Over the last week (and this week for that matter), I’ve been working on a project involving a large number of phone in-depth interviews.  Now other #mrx bloggers, wiser and more articulate than I, may be able to give instructions on the best theoretical ways to conduct and analyse these interviews, but I thought I would write a quick post on the practical things.  What makes it easier to do these interviews.  What things do you need to watch out for?

So here are my six tips for phone interviews:

1.       Getting the set up right!
‘Do you have a speaker phone?’  Seems like a really obviously one (and I like to start out easy), but often it is these rather obvious logistical things that trip us up!  Do you need to record the interview and if so, do you have a speaker phone are really rather important things to figure out.  If you don’t have a speaker phone, how are you going to record (some teleconferencing platforms enable you to record the call – that could be another way to go).  These types of questions are right up there with, ‘Do you have a quiet place to do the interview?’, ‘A door that closes / locks, so you won’t get interrupted?’  – I find it is often these questions we don’t ask until the last-minute and they’re probably the ones we need to ask first
2.       Watch your voice
Do you have water, hot tea with lemon, cough lollies, a cup of coffee or some other ‘throat lubricant’.  Particularly in these winter months (it’s winter here in Australia), it is important to have something to take care of your throat if you’re doing a lot of interviews in succession.  Dry cold air plus lots of talking can be bad news!
3.       Do you want to see your participants?
Have you thought about using Skype to conduct phone interviews?  I trialled it recently and  I think there is a lot of merit in the idea – as it brings that element of face-to-face into the discussion.  However, if you are going to video call, it does add another layer of complexity.

    • Think ‘What’s behind me?’, ‘What will show up in the video?’ – that was when I realised that my husband’s collection of Simpsons figurines on the bookcase behind me had to go! (Oh the joys of a home office!)
    • Also making sure that your Skype set up is professional (what’s your username, ‘Does your username send the right message?’ – Perhaps you want to set up a different one just for work purposes?).
    • Does Skype do what you need it to do?  I wanted to use Skype to share my screen in order to show some stimulus.  Testing the technology is key here – It turned out that the share my screen function brings up a screen image too small for participants to read, which meant that I needed to switch back to a regular web-conferencing tool
    • Last but not least, realise the implications for using Skype with regards to your participants. Does it skew the sample? Would your typical target participant have Skype?  Does it mean that most of your interviews will be outside work hours / on home computers?  Many workplaces block Skype or participants may feel hesitant logging into their personal Skype account on a workplace computer.  Make sure that this is the best way to do what you need.  Talk to your recruiters and perhaps consider a couple of contact methods to ensure you don’t lose participants due to technology issues

4.       Multiple Contact Points!
Make sure you have a few ways of getting in contact with your participant.  Get their email address and confirm the call with them prior to the time.  Give them your email and phone number in that email so that they can contact you if things go awry! Make sure you have their phone number (‘Duh!’ you say, but particularly if you are web-conferencing or Skyping, you might not remember to confirm that you have the right number as well. So write it into your recruitment script to ensure the best contact number for the time of interview is collected).
5.       Testing testing, 1,2,3
Check your sound quality and your recording sound quality, particularly if you want transcripts.  What effect does ‘voices coming through the speakerphone’ have on sound quality.  What effect does your phone have on the digital voice recorder (is it a mobile phone and is it causing interference).  Better to know that now, rather than once your interviews are all finished and the transciber tells you that none can be transcribed!
6.       Last of all, remember that you need to go with the flow.
The very fact that these interviews are by phone means that, odds on, people won’t pick up.  They’ll be busy and need to reschedule; something will go wrong with the technology – SOMETHING (anything!) will go wrong.
The phone interview method means that people seem to attach less importance / formality to the phone interview appointment (at least, that’s been my experience), when compared to a face-to-face appointment – so I find many more of these interviews fall over and need to be rescheduled.  So try to leave a couple of days up your sleeve in your schedule for ‘mop up’ interviews, and remember that the process is fluid!  There’s no use getting worked up about it!

So, those are my six little tips for phone interviews.  I’m sure there are a few more things I could add, but these will get us started!  I’d love to hear what the rest of you think about phone interviews.  What technology do you use? What works well, what doesn’t?  What’s been your biggest tip or revelation – please share!

Hope everyone has a great week.  Wish me luck that my next interview picks up the phone!

Keep smiling






Phone Image from Pinterest: http://bit.ly/QX9Bod

9 thoughts on “Six tips for phone in-depth interviews

    1. Don’t get me started on the “Leaf Blower Man”. He’s like an arch villain in my world, with impeccable timing. Only blows leaves when I need to make an important call!

  1. Victoria – great practical tips! And very timely – I just did my first Skype video interview that I filmed! I used http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/ which is awesome if you need to record audio or video on Skype (no more speaker phone + audio recorder!) It’s only for Macs. I used it this eve and it’s super easy $20 well spent I reckon.

    1. Thanks for the tip Nat. As a PC ‘luddite’, I have found Evaer – which is a Skype plug-in and can record the video of the conversations. I used it for an impromptu IDI the other night and it worked quite well. I needed to quickly put together a vid for a proposal as an example video output – whilst the recording and sound quality wasn’t great – I certainly got what I needed in the short time I had available to me! Wouldn’t have found Evaer, if I hadn’t googled ecamm first!

  2. Good tips from @GambleGamble: The practicalities of qualitative phone interviews this week, so I thought I’d jo…http://t.co/M7ZyMogg #AMSRS

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