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.



14 responses to “How to Interview

  1. Brace up man! This is all fine, and you will be fine.

    Tell us more about the interviewing techniques, we like that stuff – and we want to know about the pitches!! If you fail, if they reject you, so what – fail again, fail better, try harder (I think Becket said something along these lines. But much batter.) (And much better).

  2. Open them! Even if you get 50 no’s according to the law of probability you must be closer to getting a yes with the next batch of 50 you send out. (Plus we all know want to know what your strike rate is so we can get pissed off if it’s better than our own!)

  3. You’re right! Both of you! Why was I being such an idiot? Here is the first line of the first reply I just opened:

    “What a brilliant email – I like your style, and you are certainly the first tramp to pitch me ideas. Which is definitely good.”

    And then the ed goes on to more or less commission me. I think. I also think I love her. More to follow.

  4. Smashing.
    Stop being like George McFly and have some confidence in your self – you’re amazing.

  5. Cheers Bing. I was just worried about my pitches and thought what if they read them and tell me that I am no good? I don’t think I could handle that kind of rejection.
    Not that I’m anything like George McFly.

  6. Pitchboy . . . . I’m not sure I like the idea of starting an interview with a list of ailments.
    If I was a little less ‘oldbloke’ and more ‘youngbloke’ and looking for an interview, I can just imagine the response from a prospective employer as I announce “Hello, I’m interested in the job you’ve put in the paper/window/Gumtree and oh, by the way, I feel like shit this morning”, and “I’d like to join the Army, can I report sick?”

    PS – Open the damned emails . . . . . . . They’re not rejecting you, they just don’t know you or need you right now. (How’s that for profound?)

  7. “If you are distressed by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” Marcus Aurelius. I learn from the best.

  8. Now you’re talking Marge. And you’re right. At least, through the spirit of Marcus Aurelius you’re right. We need more of this kind of stuff here.
    Old Bloke – That’s pretty good for profound. And I actually quite like that approach to getting a job/joining the army.

  9. if you don’t get a higher percentage of positives to rejections then I will scream, or maybe go round to each individual editor and wee on their chips!

  10. You got replies?! You bastard. No one ever replies to me until I send them a petulant follow-up telling them I forgive them for not replying, and then they only reply to say that they were very busy and if I hadn’t sent a petulant email, they would have replied in time with a positive response but now I’ve fucked it up. WHich is of course a lie on their part.

    I thought the whole point of your project was the pitching. I imagined the pitches themselves to be the amusing thing, the thing worth reading from the reader’s point of view. If you get rejected, all the better – you won’t have to write some stupid article about new poodle-farming or the homosexual subtext in Dickens’ early work.

    I think it’s a brilliant idea. I wish I’d had it. You make me sick. Keep up the good work.

  11. Pitchy!

    Yes I know, you must open them, wow. I don’t even have the courage to pitch. I wish i could get to that bit… I am WORKING on it. Some titles did take my ideas though, i was quite upset. How is Boscombe?

  12. Steve, man the fuck up.

  13. Hugh – You’re right, and I have: manned the fuck up, that is. Just went a bit George McFly for a while but I’m back now. X
    Lisa – Boscombe’s lovely. A little gritty here and there, but lovely.

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