- Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016
Please do not call me an interviewer. ‘Interviewers’ are born when someone from HR has unprotected sex with a Guantanamo interrogator. I know this for a fact.
Let me illustrate:
I was directing a commercial and had to ‘interview’ a recently widowed mother about losing her husband after a workplace accident. I’m about 18 inches away from her and I can see how close she is to tearing up. She’s lost in some far away place, and then, through my earpiece:
“MAKE HER CRY!”
Apart from being the last time I wore an earpiece, I tell you this because the art of the interview is seriously undervalued. A good ‘interviewer’ won’t need to be told how to elicit a response but will rely on his empathy and intuition. If it’s done well, it will be a shared journey and not one very superior person in the back seat expecting the driver to take him swiftly to his destination.
You know that moment a day or two before the shoot when it’s time to choose the wardrobe. And everyone weighs in because, well, everyone wears clothes. An interview carries with it much the same logic. ‘It’s just a matter of asking questions and when you’ve asked one, well, you go on to the next one.’ Except you don’t. You aren’t cross-examining a witness. What you are is building a conversation. It’s a gentle, intuitive process and it has its own path and opportunities.
If you want to unearth the truth, here’s what I’ve found works for a successful excavation:
1) Follow the natural flow of the conversation and don’t impose on it a pre-existing structure or sequence. This obligates you to listen and to continue the conversation at the point they left off. It’s your job to cover all the areas you need to but make it flow naturally.
2) ‘Listening’ is something you do with your eyes as well as your ears. What people say is often not a reflection of what they feel and their posture and facial expressions will reveal as much as their words. All senses should act as a kind of psychic antenna to their state of mind.
3) If you want to get stuff out of people you will need to reveal stuff about yourself. The conversation is not just one sided so express your empathy, even reveal a similar experience. They mustn’t feel like they have been ‘taken in for questioning.’
4) Keep the presence of other people on an essential only basis. Whenever you ask real people if they are comfortable with others being present, they will always feel obliged to say yes. They don’t mean this.
5) Don’t always follow up but let an answer linger. They will quite often sense that more is needed. Silence can be your friend.
6) Your facial expressions will play a big part in conveying encouragement and nothing interesting gets revealed if you’re stern or indifferent.
7) And most importantly, you better be interested in and care about people. If you aren’t, they will sense in a second and close up
Doing this job requires much more finesse than the word ‘interviewer’ connotes. If you were to ask me (nicely) what I would prefer to be called, I would give you another word: Jeremy.
Jeremy Warshaw is a director with Washington Square films for commercials and with his own company for branded content.