How to Interview Someone About Their Life

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“To give a good interview, I often find it’s a bit like acting, except it’s yourself, so you have to be yourself.” – Alex Sharp. Interviewing someone about their profession or research is hard enough but when asking about someone’s life, it can be even more difficult. In this guide, we will teach you how to interview a person about their life. 

Preparing for the Interview

Just like going in for a test or game, you have to prepare not only yourself but other people and elements as well. To help you on your journey, we created a list to help you interview someone about their life.

Prepare Yourself

Once you have your interview set, it is time to prepare yourself. There are many steps in preparing for your interview. First, you will want to research as much as you can about the person. Check out their social media. See if they have any published work or videos. Ask their family, friends or peers about them. Do as much research as you can before meeting them. Now that you have your research done, prepare your interviewee, the logistics and even your questions. 

After that preparation, you can then think about what you are going to wear. You want to be appropriate, casual, yet professional. Your attire will depend on the location of the interview as well. You can also talk to your interviewee to see what they plan on wearing to match the vibe of the interview. After preparing your outfit, you should then gather any equipment or supplies that you will need. Interviewers typically bring paper, pens, recorders, cameras, sound equipment or anything else to help the meeting go smoothly. 

Prepare Your Interviewee

It is a common courtesy to prepare your interviewee before the interview. Always provide them with the place and time they are meeting you as well as the interview duration. Even though the time may vary, it is a good rule of thumb to give them a window of time. If it is your first time meeting (in-person) at a public place like a restaurant or cafe, tell them what color you are wearing, so you are easy to find.

While not required, some interviewers provide the list of questions beforehand to their interviewees. This gives them time to approve or disapprove questions as well as prepare detailed explanations. You do not necessarily have to send them a list of questions or all the questions, but it is a good idea to send them basic questions or the basic format or theme of the interview. You do not want to surprise them so much that they walk out at the meeting.

If you are highlighting a brand, a book or social media platform, you can ask them to bring along information or products to showcase during the interview. Do not forget to include questions about these items. 

Prepare Your Logistics

There are some logistics that you have to handle with every interview. Where will it take place? What time will it start? How long will it last? These are the top three basic things you have to prepare for any meeting. But there are a few others as well like:

  • Do you need to find transportation or accommodations for the interviewee?
  • Do you need to provide or validate parking?
  • Do you need to provide food or refreshments? 
  • How are you reimbursing any expenses for the interview?
  • Who will greet the interviewee when they arrive?
  • Do you need to provide hair, makeup, sound equipment, video equipment or any other people for the interview?
  • Do you need to give a schedule?

Determining what fits best for your interviewee depends on who they are and how much time they have. 

Prepare Your Questions

Before you start your interview, you must have your questions ready to go. Besides the interviewee, your questions are the second most important feature of your interview. While researching the person, jot down any questions you may have and then add on after you finish looking them up. 

Many websites also have great questions that you can use or take inspiration from. We recommend having at least 20 questions. Some questions may be quick to answer, while others may take several minutes. 20 questions give you a little bit of wiggle room. However, do not be afraid to adjust the amount you ask depending on where the interview is heading and how much time you have left. We recommend keeping an electronic copy and a printed copy of your questions.

How to Ask Questions That Bring Out the Best Stories

When interviewing someone about their life, you are going to hear a ton of stories. In fact, the entire interview will be full of stories. However, not every anecdote will be eventful for your interview. Instead, you want to have the best stories for each question. So how do you ask questions that bring out the best stories?

Frame Open-ended Questions

You never want to have questions that have a simple yes or no answer. Instead, you want questions that dive deeper into things. For example, if you ask, did you have a dog growing up. They can easily say yes and end the interview within a few minutes. But if you ask ‘I saw you had a dog for over 15 years, how did their companionship affect your life?’, it provides for a deeper conversation.

Less is More

While you may have a long list of questions, you do not have to ask every single one to get a solid and engaging answer. Use questions that are matching the flow of the interview. For example, if you are talking about the person’s career journey and are getting valuable information that shaped their life, stick to the topic and dig further. If the topic is starting to wane, then you can pick up on the next question. Always read the room and your interviewee.

Also, you want to dig for answers, but you do not want to be too pushy. If your interviewee is not comfortable answering specific questions, just move on to the next. You do not want to offend them.

Do Not Answer Your Own Questions

A big mistake that novice interviewers or journalists may do is answer their own questions. Yes, research is important and a must for any interview, but if you answer everything you ask, it really is not a true interview. An interview’s purpose is to learn about something new or dig into further details about specific topics surrounding your interviewee. 

After you ask a question, let your interviewee talk (even if you know the answer). If you interrupt or answer for them, you may seem rude, unprofessional or just wasting their time. Just because you may know the answer does not mean you cannot get valuable information, so do not be afraid to ask questions like where they are from or what they do. 

Example Questions to Ask to Get Their Stories

If you search ‘the best questions to ask someone’, you will get a long-ended list of possible interview questions. And, these questions can range from personal to professional or in detail or vague. While it is ideal to have a mix of questions that hit every section of the person’s personal and professional life, you cannot ask them every single one. 

Instead, you want to have some fluff questions as well as hard-hitting questions to give the pace of the interview a range of emotions and speed. Sometimes it is hard to narrow down great questions, especially when trying to get a story. That is why we narrowed it down to 20 questions you can inquire about.

  • Describe your hometown?
  • What was the most interesting or surprising thing to you about your parents?
  • In high school and college, what kind of activities were you involved in (i.e. sports, band, volunteer organizations)?
  • What was your first job? What did it teach you?
  • What was your profession? What did you like the most about it? The least?
  • What is your favorite hobby or passion?
  • When were you the happiest in your life?
  • Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
  • Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
  • What are your favorite songs? Favorite books or movies?
  • Who was your best mentor?
  • How did you meet your spouse or partner?
  • What are the challenges in your relationship?
  • Would you say that this person is the love of your life?
  • Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
  • Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
  • What was the happiest time in your adult life so far? Why?
  • What was the hardest time? How did you get through it?
  • What were the most important values you wanted to teach your family?
  • How would you want your loved ones to remember you?

These questions can change depending on the type of person you are interviewing or the time you have to get the interview done.

Interviewing someone can be intimidating and nerve-wracking, but do not worry. By following the tips above, you will successfully interview someone about their life as well as enjoy the experience. For more information or lifestyle tips, check out our blog or shoot us a message today.

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