sharon Shavitt and Timothy Brock, Persuasion: Psychological
Insights and Perspectives (Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1994), pp. 152–153.
9. “College and Its Effect on Students: Early Work on the Impact of College, Nine Gener-
alizations, Later Studies, Pascrella and Terenzini,”
/pages1844/College-its-Effect-on-Students.html, accessed September 10, 2012.
10. Larson, p. 91.
11. Milton Rokeach, Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass,
1968), p. 124.
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252 Chapter 10
12. Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,
1969), p. 55.
13. Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,
1969), p. 55 and pp. 21–45; Charles J. Stewart, Craig Allen Smith, and Robert E.
Denton, Jr., Persuasion and Social Movements (Prospects Heights, IL: Waveland
Press, 2012), pp. 144–148.
14. Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, Experiencing Intercultural Communication
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011), pp. 261–262 and 321–322.
15. Shavitt and Brock, pp. 152–153.
16. Larson (2007), p. 295.
17. Woodward and Denton, p. 50.
18. Larson (2004), pp. 103–104.
19. West Lafayette, IN, The Exponent, August 22, 2003, p. B1.
Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: Science and Practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2013.
Dillard, James Price, and Michael Pfau, eds. The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in
Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002.
Johannesen, Richard L., Kathleen Valde, and Karen Whedbee. Ethics in Human Communi-
cation. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008.
Larson, Charles U. Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Belmont, CA: Thomson/
Wadsworth, 2013.
Woodward, Gary C., and Robert E. Denton. Persuasion and Influence in American Life.
Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2014.
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The Counseling
The counseling interview, often referred to as the helping interview, is conducted to assist another party to gain insights into and ways of coping with a personal
problem. The interviewer’s task is not to resolve a problem; that is the interviewee’s
task. Common personal problems concern work or academic performance, finances,
relationships, health, and motivation. Counseling interactions are among the most sen-
sitive of interviews because they occur only when another party feels incapable or
unsure of handling something that is personal, and this party may be persuaded or
compelled to take part by a third party.
While few people in society are highly trained counselors or therapists, all of us
counsel others on a regular basis. Family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers,
subordinates, students, and team members ask us to listen to a problem or concern,
offer a bit of advice, or provide emotional, moral, legal, financial, or professional assis-
tance. We tend to comply because that is what we humans do. Experts in crisis man-
agement claim that in a time of crisis “everyone is a resource.”1 Lay counselors that
include most of us with little or minimal training, have proven to be quite successful at
counseling, partly because those seeking help seek out people they trust, are similar to
them, and are open, caring, and good listeners.
The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to the basic principles of
counseling including ethical responsibilities when helping another person, important
steps in preparing for a counseling interview, nondirective and directive interviewing
approaches, structuring the interview, and the critical ingredients of a successful coun-
seling interview. This chapter prepares you to help those who turn to you for assistance
with day-to-day problems in their personal and work lives. It does not prepare you to be
a psychotherapist or to handle critical problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, severe
psychological problems, or legal issues.
Ethics and the Counseling Interview
A concern for ethics must be ever-present in interviews because they inevitably affect
the lives and careers of both parties. This concern is enhanced when you agree to listen
to another’s problem, weigh its ramifications, and suggest courses of action. The “Code
of Ethics” of the American Counseling Association (ACA) states that “Through a
chosen ethical decision-making process and evaluation of the context of the situation,
counselors work collaboratively with clients to make decisions that promote clients’
Be a helper
not a problem
1 1C H A P T E R
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254 Chapter 1 1
growth and development.” This code must “bear public scrutiny of its application.”2 Let
us focus on seven ethical principles that are central to counseling interviews in which
you are most likely to take part.
Establish and Maintain Trust
The ACA identifies trust as “the cornerstone of the counseling relationship,”3 while
Sherry Cormier and her colleagues write that the “value of a sound relationship base
cannot be overlooked because” it “conveys the counselor’s interest in an acceptance
of the client as a unique and worthwhile person and builds sufficient trust for eventual
self-disclosure and self-revelations to occur.”4 Without trust, an interview is unlikely to
take place. Persons thinking of change, engaged in change, or trying to maintain change
tend to accept the interviewer’s help as genuine and trustworthy.5 Interviewees are
unlikely to disclose their innermost thoughts and concerns unless they trust interview-
ers to keep their interactions strictly confidential.
Act in the Interviewee’s Best Interests
To assure your efforts are in the interviewee’s best interests, you must respect the
interviewee’s dignity, know if the interviewee is capable of making sound choices and
decisions, and encourage the interviewee to make choices and decisions within their
personal beliefs, attitudes, and values. Research in counseling indicates that inter-
viewer self-disclosure of personal experiences and background has a favorable impact
on the interviewee’s willingness to disclose important information. Interviewees gain
new insights and perspectives for making changes when they perceive important simi-
larities that indicate an equal and favorable relationship with an interviewer who can
understand their problems and situations.6
Provide information so the interviewee can make informed decisions and choices.
Be well-informed about relevant information on this person’s socioeconomic status,
education, work history, family background, group memberships, medical and psycho-
logical histories, test results, and past problems and courses of action. Talk to people
who know the interviewee well to gain insights into the interviewee that will guide you
when conducting the counseling interview. Assess information from others carefully.
Do they have reasons to lie or exaggerate? Have they formed negative, defensive, or
wary attitudes toward a person because of second-hand information? You may discover
the opposite is true when you interact directly with them. Beware of preconceptions
that may lead you to prejudge an interviewee or anticipate a defensive or antagonistic
interaction. Be particularly cautious when working with children.
Understand Your Limitations
Know your counseling skills and limitations, and avoid situations for which you have
neither the training nor the experience. Sherry Cormier, Paula Nurius, and Cynthia
Osborn write, “Self-awareness is an important aspect of competence and involves a
balanced assessment of our strengths and limitations.”7 Know when to refer the inter-
viewee to a person with greater counseling skills and expertise. For instance, a teacher
must be able to detect when a student needs psychological or medical rather than aca-
demic help.
Know when to
say no.
Trust is the
keystone of
Respect the
other party’s
dignity and
Beware of pre-
Know your
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The Counseling Interview 255
Skilled counselors are open-minded, optimistic, self-assured, relaxed, flexible, and
patient. They are people-centered rather than problem-centered, sensitive to others’
needs, able to communicate understanding, warmth, comfort, and reassurance, and give
interviewees undivided and focused attention. They provide appropriate verbal and
nonverbal responses, and they are excellent listeners. Jeffrey Kottler, author of A Brief
Primer of Helping Skills, writes, Listening is the most crucial helping skill.”8
How comfortable are you when a person reveals an embarrassing problem or
incident or expresses intense feelings of sorrow, anxiety, fear, or anger? How com-
fortable are you with using proper terms and names for conditions, actions, and body
parts? Your unease may become apparent to the interviewee and stifle disclosure and
Do Not Impose Your Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes
You bring who you are to every counseling interview, including your values, beliefs,
attitudes, personality, and experiences. Be acutely aware of the important values you
hold and how you communicate these to others through eye contact, voice, manner,
words, dress, and appearance. Helen Cameron cautions, “Anyone who feels they can
operate from a value neutral perspective is deeply mistaken.”9 How do your values
compare and contrast with those of the interviewee? It is not enough to tolerate dif-
ferences in values and the beliefs and attitudes that emanate from them; you must be
able to understand and respect value differences. Can you suspend judgment and avoid
becoming argumentative and defensive? Can you guide the direction and flow of the
interview without ordering, prescribing, or persuading?
Respect Diversity
You must be culturally aware in today’s global village because “Culture controls
our lives and defines reality for us, with or without our permission and/or intentional
awareness.”10 You need to truly understand and appreciate the interviewee’s cul-
ture and how it is similar to and different from yours. Cormier, Nurius, and Osborn
claim that you must “regard all conversations as ‘cross-cultural.’”11 Culture includes
not only gender, race, ethnicity, and national origin but also sexual orientation,
socioeconomic class, geographical area, religion or spirituality, physical and mental
abilities, and family form. On the other hand, do not assume cultural differences are
greater than all other considerations in counseling interviews. Qualities intrinsic to
personalities, values, attitudes, and nonverbal behavior often account for counseling
If you feel inadequately prepared for cross-cultural counseling situations, seek
training and assistance from those with expertise and skill in interacting with others
in culturally appropriate ways.12 Learn to recognize and avoid common cultural
generalizations and stereotypes such as people on welfare are lazy, Hispanics are
illegal immigrants, women are nurturing, young workers are superior to old workers,
Muslims are terrorists, and Asian students are high academic achievers. Research indi-
cates that where there is a match of world views in interactions, the parties establish
good working relationships because interviewees feel more understood and appreci-
ated as individuals.
Listening is
your critical
Can you reveal
your motives
and agenda?
Strive to be more
than “culturally
We all value our
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256 Chapter 1 1
Maintain Relational Boundaries
Maintain appropriate relational boundaries with interviewees, particularly when you
have an administrative, supervisory, professional, or evaluative role as a teacher,
employer, counselor, coach, or physician. Avoid nonverbal actions and words that
might be interpreted as authoritative harassment. Maintain an emotional and rela-
tional distance to avoid any form of unintentional or intentional intimacy with an inter-
viewee. Sources warn that it is an easy step across the line to sexual involvement. News
reports of male and female teachers having affairs with their students are distressingly
common. Thousands of men and women helped families, friends, and co-workers fol-
lowing the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In some cases, the helpers became emotion-
ally and sexually involved to the extent that they destroyed their own families while
trying to help other families.
Do No Harm
This code encompasses all of the others. Be aware of dangers in trying to help others.
Always act within the boundaries of your competence to avoid giving bad or ill-informed
advice. Regardless of the advice you give, you may be blamed for outcomes or lack of
them. Behave legally, morally, and ethically at all times. Know when to refer the inter-
viewee to a professional with greater counseling and specialized skills. Reports of suicides,
sexual molestation and assault, and violent attacks in homes, schools, businesses, theaters,
and shopping centers by disturbed individuals often reveal that the perpetrators had sought
help or revealed their intentions to others. When a person’s “condition indicates that there
is a clear and imminent danger” to self or others, you must refer this person to a more
qualified counselor, inform possible victims, and notify authorities immediately.13
Prepare Thoroughly for the Counseling Interview
The more thoroughly you know an interviewee, the more likely you are to understand
why a person is seemingly rejecting offers of help and how to respond effectively to
statements such as the following that are intended to stifle an interview before it starts.
If I need help, I’ll let you know.
I can take care of myself.
I need to get back to work.
Why should I discuss my personal problems with you?
You wouldn’t understand.
Don’t tell Mom and Dad.
Just tell me what I should do.
No one knows how I feel.
You don’t know what it’s like being a student (parent, patient, teenager).
Get off my back.
I can’t afford to take time off.
Know where
the boundaries
Do no
Be prepared
for rejections
of offers to
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The Counseling Interview 257
On the other hand, if a person requests help without notice or explanation and you
two have little or no relational history, you must rely on your training and experiences to
discover what is bothering the person and how you might help. Do not assume you know
why a person is calling, showing up at your door, or bringing up a topic. Ask open-ended
questions that enable the interviewee to explain the purpose of the interview. Listen care-
fully for information and insights that will enable you to help this person.
Select an Interviewing Approach
Determine which interviewing approach introduced in Chapter 2 (directive and nondi-
rective) is the most suitable for this interviewee and situation. Each has its advantages
and disadvantages. The sensitive and potentially explosive nature of the counseling
interview necessitates a careful selection of approach.
Directive Approach
When using a directive approach, you control the structure of the interview, subject
matter, pace of interactions, and length of the interview. You collect and share informa-
tion, define and analyze problems, suggest and evaluate solutions, and provide guide-
lines for actions. In brief, you serve as an expert or consultant who analyzes problems
and provides guidelines for actions. The interviewee is a reactor and recipient rather
than an equal or major player in the interaction. The directive approach is based on
the assumption that you know more about the problem than the interviewee and are
better suited to analyze it and recommend solutions. The accuracy of this assumption,
depends upon you, the interviewee, and the situation.
Nondirective Approach
When using a nondirective approach, the interviewee controls the structure of the
interview, determines the topics, decides when and how each will be discussed, and sets
the pace and length of the interview. You assist the interviewee in obtaining informa-
tion, gaining insights, defining and analyzing problems, and discovering and evaluating
solutions by listening, observing, and encouraging. Do not impose ideas. A nondirec-
tive approach to counseling emphasizes the interviewer’s role as engaging, exploring,
encouraging, listening, understanding, affirming, reassuring, and validating rather than
ordering, confronting, directing, warning, threatening, cautioning, and judging.
The nondirective approach is based on the assumption that the interviewee is more
capable than you of analyzing problems, assessing solutions, and making correct deci-
sions. The interviewee must implement recommendations and solutions. The accuracy
of this assumption, like the directive assumption, depends on you, the interviewee, and
the situation.
The interviewee may know nothing about the problem or potential solutions, or
worse, may be misinformed about both. The interviewee’s problem may not be lack of
information or misinformation but the inability to visualize a current or future problem
or make sound decisions. The interviewer serves as an objective, neutral referee, pre-
senting pros and cons of specific courses of action. Distinguish between when you are
serving as expert advisor and when, perhaps subtly and unintentionally, you are impos-
ing personal preferences.
Listen rather
than talk.
Know when to
maintain control
and when to
let go.
Is the inter-
viewee capable
of or willing to
take control?
Do not assume
the problem is
lack of
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258 Chapter 1 1
The interviewee may prefer a
directive (highly structured) approach.
For instance, a study of Asian-
American students discovered that
when career counselors used a direc-
tive approach, students saw them as
more empathetic, culturally compe-
tent, and providing concrete guidance
that produced immediate benefits.14
Combination of Approaches
You may employ a combination of
approaches by beginning with a
nondirective approach to encourage
the interviewee to talk and reveal
the problem and its causes. Then
you may switch to a more directive
approach when discussing possible solutions or courses of action. A directive approach
is best for obtaining facts, giving information, and making diagnoses, while a nondirec-
tive approach opens up large areas and brings out spontaneous information.
Select a Structure
There is no standard structural format for the counseling interview, but Hartsough,
Echterling, and Zarle’s “sequential phase model” is applicable to most counseling
situations.15 They developed this structure originally for handling calls to campus and
community crisis centers. Figure 11.1 illustrates their sequential phase model.
The affective or emotional phases, boxes 1 and 3, involve the interviewee’s feelings
of trust in the counselor, feelings about self, and feelings about the problem. A nondi-
rective approach is usually best for the affective phases of the interview. The cognitive
or thinking phases, boxes 2 and 4, involve thinking about the problem and taking action.
A directive or combination of approaches is usually best for the cognitive phases.
The typical counseling interview begins with establishing rapport and a feeling
of trust (phase 1), proceeds to discovering the nature of the interviewee’s problem
(phase 2), probes more deeply into the interviewee’s feelings (phase 3), and comes to
a decision about a course of action (phase 4). Except in emergencies, you should not
move from phase 1 to phase 4, or omit phase 3, without careful thought. If you do
not discover the depth of the interviewee’s feelings, you are unlikely to understand the
problem or solutions.
Do not expect to move through all four phases in every counseling interview or to
proceed uninterrupted in numerical order. You may go back and forth between phases
2 and 3, or between phases 3 and 4, as different aspects of the problem are revealed or
disclosed, feelings increase or decrease in intensity, and solutions are introduced and
weighed. Unless the interviewee wants specific information (where to get medical or
housing assistance, how to drop or add a course, how to get an emergency monetary
loan), you may not get to phase 4 until a second, third, or fourth interview. Be patient.
Be flexible
in choosing
and changing
■ Provide a climate conducive to effective counseling, which is
a quiet, comfortable, private location, free of interruptions.
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The Counseling Interview 259
Select the Setting
Consider carefully the climate and tone of the interview. Each affects the levels of com-
munication that take place and the willingness to disclose feelings and attitudes.
Provide a climate that is quiet, comfortable, private, and free of interruptions.
An interviewee will not be open and honest if other employees, students, work-
ers, or clients can overhear the conversation. Select a neutral location such as a
lounge, park, or an organization’s cafeteria where the interviewee might feel less
threatened and more relaxed. Some interviewees feel comfortable or safe only on
their own turf, so consider meeting in the person’s room, home, office, or place of
If possible, arrange the seating so that both parties can communicate freely. You may
sit on the floor with a child, perhaps playing a game, drawing pictures, or looking at a
book. An optimal interpersonal distance is 3.5 feet. Students comment that an interviewer
behind a desk makes them ill at ease, as though the “mighty one” is sitting in judgment.
They prefer a chair at the end of the desk—at a right angle to the interviewer—or in
chairs facing one another with no desk in between.
Arrangements of furniture contribute to or detract from the informal, conversational
atmosphere important in counseling sessions. Interviewees prefer a round table, similar
to a dining room or kitchen table, because it includes no power or leader position and
they often handle family matters around the dining or kitchen table.
Do not under-
estimate the
importance of
location and
A round table
is a traditional
arrangement for
problem solving.
Figure 11.1 Phases of counseling interviews
Affective Cognitive
1. Establishment of a helpful climate
a. Making contact
b. Defining roles
c. Developing a relationship
2. Assessment of crisis
a. Accepting information
b. Encouraging information
c. Restating information
d. Questioning for information
3. Affect integration
a. Accepting feelings
b. Encouraging feelings
c. Reflecting feelings
d. Questioning for feelings
e. Relating feelings to
consequences or precedents
4. Problem solving
a. Offering information or
b. Generating alternatives
c. Decision making
d. Mobilizing resources
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260 Chapter 1 1
Conducting the Interview
As you approach the interview, remember that you are “investing in people” and that
people can change, grow, and improve. Accept the person as the person is. Do not
approach the interview as an opportunity to remodel an individual to your liking. The
interview is a learning process for both parties and is unlikely to be a one-shot effort.
The Opening
The first minutes of a counseling session set the verbal and psychological tone for the
remainder. Show you want to be involved and to help. Do not be condescending or
patronizing. You might want to say, “It’s about time you showed up!” or “What have you
done this time?” Stifle your frustration or irritation. Try to understand “the client’s world
from inside the client’s frame of reference.”16
Initial Comments and Reactions
Do not second-guess the interviewee’s reason for making an appointment or dropping
by. Avoid statements such as:
Are you still fighting with your roommate?
I assume you want another day off.
I suppose this is about money.
I know why you’re here.
A person may not have initiated this interview for any of these reasons but feel threat-
ened or angry by your comment and attitude. Your interruption may ruin an opening
the interviewee has prepared that would have revealed why the interviewee has turned
to you for help.
Avoid tactless and leading reactions common in interactions with family members,
children, friends, and associates. All of us have been on the receiving end of such state-
ments as:
Why did you dye your hair green?
You look terrible.
You’ve been going to class, haven’t you?
Looks like you’ve put on a few pounds.
Such comments and questions may destroy the climate and tone necessary for a
successful counseling interview along with the interviewee’s self-confidence and
Rapport and Orientation
Take your time getting acquainted and establishing a working relationship, even when
your relationship has a long history. Your relational history may be positive or negative
because both parties monitor previous interactions and enter a new exchange with high
Want to help
and show it.
Be tactful and
neutral but not
Accept seem-
ingly irrelevant
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The Counseling Interview 261
or low expectations. The interview may be more threatening than other interactions. An
interviewee may begin by talking about the building, books on the shelves, pictures on
the walls, the view out the window, or the weather. Be patient. The person is sizing up
you, the situation, and the setting and building up nerve to introduce an issue.
The rapport stage is your opportunity to show attention, interest, fairness, willing-
ness to listen, and ability to maintain confidences. Both parties are establishing trust.
Discover the interviewee’s expectations and apprehensions about the interview and
attitudes toward you, your position, your organization, and counseling sessions.
When rapport and orientation are completed, let the interviewee begin with what is
of most interest or concern. It is the first step toward revealing the precise nature of the
problem the interviewee has been unable to face or resolve. Do not rush this process.
Observe the nonverbal cues that reveal inner feelings and intensity.
Encourage Self-Disclosure
The ability and willingness to disclose beliefs, attitudes, concerns, and feelings are
major factors in the interviewee’s decision to seek help and the degree to which the
interview will be successful. “Self-disclosing is a very complex process that involves
intricate decision making.”17 The situation and its climate may be the most important
determinant of the level of self-disclosure. A positive climate creates trust and engen-
ders “feelings of safety, pride, and authenticity.” The interviewee must believe that
keeping secrets, or worse lying, inhibits the helping process “whereas disclosing pro-
duces a sense of relief from physical as well as emotional tension.”18 During this stage,
focus attention on strengths and achievements rather than weaknesses and failures and
what is most in need of attention. This approach builds confidence and a feeling that
it is safe to disclose beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. Although full self-disclosure is a
desirable goal, an interviewee may be less tense and more willing to talk to you by
hiding some undesirable facets of themselves.
If you initiate the counseling session, state clearly and honestly what you want to
talk about. If there is a specific amount of time allotted for the interview, make this
known so you can work within it. The interviewee will be more at ease knowing how
much time is available. Quality is more important than the length of time spent with an
interviewee. Attire and role behavior significantly affect the interviewee’s perceptions
of attractiveness and level of expertise and determine how closely the person will be
drawn to you and the level of self-disclosure.
Enhance self-disclosure through appropriate reactions and responses. Prepare care-
fully to reduce surprises, and do not be shocked by what you see and hear. Release
tensions with tasteful humor but do not appear to minimize the interviewee’s problem.
Speak as little as possible, and do not interrupt the interviewee. Listen empathically.
Your voice, facial expressions, eye contact, and gestures must communicate a confi-
dent, warm, and caring image. Avoid highly directive responses until you have estab-
lished a close, working relationship based on tact and honesty.
Culture and gender may be major determinates of self-disclosure in counseling
interviews. A study of African-Americans engaging in counseling at a community
health agency discovered that African-Americans in this setting “engaged in an ongo-
ing assessing process.” Initially, they assessed client-therapist match [white or black],
Work within
a known time
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262 Chapter 1 1
which was influenced by three factors: salience of Black identity, court involvement,
and ideology similarity between client and therapist. These clients then assessed
their safety in therapy and their counselor’s effectiveness simultaneously. They
used this information to monitor and manage their degree of self-disclosing along
a continuum.19 Counselor self-disclosure in cross-cultural counseling—particularly
their reactions to and experiences of racism or oppression may improve the counsel-
ing relationship and make clients feel more understood.20 In some Eastern cultures,
people see counselors as authority figures and may find a nondirective approach
unsettling because the authority has turned the interview over to them to control.
They feel more comfortable when counselors use a directive, interviewer-centered
approach. Gender may determine self-disclosure. Females disclose significantly
more about themselves and their problems than do males, especially on intimate
topics such as sex, and a person’s self-disclosure history often affects disclosure
in other interviews. Males often have psychological defenses to protect themselves
from feelings of weakness and to restrict emotional reactions.
Listening is a critical skill to master. Listen for empathy so you can reassure, comfort,
express warmth, and place yourself in the interviewee’s situation and world. Listen for
comprehension so you can be patient, receive, understand, and recall interactions accu-
rately and completely. Avoid listening for evaluation that judges and criticizes. Directly
or indirectly moralizing, blaming, questioning, and disagreeing are major roadblocks to
effective counseling. To get to the heart of a problem, give undivided attention to the
interviewee’s words and their implications and to what is intentionally or unintention-
ally left unmentioned.
Do not interrupt or take over the conversation. Beware of interjecting personal
opinions, experiences, or problems. Too often, a person may want to talk about a seri-
ous illness of a father or mother, but the counselor takes over with a story about his or
her own family illness.
If the interviewee pauses or stops talking for a few moments, use silence to encour-
age the interviewee to continue talking. Lean toward, face the other person squarely,
maintain good eye contact, and reflect attention through facial expressions. Interview-
ees interpret smiles, attentive body postures, and gestures as evidence of warmth and
Observe how the interviewee sits, gestures, fidgets, and maintains eye contact. Pay
attention to the voice for loudness, timidity, evidence of tenseness, and changes. These
observations provide clues about the seriousness of the problem and the interviewee’s
state of mind. Deceptive answers may be lengthier, more hesitant, and with long pauses.
People maintain eye contact longer when they lie.
If you are going to take notes or record the interview, explain why, and stop if
you detect that either activity is affecting the interview adversely. People may be
hesitant to leave a recording that others might hear. They are willing to confide in
you, but not others.
Focus on the
and the inter-
Look for
signals but
interpret them
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The Counseling Interview 263
Questions play important roles in counseling interviews, but asking too many questions is
a common mistake. Your questions may interrupt the interviewee, change topics prema-
turely, or break the flow of self-disclosure. Numerous questions reduce the interviewee to
a mere respondent and may stifle the interviewee’s own questions.
Open-ended questions encourage interviewees to talk and express emotions. Both
are important for encouraging, reflecting, and questioning about feelings and restat-
ing and probing for information. Ask one question at a time because double-barreled
questions may result in ambiguous answers with neither portion answered clearly and
thoroughly. Use encouragement probes such as
And? I see.
Uh-huh? Go on.
Then what happened? And then?
Use informational probes for clarification, explanation, and in-depth information.
Why do you think that happened?
How did she react?
What do you mean he “overreacted”?
Tell me more about your confrontation with Professor Barger.
The clearinghouse probe can ensure that you have obtained all necessary information
about an incident or problem.
What happened after that?
Are these all of the important details?
Anything else you would like to talk about?
Have I answered all of your questions?
Questions can help interviewees find meanings in situations. Steele and Echterling
offer these examples:21
What worries you most right now?
What do you think you can learn from this?
What scares you most now?
These examples of getting through questions help interviewees manage their emotions.
How did you get through that?
How are you finding it possible to get through this family crisis?
What did you do to feel better about this?
Avoid curious probes into feelings and embarrassing incidents, especially if
the interviewee seems hesitant to elaborate. Beware of questions that communicate
Do not ask
too many
Keep your
Phrase all ques-
tions with care.
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264 Chapter 1 1
disapproval, displeasure, or mistrust that make the interviewee less open and trusting.
Avoid leading questions except under unusual circumstances. Counselors working with
children may go through intensive training in programs such as “Finding Words” that
stress the use of nonleading questions. Avoid why questions that appear to demand
explanations and justifications and put the interviewee on the defensive. Imagine how
an interviewee might react to questions such as, Why weren’t you on time? Why did you
do that? Why confront Doug? Why do you think that?
Selecting appropriate responses to questions and information requests may be diffi-
cult. The emphasis in this chapter is on a client-centered approach to the counseling
interview in which the focus is on what the interviewee is saying verbally and nonver-
bally and feeling. This approach emphasizes appropriate responses to elicit and identify
feelings about self, problem, and trust in the interviewer. Interviewers may respond to
interviewee information, questions, comments, and feelings in a variety of ways along
a continuum from highly nondirective to nondirective, directive, and highly directive.
Highly Nondirective Reactions and Responses
Highly nondirective reactions and responses encourage interviewees to continue
commenting, analyze ideas and solutions, and be self-reliant. The interviewer offers
no information, assistance, or evaluation of the inter-
viewee, the interviewee’s ideas, or possible courses of
Remain silent to encourage interviewees to continue
or to answer their own questions.
1. Interviewee: I’m thinking about dropping out of
school for a year.
2. Interviewer: (silence)
3. Interviewee: I’m just not interested in my business
classes and my grades are suffering.
Encourage interviewees to continue speaking by
employing semi-verbal phrases.
1. Interviewee: I can’t seem to do anything right.
2. Interviewer: Uh huh.
3. Interviewee: I really try to follow the rules, but the
residence hall staff is always on my case about
Be aware of your nonverbal behaviors when react-
ing and responding in a highly nondirective approach.
Your tone of voice, speaking rate, gestures, and facial
expressions must communicate interest and empathy.
A client-centered
focuses the
interview on the
Center the
interview on this
interviewee, no
one else.
Highly nondirec-
tive reactions
give total con-
trol to the inter-
■ Review the interviewee’s file prior to
the interview so you can devote full
attention during the interview.
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The Counseling Interview 265
Holding an interviewee’s hands or a simple touch when appropriate may reassure a
person and express caring and understanding. On the other hand, rolling your eyes,
raising an eyebrow, crossing your arms, and sitting forward may signal disapproval or
disbelief. Ruth Purtilo identifies five kinds of smiles, each of which may send a nega-
tive message: I know something you don’t know; poor, poor you; don’t tell me that; I’m
smarter than you; and I don’t like you either.22 Prolonged silence may become awkward
for both parties. If an interviewee seems unable to phrase a response or go it alone,
employ an active response.
Questions may serve as highly nondirective responses, including silent, nudging,
and clearinghouse probes. Restate or repeat an interviewee’s question or statement
instead of providing answers or volunteering information, ideas, evaluations, or solu-
tions. Urge the person to elaborate or come up with ideas.
You may return a question rather than answer it to encourage the interviewee to
analyze problems and select from among possible solutions. A return question looks
like this:
1. Interviewee: Should I file a complaint with OSHA about this compacter without a guard?
2. Interviewer: What do you think?
Do not continue to push a decision back if you detect that the individual has insuf-
ficient information or is confused, misinformed, genuinely undecided, or unable to
make a choice.
Invite the interviewee to discuss a problem or idea.
1. Interviewee: I don’t think I can handle the stress of this job much longer.
2. Interviewer: Care to talk about it?
An invitational question is appropriate when a person is willing or interested in dis-
cussing, explaining, or revealing. Do not intrude with demanding questions. Ask “Tell
me about it” or “Such as?” Avoid a why question that may communicate criticism or
Reflective and mirror questions clarify and verify responses and statements. They
must not lead a person toward a preferred answer.
1. Interviewee: I can’t seem to get back on track since spring break?
2. Interviewer: Are you saying this is different from last year?
Begin ref lective questions with phrases such as: “Is it accurate to say . . . ?”
“I feel you are saying . . . ?” “If I understand what you’re saying, you’re . . . ?” and “Let
me see if I understand what you’re saying . . . ?” Listen carefully and make a concerted
verbal and nonverbal effort to avoid leading the interviewee.
Nondirective Reactions and Responses
Nondirective reactions and responses inform and encourage with no imposition of
either intended.
Use questions
that encourage
the interviewee
to formulate
answers and
Use questions
to determine
what a person
is and is not
Be an informer
rather than a
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266 Chapter 1 1
1. Interviewee: What are my options with a major in communication?
2. Interviewer: We have four options in the communication department. They are stra-
tegic communication, organizational communication, interpersonal communication,
and mass communication.
Be specific in answers. If you do not have the information, say so and promise to get it
or refer the interviewee to a better-qualified source. Encourage and reassure the inter-
viewee by noting that certain feelings, reactions, or symptoms are normal and to be
1. Interviewee: Ever since I got that bad performance review a few months ago, I tend
to second guess myself before making any major decision. I keep thinking about
what will happen if I make one or two wrong ones before the next review.
2. Interviewer: I had that same experience when I came here about nine years ago. I
thought I was under a microscope all the time and was afraid to make a mistake. You
simply have to use your training and instincts to make decisions while realizing that
all of us around here make mistakes from time to time.
There are quick ways to lose the trust and respect of an interviewee facing a dif-
ficult situation. These include unrealistic assurances such as, “There’s nothing to worry
about,” “I’m sure everything will be just fine,” or “Everything works for the best.” Do
not preach to the person about “old days” comments such as, “You think you have it
tough? When I was your age, I had to . . .” or “When we were first married, we faced . . .”
Avoid clichés “like the plague.”
Every cloud has a silver lining.
We all have to go sometime.
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
No pain, no gain.
Do not fall into the we trap. Think of when you experienced common we’isms from
counselors, teachers, health care providers, parents, and others.
How are we doing this afternoon?
We can handle it.
Let’s take it one day at a time.
Are we ready for the exam?
Have you felt like shouting, “What do you mean we? I’m the one taking the test (getting
the shot, undergoing therapy, overcoming grief)!”
Directive Reactions and Responses
Directive reactions and responses go beyond encouragement and information to mild
advice and evaluations or judgments. In the following interchange, the interviewer sup-
ports the interviewee’s ideas and urges action:
A thoughtless
or two can
damage a
advise and
evaluate but do
not dictate.
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The Counseling Interview 267
1. Interviewee: I’ve never been good at English, so I’m struggling with writing assign-
ments this semester.
2. Interviewer: Lots of students relate these concerns. Why don’t you go to the English
Writing Lab to get some help with your writing assignments?
A directive response may mildly question the interviewee’s comments or ideas. Be tactful
and cautious.
1. Interviewee: My supervisor is talking about scheduling me to work on Sundays, and
that would make it impossible for me to attend worship services.
2. Interviewee: All employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for
people to practice their religious beliefs. Why don’t you talk to your supervisor about
your concerns?
The interviewer may provide information and personal preference when asked.
1. Interviewee: If you were me, what would you do?
2. Interviewer: I would get my GED first and then consider taking courses at the com-
munity college.
Mild directive reactions and responses may challenge an interviewee’s actions, ideas,
or judgments, or urge the person to pursue a specific course or to accept information or
ideas. Employ directive responses only when nondirective responses do not work.
Highly Directive Reactions and Responses
Reserve highly directive reactions and responses for special circumstances. You
replace suggestions and mild advice with ultimatums and strong advice. The following
are highly directive responses and reactions:
1. Interviewee: I can stop using prescription pain killers on my own; I don’t need to talk
to a shrink.
2. Interviewer: And how long have you tried this without kicking this addiction?
3. Interviewee: About five months.
4. Interviewer: You’ve proven you cannot do it on your own. I’ll give you a name and
help you make an appointment with an excellent therapist who works with people
just like you who want to break their addictions but have failed.
Highly directive responses are most appropriate for simple behavioral problems and
least appropriate for complex ones based on long-time habits or firmly held beliefs
and attitudes. Be a helper, not a dictator. The change or solution must come from the
Interviewees who receive positive feedback comply more with the interviewer’s
requests and recommendations, return more often for counseling, and arrive earlier.
They are more likely to implement interviewer recommendations when there is a good
match between the recommendation and the problem, the recommendation is not too
difficult to implement, and the recommendation is built on the interviewee’s strengths.
Exhaust all less
directive means
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268 Chapter 1 1
The Closing
Review the verbal and nonverbal leave-taking actions discussed in Chapter 4. Determine
which techniques are most appropriate for each interaction. Avoid making interviewees
feel they have imposed on you or they are at the end of an assembly line. Progress made
during interviews may be lost along with the relationships you have tried to foster. Be
sure interviewees know when and why the closing is commencing. Do not ask new
questions or address new topics. Leave the door open for future contacts.
Evaluate the Interview
Think carefully and critically about each counseling interview. Perceptive analysis
will improve your helping interactions with others. Be realistic. They are interactions
between complex human beings, at least one of whom has a problem and may not know
it, want to admit it, or desire to do what it takes to resolve the problem. Do not expect
to have met all expectations or complete an interview with a neat solution. Be con-
tent with having stirred thought and enabled the interviewee to discuss a problem and
express feelings.
As you review the counseling interview, ask yourself: How adequately did I review
the interviewee and the interviewee’s problem beforehand? How conducive were the
location and climate to openness and disclosure beyond Level 1? How appropriate were
my directive and nondirective responses? How skillful were my questions in quality and
quantity? How insightfully did I listen? How effectively did I help the interviewee gain
insights into problems and make decisions? Did I agree or disagree too readily? What
did I do to enhance the likelihood of interviewee compliance with suggested actions?
Your perceptions of how the interview went and how the interviewee reacted may
be exaggerated or incorrect. You may be surprised by your successes and your failures
in attempts to help others. Some of each are short-lived.
The Telephone Interview
Many counseling interviews take place over the telephone, perhaps a cell phone while
one or both parties are walking to class, driving to work, having dinner, working in an
office, or relaxing after class or during a vacation. Crisis centers have used telephones
effectively for years.
Involve the
as an active
participant in
the closing.
Review all
you did and
did not do and
How prepared
were you
for this
Selecting counseling approaches and responses most
appropriate for a particular interviewee and prob-
lem may be critical to the outcome of the interview.
Philosophies and practices differ among counselors
and counseling agencies. Use the Internet to explore
the interviewing approaches currently advocated and
illustrated by researchers, practitioners, and agencies
when dealing with a variety of clients and problems.
Useful sources are the Pamphlet Page (http://uhs, the Counseling
Center Village (
.html), and Counseling and Psychological Services
at Purdue University (
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The Counseling Interview 269
Telephone interviews are common because they are inexpensive, convenient, allow
for anonymity (may be “safer” than a face-to-face interaction), can give one a sense
of control (you can hang up at any time), and can take place over long distances and
at any time of the day or night. Unfortunately, telephone interviews may come at very
inconvenient times when a counselor is too busy to talk, is in a different time zone, or
is counseling another person. This often happens during office hours. The telephone
invites “multitasking” because a party can do other things while “listening” to you.
A study of telephone counseling revealed that respondents found “telephone
counseling was helpful for both global and specific improvement and that they were
satisfied with the counseling they received. Respondents also rated the counseling
relationship and level of interpersonal influence similar to face-to-face counseling
studies measuring the same attributes.”23 There is an absence of visual contact with
interviewees in telephone counseling interactions. Interviewers must overcome this
absence by using their voices as substitutes for nonverbal cues, eye contact, gestures,
physical appearance, clothes, and place.
You take part in a counseling interview each time you try to help a person gain insight into
a physical, career, emotional, or social problem and discover ways to cope. The counsel-
ing interview is a highly sensitive interview because it usually occurs when a person feels
incapable of handling a problem or a counselor decides that a helping session is needed.
Preparation enables you to determine how to listen, question, inform, explain,
respond, and relate to each interviewee. No two interviews are identical because no two
interviewees and situations are identical. Thus, there are many suggestions but few rules
for selecting interview approaches, responses, questions, and structures. Above all, know
when to recommend a professional counselor because a person’s problem is beyond your
expertise to address. Do no harm.
Key Terms and Concepts
Client-centered approach
Cognitive phase
Curious probes
Directive approach
Directive reactions
Expressed feelings
Getting through questions
Highly directive reactions
Nondirective approach
Lay counselor
Make meaning questions
Sequential phase model
Counseling Role-Playing Cases
Changing Jobs
The interviewee, Denise, is a recently divorced mother of four and has been working
at a Macy’s department store for about five months. Her supervisor is very pleased with
Denise’s work and has been training and assigning work to her that involves several parts
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270 Chapter 1 1
of the store including loading dock manager. Denise is very happy with her job and is
enjoying the support of her supervisor and store manager. A neighbor approached her a
few days ago with a possible position in the office of a small construction firm. The position
pays much better than her position with Macy’s and offers the possibility of full benefits.
She is trying to decide if a considerable, immediate salary increase and benefits would
outweigh the longer term potential with a large corporation such as Macy’s.
She has decided to talk to her older brother Jack who has years of experience in
large and small construction firms to see what he would suggest she do. They have always
had a great relationship, and Denise values his opinion highly. The problem is her potential
willingness to do whatever Jack suggests. Jack will have to be very careful in offering his
advice. He must be a good listener rather than a problem solver and help Denise make
what she believes is in her best interests and those of her children.
Dating and Religion
The interviewee is 24 years old and a graduate student at the University of South Dakota.
She has been dating a classmate from South Dakota State University for several months,
and both are beginning to get serious about a future together. She is Catholic and he is
Jewish, and their religious faiths are very important to them. While neither sees religion as
a major problem, neither of them is willing to change faiths or to commit themselves to rais-
ing future children in the other’s religious tradition. They have talked about attending each
other’s worship services “on occasion.”
The interviewee has decided to meet with a neighbor back home, Sheri Prohofsky,
during Thanksgiving break to get some suggestions. Sheri is married with three children,
and her husband is Jewish. She and her husband have seemed to work out their religious
differences quite well with each remaining active in their church and temple. They have
allowed their children to decide which faith tradition they will follow, if any.
A Case of Sexual Harassment
The interviewee, Marty, is a very attractive 34 year-old new car salesman at a
large GMC dealer on the West Coast. He has been doing quite well and has been Sales
Associate of the Month three times in the last year-and-a-half. He enjoys his position
and has had a good working relationship with Sally, the sales manager, until the past
few weeks. During that time, Sally has been asking him to go out with her, sending him
suggestive e-mail messages, and touching him suggestively when they are alone. Marty
is engaged, is not attracted to Sally, and has been trying not to be alone with her. He is
hesitant to go to the dealer’s owner because he does not want to jeopardize his posi-
tion, and he fears that the owner will find a male claiming sexual harassment to be funny
or ludicrous.
The interviewee has decided to go to the female pastor of his church, Elizabeth Zwier,
who has dealt with sexual harassment issues within the church, the church school, and
religious-based community organizations. The interviewer must be careful not to blame
Marty directly or indirectly for Sally’s advances. Doing so will end any chance she has to
help him and to maintain their positive relationship.
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The Counseling Interview 271
A Child in a Foster Home
The interviewer is a newly sworn-in Child Advocate and has been assigned a case involv-
ing 10-year-old Joey Spitzer who was taken away from his mother two years ago because
of her drug addiction problem that caused her to disappear on several occasions from the
apartment she shared with her boyfriend and Joey. The interviewer has reviewed docu-
ments on the case and is meeting Joey and his foster parents for the first time.
Joey has never met his father and has now been in three foster homes, having
been removed from the previous two because of altercations with the foster parents. A
month ago he ran away from his third foster home and was found by police three days
later. Things seem to be going better, and his foster parents, the owners of a large dairy
farm, have tried to make him comfortable in a rural setting. Joey had never seen a dairy
operation until moving in with this third set of foster parents, and he is fascinated by the
machinery and computer-driven milking operation. The purpose of this interview is to get
acquainted with Joey and to explain the relationship between Child Advocates and their
assigned children. The interviewer is particularly interested in discovering how Joey feels
about his living situation and foster parents.
Student Activities
1. Visit a crisis center in your community or on your campus. Talk with counselors about their
training techniques and self-evaluations. Ask about the code of ethics they are expected
to follow and what ethical issues they have encountered when taking crisis calls. Which
approach, directive or nondirective, do they find most useful? What roles do questions
play in the counseling interview? How do they maintain focus on the interviewee and the
interviewee’s problems? Observe how volunteer counselors handle telephone counsel-
ing. How does telephone counseling differ from face-to-face counseling?
2. Interview three different types of counselors, such as a marriage counselor, a student
counselor, a financial counselor, or a legal counselor. How are their approaches and
techniques similar and different? What kinds of training have they had? How much train-
ing do they consider essential? In their estimation, what makes a “successful” counselor?
3. Pick one of the counseling role-playing cases and develop a complete approach to
the case, beginning with setting and furniture arrangement. How would you begin
the interview? What questions would you ask? How much would you disclose about
yourself—training, background, experiences, and so on? What kinds of reactions and
responses would you use? What solution would you suggest? What would you do
and not do to aid interviewee compliance? How would you close the interview?
4. Interview an experienced CASA /GAL (Court Appointed Special Advocate for children
or Guardian Ad Litum). Explore the training that is required to become a CASA. What
kinds of cases has this volunteer handled? Which have proven to be the most difficult?
How do CASAs attempt to establish relationships with their assigned children? What
may threaten the relationships they establish? How do they communicate with different-
age children? How do they adapt to children from cultures very different from their
own? What is the most important skill they have learned about counseling?
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272 Chapter 1 1
1. William Steele, “Crisis Intervention: The First Few Days—Summary of Dr. Lennis
Echterling’s Presentation,” reprinted from Trauma And Loss: Research and Inter-
ventions V4 N2 2004,, accessed July 5, 2010.
2. “2014 ACA Code of Ethics” (American Counseling Association, 2005).
3. “2014 ACA Code of Ethics,” p. 4.
4. Sherry Cormier, Paula S. Nurius, and Cynthia J. Osborn, Interviewing and Change
Strategies for Helpers: Fundamental Skills and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions
(Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2009), p. 5.
5. William A. Satterfield, Sidne A. Buelow, William J. Lyddon, and J. T. Johnson, “Client
Stages of Change and Expectations about Counseling,” Journal of Counseling
Psychology 42 (1995), pp. 476–478.
6. Jennifer R. Henretty, Joseph M. Currier, Jefferey S. Berman, and Heidi M. Levitt, “The
Impact of Counselor Self-Disclosure on Clients: A Meta-Analytic Review of Experi-
mental and Quasi-Experimental Research,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 61
(2, April 2014), pp. 191–207.
7. Cormier, Nurius, and Osborn, p. 17.
8. Jeffrey A. Kotter, A Brief Primer of Helping Skills (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), p. 73.
9. Helen Cameron, Counseling Interviewing: A Guide for the Helping Professions
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 14.
10. Paul B. Pedersen, “Ethics, Competence, and Professional Issues in Cross-Cultural
Counseling,” in Counseling Across Cultures, Paul B. Pedersen, Juris G. Draguns,
Walter J. Lonner, and Joseph E. Trimble, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage), p. 5.
11. Cormier, Nurius, and Osborn, p. 25.
12. Madonna G. Constantine, Anika K. Warren, and Marie L. Miville, “White Racial Identity
Dyadic Interactions in Supervision: Implications for Supervisees’ Multicultural Coun-
seling Competence,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 52 (2005), p. 495.
13. “Code of Ethics,” National Board for Certified Counselors, June 8, 2012.
14. Lisa C. Li and Bryan S. K. Kim, “Effects of Counseling Style and Client Adherence to
Asian Cultural Values on Counseling Process with Asian American College Students,”
Journal of Counseling Psychology 51 (2004), pp. 158–167.
15. Lennis G. Echterling, Don M. Hartsough, and H. Zarle, “Testing a Model for the Process
of Telephone Crisis Intervention,” American Journal of Community Psychiatrists 8 (1980),
pp. 715–725.
16. Cameron, p. 23.
17. Earlise C. Ward, “Keeping It Real: A Grounded Theory Study of African American
Clients Engaging in Counseling at a Community Mental Health Agency,” Journal
of Counseling Psychology 52 (2005), p. 479.
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The Counseling Interview 273
18. Barry A. Farber, Kathryn C. Berano, and Joseph A. Capobianco, “Client’s Perceptions
of the Process and Consequences of Self-Disclosure in Psychotherapy,” Journal of
Counseling Psychology 51 (2004), pp. 340–346.
19. Ward, p. 471.
20. Alan W. Burkard, Sarah Knox, Michael Groen, Maria Perez, and Shirley A. Hess,
“European American Therapist Self-Disclosure in Cross-Cultural Counseling,” Journal
of Counseling Psychology 53 (2006), p. 15.
21. Steele and Echterling.
22. Ruth Purtilo, The Allied Health Professional and the Patient: Techniques of Effective
Interaction (Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 1973), pp. 96–97.
23. Robert J. Reese, Collie W. Conoley, and Daniel F. Brossart, “Effectiveness of Telephone
Counseling: A Field-Based Investigation,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 49 (2002),
pp. 233–242.
Cameron, Helen. The Counseling Interview: A Guide for the Helping Professions.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Cormier, Sherry, Paula S. Nurius, and Cynthia J. Osborn. Interviewing and Change
Strategies for Helpers: Fundamental Skills and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions.
Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2009.
Hill, Clara E. Helping Skills: Facilitating Exploration, Insight, and Action. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association, 2009.
Kottler, Jeffrey A. A Brief Primer of Helping Skills. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008.
Pedersen, Paul B., Juris G. Draguns, Walter J. Lonner, and Joseph E. Trimble, eds.
Counseling Across Cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008.
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The Health Care Interview12
Some of you are preparing for careers in health care as nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, and therapists, but all of you will take part in health care interviews
with varying degrees of seriousness (routine checkups, illnesses, diseases, accidents,
severe pain, and life-threatening situations) throughout your life spans. The growing
emphasis on preventive medicine is increasing both the frequency of these interviews
and your long-term relationships with a wide range of health care professionals. Not
only is the health care interview arguably the most sensitive of interviews, but it is
often the most complex because it involves getting information to make accurate diag-
noses of physical or mental problems, giving information about how to take medica-
tions and follow regimens, and persuading the patient about the necessity to follow
recommendations as prescribed.
The objectives of this chapter are to introduce you to the ethical responsibilities
of the health care interviewer, the growing emphasis on patient-centered care (PCC),
ways to create a collaborative relationship in the health care interview, the critical role
of patient perceptions of the interviewer’s communication and competence, the prin-
ciples of gathering and giving information, and ways to counsel and persuade to reach
agreements and motivate the interviewee to comply with prescribed courses of action.
Ethics and the Health Care Interview
Both parties involved in health care interviews must be aware that “Ethical issues
are involved in most, if not all, decisions that relate to the goals, design, implemen-
tation, and evaluation of any health care intervention.” And “these ethical issues are
often implicit and embedded in subtle decision-making processes, and their delineation
requires an assessment of unintended impacts.”1 As with all human interactions, it is
often difficult to create and apply a single code of ethics to complex health care inter-
ventions and assessments that pertain to specific individuals with specific needs, prob-
lems, and abilities in specific situations, and with specific health care providers who
may range from licensed practical nurses and emergency medical technicians, to highly
trained specialists in practices such as neurology, oncology, and psychiatry. Fortunately,
health care associations provide us with a core of ethical principles or standards appro-
priate for health care interviews.2
The centuries old adage of do good and do no harm is considered the “foremost
ethical maxim for health care providers and includes physiological, psychological, social,
and cultural aspects of harm” and good.3 Unfortunately, the intention to do good may
Each health
care interview
serves a variety
of purposes.
Ethics and the
health care
interview are
Do no
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276 Chapter 12
result in harm. For example, recommended physical activities or medications may result
in injuries or complications. To do good while avoiding harm, includes such principles
as being competent as a health care provider, remaining within your area of compe-
tence, communicating truthfully, assuming responsibility for individual and professional
actions, and reporting health care professionals who appear to be deficient in character or
competence. “Truthful communication also requires that all relevant information should
be provided, as indicated by the ethical standard of completeness” and accuracy.4
Health care providers must respect the rights and dignity of each patient. The
U.S. public policy and medical ethics recognize that “access to quality emergency
care is an individual right that should be available to all who seek it.”5 The vulner-
ability of patients is a fundamental concern. Vicki Lachman, a clinical professor and
director in Advanced Practice Nursing writes, “The nurse attends to the vulnerabil-
ity of the patient, principally because the patient’s needs have the potential to create
dependency.”6 Health care providers must safeguard the patient’s rights of confi-
dences and privacy, and “disclose confidential information only with the consent of
the patient or when required by an overriding duty such as the duty to protect others
or to obey the law.”7
Health care providers must respect diversity of patients and avoid any act that
excludes, segregates, or demeans the dignity of the patient. They must provide “ser-
vices based on human need, with respect for human dignity, unrestricted by consider-
ation of nationality, race, creed, color, ethnic origin, gender, age, sexual orientation,
or socioeconomic status.8 There may be inherent problems with meeting this stan-
dard. For instance, “the obligations to promote people’s health by encouraging them
to adopt health promoting behaviors may conflict with the obligation to respect their
autonomy.”9 People “have an intrinsic right to make decisions for themselves,” and
“health care providers may come from different ethnic groups, whose values and life
circumstances differ from those” of their patients.10 The solution may be a “culturally-
centered” approach that provides “marginalized groups with opportunities to engage in
critical dialogues and have their voices heard by their own community.”11
Health care providers must maintain appropriate boundaries in the provider-
patient relationship. For instance, “The Principles of Medical Ethics” of the
American Psychiatric Association state that “the provider must be ever vigilant
about the impact that his or her conduct has upon the boundaries of the doctor-
patient relationship.”12 “The inherent inequality in the doctor-patient relationship
may lead to exploitation of the patient.”
Patient-Centered Care (PCC)
The relationship between health care provider and patient is critical to the effective-
ness of every health care interview when health care providers and patients prefer a
collaborative partnership and a mutual participation in health care. The emphasis in
twenty-first century health care commonly called patient-centered care (PCC) is on
patients and providers as “co-agents in a problem-solving context.”13 The American
Medical Association claims that “The patient-physician relationship is of greatest ben-
efit to patients when they bring medical problems to the attention of their physicians in
Respect the
rights and
dignity of
every patient.
centered care
is both new and
very old.
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The Health Care Interview 277
a timely fashion, provide information about their medical condition to the best of their
ability, and work with their physician in a mutually respectful alliance.”14
Other advocates of co-agency contend that when patients are more actively
involved as partners, rather than passive bystanders, they are more satisfied with their
care, receive more information and support, are more committed to treatment regimens
and managing health issues, have a stronger sense of control over their health, and
experience better health.15
Patient-centered health care will continue to advance in the United States if both
parties share control and actively seek to reduce relational distance. While both parties
in health care interviews are unique in some ways, they share perceptions, needs, values,
beliefs, attitudes, and experiences. Both must strive to maintain dignity, privacy, self-
respect, and comfort. The goal of each health care interaction is to “develop a reciprocal
relationship, where the exchange of information, identification of problems, and develop-
ment of solutions is an interactive process.”16 Establishing a collaborative relationship
ensures “that health decisions respect patient’s wants, needs, and preferences” and that
patients have the information and support to make effective decisions to take part in their
health care.17 How patients perceive their relationships with providers influence the roles
they play in interviews.
Reducing the relational distance between interview parties is central to patient-
centered care, but neither party should rush this relationship too quickly. Each party
must strive to know and understand one another because mutual understanding reduces
relational distance. Both parties enhance the relationship by being relaxed and confident,
showing interest in one another as unique persons, maintaining objectivity, being sincere
and honest, treating one another with respect, paying attention to verbal and nonverbal
messages, remaining flexible, and maintaining appropriate degrees of control.
Although the PCC relationship is ideal, providers and patients continue to believe
that the burden to make this relationship work rests on providers.18 Studies also indicate
that a significant per-
centage of patients
expect providers to
be in charge, to use
controlling language,
and to make final
decisions. If provid-
ers do not meet these
expectations, patients
are dissatisfied with
interactions, fr us-
trated, confused, and
even angry because
the providers did not
behave as expected.
They are less likely to
follow the provider’s
A reciprocal
is key.
Both parties
must strive to
reduce rela-
tional distance.
■ The development of positive relationships between health
care providers and receivers is essential for effective
communication and health care.
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278 Chapter 12
The health care provider’s “ability to be flexible and adaptable is extremely important in
medical encounters.”20
Sharing Control
Although sharing control is essential in patient-centered interviews, tradition tilts con-
trol toward the health care provider who is highly trained, speaks in scientific terms
and acronyms, is clothed in a suit or uniform, selects the timing and setting, structures
the interview, and is taught to be emotionally uninvolved. It is not surprising, then,
that providers often reassert their authority when patients challenge their knowledge or
diagnosis. For instance, a study discovered that when patients (particularly males) pres-
ent findings from Internet searches, providers may dismiss this research because they
feel “loss of control” and see this challenge as “face threatening.”21
The tilting of control in the health care interview is not solely the fault of the provider.
The patient may see every health problem as a crisis, have little medical knowledge of or
be misinformed about health problems, see the environment as threatening, and prefer a
“paternalistic model of health care.”22 On the other hand, it is difficult to see yourself as
a true collaborator when you are in pain, highly medicated, and sitting nude on a cold
table. A patient may appear to be compliant while employing subtle control strategies,
such as changing topics, asking numerous questions, giving short, unrevealing answers,
withholding vital information, or talking incessantly. Some patients may demonstrate rela-
tional power through silence rather than conversational dominance or agree with a provider
during an interview and then ignore prescriptions, regimens, and advice afterward.
Both parties must negotiate and share control “as partners striving for a common
goal.”23 Providers must develop positive relational climates by showing interest in the
patient’s lifestyle, nonmedical concerns, and overall well-being. Supportive talk that
includes statements of reassurance, support, and empathy demonstrates interpersonal
sensitivity and sincere interest in the patient as a person. Empathy is “an essential
element of the physician-patient relationship,” and a showing of empathy increases
patient satisfaction and reduces time and expense. “Empathy is not just some-
thing that is ‘given’ from physician to patient. Instead, a transactional communica-
tion perspective informs us that the physician and patient mutually influence each
other during the interaction.”24 While some patients provide repeated opportunities
for empathic responses, others provide little or none. When patients do so, physi-
cians have “a clear tendency for acknowledging, pursuing, and confirming patients’
empathic opportunities.” This is a positive trend in physician–patient interactions.
The provider must encourage the patient to express ideas, expectations, fears, and
feelings about the medical problem and value the patient’s expertise. The goal is to treat
one another as equals. The patient must come to the interview well informed about the
health problem and ready to provide detailed information as honestly and accurately
as possible, express concerns, respond effectively to the provider’s questions, and state
opinions, suggestions, and preferences.
Appreciating Diversity
While we understand intuitively that patients from other cultures experience and react
differently in health care interviews, few of us acknowledge that health care providers
Both parties
must share
Patients must
be active and
It takes two
to form an
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The Health Care Interview 279
also experience stress and anxiety when interacting with patients of different cultures.
Research indicates that provider’s perceptions of patients are influenced significantly
by cultural and ethnic differences.25
Women are more concerned about health than men and more verbal during interac-
tions. This may be a learned difference because more health care information in the
media is aimed at women than men. Women spend more communication time with pro-
viders and are more active communicators during these visits, but their providers take
their concerns less seriously. On the other hand, male patients tend to be more domi-
neering than females regardless of the gender of the provider.26 A by-product of more
females entering the fields of obstetrics and gynecology is the significant percentage
of women patients choosing female physicians. This has led male physicians to work
on improving their interpersonal communication skills.27 Research reveals that greater
patient-centeredness by both male and female physicians lead to a “stronger positive
effect on satisfaction and evaluations for male than for female physicians.”28 Patients
do not see this as evidence of clinical competence for female physicians but merely as
“expected female behavior.”
Age is a major factor as life expectancy increases and the baby boomer generation
reaches retirement age. Older patients are more reluctant to “challenge the physician’s
authority” than younger patients, often with good reason. Providers who are mostly
under 55 are “significantly less egalitarian, less patient, and less respectful with older
patients,” perhaps reflecting society’s attitudes toward “aging” and the wisdom of our
elders. Providers are “less likely to raise psychological issues with” older patients.29 If
a patient is incapacitated, often because of age, it may be wise to involve a surrogate
(spouse or child) or a health care proxy who may have important information to share
with the physician and be able to collaborate about the patient’s care.30 Young patients
are more comfortable with “bothering” health care providers with questions and chal-
lenges because they are less awed by authorities and credentials.
Cultural differences may affect health care interviews in a variety of ways and require
providers to adapt their approaches and communication styles. African-American and
Puerto Rican patients have indicated that their race, ethnicity, and lower economic
status impacted negatively on their information seeking (particularly HIV-related infor-
mation) and health care.31 Patients of a lower social class may be openly reluctant to
challenge physicians so they attempt to control the relationship.32 Arab cultures prac-
tice close proximity and kissing among men; both actions may be seen as offensive in
American or European health care interactions. Native American and Asian cultures
prize nonverbal communication, while American and German cultures prize verbal
communication. Hispanics value interpersonal behaviors such as smiling, eye contact,
patience, and “formal greetings, introductions, and farewells. These friendly behaviors
lead them to feel better understood and to view information as more believable and
Age and sex
cation and
Health commu-
nication differs
in the global
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280 Chapter 12
accurate.”33 Medical philosophies differ among countries, and these differences might
pose problems for nonnative health care providers and patients:34
• French physicians tend to discount statistics and emphasize logic.
• German physicians tend to be authoritarian romantics.
• English physicians tend to be paternalistic.
• American physicians tend to be aggressive and want to “do something.”
These differences affect communication roles and control sharing in medical inter-
views. Providers must be culturally sensitive to differences in reporting pain, under-
standing informed consent, using appropriate language, and disclosing information that
may rely on cultural knowledge, modesty, and comfort. Alice Chen relates an instance
when she was treating a Muslim woman and ordered an X-ray to assess for arthritis. A
male X-ray technician wanted to lift up the horrified woman’s hijab so he could posi-
tion the equipment properly. Chen referred her to a different facility with a notation that
the patient needed a female technician.35
The perception of patients as childlike is revealed in condescending attitudes and
baby talk with adults. Twenty percent of staff interactions in nursing homes may
qualify as baby talk, a speech style common when speaking to infants that has a
“slower rate, exaggerated intonation, elevated pitch and volume, greater repetition,
and simpler vocabulary and grammar.” 36 Health care providers use elderspeak when
addressing older adults. Examples include “Hi sweetie. It’s time for our exercise,”
“Good girl. You ate all of your dinner,” and “Good morning big guy. Are we ready for
our bath?” The results of such “inappropriately intimate and childish” baby talk and
elderspeak are “decreased self-esteem, depression, withdrawal, and the assumption of
dependent behaviors congruent with stereotypes of frail elders.”
The stereotypical good patient is cooperative, quiet, obedient, grateful, unaggres-
sive, considerate, and dispassionate. Good patients tend to get better treatment than bad
patients. Patients seen as lower class get more pessimistic diagnoses and prognoses.
Overweight patients are deemed less likable, seductive, well educated, in need of help,
or likely to benefit from help and more emotional, defensive, warm, and likely to have
continuing problems.
Creating and Maintaining Trust
Trust is essential in health care interactions because they deal with intimate and sen-
sitive personal information and must maximize self-disclosure. Trust comes about
when both parties “see one another as legitimate agents of knowledge and percep-
tion.”37 Breaches of confidentiality may lead to discrimination, economic devasta-
tion, social stigma, and destroyed trust, and any hope of building or maintaining a
productive relationship. Breaches of confidentiality may be intentional or uninten-
tional and occur in many places: elevators, hallways, cafeterias, providers’ offices,
hospital rooms, cocktail parties, or over the telephone, particularly the ubiquitous
cell phone. Maria Brann and Marifran Mattson relate an instance in which a patient
“Good” patients
get better
health care.
and trust go
hand in hand.
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The Health Care Interview 281
tried to keep the reason for her appointment confidential by handing the provider
a written note; the provider insisted that the patient read the note aloud. In another
situation, a patient tried to answer confidential questions quietly; the provider pro-
ceeded to ask questions about her situation in a loud voice.38 Common sense solu-
tions include talking and answering questions in soft tones, exchanging information
only with providers who have a need to know, and conducting interactions in pri-
vate, audibly secure locations.
Trust is established in the early minutes of interviews when both parties are deter-
mining if these are persons they can trust. It is further negotiated as both parties “enact
behaviors” that construct “shared expectations of a trusting relationship.”39 Spontaneous
humor, for instance, can “facilitate positive patient–provider interactions” and “create a
patient-centered environment” that affects “patients’ positive attitude and happiness.”40
The results are positive perceptions of caregivers that enhance trustworthiness and lead
to better health outcomes, increased compliance with providers’ advice, and fewer mal-
practice suits. Providers can enhance trust through supportive talk that increases patient
participation in interviews and by eliciting full disclosure of information, clarifying
information, and assessing social and psychological factors involved in illness.41
Communication is central to patient-centered care and to establishing a produc-
tive relationship between health care provider and patient. Observable communication
skills, however, may not be sufficient to achieve either. Moira Stewart and her col-
leagues discovered that “The differences in interviewing skills may not be associated
with patient responses. Physicians may learn to go through the motions of patient-
centered interviewing without understanding what it means to be truly attentive and
a responsive listener.”42 “Education about communication should go beyond skills
training to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a responsive partner for the
patient.” Patients expect health care providers to listen, ask questions to understand and
clarify their problems and concerns, reply to their questions, and provide information
that is clear and relatively free of technical jargon, and offer recommendations they can
remember and follow correctly.43
Opening the Interview
The opening of the health care interview has significant impact on the remainder of the
interview. Neither party should approach it as routine.
Enhancing the Climate
The provider must create an atmosphere in which the patient feels free to express opin-
ions, feelings, and attitudes. Both parties rely heavily on interviews to get and give
information, but the start of the process is often taken for granted.
Select a comfortable, attractive, quiet, nonthreatening, and private location free of
interruptions in which interactions will remain confidential. Check out a typical pediat-
rics area and one for adults of all ages and conditions. The first is designed thoughtfully
in every detail (pictures, aquarium, toys, plants, books) for the young patient and parents
to minimize fear and anxiety and maximize cooperation and communication. The second
is likely to be a stark waiting room with a television and a few medical magazines. The
and patients
co-create trust.
Skills training
is the first step.
The opening
sets the tone
for the entire
and setting
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282 Chapter 12
adult patient is then typically called to a treatment room, given a few perfunctory tests,
asked to put on a hospital gown (open in the back and drafty), and then left alone for
several minutes with an examining table, a variety of medical gadgets, and a few charts
of the human’s insides. This setting does not relieve anxiety and tension.
Establishing Rapport
Individualize your opening. In a study of provider–patient satisfaction, Mohan Dutta
discovered that “open physician-patient communicative style is not the universal solu-
tion to patient needs. Instead, the fundamental message that emerges from this research
is the need for tailoring the health care providers’ communicative styles depending on
the needs of the patient.”44
Begin the interview with a pleasant greeting and by introducing yourself and posi-
tion if you are unacquainted with the patient or family. If you address the patient by
first name (Hi Sally) while you address yourself by title (I’m Dr. Percifield), you create
a superior-to-subordinate relationship from the start. If you are acquainted with the
patient, open with a personal greeting that acknowledges your relationship and encour-
ages the patient to return the greeting and take an active part in the opening.
Employ small talk, humor, or self-disclosure to relax the patient, show interest,
increase trust, and enrich the relationship. This patient-centered approach enhances patient
satisfaction. Reduce apprehension by carefully explaining procedures, being attentive and
relaxed, treating patients as equals, and talking to them in their street clothes rather than
hospital gowns. Rapport building and orientation are strengthened when the provider
reviews the patient’s file before entering the examination room and begins on a personal
and knowledgeable level. Neither rush nor prolong the opening unless trust is low because
both parties prefer to get to the point after establishing a personal connection.
If a patient has been waiting for some time because you are behind schedule,
apologize for the inconvenience and explain the reason for it. Emergency rooms are
notorious for their waits of two hours or more, and patients become very impatient, par-
ticularly when they are in pain or bleeding from cuts. They often attribute these delays
to uncaring neglect or incompetency. There are a number of ways to alleviate these
feelings, if not the delays, including explaining the reasons for the delay, educating
patients about health issues that should be treated through primary rather than emer-
gency care, informing patients how health problems are prioritized, making patients
feel occupied, moving patients to different locations so they do not feel forgotten, and
showing concern and empathy for each patient.45
Simple politeness and courtesy— treating people the way you want to be treated—
can defuse an angry or impatient interviewee and show you value the person’s time and
are sensitive to perceptions and needs. Judith Spiers addresses the relevance of polite-
ness theory and how it can improve communication in the health care interaction.
Politeness is used primarily to ease social interaction by providing a ritualistic form of
verbal interaction that cushions the stark nature of many interactions such as requests,
commands, or questioning. Politeness provides a means for covering embarrassment,
anger, or fear in situations in which it would not be to one’s advantage to show these
emotions either as a reflection of one’s self or because of the reaction of the other.46
Use the open-
ing to reduce
Neither rush
nor drag out
the opening.
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The Health Care Interview 283
This advice helps health care receivers “save face” in a threatening situation over which
they have little control.
Perceptions of “time pressures and medical terminology influence patient par-
ticipation and the development of rapport in medical encounters.”47 When a provider
consults more and uses little medical terminology, patients seek more information and
believe they have established a good relationship with the health care provider.
Opening Questions
The opening questions health care providers ask and how quickly they ask them after
an interview starts establish a good relationship, build and maintain rapport, and get
adequate and insightful information.
When a patient initiates the medical interview without explanation, the provider
may ask a general inquiry question such as, “What brings you in this afternoon?”
“What seems to be the problem?” or “How can I help you today?” When a patient has
given a reason when making an appointment or informed the provider’s nurse, the pro-
vider may ask a confirmatory question such as, “I understand you are having a severe
migraine this morning?” “You’re having a problem with your right shoulder?” “Tell me
about your pain you are experiencing today.” A second type of confirmatory question
focuses on specific symptoms, such as, “Is the pain mainly on your left side?” “Does
the dizziness usually occur when you bend over?” General inquiry questions elicit
longer explanations of problems, including the most common or current symptoms.
Restrictive closed questions initiate problem presentations and distinctively communi-
cate “physicians’ readiness to initiate and enforce the initiation, of the next phase of the
visit: information gathering.”48
Some health care providers use electronic interviews with patients prior to face-to-
face visits. Patients select from a list of medical complaints and then reply to a series
of questions phrased in language they understand. When providers enter the treatment
rooms for face-to-fact interactions, both patient and provider are ready to begin the
interview. One provider relates, “My total focus is on the patient, and it’s unusual for
me to need to look at the computer.”49
When providers initiate interviews, the opening questions may be open-ended such
as, “How has your health been since we last met in June?” or closed such as, “Have you
experienced any side-effects from the medication for your cholesterol?” What takes
place after the opening questions depends on the specific reasons for the visit. If it is a
routine checkup, the provider may orient the patient as to what will take place during
the interview. If it is follow-up session, the provider may move to the body of the inter-
view with a series of questions aimed at a specific problem or results of a previous
Getting Information
Significant portions of interview time seek information, so information exchange is a
major component of competence in provider–patient interactions. This is not an easy
task. Let us begin by identifying barriers to sharing information and then offer sugges-
tions for gathering accurate information efficiently.
Orient the
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284 Chapter 12
Barriers to Getting Information
Patient disclosure of information is absolutely essential in every health care interview.
Interactions between care giver and patient must progress beyond Levels 1 and 2 to
Level 3 in which the patient provides honest, accurate, relevant, and complete informa-
tion. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to full patient disclosure.
Patients may be psychologically, physically, or emotionally unable to recall and
articulate information accurately and completely. For example, patients may have poor
memories because of psychological problems, health issues, accidents, or age. They
may tell “little white lies” or try to camouflage real problems by making allegorical
statements such as “It’s probably just growing pains.” “You know how teenagers are.”
“That’s what happens when you get old.”50 Frightened and anxious patients leave out
significant parts of medical histories, and this may explain why mothers recall only
about half of their children’s major illnesses.
Patients may openly resist giving information to avoid criticism or lectures on
weight gain, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating too many sweets, taking too
many over the counter drugs, or not working out enough. Patients may feel uncomfort-
able or embarrassed during interactions dealing with sexual organs, sexual activities,
and sexually transmitted diseases. They may withhold information to avoid receiving
bad news regardless of the consequences, such as getting skin cancer for not using sun
screen. They may fear that giving depressing information to others may negatively
impact the support they will receive.51 Some patients try to assess the possible reactions
of health care providers or outcomes to their sharing or disclosing of information prior
to interviews. The more they are uncertain, the less information they will disclose.52 A
constructive way for the patient to reduce anxiety about provider reaction is “to share a
small piece of information to assess the receiver’s response,” sort of testing the waters
before sharing fully disclosing.53
The means health care providers employ to get information often add to the barriers
patients raise in exchanging information. The traditional history-taking portion of inter-
views is often longer than discussions of diagnostic and prognostic issues. The manner
tends to be impersonal with many questions having little or nothing to do with the
patient’s current problem or concern. Patients in great pain or psychological discomfort
may become angry or numbed by endless, closed questions, what one researcher calls
“negative weakening.” One of the authors witnessed this wearing down process while
visiting a family member in a nursing home in Florida. An elderly, ill, confused, and
angry patient had just been admitted to the same room as the author’s mother-in-law.
Two medical personnel entered soon thereafter and began to ask a lengthy list of ques-
tions. Many would have taxed a medically fit person, and it did not take long before the
patient was exhausted and obviously confused. The interview droned on, even though
one of the questioners remarked to the other, “I don’t know why we don’t do this over
two or three days. It’s not like she’s going anywhere.” The interview continued with
diminishing returns.
A series of rapid-fire closed questions clearly sets the tone for the relationship: the
provider is in charge, wants short answers, is in a hurry, and is not interested in explana-
tions. One study revealed that 87 percent of questions were closed or moderately closed
Do not assume
patients will
is central in
the health care
Ask obviously
as soon as
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The Health Care Interview 285
and that 80 percent of answers provided only solicited information with no volunteer-
ing.54 Providers control interactions through closed questions, content selection, and
changing of topics. They routinely ask questions such as: Do you have regular bowel
movements? Do you feel tired? Are you ever short of breath? Any chest pains? Providers
should stop and think what answers to these routine questions really mean. What does
regular mean? Who doesn’t feel tired? Who hasn’t been short of breath from time to
time or experienced an occasional chest pain? What does a yes or no answer to any of
these questions tell the health care provider?
Do not assume familiarity with medical jargon and acronyms that are useful for
interactions with other medical professionals. One study discovered that 20 percent
or more of respondents did not know the meaning of such common terms as abscess,
sutures, tumor, and cervix, and the percentages escalated with more uncommon words
such as edema and triglyceride. Persons over 65 are less knowledgeable than ones
between 45 and 64, and more educated respondents are most familiar with medical
terms.55 Patients seldom ask for clarification or repetition of questions or terminology
because they feel it is the provider’s responsibility to know and explain terms.
Researchers are focusing on “health literacy” and its potentially adverse effects on
information giving and processing. One study used structured interviews with patients
and discovered that “lower health literacy predicted lower self-efficacy, which pre-
dicted feeling less well informed and less prepared, being more confused about the pro-
cedure and its hazards, and wanting more information about risks.”56 Similarly, Maria
Dahm’s research revealed that patients’ impressions about medical terms in interviews
aligned with guidelines that promoted use of lay language and more detailed expla-
nations.57 She discovered that, contrary to these guidelines, “physicians often sought
to clarify (semitechnical) terms by adopting topic controlling strategies such as using
closed questions or taking extended histories.” These tactics limit “patients’ opportu-
nity to speak and therefore can have effects on partnership building and, in turn, on the
patient-physician relationship.”
Improving Information Getting
The key to improving information getting in health care interviews is to find ways to
foster exchanges that create a collaborative effort. Health care providers can improve
patient disclosure and honesty by using their first names during openings, being
friendly, not appearing to be in a hurry, and promoting turn-taking so patients feel freer
to ask questions, provide details, and react to information they receive. Nonverbal cues
such as pauses, eye contact, and head nods and verbal signals invite interactions rather
than monologues. Be careful of verbal routines such as “Okay?” “Right?” and “Uh-
huh” that patients see as false cues that invite agreement rather than questions or com-
peting notions.
Patients who play active roles in medical interviews provide more details about
their symptoms and medical history, get more thorough answers to their questions, and
prompt health care providers to volunteer more information and use “supportive utter-
ances.” Donald Cegala and his colleagues believe that high patient participation “helps
the physician to understand more accurately the patient’s goals, interests, and concerns,
terms and
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286 Chapter 12
thus allowing the physician to better align his or her communication with the patient’s
agenda.” 58
Ask and Answer Questions
Use a funnel sequence that begins with open questions to communicate interest, encour-
age lengthy, revealing responses, and show trust in the patient as a collaborator to pro-
vide important information, including information you might not think to ask for. Ask
open questions that are free of interviewer bias and invite rather than demand answers,
give patients a greater feeling of control, and demonstrate the provider’s listening skills.
Use an inverted funnel sequence cautiously because closed questions asked early
in an interview may set a superior-to-subordinate tone and communicate the provider’s
desire for brief answers and to maintain control. Patients will give short answers that
reveal little information and hide fears, feelings, and symptoms. Patients may be unable
or unwilling to respond appropriately to open-ended questions that come later.
Listen carefully for hidden as well as obvious requests and responses. Is there
evidence of confusion, hesitation, apprehension, or uncertainty? Patients should pre-
pare lists of questions prior to interviews so they can think about concerns without the
pressure of interactions with providers. Do not hesitate to ask the other party to repeat
or rephrase an unclear question. You cannot reply sufficiently if you do not understand
what is being asked. Dr. Nancy Jasper, a clinical professor at Columbia University
illustrates the need to probe into answers, particularly when patients are “fudging with
the truth.”
I always ask my patients whether they smoke. . . . A lot of women will say, “No but I
am a social smoker.” And I say, “You’ll have to define that for me because I have no
idea what that means.” They’ll say they only smoke on the weekends. But you start
to uncover more when you ask: “How many cigarettes do you smoke in a week?”59
Both parties must listen carefully to understand what one another is really saying before
Tell Stories
What patients want most is an opportunity to tell their stories, and these narratives are
“essential to the diagnostic process” and the most efficient approach to eliciting neces-
sary information.60 Gary Kreps and Barbara Thornton write,
Stories are used by consumers of health care to explain to their doctors or nurses
what their ailments are and how they feel about these health problems. . . . By
listening to the stories a person tells about his or her health condition, the provider
can learn a great deal about the person’s cultural orientation, health belief system,
and psychological orientation toward the condition.61
Susan Eggly writes that both parties must cocreate the illness narrative so they can
influence one another and shape the narrative as it is told.62 She identifies three types
of stories: “narratives that emerge through the co-constructed chronology of key events,
the co-constructed repetition and elaboration of key events, and the co-constructed
The funnel
gives a sense
of sharing
Vary listening
and listen.
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The Health Care Interview 287
interpretation of the meaning of key events.” Collaboration in storytelling is important
because patients routinely omit valuable information from narratives they think is
unimportant, do not feel safe in revealing, or assume the provider would not be inter-
ested. Roter and Hall write, “From the patient perspective . . . the opportunity to relate
the illness narrative and reflect on experience, perspective, and interpretation of symp-
toms and circumstances may hold therapeutic value, and, consequently, patients’ dis-
closure, especially in the psychological realm, can be viewed as an indicator of the
visit’s patient-centered focus.”63
Avoid interruptions during narratives, especially when patients become over-
whelmed with emotion. The success of the interview may be due to the number of
words the provider does not say or the numbers of questions not asked. Some research-
ers use the phrase “empathic opportunity terminator” to identify interactions that redi-
rect interviews and cut off further revelations of patients’ emotional concerns.64 In the
first interaction below, the physician changes the subject.
Patient: I’m in the process of retiring . . .
Physician: You are?
Patient: Yeah. I’ll be 73 in February.
Physician: How’s your back?
In this interaction, the physician retreats to an earlier, less emotional concern.
Patient: And right now I’m real nauseous and sick. I lost 10 pounds in six days.
Physician: Okay. You lost 10 pounds.
Patient: And I’m getting, and I’m getting worse. I’m not getting any better.
Physician: Okay . . . and right now you are not able to eat anything, you said?
Older patients give significantly longer presentations and narratives than younger
patients, but they do not reveal more current symptoms. They do offer more informa-
tion about a symptom, “engage in more painful self-disclosure,” and disclose more
about seemingly irrelevant matters such as family finances.65 Be patient and probe
for relevant specifics and explanations. “It is particularly critical to understand how
communication processes change and how older adults communicate their concerns
and feelings.”66 When older patients discuss a loss in later life, they shift “from a
primarily factual mode (what the loss was, how the loss occurred, etc.) to a focus
on the impact of this loss on their lives (e.g., handling new tasks and expressions of
Listen, Observe, and Talk
Be patient and use nudging probes to encourage patients to continue with narratives
or answers. Avoid irritating interjections such as right, fine, okay, and good. Avoid
guessing games. Ask, “When does your back hurt?” not “Does it hurt when you first
get up? When you stand a lot? When you sit for a while?” Avoid double-barreled
questions such as “And in your family, has there been high blood pressure or strokes?
The less you
talk, the more
you may say.
Be patient and
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288 Chapter 12
Diabetes or cancer?” Employ reflective and mirror questions to check for accuracy
and understanding. Listen for important clues in answers, what patients are suggest-
ing or implying verbally and nonverbally. Make it clear to parents, spouses, relatives,
or friends present that the patient must answer questions if physically and mentally
able to do so.
Leading questions such as “You’re staying on your diet, aren’t you?” signal that
you want agreement, a yes answer, and that is likely what you will get even if it is
false. Annette Harres discusses the importance of “tag questions” to elicit information,
summarize and confirm information, express empathy, and provide positive feedback.67
“You can bend your knee, can’t you?” “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” “I’m
sure it’s been a very difficult adjustment since your husband Paul died.”
Addressing the Language Barrier
Health care professionals have long recognized that communication breakdowns are
the most common cause of health errors, and this problem is exacerbated by an esti-
mated “95 million people” who “do not have the fundamental literacy skills in English
to understand even the most basic” health information such as how and when to take
medication.68 Nearly half of this number have little or no command of the English lan-
guage. The misinterpretation of a single word, such as “irritate,” may lead to delayed
care and medical errors. Latino patients who prefer to speak Spanish rather than English
“experience higher levels of decision dissatisfaction and decision regret than those from
other cultural and ethnic groups.”69
Providers have tried a variety of solutions, some successful and some not. For
example, family and friends may speak the patient’s native language or be more
fluent in English, but they may not repeat all of a provider’s questions or explanations
or be able to translate or explain medical terms accurately into the patient’s native
language or at the patient’s level of understanding.70 Children as interpreters pose
problems because their command of the parents’ native language may be minimal,
“their understanding of medical concepts tends to be simplistic at best,” and “parents
can be embarrassed or reluctant to disclose important symptoms and details to their
child.”71 Providers have used professional interpreters “to encourage provider–patient
rapport, to read patients’ nonverbal behaviors, and to help patients seek or express
information,” but the provider’s medical specialty such as mental health, gynecology,
and oncology may require translators with specialized knowledge and training. “It
is a common practice to avoid repeated use of the same interpreter to avoid patient–
interpreter bonding,” but some providers prefer the same interpreter to “increase
interpreters’ familiarity with patients’ medical history and their ability to anticipate
and facilitate the provider’s agenda.”72
Successful programs have included comprehensive interpreter services in a lan-
guage such as Spanish, creation of a course to teach Spanish to health care professionals,
and use of specific phrases in Spanish to assess acute pain. They are limited, of course,
to a single language. Some large medical facilities include a number of interpreters who
are fluent in languages they encounter most often. A national system of interpreters
fluent in many languages and trained in health care, similar to the one operated by the
Australian government on a 24/7 basis, would be ideal.
Use leading
with caution.
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The Health Care Interview 289
Giving Information
Giving sufficient information that is insightful, accurate, and memorable is critical
to the success of every health care interview because it addresses the patient’s health
concerns and problems. The process seems deceptively simple. One party gives infor-
mation to another party. Unfortunately, patients have exceptional difficulty recalling
information shared during health care interviews. Research indicates that 40 to 80 per-
cent of medical information is forgotten immediately and that half of that information
is remembered incorrectly. Patients who remembered the most had received only two
items of information.73 Unfortunately, patients often must process and remember sev-
eral pieces of important information with which they are unfamiliar, and this informa-
tion may pertain to a number of different problems they are encountering.74
Causes for Loss and Distortion of Information
There are three root causes for failure to give and to recall information accurately: med-
ical providers, patients, and ineffective transmission methods.
Provider Problems
Health care providers place greater emphasis on information getting than giving even
though the strongest predictor of patient satisfaction is how much information is given for a
condition and treatment. In a typical 20-minute interview, less than 2 minutes is devoted to
information giving. Providers may be reluctant to provide information because they do not
want to get involved, fear patients’ reactions, feel they (particularly nonphysicians) are not
allowed to give information, or fear giving incorrect information. Nurses, for instance, are
often uncertain about what a physician wants the patient to know or has told the patient.
Providers underestimate the patient’s need or desire for information and overesti-
mate the amount of information they give. On the other hand, patients cite insufficient
information as a major failure of health care and are turning to the Internet in rapidly
increasing numbers. A study of cancer patients revealed that barely over 50 percent
of those who wanted a quantitative prognosis got one and over 60 percent of those
who did not want a qualitative prognosis got one.75 Providers often assume patients
understand what they tell them, including subtle recommendations and information
laced with medical jargon and acronyms. Metaphors such as “We’re turning a corner,”
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” and “The Central Hospital family is here to
help” require patients to complete the implied comparison, and the result may be con-
fusion and anxiety rather than comfort and reassurance. Providers give more informa-
tion and elaborate explanations to educated, older, and female patients.
As patients turn increasingly to the Internet for information, health care profes-
sionals are disturbed that 72 percent of patients believe all or most of what they read on
the Internet, regardless of source. This is particularly true for so-called seeker patients
with higher educations and incomes, who are younger, and who are actively involved in
interpersonal networks. They are “health conscious” and like the active “involvement
in the processing of information.”76 It is less true for nonseeker patients who are older,
have less education, and come from low income groups. They “intentionally avoid
information that may cause them anxiety or stress.”77
little and
follow less.
Both parties
to loss and
of faulty
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290 Chapter 12
Patient Problems
Patients often exaggerate their abilities to recall information accurately and completely
without taking notes or using aids and, if they cannot recall information they assume
is a simple task, they may be too embarrassed to admit they cannot do so. On the other
hand, they may protect themselves from unpleasant experiences by refusing to listen or
interpreting information and instructions according to their personalities. For instance,
if a provider says, “You have six months to a year to live,” a pessimist may tell friends,
“I have less than six months to live,” while an optimist may relate cheerfully, “The
doctor says I might live for years.”
Patients do not understand or comprehend information because they are untrained or
inexperienced in medical situations. They can be confused by conflicting reports, studies,
and the media. For instance, in the fall of 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force rec-
ommended that women over 40 should undergo screening mammography only every two
years instead of the traditional every-year testing. This created a major controversy among
health professionals and organizations with many stating their conflicting opinions through
the media. Such controversies pose particular problems for older patients who have less
knowledge and understanding of medical situations and greater difficulties in giving infor-
mation.78 Patients are bombarded with unfamiliar acronyms (IV, EKG, D & C) and jargon
(adhesions, contusions, nodules, cysts, benign tumors). The names of pharmaceuticals are
nearly impossible to pronounce, let alone understand. Hagihara, Tarumi, and Nobutomo
investigated the common phenomenon in which physicians’ and patients’ understanding
and evaluation of medical test results and diagnoses differ markedly. They recommend “To
avoid either a failure on the part of the patient to understand the explanation, or a patient
misunderstanding the physician’s explanation, physicians should pay more attention both to
the topic under discussion and to their patients’ questions and attitudes.”79
The aura of authority may inhibit patients from seeking clarification or expla-
nation. A woman who did not understand what nodule meant did not ask questions
“because they all seem so busy, I really did not want to be a nuisance . . . and anyway
she [nurse] behaved as though she expected me to know and I did not want to upset
her.”80 The hope for a favorable prognosis leads patients to oversimplify complex situ-
ations or misinterpret information. Others are afraid they will appear stupid if they ask
questions about words, explanations, problems, or procedures. For a variety of reasons,
“patients routinely pass up, or actively ‘withhold,’ an opportunity to” ask about “the
nature of the illness, its relative seriousness or the course it is likely to follow.”81
Many of us rely on lay theories to communicate and interpret health problems.
Common “theories” include: All natural products are healthful. If I no longer feel bad, I
do not need to take my medicine. If a little of this medicine helps, a lot will do more good.
If this medication helped me, it will help you. Radiation and chemicals are bad for you.
Katherine Rowan and Michele Hoover write that “scientific notions that contradict these and
other powerful lay theories are often difficult for patients to understand because patients’
own lay alternatives seem irrefutably commonsensical.”82
Communication Problems
Some information is lost or distorted because of how it is given and how it is received.
Providers may rely on a single medium, such as oral information giving, but research
Patients may
hear what they
want to hear.
Use acronyms
and setting
may stifle
A little
can be
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The Health Care Interview 291
reveals that about one-third of patients remember oral diagnoses while 70 percent
recall written diagnoses. Oral exchanges are often so brief and ambiguous that they are
confusing or meaningless. A provider made this comment: “Now, Mr. Brown, you will
find that for some weeks you will tire easily, but you must get plenty of exercise.” How
long is “some weeks”; what does “tire easily” mean; and how much is “plenty of exer-
cise”? Health care professionals routinely prescribe medications to be taken four times
a day without telling the patient what that means: every six hours, every four hours
with a maximum of four doses within 24 hours, or as needed, not to exceed four a day.
Health care providers overload patients with data, details, and explanations far beyond
their abilities to comprehend and recall. Ley discovered that within a few hours 82 per-
cent of patients could recall two items of information, but the percentage dropped to 36
percent for three or four items, 12 percent for five or six items, and 3 percent for seven
or more items.83
Giving Information More Effectively
Perhaps the most effective means of helping patients to recall information and treatment
recommendations is to develop relationships in which they play an active role in the health
care interview. Remember that “medical decision making is much more than a cognitive
process. It is also a social event, one defined by the nature of the communication and
the relationship between the clinician and the patient/family.”84 Give information that is
relevant to this patient to aid patient recall of information and greater compliance with
treatment recommendations. Nonverbal communication aids in giving information more
effectively. When giving information orally, place vocal emphasis on important words,
dates, figures, warnings, and instructions. This is a substitute for the underlining, bold
lettering, highlighting, and italicizing you employ in printed materials to enhance recall
and indicate what is most important. Speak slowly and enunciate clearly, particularly if
English is a second language for the patient.
If you detect patients adhering to one of the lay theories mentioned earlier, help them
recognize this theory and its apparent reasonableness and show its fallacies and poten-
tially dangerous results. Encourage patients to ask questions by building in pauses and
inviting inquiries throughout the presentation. A silent patient may feel intimidated,
hopelessly confused, or believe it is the provider’s responsibility to provide adequate
and clear information. Ask patients to repeat or explain what you have said and look for
distortions, missing pieces, and misunderstandings.
Avoid overloading patients with information. Discover what they know and
proceed from that point. Eliminate unnecessary materials. Reduce explanations and
information to common and simple terms. Define technical terms and procedures or
translate them into words and experiences patients understand. Present information
in two or more interviews instead of one lengthy interview. As a rule, provide only
enough clearly relevant information to satisfy the patient and the situation.
Organize information systematically to aid recall. Present important instructions
first so they do not get lost in reactions to a diagnosis. Repeat important items strategi-
cally two or more times during the interaction so they are highlighted and easy to recall.
Repetition may involve other health care professionals. For example, it is common prac-
tice for a physician to order a prescription and explain what it is, what it is for, how it
An inquisitive
patient is an
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292 Chapter 12
should be taken, and its possible effects. A nurse may repeat this information before the
patient leaves the facility. Then the pharmacist who fills the prescription may repeat this
same information and note that it is printed on the label. The more repetitions the better.
Use a variety of media, including pamphlets, leaflets, charts, pictures, slides, DVDs,
the Internet, models, and recordings. Dentists, for example, use models of teeth and jaws
to explain dental problems and DVDs to show the benefits of flossing and brushing
frequently. Emergency medical technicians use mannequins to teach CPR. Never hand a
pamphlet or leaflet to a patient and say, “This will answer all of your questions.” Patients
say they are helpful but admit they seldom read them. Involve others in the process such
as interpreters, family members, and friends to provide social support for the patient
and prepare others to assist the patient in recalling information more thoroughly and
accurately. Be aware, however, that you may be creating a triadic instead of a dyadic
interaction in which the third party might interfere with and contradict the information
and recommendations you are giving to the patient. In the worst case scenario, family
members may use the patient to acquire pain killers for their use or to sell.85
The telephone, particularly with the widespread use of cell phones, accounts for
nearly 25 percent of all patient–provider interactions. Nurse call centers that integrate
assessment, advice, and appointment systems are increasing rapidly and have transi-
tioned from “nurse advice” to “telephone risk assessment.” If nurses and other practi-
tioners can satisfy patients and physicians that they are effective information conduits
as part of a health care triad, the result will be timeliness, accuracy, quantity, and use-
fulness of information. Perceptions of accuracy and reliability—trust—are best when
the telephone provider is seen as a reinforcer. The telephone provider must note time,
date, information, and recommendations for the file and pass on information to other
providers in the triad.
Videoconference technology, including the use of Skype, enables providers and
patients to interact visually over long distances, faster, and with less expense and to
involve specialists in other locations. For instance, physicians in New Jersey are using
“telepsychiatry” to treat patients more quickly and to counter the national shortage of
psychiatrists, particularly child psychiatrists. Patients and providers must be prepared to
deal with the differences from face-to-face encounters. There are fewer nonverbal cues
to signal when a question or piece of information is clearly understood or an answer or
explanation is sufficient so the interviewer can proceed to other matters. Answers and
explanations tend to be longer and the result is less turn-taking and meaningful interac-
tion between parties.
Counseling and Persuading
Health care providers tend to be task oriented and expect patients to follow their
recommendations because they have the authority, expertise, and training. Unfortu-
nately, patient compliance has been notoriously low, as low as 20 percent for pre-
scribed drugs and as high as 50 percent for long-term treatment plans. With these
compliance problems and the ever-greater emphasis on treating the whole person,
providers must also act as counselors to help patients understand and deal with prob-
lems and persuaders to convince patients to follow recommendations accurately and
Employ a variety
of resources.
The telephone
accounts for
one-fourth of
health care
giving does
not ensure
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The Health Care Interview 293
Barriers to Effective
Counseling and Persuading
Patients may make the health care
interaction difficult by remaining
silent, withdrawing, or complain-
ing about a physical problem rather
than admitting a psychological one.
One of our students reported that
she had missed an examination and
several class sessions because she
had cancer. Only later did we learn
through a third party that the stu-
dent had long suffered from severe
depression and suicidal tendencies.
She felt it was more acceptable to
have a physical than a mental prob-
lem. A provider may dismiss a
patient with a diagnosis of stress,
nerves, or overactive imagination.
Health care providers may spend little time talking with patients because there are
many tasks to perform and talking is thought to be a social rather than a medical activ-
ity. Predictably, providers fail to detect subtle clues and hints that a patient wants to talk
about a different and more serious medical issue.
Providers may employ a variety of blocking tactics to avoid counseling and per-
suading. Researchers and practitioners have identified several common tactics.
Providers may attempt to dodge an issue by using humor, pursuing a less threaten-
ing line of conversation, providing minimal encouragement, denying the severity of the
problem, pretending to have a lack of information, or rejecting the patient’s source of
information such as the Internet or popular magazines. On the other hand, providers
may try to avoid an issue entirely by pretending not to hear a question or comment,
ignoring a question or comment, changing the subject, becoming engrossed in a physi-
cal task, hiding behind hospital rules, passing the buck to another provider, or leaving
the room. The nurse in the following exchange exhibits common blocking tactics.
Nurse: There you are, dear. Okay? (gives a tablet to the patient)
Patient: Thank you. Do you know, I can’t feel anything at all with my fingers nowadays?
Nurse: Can’t you? (minimal encouragement)
Patient: No, I go to pick up a knife and take my hand away and it’s not there anymore.
Nurse: Oh, I broke my pencil! (walks away)
The patient desperately wants to talk to the nurse about a frightening and worsening
condition, but the nurse is determined not to get involved or discuss the problem.
Effective Counseling and Persuading
Review the principles and guidelines presented in Chapters 10 and 11 that are relevant to
the health care setting. Parties should plan for each interview with five relational factors
Watch for
hints and
clues about
real problems.
Providers may
try to dodge
■ Health care professionals may spend little time talking
with patients because they are task oriented rather than
people oriented.

l S
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294 Chapter 12
in mind: empathy, trust, honesty, mutual respect, and caring. Source credibility has long
been recognized as a key ingredient in the counseling and persuasion process. Paulsel,
McCroskey, and Richmond discovered that “perceptions of physician, nurse, and sup-
port staff competence and caring were positively correlated with patients’ satisfaction
with the care they received and their physician.”86
Select an Appropriate Interviewing Approach
Providers have traditionally tried two approaches. The first is a paternalistic approach in
which the provider assumes the patient will see the wisdom of advice provided and alter
attitudes and behavior accordingly. The second is an advise and educate approach that
explains the medical reasons why and hopes for the best. Neither approach has produced
results beyond 50 percent compliance. Telling patients what to do when they do not want to
do it does not motivate them to act, and repeating unwanted advice may alienate them and
produce resistance. Deborah Grandinetti advises, “change isn’t an event; it’s a process.”87
Select an approach that is collaborative and best suited to this patient at this time.
Barbara Sharf and Suzanne Poirier use a theoretical framework that psychiatrists Szasz
and Hollender developed to teach medical students how to select appropriate interview
• An active (directive approach) is recommended when a patient is passive and
unable to participate.
• An advisory (nondirective) approach is recommended when a patient is
compliant because of acute illness and thus not at full capacity.
• A mutual participation (combination directive–nondirective) is recommended
when gathering data, solving problems, and managing an illness of a patient who
can participate fully.
Above all, health care providers must approach interviews as collaborative efforts in
which they show mutual sensitivity and respect for patients’ concerns, reasons, and argu-
ments. Lisa Mahler recommends that providers should “have patients voice their own reasons
for change.” The patient—not the physician—must articulate reasons for making or not mak-
ing—a change.89 This collaborative effort promotes self-persuasion. When patients see their
providers as participatory decision-makers and credible experts, they are more likely to seek
advice and adhere to their providers’ recommendations.90 Credibility is the key to agreement
with medical advice. Patients usually have logical reasons for resisting recommendations and
eventually for not complying with them. They perceive them to be time-consuming, embar-
rassing, painful, costly, ineffective, or have potentially dangerous side effects. Providers must
rely on their credibility as participatory decision-makers and provide carefully supported
arguments that show respect while effectively countering those of their patients.
Be Realistic in Expectations
Let patients set the pace of interactions, and realize that significant changes come about
over time and in a series of stages. Do not try to rush the process or skip stages before
the patient is ready to move ahead. Smokers, drinkers, drug users, and those over-
weight cannot and will not change in one giant step. The failure rate is steep for those
who try. Shock tactics based on intense fear appeals may backfire. For instance, when
Tradition is
not always
No approach
is useful all of
the time.
Work for a
team effort.
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The Health Care Interview 295
a physician emphasized the danger of swallowing medication for a canker sore in a
direct and dire manner, the patient did not get the medication filled. Another physician
employed self-deprecating humor and a lighter tone when prescribing acne medica-
tion, and the patient filled it.91 Intense fear appeals may lead to patient denial or avoid-
ance of regimens, medications, and checkups. These appeals “mainly scare those who
are already scared” and do not produce “desired protective practices or norms.”92 Low
or moderate fear appeals in conjunction with humor facilitates an open, personal, and
caring interview climate; aids patients in losing their patient role; and enables both
parties to convey thoughts and feelings in a nonthreatening and collaborative manner.
Avoid insensitive humor that may embarrass, hurt, or mock the other party.
Encourage Interaction
Encourage patients to talk. If you share your experiences and feelings, the patient is more
likely to confide in you. This promotes self-disclosure. Employ nonverbal communica-
tion to show that you care and want to listen. Listen with comprehension so that you
understand what the patient is saying and implying. Listen with empathy so you can see
the situation as the patient does. Do not ask too many questions. Question sequences such
as the following encourage interviewees to talk about a problem and its seriousness.93
Inter viewer: If you developed a complication from smoking, say lung disease, do you
think you would quit smoking?
Interviewee: Yes, I think so.
Interviewer: Do you want to wait until you get a complication to decide to change?
Interviewee: No, I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Why wait?
Use a range of responses and reactions (from highly nondirective to highly direc-
tive). Give advice only when the patient lacks information, is misinformed, does not
react to less directive means, or challenges information and recommendations. Avoid
blaming or judging that may create an adversarial relationship.
Consider Recommendations
Introduce recommendations when the patient is ready to listen and comply. Compliance
with recommendations is low when patients have no symptoms (such as skin cancer),
recommendations are preventive in nature (such as diabetes), or recommended regi-
mens will last a long time (such as regular workouts).94 Only 10 percent of providers
report they are successful in “helping patients change any health-related” behavior.95
Work collaboratively to create plans of action—and alternative options—in the context
of each patient’s life by acknowledging the patient’s social, psychological, and financial
constraints. Share the logic (good reasons) behind your recommendations. Encourage
patients to create their own health narratives—to tell their own stories—so they assume
accountability for the decisions being made during the interview. Identify short-term
goals so long-term goals do not appear so daunting.
Present specific instructions and demonstrate how easy they are to follow. Express
hope and recall challenges the patient has met in the past. The goals are to encourage
Humor is
an effective
Sharing and
caring are
Make each
to achieve
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296 Chapter 12
patients, give them hope, and provide good reasons for complying with mutually agreed
upon recommendations. You may have to persuade the patient they will work, are doable,
and are effective. You cannot resolve the patient’s problem; only the patient can do that.
Closing the Interview
Be sure both parties are ready to close the health care interview. Research indicates that
providers are most likely to initiate premature closings when they become certain of their
assumptions about patients’ symptoms, particularly when assessing the cause of pain. They
are less likely to do so when they take time to explore patients’ experiences and stories.96
Listen to what patients may or may not be saying. Use clearinghouse probing questions to
be sure you have discussed everything of importance. Patients may hold back information
or concerns until the closing minutes of the interview. They may ask questions or make
seemingly off-hand comments when providers are busy and paying less attention while
writing out regimens, ordering prescriptions, and entering information into a computer. A
significant patient health concern or problem may get lost in the total closing process.
Provide a thorough but not overwhelming summary. Be sure both parties “are on
the same page” and understand completely and accurately what they have discussed, the
information they have exchanged, and agreements they have reached together. Patients
must have clear and accurate understanding of everything that has transpired during
the interview and have realistic expectations of what providers can and cannot do. An
effective strategy for assessing successful information exchange is to ask patients to
explain important items in their own words. These may reveal confusions, misunder-
standings, and counter-productive intentions.
Close interactions positively and productively while communicating empathy,
trust, and care. The roles played by both parties will enhance or detract from their rela-
tionship and influence their next interactions, or whether there will be next interactions.
Researchers have discovered that “Patients’ post-visit satisfaction with physicians’
communication is important because it is positively associated with objective measures
of physicians’ task proficiency, patients’ adherence to medical recommendations, and
patients’ continuity of care.”97
The health care interview is common, difficult, and complex. Situations vary from routine
to life-threatening and the perceptions of both parties influence the nature and success
of interviews. For a health care interview to be successful, it must be a collaborative effort
between provider and patient, and this requires a relationship based on high ethical stand-
ards, trust, respect, sharing of control, equality of treatment, and understanding. A collabo-
rative and productive relationship will reduce the anxiety, fear, hostility, and reticence that
often accompany health care interviews. Provider and patient must strive to be effective
information getters, information givers, and counselor–persuaders.
Providers (from receptionist to physician) and patients (including families and friends)
must realize that good communication is essential in health care interviews and that
The closing
must be a
Important ques-
tions and rev-
elations occur
during the
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The Health Care Interview 297
communication skills do not come naturally or with experience. Skills require training and
practice. Each party must learn how to listen as well as speak, understand as well as
inform, commit to as well as seek resolutions to problems. Communication without com-
mitment is fruitless. Both parties must follow through with agreements and prescribed
regimens and medications.
Key Terms and Concepts
Baby talk
Blocking tactics
Confirmatory questions
Face threatening
General inquiry questions
Information overload
Lay theories
Patient-centered care
Politeness theory
Relational distance
Task oriented
Health Care Role-Playing Cases
A Bicycle Accident
Gloria Tyler was riding her bicycle on campus after class heading back to her residence
hall. When passing a parked car, the driver suddenly opened the car door and Gloria ran
into the door and went over the handle bars onto the street. EMTs arrived within a few
minutes after the driver called 911. Gloria is experiencing pain in her lower back and left
arm that may be broken. The EMTs are asking her questions about the pain she is expe-
riencing and the problem with her arm. A campus police officer has arrived and wants
to ask questions about the cause of the accident. In essence, Gloria is taking part in two
interviews simultaneously.
A Gunshot Victim
The patient was hunting rabbits with a friend, and the friend spun around trying to get a
good shot at a rabbit. He didn’t see his companion who was walking about 25 yards to his
left. The patient’s face was struck by at least a dozen shots, one in his left eye. While his
wounds are being cleaned and the shot removed from his face before surgery on his eye,
a nurse must get his medical history and determine if he is allergic to any medications or
anesthesia. The patient is in a great deal of pain and wants to get on with the surgery.
A Possible Heart Attack
Kirk Abbott has been working long hours and most weekends for several weeks trying to
meet a design problem for his company. Around 9:00 p.m. as he was trying to get home
before his young children went to bed, he began to experience a pain in his jaw and pain
down his felt arm. There is a history of heart problems in his family. His father died of a
heart attack at the age of 32, and his grandfather had major heart surgery in his early 40s.
Kirk has driven himself to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.
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298 Chapter 12
An Annual Checkup
The patient, age 48, has scheduled an annual checkup with his long-time primary care-
giver. They were college roommates and kept in touch as the patient became a well-
known aeronautical engineer and the caregiver a widely recognized specialist in internal
medicine. The patient’s family has a history of heart problems; his father and two uncles
died of heart attacks in their early fifties. The physician has been urging the patient to
exercise more and lose weight for a number of years. The stress caused by the increasing
difficulty of securing government grants for aerospace projects is beginning to take a toll
on the patient.
Student Activities
1. Nurse practitioners are becoming common in health care, often seeing patients instead
of physicians. Interview an experienced nurse practitioner and discuss how she estab-
lishes and maintains relationships with patients and other members of her health care
organization: receptionists, technicians, nurses, and physicians. How does the nurse
practitioner deal with patients who clearly expect to see a physician rather than a
“nurse”? How does she deal with physicians who see her as encroaching on their turf?
2. Interview three different health care providers (e.g., an EMT, a nurse, a nurse practitio-
ner, a physician, a surgeon, an optometrist) about the problems they encounter when
giving information to patients. Which techniques have worked well and which have
failed? How do they approach giving information to patients of different cultures,
ages, genders, levels of education, and health status? What kinds of information tend
to get lost or misinterpreted most often? Why does this happen?
3. Visit a pediatric ward of a hospital. Observe how child-life specialists address and
interact with young patients. Talk with them about their training in communication with
small children. What communication problems do they experience that are unique to
different ages of children?
4. Your campus, like most in the United States, is likely to have students and families from
many different countries. Visit the campus health center or a local hospital and discuss
how they interact effectively with patients who speak little or no English. What types of
interpreters have they used: family, hospital, volunteer, or telephone interpreters? Which
do they use most often? What problems have they encountered with interpreters?
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.aspx?print=true, accessed October 31, 2012; “Principles of Medical Ethics,” AMA,
-ethics, accessed October 31, 2012.
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The Health Care Interview 299
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300 Chapter 12
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Abrupt or curt: short and often rude responses or
curtailing of interactions.
Accidental bias: when an interviewer unintentionally
leads respondents to give answers they feel the
interviewer wants them to give rather than their
true feelings, attitudes, or beliefs.
Ad hominem: an effort to dodge an issue or challenge
by discrediting the source that raised it.
Ad populum: an appeal to or on behalf of the majority.
Ambiguity: words to which interview parties may
assign very different meanings.
Analysis: a careful examination of the nature and
content of answers and impressions noted during
an interview.
Appearance: how you look to the other party in the
interview, including dress and physical appearance.
Applicant profile: the required knowledge, experiences,
skills, and personal traits necessary to perform a
job satisfactorily.
Application form: a form created by an organization to
gather basic information about applicants, includ-
ing their backgrounds, experiences, education, and
career interests.
Appraisal perspective: the performance interview is
seen as required, scheduled, superior-conducted
and directed, adversar ial, evaluative, and
Aptitude tests: tests that identify the abilities of a poten-
tial employee to predict how well and quickly the
person will learn the tasks required of a position.
Arguing from accepted belief: argument based on an
accepted belief, assumption, or proposition.
Arguing from analogy: argument based on common
characteristics of two people, places, objects,
proposals, or ideas shared.
Arguing from cause-effect: an argument that attempts
to establish a causal relationship.
Arguing from condition: an argument based on the
assertion that if something does or does not hap-
pen, something else will or will not happen.
Arguing from example: an argument based on a
sampling of a given class of people, places, or things.
Arguing from facts: an argument based on a conclu-
sion that best explains a body of facts.
Arguing from two choices: arguing that there are only
two possible proposals or courses of action and
then eliminating one of the choices.
Arrival: the point at which one interview party encoun-
ters the other to initiate an interview.
Assumptions: assuming that something is true or false,
is intended or unintended, exists or does not exist,
is desired or undesired, will or will not happen.
Atmosphere and setting: the environment in which an
interview is taking place and whether it is condu-
cive to effective communication between the two
parties in the interview.
Attitude: relatively enduring combinations of beliefs that
predispose people to respond in particular ways to
persons, organizations, places, ideas, and issues.
At will: an employment situation in which either party
may terminate the employment relationship at any
time and for any reason.
Baby talk: speaking to elder patients as if they were
infants, including slower rate, exaggerated intona-
tion, and simpler vocabulary.
Balance or consistency theory: a theory based on the
belief that human beings strive for a harmonious
existence with self and others and experience
psychological discomfort (dissonance) when they
do not.
Bandwagon tactic: a tactic that urges a person to fol-
low the crowd, to do what everyone else is doing.
Basic skills tests: tests that measure mathematics,
measurement, reading, and spelling skills.
Behavior-based selection: selection based upon the
behaviors desired in a position and behaviors
exhibited by applicants.
Behavior-based selection technique: a selection
technique that begins with a needs and position
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306 Glossary
analysis to determine which behaviors are essen-
tial for performing a particular job and proceeds to
match applicants with this analysis.
Behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS) model:
a performance review model that identifies essential
skills for a specific job and sets standards through
a job analysis.
Belief: the trust or confidence placed in social, political,
historic, economic, and religious claims.
Bipolar question: a question that limits the respondent
to two polar choices such as yes or no, agree or
Birds of a feather syndrome: the selection of employ-
ees most similar to interviewers.
Blocking tactics: efforts of interviewers to avoid coun-
seling or getting involved with interviewees, par-
ticularly in the health care setting.
Board interview: when two to five persons represent-
ing an organization may interview an applicant at
the same time.
Bogardus Social Distance scales: questions that deter-
mine how respondents feel about social relation-
ships and distances from them.
Bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ): require-
ments essential for performing a particular job.
Branding: when an applicant presents a carefully
crafted image to potential employers through
social media.
Broadcast interview: an interview that takes place live
over radio or television or will be played all or in
part at a later time.
Built-in bias: interviewer bias that is intention-
ally or unintentionally built into a schedule of
Career/Job fairs: gatherings of organizations and
companies, often at malls or on college campuses,
during which job seekers may make contacts with
representatives and gather information about employ-
ment opportunities.
Career objective: a brief, concise statement of a tar-
geted career goal.
Case approach: when an applicant is placed into a
carefully crafted situation that takes hours to study
and resolve.
Catalytic coaching: a comprehensive, integrated per-
formance management system based on a para-
digm of development.
Cause-to-effect sequence: interview sequence that add-
resses causes and effects separately but relationally.
Central tendency: when interviewers refrain from
assigning extreme ratings to facets of performance.
Chain or contingency strategy: a strategy that allows
for preplanned secondary questions in survey
Chain format: when one recruiter for an organization
converses with an applicant for several minutes
and then passes the applicant along to another
recruiter for the organization who probes into job
skills, technical knowledge, or another area.
Chronological format résumé: a résumé that lists educa-
tion, training, and experiences in chronological order.
Clearinghouse probe: a question designed to discover
whether previous questions have uncovered every-
thing of importance on a topic or issue.
Client-centered approach: a counseling approach
that focuses on the client rather than content or
Closed-minded or authoritarian interviewees: par-
ties with unchangeable central beliefs who rely on
trusted authorities when making decisions.
Closed question: a question that is narrow in focus and
restricts the respondent’s freedom to determine the
amount and kind of information to offer.
Closing: the portion of an interview that brings it to
an end.
Coaching: helping to improve performance rather than
judging or criticizing performance.
Cognitive phase: the thinking and assessing phase of a
counseling interview.
Cold calls: persuasive interview contacts made without
an appointment or prior notice.
Collaboration: a mutual effort by both parties to
inform, analyze, and resolve problems.
Collectivist culture: a culture that places high value on
group image, group esteem, group reliance, group
awareness, and group achievement.
Combination schedule: a question schedule that com-
bines two schedules, such as highly scheduled and
highly scheduled standardized.
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Glossary 307
Communication interactions: verbal and nonverbal
exchanges that take place during interviews.
Comparison tactic: a person points out a few simi-
larities between two places, people, or things
and then draws conclusions from this superficial
Competitive rater: an interviewer who believes that
no one can perform higher than his or her level of
Complement: to complete, support, or repeat.
Complex interpersonal communication process:
the assumption that one-to-one communication is
simple is belied by the many variables that interact
in this process.
Compliance: when an interviewee follows assessments
and courses of action agreed to during a counsel-
ing interview.
Confirmatory questions: questions designed to verify
understanding of an interviewee’s (typically medi-
cal patients) concerns, problems, or statements.
Connotations: positive and negative meanings of words.
Consubstantiality: the effort to establish a substantial
sameness or similarity between interviewer and
Contrast principle: if a second item or choice is fairly
different from the first, it seems more different
than it actually is.
Control: the extent to which one or both interview
parties directs an interview.
Convenience sample: a sample taken when and where
it is most convenient for the interviewee.
Conversation: an unstructured interaction between two
or more people with no predetermined purpose
other than enjoyment of the process.
Counselors: those who help interviewees to gain insights
into and to cope with problems.
Counter persuasion: persuasion aimed at an inter-
viewee by a persuader’s competitor or antagonist
following a persuasive interview.
Cover letter: a letter an applicant sends to a prospective
employer that expresses interest in and qualifica-
tions for a position.
Coverage bias: occurs when cell phone only users who
are often younger or of low economic status are
excluded from a survey sample.
Critical incident question: a question that asks appli-
cants how they might resolve a current problem the
recruiter’s organization is facing.
Cross-sectional study: a study that determines what is
known, thought, or felt during a narrow time span.
Culture: shared customs, norms, knowledge, attitudes,
values, and traits of a racial, religious, social, or
corporate group.
Curious question pitfall: a question that is irrelevant
to the interview and satisfies only the interviewer’s
Defensive climate: a climate that appears threatening to
one or both parties in an interview.
Determinate interviews: an interview designed to
determine whether or not to make a job offer to
an applicant.
Dialectical tensions: the result of conflicts over oppos-
ing needs and desires or between contrasting
“voices” in an interview.
Dialogic listening: a means of focusing on ours rather
than mine or yours to resolve a problem or task.
Diamond sequence: a question sequence that places
two funnel sequences top to top.
Differentiation: an attempt through language to alter
how a person sees reality by renaming it.
Directive approach: an interview in which the inter-
viewer controls subject matter, length of answers,
climate, and formality.
Directive reactions: when an interviewer reacts to a
client with specific evaluations and advice.
Disclosure: the willingness and ability to reveal feel-
ings, beliefs, attitudes, and information to another
Dishonesty: lying to or deceiving another interview
Don’t ask, don’t tell question pitfall: a question that
delves into information or an emotional area that
a respondent may be incapable of addressing
because of social, psychological, or situational
Double-barreled question pitfall: a question that con-
tains two or more questions.
Downward communication: an interview in which
a superior in the organizational hierarchy is
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308 Glossary
attempting to interact as an interviewer with a sub-
ordinate in the hierarchy.
Dyadic: an interaction that involves two distinct
EEO laws: state and federal laws that pertain to recruit-
ing and reviewing the performance of employees.
EEO violation question pitfall: when an interviewer
asks an unlawful question during a recruiting
Elderspeak: speaking to elder patients as if they were
children, including addressing them as sweeties,
girl or boy, and honey and employing the collective
pronoun our (e.g., “it’s time for our bath”).
Electronic interviews: interviews conducted over the
telephone, through conference calls, by video talk-
back, or over the Internet.
Electronically scanned résumé: a résumé designed in
format and wording to be scanned electronically
by recruiters.
E-mail interviews: interviews conducted through elec-
tronic e-mail rather than face-to-face.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: the
agency assigned the task of overseeing and carrying
out EEO laws.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws: laws
that pertain to employment and performance
review interviews.
Ethical issues: issues that focus on value judgments
concerning degrees of right and wrong, goodness