Our seasoned practitioners have pinpointed five of the most common mistakes conducted by interviewers during data collection elicitations. It has been our experience that correcting these common mistakes is the first step to ensuring a successful data collection. Are you guilty of any of these?
- Not building rapport at the beginning of the interview. Interviews can be an intimidating experience even if it’s not for a job. The interviewee is asked to discuss personal topics to a stranger or authority figure for a research project they may barely understand. Therefore, resist the need to jump straight into the interview question. Instead, ask the participant how they like the area or talk about the weather. If a demographics form is required, skim the contents. Are you from the same home town? Have you worked for a similar industry? Do you have similar hobbies? The goal is to make a connection and have the interview feel at ease so he or she can freely discuss the topics.
- Asking leading questions. While this is a cardinal “Must Not Do” rule in interviewing, it is commonly done when the interviewer is very familiar with the topic or has conducted several similar interviews. To avoid this mistake, have a second interviewer? in the room to help warn the primary interviewer and keep him or her on track. It is also important to slow the pace of the questioning and concentrate on how the questions are asked. Avoid framing questions with, “Do you need X to be successful” and instead focus on, “What do you need to be successful?”
- Not recording the interview. Recording the interview is an essential step (with interviewee permission) but it is still important to take notes. In fact, research shows that to recall unorganized information (like the kind provided during an interview), the individual must have a way of imposing structure on memory, such as keeping a diary with notes (DeNisi & Peters, 1996). However, it is human nature to miss important topics or misinterpret the interviewee. The recording can be used later to fact check or to be analyzed by another researcher to ensure inter-rater agreement.
- Not paraphrasing the interviewee responses. As mentioned previously, it is human nature to interpret situations differently. This also applies to interviewing. Our personal biases and life experiences color how we view and interpret the world. For this reason, it is imperative that the interviewer paraphrase and ensure understanding of what the interviewee is explaining. This may mean summarizing after every question, at the end of the interview, or providing the interviewee the interview notes to review. Use the approach that best suits your project goals.
- Not providing contact information for the interviewee. Asking the interviewee to recall an event or answer several questions about a topic on the spot, can often lead to “cat-got-your-tongue” syndrome. It is good practice to provide the interviewees with contact information in case they recall something that was missed during the interview. This will vary on the project but can provide the opportunity for additional rich data that could have potentially been missed.
The most important aspect of conducting data collection interviews is to make the participant feel comfortable and safe to speak his or her mind. Allow them to stop and leave the interview at any time and be willing and able to explain what will happen to their data once the research is completed. Avoiding these 5 common mistakes and always respecting the interviewee is the first step towards a successful interview.
DeNisi, A.S., and Peters, L.H. (1996). Organization of Information in Memory and the Performance Appraisal Process: Evidence From the Field, Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(6), 717-737