Conducting an interview
You need to be alert to the many factors that can disrupt an interview, hinder disclosure of information, or even impact on the client in such a way that they will not participate at any point in the future.
Strategies to minimise potential disruption and help the interview progress smoothly include:
Minimise client discomfort
Interviewees may feel pressure or be overwhelmed by their expectations or the expectations placed on them by others. Some ways of reducing the pressure include:
- Be as relaxed and informal as the interview context will allow. Where possible, choose an informal setting where they feel safe and familiar.
- Reduce the interviewee's anxiety by discussing it with them if it is considered appropriate to do so.
- Provide the client with as much information as they will require (in a way that they will understand) before the interview.
- Ensure that the client understands what is expected of them in the interview.
- Explain what will happen with the information they provide.
- Arrange for the client to have a support person with them if apprpropriate, such as a mentor, family member or friend.
Sometimes predetermined expectation of the information that you will be receiving can hinder the collecting of information. To minimise this effect:
- Remain open to a range of possible conversations that will obtain facts.
- Enter into the interview without any set notion of the information you will be receiving.
Minimise outside distraction
Banging doors, telephones ringing, other people's conversations being heard and big windows opening out onto busy areas are examples of things that can cause unwanted distractions for both you and your client.
- Make sure you are in a comfortable room that is private, well lit, has no telephone and no distractions from fellow workers or other clients.
- Make sure that confidentiality can be maintained and that others cannot hear your conversation.
A stereotype is a false but commonly held belief about a group of people. Having a stereotypical image of a client or client group can affect the way you interact with them in an interview. Examples of stereotypical thinking could include:
- Asian women are quiet and passive.
- Young people can't be trusted to act in a mature way.
- People with an intellectual disability are unable to make their own decisions.
- People who have English as a second language are intellectually inferior.
Stereotypes like this will affect your ability to obtain information and may cause you to interpret some information incorrectly. Always remain open and non-judgemental in your interactions with clients.
Take care that the interview remains on track to obtain the necessary information. Factors that make it difficult to maintain focus include:
- laughing inappropriately
- avoidance of the issue by clients
- discussing client issues not related to the interview's purpose
- insufficient time for the client to express their situation and their needs.
A six-step guide to the interviewing process:
Step 1: Preparation
Your preparation for an interview will vary according to the type of meeting you are having. Preparing for the interview gives you the opportunity to think very clearly about the purpose of the interview. This allows you to establish a positive environment.
Points to consider in preparing for an interview include:
- Awareness of the statutory power you hold and the rights of the clients.
- Familiarity with agency policy and procedure on interviewing and recording of information.
- Talking with clients and seeking their permission for the interview and recording procedure.
- Identifying any additional needs your client may have. Be aware of any special cultural or language requirements.
- Setting up a room or space that is appropriate for the type of interview you are conducting, e.g. a formal setting around a boardroom table or an informal interview around a meeting room coffee table, or at the interviewees home.
- Consulting senior officers or supervisors for support and guidance.
- Preparing a checklist of things you need to do or say in the interview, if needed.
- Identifying and setting up appropriate recording tools.
- Being clear about confidentiality requirements.
- Understanding your role and responsibility as the interviewer.
- Clearly defining the purpose of the interview.
- Making sure an interpreter is present if necessary.
Step 2 - Introduction
It is your responsibility as an interviewer to set the scene for the interview. The following tasks need to be performed in any interview:
- Make the clients comfortable. The key to this is your attitude towards them, your openness, honesty and tone of voice. It is important you speak clearly and respect their feelings. This can often be trying in difficult situations.
- Outline the reason for the interview, the way it will be conducted, proposed outcomes, how it is to be recorded, and access to the recorded information. Inform clients of their rights and responsibilities. Rights and responsibilities include dealing with grievances, refusing participation, freedom of information, statutory and legislative requirements of you, the client and any government body or agency involved, confidentiality and limits to confidentiality. If you are conducting an interview to collect evidence, make sure that your client is informed that any information could be used in court.
- Ask clients if they have any questions and if they didn't understand anything.
- It is important to encourage them to participate in the interview. An unwilling client who is fearful of giving information will need to be approached differently from a client who is confident and willing to explain their experiences.
Step 3 - The body of the interview
The body of the interview is where you get down to business. It is the time that you collect the information you require and explore the substance of that information.
To access this information, you will need to use the following techniques:
Open and closed questions
Closed questions are those that can only be answered with a 'yes' or 'no'.
Open questions are questions that cannot be adequately answered by a yes or no, and usually start with the words 'how', 'what', 'which', 'who' or 'where'.
The same topic can be put into an open or closed question. You are likely to obtain more information from an open question, as shown in the example below.
- Closed question: Did you stand by and watch? No.
- Open question: What did you do while this happened? I went to find a telephone.
This involves hearing what the person says and checking that you have heard the message the way they want you to hear it. This means asking questions about what the client has told you, to clarify your understanding of what the client has said.
This is similar to active listening, except that you reflect what they say to you as a statement rather than questions.
This involves allowing the client to talk when they need to, asking them if they are still happy about the interview and monitoring their capacity to contribute. For example, are they tired, has the meeting gone too long, are they getting restless?
This means using information from other sources and checking the facts given in your interview with those from other meetings.
Following are some suggestions to ensure that the interview is effective:
- Use simple words.
- Use short sentences.
- Use names rather than pronouns.
- Make sure that the client understands your questions.
- Monitor their response to make sure they have understood.
- Ask the client to repeat what you have said rather than asking, 'Do you understand?'.
- Do not respond to every answer with another question.
- Try to acknowledge the client's comment. This will encourage them to expand on their previous statement.
Step 4 - Closure
The most important aspect of the closure of the interview is encouraging the clients to have confidence that you will be acting in their best interests, with empathy for their position. Usually they have given you valued information that needs to be treated with respect. Therefore, in closing the interview, you need to:
- summarise the major points in the body of the interview
- gain agreement on facts
- gain agreement on understanding what you will do with this information
- ask if they have any questions or concerns
- clarify whether the purpose of the interview has been met and the outcomes have been clearly stated.
Step 5 - Recording
In human service work written records of interview are often a requirement, to allow:
- the results to be kept for reference
- feedback to participants
- a basis for appeals against decisions, if relevant
- a tool for supervisors to support the interviewee to improve their skills, etc.
Recording an interview can be quite difficult during an interview and is often best completed directly after the interview has finished. However, if there is a lot of detail required, you may need to ask the client's permission to write as you go along. Sometimes, a second person can be co-opted to do this, but it will depend entirely on the circumstances and the people involved.
Step 6 - Assessment
Those conducting the interview will usually have certain questions or criteria as the basis for information being sought in the interview.
If an assessment is required, this will best be based on the pre-set criteria, to create a more objective result.
To be effective, any questions for assessment purposes directed towards the person being interviewed must be appropriate to their developmental level. There could be major differences in language, comprehension, reasoning and memory between you and your client; these need to be taken into consideration when developing assessment tools.
All of these processes are aimed at ensuring that the interview situation is as effective as possible and the person being interviewed is empowered in the process.
Setting up an interview