Use Secondary Questions to Probe for Important Information

Sometimes an an­swer may be incomplete. Another times, it may be evasive or vague. Since it is im­possible to know in advance when probes will be needed, the interviewer should be ready to use them as the occasion dictates.

An interviewer sometimes needs to repeata question before getting a satisfactory answer:

Interviewer:Your resume shows you attended Arizona State for four years. I'm not clear about whether you earned a degree.

Respondent: I completed all the required courses in my major field of study, as well as several electives.

Interviewer:I see. Did you earn a degree?

When a primary question doesn't deliver enough information, the interviewer needs to seek elaboration:

Interviewer:When we made this appointment, you said Bob has been insulting you. I'd like to hear about that.

Respondent:He treats me like a child. I've been here almost as long as he has and I know what I'm doing!

Interviewer:Exactly what does he do? Can you give me a few examples?

Sometimes an answer will be complete but unclear. This requires a request for verification:

Respondent:The certificate pays 6.3 percent interest.

Interviewer:Is that rate simple or compounded?

A paraphrasingprobe restates the answer in different words. It invites the respon­dent to clarify and elaborate upon a previous answer:

Interviewer:You've been with us for a year now and already have been promoted once. How do you feel about the direction your career is taking?

Respondent:I'm satisfied for now.

Interviewer:So far, so good. Is that how you feel?

Respondent:Not exactly. I was happy to get the promotion, of course. But I don't see many chances for advancement from here.

Often silenceis the best probe. A pause of up to ten seconds (which feels like an eternity) lets the respondent know more information is expected. Depending on the interviewer's accompanying nonverbal messages, silence can indicate interest or dis­satisfaction with the previous answer. Prods("Uh-huh," "Hmmmm," "Go on," "Tell me more," and so on) accomplish the same purpose [2, 172]. For example:

Respondent:Ican't figure out where we can cut costs.

Interviewer: Uh-huh.

Respondent:We've already cut our travel and entertainment budget 5 percent.

Interviewer: I know.

Respondent:Some of our people probably still abuse it, but they'd be offended if we cut back more. They think of expense accounts as a fringe benefit.


Respondent:Of course, if we could give them something in return for a cut, we might still be able to cut total costs. Maybe have the sales meeting at a resort—make it something of a vacation.

The Interviewee's Role

The interviewee can do several things to help make the interview a success.

Give Clear, Detailed Answers

Apiece of obvious advice interviewees often ignore is, answer the question the interviewer has asked. An off-the-track answer suggests that the respondent hasn't understood the question, is a poor listener, or might even be evading the question. The interviewee should put himself/herself in the interviewer's position, and think about what kind of information he/she would like to have. Then supply it [2, 172].

Correct Any Misunderstandings

Being human, interviewers sometimes misinter­pret comments. Most interviews are important enough for the respondent to want to be sure that the message given has been received accurately. Obviously, interviewee can't ask the interviewer "Were you listening carefully?" but two strategies can help get his/her message across. First, interviewee can orally restate the message. This can be done either in the body or conclusion phase of the interview. For instance, in the body phase, while reporting on a list of exhibit preparations, the interviewee might mention that the brochures will have to be hand-carried; the following exchange could come later in the body phase or at the conclusion:

Interviewer:So, everything will be at the exhibit booth when we get to the convention, and all we have to do is set up the exhibit?

Interviewee: Not quite. The brochures won't be ready in time to ship to the convention, so you'll have to carry them with you on the plane.

Second, interviewee can put interviewer’s ideas in writing. It is sometimes wise to summarize im­portant ideas in a memo that can be delivered before, during, or after the session. This enables the recipient to have a permanent record of his/her message.

Cover Own Agenda

Interviewees often have their own goals. In a selection interview, the employer's goal is to pick the best candidate, while the applicant's aim is to prove that his or her qualifications make him or her the best. This may involve redefining the concept of best. For instance, a relatively inexperienced candidate might have the goal of showing the employer that experience isn't as important as education, enthusiasm, or social skills [2, 173].


An interview shouldn't end with the last answer to the last question. As with most other types of communication, certain functions need to be performed to bring the interview to a satisfactory conclusion.

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