Learning to interview

Whether it is a journalist challenging a politician, a TV host quizzing a reality television contestant, a health care worker questioning a patient, or a prospective employer grilling an applicant, interviews are a regular feature of everyday life. In one of the core courses of our Sociology and Media and Cultural Studies degrees, we consider how these interviews compare with the types used when researching the social world. How do the different purposes of interviews affect how people interact? What kinds of assumptions are built into questions? In which contexts are questions appropriate or inappropriate? How does someone become a good interviewer, or a good interviewee?

As a part of this course, students have the opportunity to try out interviewing for themselves, conducting practice or 'pilot' interviews using questions they have written. Topics explored in previous years include everything from etiquette in elevators to students' routines on a night out. This experience is a great opportunity to develop skills for third year independent research projects, during which some students will conduct interviews. But it is also very helpful in preparing students for future job applications and diverse career roles, helping students to develop confidence in interview situations and providing insight into just how difficult it can be to interview someone else.

Here is a sample of what students on the course had to say about this experience:

  • Actually listening carefully to people’s responses and interviewing is harder than I thought.
  • I learned about ethical problems with the interviewing process- what problems you might face as an interviewer and how to respond to them.
  • I have a better understanding of how to conduct an interview now. I feel more prepared and confident.
  • I learned how to deal with the difficulties I personally would have dealing with participants and how I handle the interview