By Kevin Elliott
Would you send the questions ahead of time?
There are many ways to do a video interview and many things that can go wrong. But nothing sends chills up my spine like that question.
I’ve done hundreds of interviews across the country and nothing will kill the flow and make for terrible soundbites more than sending the questions you are going to ask ahead of time. Subjects overthink and try to deliver memorized, scripted answers. And unless you are Denzel Washington, most folks can’t deliver a script naturally.
I understand your subject may have never done an interview and is nervous. It seems logical that the interview will be more natural and substantive if you send the question ahead so they can prepare.
Don’t believe and don’t do it, even if they ask. And many times, they will ask.
What should I do if they ask?
Deflect and put them at ease. Your subject is worried about looking incompetent, that it will seem like they don’t know what they are talking about. So reassure them that you will only discuss topics they know really well.
Here’s how I handle it:
THEM: “Would you please send the questions you are going to ask ahead of time?”
ME: “It will make for a better interview if we don’t. We’re just going to talk about stuff you do every day. No surprises, nothing unfamiliar, I promise. The best interviews are conversational, so we are just going to have a conversation.”
Another way to calm them is to let them know you are there to protect them and not make them look bad.
Here’s what I say: “My job is to make everyone look their best. We will not use any material that puts you in a bad light. That wouldn’t help either of us.”
But what if they insist?
Try topics instead of specific questions. Just bullet points. This usually satisfies them and gives you flexibility in the interview to keep them engaged and conversational, not trying to recall rote answers.
What if they make it a deal breaker?
This usually happens if you are interviewing a muckety-muck with handlers, like a CEO, a military general, or a government agency administrator (I have interviewed all three).
If they make it a deal breaker, you may have to comply. That said, there is one more tip you can try. Send the questions to the handler and ask that, if the questions are acceptable, they not be sent to the subject. The handler’s job is to make sure her boss is not embarrassed, so if you can satisfy the handler, you can sometimes get the interview without sending questions ahead of time.
Trust me on this one
It’s hard when they are pressuring you, I know. But if they do a poor, stilted interview, they will blame you. It is better to take the heat on the questions than on the finished product.
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