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Interviewees in Pigeonholes – A typology not too serious – Part I
Just imagine you are meeting a totally unknown person with whom you want to conduct an intensive (at least one hour lasting) interview that is really important for you and your project. And, first of a
“Did we have an appointment for today? It seems like I totally missed that… Well, we can sit down over there. It won’t take long, will it?”
Of course not every interview opens with such a moment of shock, but each starts in its own way because each interviewee is individual. Adapting to the new counterpart as quickly as possible – in the first 10 seconds – that is the challenge!
In order to cope with this challenge you should conduct as many interviews as possible (with different topics and interviewees) because over time – and with increasing experience – one recognizes different “types” of interviewees and develops certain strategies to handle them. This article is about these “types” of interviewees.
SOME REMARKS ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE
This article is neither meant to be complete nor to be psychological founded, it is rather about summarizing experiences of several years full of interviews concerning different questions. Thereby, some comparatively striking “types” of interviewees are developed, they were virtually “put in pigeonholes”.
Obviously, you have to be careful with such an approach: there are people that cannot be assigned, there are “hybrids”, and a pigeonhole could be wrong, too. Thinking in categories can be dispossessing the interviewer of the objectivity that is needed for the interview, if he (or she) thinks too restricted and if he doesn’t let the interviewee “out of his pigeonhole”.
At the same time, some kind of categorization can facilitate the handling of the interviewees, because it helps to identify suitable best practices, to apply them, and to find a way to conduct a “good” interview even in such an example as described at the beginning of this article. However, you should be aware of every time you put your interviewees in a pigeonhole.
“Why do you want to know that?”
Actually, Mr. Indignant doesn’t want to take part in your interview. Indeed, he could tell a lot on the subject, however, he is not convinced by the project and its target.
How to recognize him?
You are able to identify Mr. Indignant right at the beginning because of his rather uncooperative behavior. If you want to conduct the interview at his desk he will definitely be against it. Further signs during the interview go from a defensive posture (e.g. arms crossed, little eye contact), over fidgeting up to statements to colleagues that the meeting will only last ten minutes. He likes to emphasize his reluctance by playing with his mobile phone, clicking at his computer, or twiddling with a paper-clip.
How to cope with him?
The key in handling Mr. Indignant is to take your time! Of course his behavior puts pressure on you. Therefore, it is the best to breathe deeply, and to react calmly and thoughtfully to his comments. It is quite possible that Mr. Indignant says nothing after you asked your question. Don’t become flustered. You have plenty of time and you can stand the silence. Sooner or later he will answer your question or inquire if he didn’t catch your question.
Try to find out during the interview why Mr. Indignant has reservations concerning the project. Maybe he was significantly involved in developing the software that you try to redesign? His reservations will become easier to understand and you will be able to react properly, e.g. by dispelling his reservations and asking for the strengths of “his” software: “This interview is not about simply replacing this software but to learn from it”.
Where necessary, it could make sense to skip “critical questions”, that means questions which you expect a negative reaction to by Mr. Indignant, or to ask them at the end of your interview.
“I already prepared something!”
Ms. Overeager is more than just well prepared: she will try to take over your interview. Another very suitable sentence in characterizing her could be: “It is absolutely necessary that you deal with…”
How to recognize her?
Ms. Overeager looks forward to your interview for a long time, she already booked a meeting room for the next three hours (“There it is much quieter than at my desk.”) and maybe invited one or two colleagues that are equally interested. She knows in detail what the interview is about and already made a first catalog with her answers. If you had given her the questions beforehand, she could have prepared herself even better.
How to cope with her?
Just let Ms. Overeager talk for a few minutes – that is your chance to get to know her and to deepen your first impression. Eventually, the prepared contents can be useful for you. At the next opportunity direct her gently, but firmly, to your topics of the interview.
Longer breaks that give Ms. Overeager freedom to talk are not necessary. On the contrary, such breaks can even interfere with your interview because she will take the chance to place own topics. In order to avoid longer excursions off the original topic it is recommended to ask questions as precisely as possible.
Additionally, a surprising question – apart from the questions Ms. Overeager will expect – can be reasonable: ask her why the prepared topics are important for her or what her colleagues would answer.
“Like I already told you…”
During the whole interview Mr. Short-spoken is neither notably positively nor negatively attuned: he simply tries to get out of this affair safely and with the least possible input (and expenditure of time).
How to recognize him?
He answers quickly, without thinking about it, without bothering to give a detailed and elaborated answer. He makes evasive answers, repeats identical phrases or even complete sentences. All in all, he answers short and with few words. If you are inquiring or asking for detailed explanations, Mr. Short-spoken is easily annoyed.
How to cope with him?
Understand that Mr. Short-spoken has a lot to do and that he maybe has only little time. Emphasize the importance of his contributions and highlight the particular information that you gathered by talking with him: “Good that you mention it…” or “That is really helpful for me”.
Apart from that, stick to your interview guide and ask detailed questions: the more concrete the better. The motto is: “stay tuned”. If you notice conflicts and inconsistencies during this exhausting and fragmented approach you should inquire at the end of the interview. – Each question could be crucial to elicit information from Mr. Short-spoken that is important for your project. A short interview is no problem as long as you get all the answers you need.
“Well, in the past, in the other company – well, not this one I just told you but the company before this company, there it was that…”
In contrast to Ms. Overeager, Ms. Chatty is not prepared for the interview but, nevertheless, she appreciates this appointment as an opportunity for an extensive and cozy chat. – Your chances are good that you are served with coffee and cookies.
How to cope with her?
Try to slow Ms. Chatty down: ask questions that are as concrete as possible and that do not allow extensive explanations. Conduct her flood of words with short inquiries.
If you run out of time, refer to the little time left. Explain Ms. Chatty that you would like to talk in more detail because her stories are quite interesting, but at the same time you want to ask all the other important questions and, therefore, you have to hurry up a little bit.
For Ms. Chatty it is tremendously important not to lose track of the purpose of your interview: analyze her statements carefully despite the quantity of information, and scrutinize her comments in subordinate clauses, too. The more profound your questions get the more likely it is that Ms. Chatty will have to think about her answers. – By doing that, an intensive interview about facets that were not considered before is possible.
Because I do not want to give the impression that I am chatty (too), we will take a short break. The missing “types” – “Mr. Poser”, “Ms. Timid”, “Mr. Expert” and “Ms. Clueless” – will follow in the next article.