Daily Archives: April 6, 2011

How to Interview

 Yesterday. Gloucester Road, London.

“Ah, William, hello. It’s Steve. I’ve made a real mess of finding the place.”

This is me. And it’s true: I had made a real mess of finding William and his place.

“Steven! Come in. How are you?”

“Dreadful.” This is true too, I am. “I’ve got a bit of a cold. Well, a lot of a cold. God I hate colds. And I’ve got a bad back. I hate bad backs too. It happened when I was moving a chest of drawers at the weekend. I know, my weekends are nothing but glamour. My stomach’s wrong. I’ve got this bad eye, too. Look.”

“Ah, yes. Looks nasty. Would you like something? Wine?”

I’m here to interview William. William has agreed to speak to me about the economy in Afghanistan for a report I’m writing. He spends a lot of time there. In Afghanistan, not in my report.

I like William immediately, and not just because he offers me wine. And I can tell that he’s going to be an easy interviewee. Often, before interviewing someone, I’ll complain to them about something. It makes people more sympathetic and more likely to open up. All that I told William however, was true: yesterday I did have a cold and a bad back and my stomach was wrong. My eye was in bits too. I didn’t tell William everything though. I didn’t tell William that I had a hole in the bottom of my shoe and suspected mental health problems. Sometimes you have to keep something back.

As a sometime journalist, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years. Cool, aren’t I? At first, I wasn’t very good. The bulk of the interviews I conducted in the early part of my career were with property specialists and as I wasn’t at all interested in property, the interviews were often a bit flat. I’d almost exclusively be hungover and ill-prepared and ask long, rambling, hard-to-follow questions that I hoped would cover up the fact that I was hungover and ill-prepared. They did no such thing. They just made my interviewees clam up and hate me.

But I gradually improved. In fact, two years ago I gave a talk to the Singaporean Ministry of Defence about interview techniques and how to put people at ease when talking to them. I talked for nearly three hours. And I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt over –

– Actually this is all bollocks. I mean, it’s not all bollocks: I did interview William yesterday and I did tell him about my fucked up eye and back and immune system and I did give a talk to the Singaporean MOD about interviewing and putting people at ease, but I don’t really feel compelled to give my banana-sharp insight into Interviewing for Journalists. What I really want to do is tell you about the replies I received after sending out my 50-odd pitches last week. And I have had lots of replies. Tons of them.

And what do they say? God knows. They sit in my inbox, unopened. I’m a bit apprehensive. Although apprehensive isn’t perhaps the right word because I’m not apprehensive. I’m scared. I’m scared that every one of those replies is going to be negative. Don’t worry, I can deal with that. What I can’t deal with though, is that a ton of negative replies is going to make me consider giving up on Pitching the World and if I consider giving up Pitching the World then I probably will give it up and if I give it up, then where does that leave me? Fucked, that’s where. At best, it leaves me interviewing property idiots. At worst, it leaves me – well, I can’t even begin to think where.

That’s all for today. I think I’ll open those replies later and get back to you with an update. Apologies for the drama.