Tips for Interview Phobia
by Jenna Glatzer
Oh, how I shuddered the first time an article necessitated that I actually
phone a complete stranger and ask a bunch of questions.
I’m not a phone person. I had done e-mail interviews, mostly to glean a few
facts or quick quotes, but the phone intimidated me. I always worried that I
would be calling right in the middle of someone’s dinner/meeting/deadline
crunch/meditation time. And, no matter how hard I tried, I just knew I sounded
like a telemarketer. A twelve year-old telemarketer.
The assignment: "Top 10 Catering Halls For a Long Island Wedding."
The problem: In order to select these ten halls, I would have to compare
prices, menus, atmosphere, staff, and other such features. Given my paltry fee
and quick deadline, it was impractical for me to visit all of the halls on Long
Island. Instead, I surfed the ‘net, consulted lots of local bridal guides, and
spoke to friends in the wedding industry for recommendations until I had
narrowed the list to about 20. Then I made charts of the information I knew—in
some cases, I already had most of the necessary information, and in others, I
had very little. In every case, though, I had to speak to a human being to fill
in the gaps.
With my list of phone numbers and crinkly, sweaty chart in hand, I started
"Hi, um, I’m Jenna Glatzer, and I’m a freelance writer, and I’m
writing this article called ‘Top 10 Catering Halls For a Long Island Wedding’
for Bliss e-zine, which is an online bridal magazine, and it has a special
section for New York weddings, and you can see it at www…"
I hope you’re cringing by now.
If not, you should be, and here’s why: I didn’t need to get into any of
that, especially not in the beginning. All I needed to convey at the start of
this conversation was:
"I’m writing an article about Long Island catering halls, and I’d like
to speak with the owner or manager."
Sure, you may feel the need to justify yourself more in the beginning. You
may want to prove your credentials, and explain exactly what you’re writing,
why you’re writing it, and who will read it, but it’s not necessary. It’s
not even smart. Most likely, it will provoke a lot of unnecessary questions from
your listener, and it will make you sound nervous and inexperienced. Instead,
sound as professional and busy as your interviewee. Your time is valuable, too!
Your goal at the onset of a cold call is to get connected with the proper
interview candidate as soon as possible. Then, once you’ve gotten through,
your next goal is to get into the interview questions as soon as possible.
Yes, explain a little bit about what you’re doing, and how this person’s
comments will be used. But don’t make your life harder and your phone bill
higher by giving all of your life details. At the end, you can give the
interviewee a reminder (or, better yet, send it by mail or e-mail) about where
and when the article will appear. If you’re super-nice, you can even send your
interviewee a published copy.
But, back to the interview.
The first time you pick up that phone, be prepared to conduct the interview
on the spot. This may or may not actually happen, but be sure you’re set in
case the person says, "Great. Go right ahead."
This means that you should have a pad of paper, at least two pens (in case
one dies!), your list of questions, and a phone recording device hooked up and
ready to go. (Mine is the Sony Cassette Corder, a bargain-priced device
that's never given me a problem.)
However, your interviewee may well want to schedule the interview for a later
time or date, so you should also have your handy pocket calendar ready.
If you haven’t conducted many interviews before, there’s no better way to
practice than by doing a "test run." Call a friend and ask him or her
to play the part of your interviewee. Ask your questions and let him or her make
up answers. This should help you practice your patter, and it should help you
Ah, yes, shorthand is important. Even when you are tape recording a
conversation, you must always take notes. Tapes get eaten. Machines fail. You
need a back-up.
So, practice jotting down your friend’s responses to your questions. See
how fast you can write, and how accurate your notes are. Later, transcribe your
notes to see if you got the bulk of the conversation written accurately, and if
you can read your own handwriting!
It took me quite a bit of practice to get the knack of note-taking. Sort of
like in science class, I had to learn not to try to write down every single word
out of the speaker’s mouth, thereby skipping large sections as I struggled to
catch up. Instead, listen carefully for key points and necessary information.
When you feel comfortable with your line of questioning and your note-taking
ability, it’s time to make that call. To boost your confidence, remember the
Almost EVERYONE is dying to be interviewed by you.
(Repeat as necessary.)
I'm not kidding. People love to talk about themselves. It makes them
feel important when a writer wants to print their opinions, research, business
information, etc. It also lends them credibility in their own work. You don’t
have to convince anyone to talk to you. You’re offering them a great
opportunity for exposure, and if they choose not to take it, there will be a
dozen more people who will jump at the chance to replace them. You hold the
upper hand. Anyone you call is very lucky to get that call.
Here’s a good example of how your conversation should go:
Worker: Hello. Rosey Florist.
You: Hi. I’m Jill, and I’m writing an article for Mango Mama Magazine
about current trends in floral arrangements. May I speak with the owner?
Worker: Hang on.
Owner: Yes, can I help you?
You: Hi, I’m Jill, and I’m writing an article for Mango Mama Magazine
about current trends in floral arrangements. I’m calling because I’d like to
interview you for the article.
Owner: Oh, that would be great.
You: Good! Is this a good time, or would you like to set up a time for us to
Owner: Well, the shop is kind of busy right now. Can you call after 4?
You: How’s 4:30?
You: Okay, and what’s your name again?
You: Thanks, Marge. I’ll call back at 4:30.
Ta-da. (Make sure you get her name, so you don’t have to start all over
again, explaining yourself to another worker.)
Now, there are many variations possible. If you have to leave a message, make
sure the message-taker gets down the essential information-- that is, you are a
writer, and would like to interview this person for an article. If your
interviewee wants more information about what you're writing, you may have to
get into a bit more detail (she may want to make sure you're not going to say
bad things about her, or she may want to make sure she's qualified to answer the
questions you'll ask).
In a case like the above, it’s probably not necessary for the interviewee
to see questions ahead of time, but if you’re approaching a complex or
personal subject, it’s a good idea to offer the interviewee a list of general
questions that you plan to ask, or topics you plan to cover. You can offer to
send them via e-mail or fax prior to the interview. This gives your interviewee
time to think about his or her answers, and it means you’ll both be on the
same page when you begin.
Obviously, you don’t want to do this if you’re doing investigative
reporting, or looking for candid answers to tough questions. A prepared
interviewee can be a canned interviewee, so be sure to mix it up and ask some
questions that are not on your sheet.
If you’re still not confident about making cold calls (phone calls without
an invitation), warm yourself up by approaching a few people by e-mail or fax
first. In a few sentences, explain who you are and why you’d like to speak
with the interview candidate. Then ask for a response that indicates a good time
to call. See how many positive responses you get, and watch how quickly that
Reprinted with permission.
Jenna Glatzer is a full-time writer and ghostwriter. You can learn more at: http://jennaglatzer.com/