How to do a research interview

Here is a little video I did on how to do a research interview.

30 minutes long, fairly straightforward, I now have the technology sorted that I can make videos like this fairly easy and with decent quality. Might have used a better microphone, but what the heck, it works and only took me about four hours, including writing the outline.

As usual with these things: Caveat emptor. But this approach works for me.

Outline posted below the fold.

How to do a research interview

Espen Andersen, BI Norwegian Business School, March 2021

  • Most common method in research and consulting
  • No real instruction in how to do it – and doing it well requires preparation and a certain technique
  • I have done more than 1000 interviews with executives from all over the world, have evolved a technique for doing it
  • This works well for what I do – talk to execs about technology and business – your mileage might vary?
  • An interview is a two-way conversation

Before the interview

  • Schedule well in advance, getting on people’s calendars is major undertaking, and it takes time.
  • Not more than three per day, you will lose the energy to make it a real conversation
  • Set aside one hour for the interview and one hour for writing up the notes afterwards
  • FTF, video or telephone?
    • FTF takes travel time, creates distractions, but allows for conversations over a whiteboard or for visiting production facilities and other things
    • Video does not add much, mainly a distraction
    • Phone conversations is quick, easy, and allows you to multitask (being your own notetaker, for instance)
  • Recording or not?
    • Spooks some people (though they tend to forget it)
    • Of limited value (confirmation, etc.) In any case, you’ll need permission to publish anything
  • Get the technology right!
    • Headset – good sound is essential!
    • Keyboard or handwriting?
      • FTF: Handwriting
      • Video: Handwriting unless you do touch
      • Telephone: Handwriting or keyboard
    • Get a good and quiet keyboard!
    • No disturbances, cell phone quiet,
  • Role of interviewers
    • Chat show host, keep the conversation going
    • Note taker, color commentator
  • Interview guide
    • Not too specific
    • Free-form (i.e., no set order)
    • Supporting a conversation, not filling out a form)

During the interview

  • Standard introduction
    • Who you are, why you are doing this (what do you want from this interview)
    • Everything confidential, only seen by research team
    • Nothing published in identifiable form unless explicitly allowed
  • Start with a broad background question
    • “To begin with, tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?”
    • Try to establish common ground
      • Easier with experience
      • Young students are less threatening, though
    • Listen to what the other person says
    • Steer them back if they wander off topic
    • Ask for examples
    • If you don’t understand something, ask right away
    • Keep time
    • End with a question that is a natural ending
      • Is there something I should have asked?
      • What keeps you awake at night?
    • Thank them, say you will send over the notes right away

After the interview

  • Do your notes at once. Not an hour later, not after lunch. Now!
  • Write them out longhand, write out abbreviations, add in everything you remember.
  • Then rewrite like a real interview, including inserting questions (from interview outline) that were never asked, yet answered
  • If material is referenced, link to it, perhaps include it.
  • When the interview is done, write an executive summary on top, in italics
    • Communication to the interviewee what you saw were the high points
    • Makes it easier to remember the interview later
  • Make it a nice, complete document, then send it off to the interviewee right away, asking for comments
    • This shows you are taking the interviewee seriously and trying to get their meaning right
    • It gives them a sense of control and achievement
  • Archive in a standard format, so you can go back and analyze

And that is how you do a research interview. It is an exhausting process, which is why I don’t think you should do more than three per day.