An interview is essentially a structured conversation where one participant asks questions, and the other provides answers. In common parlance, the word “interview” refers to a one-on-one conversation between an interviewer and an interviewee. The interviewer asks questions to which the interviewee responds, usually so information is offered by the interviewee to interviewer and that information may be used or provided to other audiences, whether in real time or later. This feature is common to many types of interviews a job interview or interview with a witness to an event may have no other audience present at the time, but the answers will be later provided to others in the employment or investigative process.
The “information” or answers may also be transferred in both directions in a tradition interview.
Interviews usually take place face-to-face and in person, although modern communications allow conversations in which parties are separated geographically, such as with videoconferencing software, and telephone interviews can happen without visual contact. Interviews almost always involve spoken conversation between two or more parties. In some instances a “conversation” can happen between two persons who type their questions and answers.
Interviews can be unstructured, free-wheeling and open-ended conversations without predetermined plan or prearranged questions, or highly structured conversations in which specific questions occur in a specified order. They can follow diverse formats; for example, in a ladder interview, a respondent’s answers typically guide subsequent interviews, with the object being to explore a respondent’s subconscious motives. Typically the interviewer has some way of recording the information that is gleaned from the interviewee, often by keeping notes with a pencil and paper, or with a video or audio recorder. Interviews usually have a limited duration, with a beginning and an ending.
The traditional two-person interview format, sometimes called a one-on-one interview, permits direct questions and followups, which enables an interviewer to better gauge the accuracy and relevance of responses. It is a flexible arrangement in the sense that subsequent questions can be tailored to clarify earlier answers. Further, it eliminates possible distortion due to other parties being present.
Face to face interviewing makes it easier for people to interact and form a connection, and it helps both the potential employer and potential hire who they might be interacting with. Further, face to face interview sessions can be more enjoyable.
Interviews can happen in a wide variety of contexts:
Interviews in an employment context are typically called job interviews which describe a formal consultation for the purpose of evaluating the qualifications of the interviewee for a specific position. Interviews are seen as a useful tool in assessing qualifications. A specific type of job interview is a case interview in which the applicant is presented with a question or task or challenge, and asked to resolve the situation. Sometimes to prepare for job interviews, candidates are treated to a mock interview as a training exercise to prepare the respondent to handle questions in the subsequent ‘real’ interview. Sometimes the interviews happen in several waves, with the first interview sometimes being called a screening interview which is a shorter length interview, followed by more in-depth interviews later on, usually by company personnel who can ultimately hire the applicant. Technology has enabled new possibilities for interviewing; for example, video phoning technology has enabled applicants to interview for jobs despite being in different cities or countries than the interviewer.
Psychologists use a variety of interviewing methods and techniques to try to understand and help their patients. In a psychiatric interview, a psychiatrist or psychologist or nurse asks a battery of questions to complete what is called a psychiatric assessment. Sometimes two people are interviewed by an interviewer, with one format being called couple interviews. Criminologists and detectives sometimes use cognitive interviews on eyewitnesses and victims to try to ascertain what can be recalled specifically from a crime scene, hopefully before the specific memories begin to fade in the mind.
In marketing research and academic research, interviews are used in a wide variety of ways as a method to do extensive personality tests. Interviews are often used in qualitative research in which firms try to understand how consumers think. Consumer research firms sometimes use computer-assisted telephone interviewing to randomly dial phone numbers to conduct highly structured telephone interviews, with scripted questions and responses entered directly into the computer.
(iv) Journalism and other media
Typically, reporters covering a story in journalism conduct interviews over the phone and in person to gain information for subsequent publication. Reporters also interview government officials and political candidates for broadcast. In a talk show, a radio or television “host” interviews one or more people, with the topic usually chosen by the host, sometimes for the purposes of entertainment, sometimes for informational purposes. Such interviews are often recorded.
(v) Other situations
Sometimes college representatives or alumni conduct college interviews with prospective students as a way of assessing a student’s suitability while offering the student a chance to learn more about a college. Some services specialize in coaching people for interviews. Embassy officials may conduct interviews with applicants for student visas before approving their visa applications. Interviewing in legal contexts is often called interrogation.