Discussion | A definitive list of interview questions you should ask

This is the of absolute definitive list of questions you should ask when you conduct an interview.

Ok, there is actually no such list.  However I asked this question last week on our Facebook page.

When you interview do you have a standard set of questions you ask? I’m compiling a list for my students as their next project is a news report. Question like “how did you get started as a _____” or “describe what it’s like to ______”

I got such a fantastic response I thought I would post the comments here.  It’s a good resources of responses.

Heather Renae Hintze had this response;

One question I always use when interviewing “officials” (like police officers) is ‘How does that make you feel personally when…’ That’s been the best way to get good sound at a murder or fatal car crash or something like that.

I think questions where you get a feel response are fantastic to ask.  People love to let you know how they feel about themselves and the situations they are often in when covering a news event.

Eden Lane added this;

What did/does that mean to you? — take me to that moment, what were you thinking/feeling?

Again all about letting your subject explain how they feel.

Chris Ritchie shared this;

First thing I always asked right after the camera is rolling, “please say your name and spell it for me.” That way I always had proper pronunciation and spelling for later. Plus it’s always a good time to double check to see if your meters are bouncing on the camera before the meat of the interview starts.

This may seen silly, but this is something we often forget about.  A good reminder here.

William David French Jr shared this;

It depends on the situation. The most important thing to do (when you have the opportunity) is to do your homework and really get to know your subject,only then can you ask relevant questions. I’m not a fan of having a standard set of questions. Each interview and each project is different.

I agree that there is no standard set of questions.  You can take all this information here and craft your questions after you do your homework on your subject.

Paul S. Harrop added this;

I usually open an interview with “Tell me about _______…” You can often get good bites to open or summarize what you’re talking about – especially on complex ideas. I also feel the key to a successful interview is to build a relationship and rapport with the person so it feels more like a conversation than an interview. If you can make them feel like you are personally interested in what they have to say, they are more likely to open up and give you good sound. I’ve found that it helps to explain to people that we are not live, I’m not here to embarrass you and we can use as many electrons as we need to get it done – as a way to calm someone who may be nervous in front of the camera. I disagree with asking the name and spelling first. I save it for last. I’ve found it breaks the idea of it just being a conversation in their mind if you do something formalized right from the start.

Dave Wertheimer complimented Paul with this;

It is a conversation, not an interview. Treat the situation like that and you will get great sound.

As you are preparing all these questions and are ready for the interview.  Stop thinking about it as an interview and start thinking about it as a conversation.  Once they feel comfortable with you, people tend to open up more.

William David French Jr added this;

I also make sure to have plenty of time, unless the interview is live. There is zero value in interviewing someone for 2 minutes when you had time to talk to them for 20.

Chad Gottfried posted this;

There’s been a few times when I’ve been sent to cover an event with nothing more than an address and maybe a contact name. That’s usually when my first question (after name and spelling) is: “Why am I here?”

I never thought of that!  “Why am I here?”  I think that’s a great question to ask.  I’m personally going to try asking that question.

Jeremy Campbell shared this;

I rarely have prepared questions. It’s a conversation, a flow. I do come with ideas and talking points. There is one final question that often brings the best unexpected bites or info… “Do you have anything else you want to say?” 

I agree Jeremy.  Once you’re skilled in the interview process the conversation concepts becomes easier.  And the “do you have anything else you want to say?” is always a great question.

Ken Koller added this;

Get the factety fact fact stuff out of the way first and move I to more personable questions. They get used to talking to you and begin to open up as time goes on. And there’s not ‘set’ list of questions. Every interview is different.

If you have the time I like Ken’s idea.  Facts 1st and then they’ll get comfortable.

Anna DeVencenty shared this idea;

 Ask “why” a lot, and repeatedly, even when you know the answer. Ask again even after they’ve answered. The third answer to “why” is always the best!

Great advice.  Ask why 70 times.

Barry Catlett shared this’

One of my favorite interview techniques whether on a news shoot or interviewing someone for a job is silence. A few seconds and they will keep talking.

Good advice Barry.  Silence is golden. I find whomever your interviewing will often fill the silence with an answer.

AnthonyPamela Mirones shared this;

My last question is,”tell me why folks should care, I mean really, is this that big of a deal?”  Of coarse I am smiling and crack my voice a bit, I usually get strong and passionate sound. Great for teases, stingers, and pkg opens

Don’t forget your producers when you interview.  Great suggestions from Anthoney about tease sound.

Susan Batt suggested this;

 “What was going/went through you mind when _____?” “Do you remember your first thought when (you heard that/the first time you did that/she did that/you saw that/etc)?” Sometimes it brings a more personal reaction or some additional insight, especially with an interviewee who is very by-the-book.

David R. Busse shared this;

Keep in mind that you are asking questions for one reason…to elicit meaningful, short answers. I hear so many new reporters trying to speak broadcast-ese, and the answers are either rambling or “yes-no-that’s right.” Listen carefully to the answers and if you’re not getting what you want, ask them to summarize…restate the question in a different form. Sometimes your best answers are the result of questions that will not impress people…”tell me about this…” — “summarize what you thought about that.” Or-at spot news…”what did you hear” what did you see” …

Re-asking the question is good, especially if you don’t get the answer you want.  Good advice there David.

Rick Montanez shared this;

Some of my best soundbites have come from photographer questions. And then I always end with “I don’t have anymore questions, is there something else you’d like to add?”

Yes. please tell your reporters to look at their photographers and ask them if they have any questions that should be asked.  Two heads are often better than one for an interview.

Liz González added this;

Another thing that has worked for me is asking the person I’m interviewing “For someone who is not here, how would you describe what’s happening? Set the scene for me? What did you see/hear?” Sometimes this really comes in handy while editing– helps the subject really take the lead on the story.

Updated January 27th.

Kenneth Speake reiterated the why question;

“Why do you do this?” What do you get out of it?” Look for the passion. Those earlier questions should be asked well before the interview begins so the interviewer can make him/herself familiar with what the heck’s goin’ on.

Sharon Levy added;

sound check…don’t make them count or say “test” because they don’t talk in their natural tone and they get nervous. Ask them “What did you have for breakfast?” If this is a repeat sorry…I didn’t read all the others…but I will!

Good advice Sharon.  I forget to do this myself.

Lawrence Wells added;

 “Tell me about….” And in those moments when the subject either hits an emotional point where they have to stop—or are unsure that they’re answering properly….”Tell me more…”

Kay Fischer made this comment;

always ALWAYS listen to what the person is saying. Don’t just wait for your next opportunity to talk. Some reporters get so wrapped up in sounding like the smartest guy/gal in the room instead of finding out what the story truly is. Good luck!

Fantastic advice Kay.  Yes.  Listen.  Shhhhh.  Listen.

Simon Gutierrez has a terrific comment;

Nobody has said this yet, but the most important thing to me is to treat your subject like a person. Look them in the eye and be respectful, and then ask them meaningful questions. You might open with a question you thought of beforehand, but you should base your other questions on what their last answer was. This is different if it’s an “official.” They’re usually trained talkers and you often have to pry things out of them. Not to say you shouldn’t still treat them like a person, but it changes the approach a little bit.

In summary, he’s a list to use as a starting point for interview questions;

  1. Know your subjects before your interview (if you can)
  2. Ask how does that make you feel personally when…
  3. Ask what did/does that mean to you?
  4. Ask please say your name and spell it for me.
  5. Ask Tell me about _______…
  6. Remember, It is a conversation, not an interview. Treat the situation like that and you will get great sound.
  7. Ask “Why am I here” (break for situation you’ve been thrown into).
  8. Ask “Why?” a lot.  You’ll get even more detailed answers.
  9. Ask “tell me why folks should care, I mean really, is this that big of a deal?”
  10. Ask “What was going/went through you mind when _____?”
  11. Listen carefully to the answers and if you’re not getting what you want, ask them to summarize…restate the question in a different form.
  12. Ask your photographer, the intern, your sidekick if they have any question that should be asked.
  13. “For someone who is not here, how would you describe what’s happening? Set the scene for me? What did you see/hear?”
  14. Ask “Why do you do this?” What do you get out of it?” Look for the passion.
  15. Always ALWAYS listen to what the person is saying. Don’t just wait for your next opportunity to talk.
  16. Treat your subject like a person. Look them in the eye and be respectful.

Thanks everyone.  I believe this was a great conversation.  Keep the suggestions coming and I’ll add to this post.  Let’s keep the conversation going over on Facebook.

Shawn Montano