Interviewing

If I had another lifetime I would be a journalist. Radio or print, definitely not TV. I would love to do Jenni Murray’s job. She gets to interview interesting folk and, like all skilled people she makes it sound effortless. She is ruthless interviewing politicians, and sensitive with the grieving, such as Doreen Lawrence and Kate McCann. Jenni and I are of the same ilk. Except she is a posh Northerner and I am not.

When I first interviewed people professionally I would over prepare, always concerned that the conversation might end prematurely. In reality that doesn’t happen. I still read what I can but I don’t record any questions. Except maybe the first one. After that the conversation flows. Given the opportunity most people love talking about themselves and don’t need a lot of prompting. Fearful of forgetting what they said I would take many notes. I do neither now. Being spontaneous helps me to be focussed and authentic. If I write, head is down and I don’t listen. Offensive and potentially irritating. I never use a recorder as it inhibits most interviewees. And it takes ages to transcribe what’s been said.

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Today I interviewed a hospital director. He was gracious enough to give me two hours on a busy Friday afternoon. The time passed quickly. I was fascinated by his job and the challenges it presents. He’s running a multi-million pound business, as CEO, balancing this with the care and clinical demands of patients. When I find that most interviewees are quite humble. You can enjoy talking about your job if you love it. Yet still be self-effacing. From the most senior to the lowly I have never discovered a job that demanded no skill. The depth and degree vary, of course, but jobs tax their holders in different way. Every role involves interaction and people are unpredictable, of course. Handling them with empathy and care demands skill. Once I interviewed roadside service drivers who pick people up after accidents. They explained to me how important it is to know when to speak and when to remain silent. Some people want comfort; others peace. A good driver will recognise the difference. I expect it’s a kind of intuition, based on experience. This organisation changed their recruitment criteria and took on more women whom they trained to be be mechanics. Now they were fascinating to interview.

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