Interview Techniques


How should I prepare for the interview?

Before the interview, you need to think about the subject areas you want to ask about. Remember, it is best not to plan specific questions – rather to think about general areas that you want to find out about i.e. air shelters, bombing raids etc. A good way to introduce these areas is by asking “Could you please tell me a bit about (for example) School during the Blitz.” If you plan actual questions, you might spend the whole time thinking about how you can get those questions in, rather than listening to what the interviewee is saying.

What about the equipment?

Marigold (the Project Coordinator) will be there at every interview to check the equipment and to test the sound levels, so you don’t have to worry about it! The most important thing is for the adult volunteer to press the record button!

How should I dress?

It’s probably best to wear smartish clothes – that way, the interviewee knows that you are taking it seriously.


What about the clearance form? Do I have to bring that along?

Before the interview takes place, you will be given a clearance form and a photo permission form. Please make sure that the interviewee signs both of these forms – this is the responsibility of the adult present, not the young people. This ensures that we have the permission of the interviewee to draw upon their stories and experiences when we are creating our script.

What about the positioning of the seats – how is it best to set up the room?

The positioning of the seats is one of those things that can help everyone to feel as comfortable as possible. When you are setting up the seats – make sure that the interviewers are not sitting directly opposite the interviewer, this may be a little intimidating. It is better to place the seats at a slight angle – not to far away from the interviewer, yet not to close.

What if its really noisy outside, or if the interviewee has pets?

Because the recording equipment is really sensitive – it will easily pick up background noise. If there are open windows, then ask if its okay to close them. Also, if the interviewee does have a pet – ask if its okay for the pet to be in a different room for the duration of the interview. As long as the interviewee is sensitive and asks these questions in a polite manner, the interviewee is very unlikely to have an objection to either of these requests.

Also remember that you should try not to make too much noise yourself – apart from asking the questions that is! If the interviewee says something very funny and you want to laugh – it is absolutely fine to do so, but try and practise silent laughter! Also, if you are holding notes  – try not to rustle them around too much – the recorder will pick it up.

If the interviewee offers me a drink or some food, is it okay to accept?

Absolutely. Offering food and drink is a way of the interviewee welcoming you into their home, if they do offer you something – then it is best to accept, unless that is you are allergic to the thing that they are offering you . If you refuse food or drink, the interviewee may think you a being a little rude and it might not set the right tone for the interviewee.

What is the introduction that I have to do at the beginning of the interview?

At the beginning of the interview, it is important to say the following:

  • The names of the interviewers (and the volunteer), spelt out if necessary
  • The name of the interviewees – also with spelling
  • The place of the interview
  • The name of the project
  • The name and place of the interviewee’s birth

Once I have asked about a particular area i.e. evacuation – what do I do next?

Once you have opened a subject area, with an open question such as “Could you tell me a bit about evacuation?” the most important thing is to listen to the answer. As the interviewee starts to talk, make a note in your mind about some of the interesting things they are saying – but try not to plan your next question. If you do this and the interviewee continues to talk – you are probably less likely to listen to what they are saying. Once the interviewee has finished taking, you can go over the interesting points in your mind and decide what your next question will be. Remember – ask the question, listen to the answer and then ask a question about the answer.

If your interviewee starts to talk about something that is not really relevant, try to go right back to the thing that you asked about and ask a direct question about it. This is called the “tree of questions”. Imagine that the main subject is a tree trunk, when you ask the question – the interviewee will open many different branches. When these branches get smaller and further away from the trunk – try to bring them back to it!

Remember – it is very important to ask about the interviewer has said and not just move on to another area straight away.

Can I ask people about how the felt about their experiences?

Definitely! We are trying to find out about people’s stories and experiences. We are not only trying to find out facts – more importantly, we are trying to find out about people’s reactions to the situations they were in and how they felt about the things that happened around them and the things that happened to them.

****REMEMBER! You have plenty of time. If you arrive in a rush and leave in a rush, the interviewee will not feel very valued. Make sure you are punctual and make sure you don’t leave in too much of a hurry. Also, during the interview – if there are some silences and pauses, that’s fine. Take your time. *****

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