Phone Interview Tips for Freelancers

By: Dana Blozis

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dana Blozis

As a freelance writer, I am often required to interview various officials and experts to get to the heart of a story. Face-to-face interviews are always ideal when doing research for an article, but sometimes it simply isn't possible due to time constraints or geography. Phone interviews can be equally effective though, if you plan ahead.

Here are a few phone interviewing tips that have helped me along the way:

1. Schedule the interview in advance, but plan to be ready when you make the initial call in case your subject has time to talk when you phone.

2. Plan most of your questions in advance, and provide them to your subject via e-mail when possible. This may not always be appropriate, particularly in the case of an investigative report, but it is quite helpful when interviewing for a business or personal profile. This helps your interview subject prepare for the call. You can always ad lib as other questions arise during your conversation.

3. Tell the interviewee who you are writing for, what the article is about, the general premise of the article, and when it is planned for publication. Let him know that this information might change and, if so, you'll provide him with status updates. This is particularly helpful if your editor pushes your story from the April issue to the June issue, for example.

4. Record your phone conversation. Get permission from the interviewee, and assure her that the recording is only for your notes and will not be shared with anyone else. Even if you take stellar notes, it is good to be able to go back to the original conversation to clarify items or to jot down notes or quotes that you may have missed.

5. Allow yourself to pause as you jot down notes and quotes. You'll find that your interviewee will likely fill the silence, answering questions you haven't even asked yet or providing information you hadn't considered.

6. I conclude every interview with this question: "Is there anything I should have asked you but didn't?" This is different than the typical "do you have anything to add?" question, and can prompt the interviewee to really think about what he wishes he had said but that didn't come up during our conversation.

7. Get permission to follow-up if you have additional questions, and let the interviewee know how to reach you if he or she has information to add or back-up documentation to provide.

8. Thank the interviewee in writing. E-mail is the trend these days, but I prefer sending a handwritten thank you note along with my business card.

9. Unless your editor requests it, do not provide an advance copy of your article to your interview subject for review. Some publications allow this, but many do not.

By following these tips, you can ensure a successful phone interview with even the most difficult of subjects.

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