Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Most Important Question to Ask in an Interview

Pull up a chair, get your coffee (or bourbon, whatever your poison), and get your pencil and paper ready, because I'm about to share with you the most important question you should ever ask in an interview.


OK, but before we get to that ....

Think about all of the interviews you've done and the most frustrating aspect to them.

If you're anything like me, it's usually the sense that even after the person finally opens up to you, you still feel like something, somewhere, is missing.


You can't put your finger on it exactly, but you just know that within that person is a goldmine of information -- something they'd really like to tell you. But for whatever reason, even if you were as gifted as a 60 Minutes interrogator, you just can't pull it out of them.

Maybe they're deliberately holding it back. Maybe they're not sure they want to tell you. Or maybe they do want to tell you, but your questions have put them off, or your mannerisms. Maybe they are just DYING to let someone know this one thing, but they don't even realize it themselves!

How do you get that piece of platinum off of their tongue?


You ask the most important question to ask in an interview.

But before we get to that ....

First I want you to think about all of the preparation you do before an interview. Suppose you're doing an interview with ... well, let's make this really fun: Think of your favorite movie star -- someone who really floats your boat. Just to give this a little zing for me (It's my blog, after all!) ... Let's use MY favorite movie star, Richard Armitage. Now you're sitting in front of Richard, completely star-struck. And if you're a good journalist, you've done all of your homework. You've researched his career, his movies, his theatrical performances, even the voice-overs he's done for television commercials. You know his childhood best friend's name, and you even have unearthed the comfort food that his mother prepared for him when he was ill at 6 years old. (No, I haven't done all of these things! I don't have an interview with him. Yet. :-)

You come armed with your knowledge and the best-ever questions known in the entire history of journalism ....

And yet, I can tell you that you still haven't asked the most important question to ask in an interview.

Take a sip of your coffee (or bourbon -- got a Mint Julep? Good, because I'm offering pearls, here).

Here it is.

At the very end of the interview, you pack up your things. Put away your tape recorder. Shut down the videocam. Put your pencil behind your ear, and fold your notebook into the closed position.

Then say this:

"This interview has been fabulous, so thorough, in fact, that I can't think of one more thing to ask you! Thank you so much for this and for all of your time!"

The person will nod and smile and usually extend their hand and say it was nice to meet you.

And then say:

"You know what? I was just thinking ...."

Here we come to the moment of truth .......... drum roll, please .................. the most important question to ask in an interview is ....................

"Is there anything we haven't talked about or anything you'd like our readers to know that I haven't asked you?"

Now watch the person's face. Look into their eyes intently.

They will say, "No, I can't think of anything! This has been really great!"

You will turn and smile and get ready to go, and then ...

"But there's just one thing. Wait a minute."

Get your notebook out! FAST! This is the moment.

Because in this moment, you will hear the one thing they really want to tell you.

I have been in my job for 22 years. I learned this advice from my first editor, Bob Orr, at The Coatesville Record in Coatesville, Pennsylvania -- now no longer in existence -- and it only had 6,000 readers. This little newspaper, where my Mountain-Dew-guzzling editor sat behind a crusty old desk, is where I first heard this nugget of wisdom.

And Bob was right.

Every time, every single blasted time, you will get the gold -- but you have to ask the most important question to ask in an interview first.

Try it, and let me know how it works for you.


  1. I find this extremely interesting, Heidi! I'm about to interview a former student who has been a part of movie that was filmed locally. Having never conducted an interview of this sort, this will help me a lot! Thank you so much!

    1. I'm so glad it did!

      Do let me know how it goes!

  2. Hi, Heidi!
    I completely understand if you decide not to have a post about this on your blog, but...

    Congratulations! You have been nominated for a Sunshine Award!

    Here are the rules for the award:

    Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog. (You can copy and paste it from my blog.)
    Answer these 10 questions about yourself.
    Nominate up to 10 other fabulous bloggers.
    Link your nominees to this post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.
    Share the love and link the person who nominated you.

    What is a favorite childhood memory?
    What is a real fear you have?
    How would you describe yourself?
    What countries have you lived in?
    What is your style?
    What is your favorite breakfast food?
    What are some of your hobbies?
    If you could tell people anything, what would be the most important thing to say?
    What is one of your passions?
    What is the one truth you have learned?


    1. Aw! Love it!

      I shall do so, henceforth!