How To Interview Someone You Don’t Know

I’ve been a professional writer for over fifteen years, but even in my early interviews I was never fully prepared. 

I remember nervously calling music industry executives and artists from my bedroom phone in college, trying to get answers to questions that were often half-formed at best. The result was a lot of content that treaded water and the feeling that I could have done better. 

The truth is you don’t have to be an investigative journalist or a Pulitzer Prize winner to become a great interviewer. You just need to start with the right information and the right mindset.

How to Interview Someone on Camera – YouTube
1. Prioritize Preparation: Research the individual’s background and expertise to formulate relevant questions.
2. Establish Rapport: Begin with a friendly introduction and create a comfortable atmosphere to encourage open dialogue.
3. Active Listening: Pay close attention to their responses, allowing you to ask follow-up questions and show genuine interest.
4. Use Open-Ended Questions: Pose questions that require more than a simple yes or no, encouraging detailed responses.
5. Adapt and Flow: Stay flexible in your questioning, adjusting based on their insights to maintain a natural conversation.
6. Express Gratitude: Thank them for their time and insights, and consider staying in touch for potential networking opportunities.

How To Interview Someone You Don’t Know

Before you even sit down in front of your interviewee, you should have a plan for what you want to accomplish. Knowing what you want to do and say can be very helpful in giving an interview a direction. For example:

  • What do I want to learn?
  • How much time do I have? Is it enough?
  • What questions will I ask? How should they be phrased? Are any important ones missing?

When the actual interview begins, having this framework will give it structure and help keep things on track. You’ll be able to focus on engaging with the person being interviewed rather than worrying about where things are going or how well things are going

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1. Read Up On Your Subject

Before your interview, you should do some research on your subject. You’ll want to know as much about them as possible so that you can ask questions that are relevant to their life and experience.

You don’t want to waste time asking questions that are unrelated or too general, so make sure you read up on the subject before their interview. 

It helps if they have written an article or book on their field of expertise, or if they have given lectures at conferences or universities where they discuss topics related to their work.

You could also read through blog posts from the person’s website if they have one, or look at social media accounts where they share content related to their company and industry (if applicable).

If this person is well-known for something specific in their field like being a teacher at a school you could even read through resumes filed with schools where this person worked previously!

2. Establish A Line Of Communication Early And Stick With It

Make sure you have a way to contact the person you are interviewing.

Establish a line of communication early and stick with it, whether it is in person or over the phone. 

This can help reduce anxiety for both parties involved, because there won’t be any awkward pauses or moments where one person doesn’t know what to say next.

If you are interviewing someone face-to-face, bring a notepad or recording device so that you do not forget any information while talking with your subject (or even just in general). 

If possible, try using whatever platform they prefer – texting or emailing might be more comfortable than calling them on the phone!

Similarly, if someone has reached out to interview YOU then take note of how they want to communicate with each other before proceeding further into their questions.

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3. Do Research On The Situation/Company/Subject

Next, do some research on the topic and the person you’re interviewing. This will give you insights into their background, which can be helpful if they have a lot of experience with the subject matter. 

It will also help to prepare questions related to them and their field of expertise in case they don’t answer them during the interview itself.

For example: If I were interviewing someone about health care and wanted to learn more about his or her experience working on projects related to public health issues, I could read articles written by him or her that discuss these topics. 

Or if he has worked at many different companies but all have been in similar fields (like tech), it might be wise for me as an interviewer not only to know what each company does but also how they differ from each other visually/functionally.

So that I can ask specific questions based on those differences when possible during our conversation later today!

4. Reach Out Ahead Of Time And Share Your Questions

Reach Out

Before you start the interview, reach out to your subject and introduce yourself. Tell them a little about yourself, as well as why you think their story is important. If they’re not familiar with your platform, give them a quick run-down of what it is and why it matters. 

You can also let them know that you have some questions prepared in advance (though if they have any other concerns or requests, ask those too).

Ask Away!

Share your list of questions with the person you are interviewing so they can prepare their answers beforehand (or in real-time if things go smoothly). 

That way, when you start talking together on camera or over the phone, they won’t be caught off guard by anything unexpected and neither will you! 

Of course, don’t limit yourself just because there are predetermined topics; don’t miss out on an opportunity to get deeper into something interesting just because another question might come up later on during the conversation (but don’t forget: always save enough time for breaks).

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5. Be Organized

In the same way that an interviewee should be prepared for an interview, you should be prepared as well. This means having all the information you need and having a plan for conducting the interview. 

You may have a list of questions, but ask yourself if there are any topics that you want to cover in more detail during your discussion. 

When you’re done with your list of questions (or topics), make sure to go back over them and make note of anything that doesn’t seem like it’s been addressed well enough or that could benefit from further clarification.

It’s also important to think about follow-up after your meeting has ended. This can mean asking when they expect to hear back from their team about whether they’ve been selected or not and following up again if no one gets in touch with them by then!

6. Stay Focused In The Moment

It’s important to stay focused on the conversation, especially when you’re interviewing someone for the first time. If you’re not careful, your mind can wander off and start thinking about things other than what is being said. 

This is known as daydreaming or drifting off in thought, and it can be very detrimental to your ability to have a meaningful conversation with another person.

You mustn’t let your attention drift away from the speaker while they are speaking; 

This will help keep both of you engaged in what’s being said by keeping both minds focused on what is being talked about.

Instead of letting them drift into other areas that might cause unwanted tension or conflict between yourself and another person who isn’t partaking in these activities themselves (or even worse that may not even exist yet!).

7. Be Conversational But Don’t Get Too Personal

To make the interview more conversational and less structured, you should ask open-ended questions. That way, the candidate can answer in their own words instead of just providing a “yes” or “no” response.

Asking about personal life is fine as long as it’s not too invasive or inappropriate for example: “What do you like to do for fun?” or “What’s your favorite hobby?” 

But if the interviewee tells you about his recent DUI arrest or how he got into prison for murder during an earlier part of his career.

Then you need to steer clear from such topics moving forward because they’ll only make things awkward between both parties involved (as well as possibly jeopardize future job opportunities).

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8. Do More Listening Than Talking

Listening is the most important skill in an interview, so make sure you are doing plenty of it. If you’re not listening to what the other person is saying, how can you expect to have a conversation? 

Asking good questions and responding with genuine interest will show that you’re interested in what your interviewee has to say, which will help stimulate their response. And if you don’t understand something they say or why they said it it’s okay! 

Ask them to explain themselves further so that the two of you can both learn something from each other.

In addition to being attentive when listening, make sure that everything else around him or her is quiet while they speak. 

You want them focused on what they’re saying instead of being distracted by anything else going on around them or her at the time (i.e., music playing loudly nearby).

9. Record The Conversation For Use Later If Possible

Recording the interview is a great way to make sure you don’t forget anything. You can reference it later as you’re writing or editing your piece.

If you have a recorder, simply hit record before beginning the interview and then stop recording when it’s over. 

If you don’t have a recorder, ask if there are any other ways you could record the conversation such as taking notes on paper or using an audio app like Voice Memos on your phone (which will automatically sync with iCloud).

Taking detailed notes during an interview ensures that nothing gets lost in translation between what was said and what gets written down. 

Most people tend not to be good at remembering everything from interaction and even if they are, there will always be some details that get left out of their retelling of events because they weren’t paying attention at the time (or because they were distracted).

Keeping track of who said what throughout an exchange is important for two reasons: 

1) It helps ensure accuracy in reporting (i.e., “Who said this?”); 

2) It helps identify gaps in knowledge around certain topics by identifying which person doesn’t know something rather than assuming everyone knows everything equally well

10. Have A Plan B If The Subject Doesn’t Work Out

There are many reasons why you might not be able to interview the person you want. It could be that they have a scheduling conflict, or they might have an emergency. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s important to have a backup plan in place so that you don’t end up empty-handed.

One way to prepare for this situation is by creating lists of alternatives and questions:

Alternative interviewees: If one person doesn’t work out, what other people do you know who’d be great sources? If there aren’t any obvious candidates on your radar, consider reaching out to someone who has been mentioned in passing but never pursued. It never hurts to ask!

Questions: What topics would make sense if your original subject couldn’t participate? What questions would make sense if your original subject couldn’t participate? 

The more diverse these topics and questions are (and therefore the more likely they’ll lead somewhere useful), the better!

The next thing I recommend doing is having conversations with people who aren’t on either list above.

But whom you know well enough (or could get introduced through social media) so that their perspective wouldn’t feel too unfamiliar when recorded audio files later become available online at some point down the line.

11. Take Detailed Notes During The Interview

In short, this is one of the best ways to make sure you have a good understanding of what your subject said. 

You can do this in person or on the phone by writing down what they say, or if you’re interviewing via email, type up their words as soon as possible after sending your question and then save it so that you can refer back to them later.

In addition to using pen and paper for interviews in-person or over the phone (or text), there are plenty of other options for recording audio clips: a laptop or tablet with voice recording software installed; an app like Evernote; even just a notepad and/or pen!

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I hope you enjoyed this article. I know that starting a blog can be intimidating, but it is also rewarding and fun. You don’t need to know anything about blogging or writing to get started. 

All you need is a little motivation and some basic knowledge of how websites work (which we provide in our tutorials). With that said, let’s dive into the top 10 things every blogger should know before starting their website!

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to explore related to the topic:

How to Get the Most Out of an Informational InterviewLearn valuable insights on how to maximize the benefits of an informational interview, from Harvard Business Review.

4 Ways to Handle Interview Questions You Don’t Know How to AnswerDiscover effective strategies for addressing interview questions that catch you off guard, courtesy of The Muse.

How to Ask for an Informational InterviewIndeed provides guidance on how to initiate and conduct an informational interview to gather valuable career insights.


How can I make the most of an informational interview?

An informational interview can be a valuable networking and learning opportunity. To maximize its benefits, prepare thoughtful questions that delve into the interviewee’s experiences and insights. This can help you gain a deeper understanding of their industry, role, and career trajectory.

What should I do if I encounter interview questions I don’t know how to answer?

When faced with interview questions that stump you, stay calm and composed. Take a moment to gather your thoughts and consider how your skills and experiences might relate to the question. If needed, you can also ask for clarification or offer a thoughtful response that demonstrates your problem-solving skills.

How do I request an informational interview?

Initiating an informational interview requires a polite and professional approach. Craft a concise email or message that introduces yourself, explains your interest in the interviewee’s expertise, and proposes a convenient time for the conversation. Be respectful of their time and emphasize your eagerness to learn from their insights.

What can I gain from informational interviews?

Informational interviews provide a wealth of benefits. You can gain industry insights, learn about various career paths, gather advice on skill development, and expand your professional network. Additionally, these interviews offer the chance to establish valuable connections that might lead to future opportunities.

How can I handle nervousness before and during an informational interview?

Feeling nervous before or during an informational interview is natural. To manage nervousness, thoroughly research the interviewee and prepare a list of questions in advance. Practicing your introduction and questions can boost your confidence. During the interview, remind yourself that it’s a learning opportunity, and focus on actively listening and engaging in the conversation.

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