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Interviewing Tips for Non-Profit Organizations: 5 Tips for Successful Interviews

Interview Tool #1    Prepare for the Interview

For the interviewer, a successful interview begins well before the scheduled meeting time.  Doing some homework prior to meeting with the client can make the first impression a favorable one.

  • Be clear on what you want to achieve.  If you are using a survey form, be familiar with it – both the questions and response options – PRACTICE!
  • Confirm the interview
    • Good directions to the interview location
    • Find out if accommodations are needed
    • Find out information to help personalize the interview
  • Be aware of the details that set the tone for the interview
    • Dress appropriately
    • Arrive on time
    • Turn off cell phones and pagers
    • Be organized
    • Keep papers to a minimum


 Interview Tool #2    Establish Rapport with the Client

Your goal is to create an atmosphere where the client feels comfortable to share their perspective accurately and honestly.  This starts with the interviewer – you set the tone for the interview.  Successful interviewers are respectful, accepting, honest, impartial and appreciative.

 When you arrive, establish rapport with the person you are interviewing:

  • Establish eye contact and SMILE
  • Use “small talk” to establish rapport and become comfortable with the person’s speech patterns, signs or gestures – comment on the person’s surroundings or the weather, offer a compliment
  • Be aware of potential cultural differences – take your cue from the client and be flexible
  • Remember that you may be in someone’s home – although interviews can take place in a variety of locations, many of them are in the client’s home.  Be respectful – you are a guest
  • Select a quiet location – if this is to be an honest conversation about how the person feels, you will want a quiet, somewhat private location.  Find a place where there are few, if any, other people.
  • Explain that you will be writing the person’s answers on the survey form and that you may take notes to help you remember what they said


Interview Tool #3                Engage in Active Conversation

The goal is for the interview to be a conversation – active dialogue between the client and the interviewer.  Group questions by topic – this allows for a conversational flow of information.

 As an interviewer, your job is more than asking questions and recording responses. 

  • Read each question slowly and clearly
  • Do not skip any questions – the interviewer may be required to provide responses for each question; the client is not
  • Ask the question as it is written.  If the client needs clarification, provide neutral assistance
  • Be patient when waiting for clients to respond
  • Accept answers that are close to the answer choices; do not demand an exact reply. 
    • For example, with a Yes/No question, a client’s response may be “Always” or “Sometimes” – these are valid responses
  • Ask questions if you do not clearly understand the client’s response
  • Use translation assistance if needed
    • Translation is not the same as interpretation
    • If a 3rd person is translating, make sure that the client is responding and the person is simply translating the client’s response, NOT offering their own interpretation
    • If using a translator or aide, speak directly to the client, not to the aide or translator
  • For non-verbal clients, graphical assistance may be provided, but is only used as a last resort since there is typically a significant amount of interpretation on the part of both the client and the interviewer.


Interview Tool #4    Adapt

Each interview situation is unique.  Be prepared to be flexible.  Let’s take a look at some “What if” situations…

 What if someone else wants to participate in the interview?

  • Let them know that you are here to talk with the client. 
  • Let them know that you will call on them if you need help translating the client’s response.

 What if the person has difficulty understanding the question?

  • Use the re-phrasing suggestions provided in the survey or provide neutral support.

 What if the person appears to be upset or restless?

  • It is ok to take a break

 What if the person digresses?

  • Allow them to chat comfortably with you for a few minutes.  They may provide information that will help answer other questions. 
  • Be interested and respectful and bring the conversation back to the survey.

 What if the person is deaf or hard of hearing?

  • Use a language interpreter. 
  • Face the person during the interview. 
  • Speak clearly, but do not raise your voice. 
  • Make sure the room is quiet and well-lit.

 What if the person uses a wheelchair?

  • Sit at eye level

 What if the person is blind or visually impaired?

  • Identify yourself before shaking hands

 What if the person has difficulty being understood?

  • Spend additional time talking with the client before starting the interview. 
  • Ask questions or ask them to repeat if you do not understand. 
  • Do not interrupt or complete their sentences
  • Be patient!

 What if the person comes from a different cultural background?

  • Take your cues from the client – personal space, eye contact, gestures. 

 Interview Tool #5    Have fun!

If you are enjoying the experience of talking with this interesting and unique individual, they will enjoy the experience, too.  This is an opportunity to step into the world of another person – be excited and grateful for the gift!  Smile!  Know that you are making a difference for this client and all clients.

Posted in Client Satisfaction, Market Research, Organizational Change, Quality Improvement.

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