What makes a good interviewee?

After I blogged last Thursday about interviewing and the things I enjoyed about it, I started to think about the people I interviewed as a reporter.

What makes a good interviewee? Bottom line, for me, is someone who is articulate and has something to say that is worth hearing.

Sometimes people underestimate their ability to express themselves well. Some think, wrongly, that what they have to say won’t be interesting or relevant to readers. Others, um, err in the opposite direction.

Interviewees who love their work or hobby (if that’s what they’re being interviewed about), and who are good at what they do, bring something special to an interview. I’ve been surprised more than once that a subject I thought might be boring turned out to be unexpectedly interesting.

It’s also good when interviewees use regular language instead of jargon, especially those whose fields of expertise are specialized. It’s not just that jargon is esoteric, understood by a select few; it’s that sometimes jargon serves as a generic catch-all, masking a more specific meaning. Easy example: “best practices.”

Some interviewees write things down that they want to remember to include in an interview. Reflecting, and clarifying one’s thoughts beforehand often makes for a better and more coherent conversation. But reading complete answers doesn’t work. As a rule, people don’t talk the way they write, and sometimes those written answers end up sounding like “fake” quotes. They’re also likely to disrupt the flow of a good interview.

People often asked me before an interview how long the interview would take. If I’d never met the person, it was hard to predict, because some people are talkers, and some aren’t. But I found, in the end, that whether or not a person is a talker doesn’t predict how interesting an interview will be, or how easy or difficult it will be to write up.

That’s all for today… but definitely not all there is to say about interviewing.

Cutting through jargon

Recently, I began to examine job postings on LinkedIn and other websites as an exercise in defining what type of work appeals to me – and what doesn’t. I also want to figure out what employers are looking for that I have to offer, as well as what skills I should consider upgrading.

To my surprise, I found that the first thing to appeal to me – or turn me off –  was the language used in the job descriptions, not the jobs themselves.

The admittedly small sample I looked at included a few examples of fresh, clear writing that contrasted sharply with jargon I saw elsewhere. An ad seeking a “rockstar storyteller” captured my attention, as did one that specified “a can-do person who loves what they do.” I even found an ad that offered bonus points for finding typos that had been deliberately included.

Fresh, unambiguous writing is compelling and “real” in a way that jargon isn’t. To work in an environment that is similarly compelling and “real” definitely appeals to me.