How to Become a Great Interviewer (to Create Better Content) w/ @AndraZaharia #vcbuzz

Interviewing is one of the most effective content marketing tactics that can accomplish many goals – from influencer engagement to building trust signals.

But too many bloggers and journalists are doing it – so how can you become a good interviewer? How to stand out?

Learn how to hone this skill to create better content!

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About @AndraZaharia

@AndraZaharia is a content marketer and host of How do you know? podcast decision-making podcast.

She focuses on building and implementing content marketing strategies that drive and grow organic traffic.

Questions we discussed

Q1 How did you become a digital marketer? Please share your career story!

I graduated in PR & communication (bachelor’s & master’s) as the online community was forming in Romania (back in ‘08-’09).

Because I read blogs, I ended up creating my own on January 1st 2018 (after a very boring New Year’s party).

A combo of involvement in the local community + volunteering (doing interviews, hosting events, etc.) + experimenting with my content led me to my 1st job.

A prominent online entrepreneur offered me a job as a digital marketer & that’s how it started!

I worked as a content creator/project manager/ghost writer while learning tons about how the #startup world works. I continued to work on my blog & had my own brand collabs as a micro influencer (the term didn’t exist at the time – yes, I’m *that* old!).

After 10+ years, my career spans over multiple marketing disciplines with a focus on #contentmarketing for startups & scaleups. I love every minute of it! I can’t remember when interviews became such a big part of my work, but I find good ones captivating.

For 10+ years, I’ve been cultivating this passion. I gradually turned it into one of my (not-so-secret) tactics to create content with heart, strategy, and purpose. Content that builds relationships and genuinely helps. Content that triggers a-ha! moments.

My first high-profile interview was with James E. Grunig, PR theorist, Professor Emeritus for the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland.

My latest one was with Dr. Ana Iorga, a fascinating neuroscientist.

The space between these two conversations is filled with dozens of experiences that made my life richer & more rewarding.

From the feedback I got, I know at least some of the people I interviewed feel the same.

Q2 How can a blogger add interviewing to their editorial calendars?

Start with *why* you want to do interviews. Are you looking for unique stories & perspectives? Do you want to create authentic content that captures empathy & connection? Is your goal to convey internal expertise in a way that’s human & relatable?

Doing good interviews is a matter of intent – first & foremost. Don’t exploit someone simply because they accepted to give you an interview. Don’t go into it thinking you’re doing them a favor. Like all relationships, good interviews involve reciprocity.

An interview is a unique opportunity to explore someone’s mindset, their perspective on their industry/specialty/life. They’re a chance to connect with someone based on your mutual interest for a particular topic. Treasure it!

Since an interview is a conversation, you’ll need to engage your interviewee with thought-provoking questions to get meaningful answers.

If you’re ready to make that effort, then you should add it to your content calendar – either as standalone content assets or as improvements to your articles (originality nuggets as @growandconvert calls them).

Spot on! So many opportunities to fill that need for connection, giving back, and building something together!

Q3 How to find and reach out to and interviewees?

Step 1: Figure out WHO you’re writing for, what they need & why they should care.

Step 2: Understand who are the people whose expertise/experience/skills play into those goals.

Step 3: Figure out “the hook” – the intersection between what your readers want/need & what the interviewee can offer (that also makes them look good > reciprocity.)

Step 4: Identify the key question your readers need answers to & pitch interviewees with that.

Here’s an example: this 19000 words-long article made of thoughtful & enthusiastic contributions from 30+ #cybersecurity specialists. It started with me asking a question I got from a customer: is internet security a losing battle?

Even though it’s one of the longest articles I’ve written, it’s also one that has the strongest time on page (~18 mins), an indicator that readers are genuinely captivated by it.

One contributor emailed me saying: “I got really excited about the topic and wrote 3k words but realized it was too long, so I cut it down a bit.” I’d touched a chord! I managed to get these incredible experts as invested in the topic as I was.

Q4 How to become a better interviewer?

Doing a good interview means having a great conversation. Plain & simple. And you can’t have that without TRUST. As an interviewee, you have to trust that the person who asks you delicate questions is genuinely interested in your story.

Doing a good interview means having a great conversation. Plain & simple. And you can’t have that without TRUST. As an interviewee, you have to trust that the person who asks you delicate questions is genuinely interested in your story.

To have this intimate conversation, you need to bridge the gap of having no prior context or relationship. The only way to do it is through *empathy*. If you genuinely care about that person’s perspective or the topic they’ve mastered, show them! 

Do your research & avoid generic questions (what Shonda Rhimes – showrunner of Grey’s Anatomy – calls “the Big Questions“) > Come up with thoughtful questions they’ve never been asked before > Ask specific questions that capture what your readers want to know.

Use follow-up questions to prove you’re not there to tick things off your checklist > “Ask what cannot be Googled,” as @alxpetrus said > read / watch / listen to tons of other interviews! Notice what they do well & what they do poorly.

Keep a list of questions and ideas to use for inspiration > follow Twitter/LinkedIn conversations between industry leaders & see what they care about Practice! Practice! Practice! If you can’t do it at work, set up your own project & use it as a playground.

Q5 How to become a better content creator through interviewing?

Here’s how it helped me, so you can see how it might work for you: > Develop empathy + curiosity < Staying curious about what interviewees have to say enables me to understand how I can be more helpful & facilitate more connections like them.

I.e. I worked with a customer to create an entire #podcast season dedicated to empathy! I got to talk to some of the most amazing women in marketing & design & discover how they use empathy to improve their lives & other people’s.

> Gain customer knowledge <

Customer development interviews are a powerful reality-check! They reveal the difference between what companies sell & what customers use their products/services for. In that space there’s a huge potential for improvement + growth.

Exposing myself to different use cases, needs, desires, was humbling. It etched into my brain that we work mostly with assumptions we should always test with real people. It helped me internalize I’m never a benchmark for anything I create – only customers are.

>Be specific <

Everyone’s drowning in info, so specificity is invaluable. Generic content is devoid of value.

You can only be specific if you know your customers well enough, if you learn what stories they resonate with, what drives them, what moves them.

Find out which elements of your work (product, service, brand) play into their needs, hopes & aspirations. For a content-focused perspective, check out The Specificity Strategy in which @benjihyam explains beautifully.

>Convey value <

Interviews can be the most effective way of collecting, documenting & sharing internal expertise.

This internal pool of know-how often goes uncaptured & unreflected in companies’ marketing efforts.

Talking to the team enables me, the content strategist, to capture many types of specific information & stories in a short amount of time.

I can “translate” them into content for the website, articles, campaign ideas, product-focused assets & a lot more!

For example, doing interviews helped me collect keywords & ways people naturally express their ideas.

This improved my content & enriched it with stories + relatable experiences that drive a-ha! moments for readers & customers.

I.e.: one of the most-read articles I ever wrote began with such a true story. That article stayed on the 1st page of Google right after Wikipedia for over a year & brought a boost of 800% in traffic when WannaCry #ransomware hit.

>Frame & contextualize ideas <

Interviews made me better at spotting sources of value in other people’s work.

They taught me how to capture & tell stories that resonate with others & serve their own purposes.

Each conversation taught me something new about myself.

I collected ideas, frameworks, questions, perspectives & examples. And then built on top of them.

This is how I came up with the idea of starting my own podcast.

>Build your personal brand <

Doing interviews is how many leaders in the local & international community noticed me.

One of these leaders hired me for two roles & became my valued mentor.

Another became my customer when I started freelancing. We worked together for an entire year! Others invited me to their own podcasts, giving me a chance to tell my own story, which I deeply treasure. Interviews also also brought me to #vcbuzz

Q6 What are your favorite interviewing tools?

For podcasts: Skype (yup! You read that right!) + Call Recorder + Blue Snowball mic.

For written interviews: email + Google Docs + WordPress IMHO, the tools are less important than the mindset which is everything!

If you want to build your skills, here are two books I recommend:

The Coaching Habit – learn about the power of questions, try it on yourself.

The Art of the Interview – quality insights from experience.

I’ve also learned how to take notes while others speak, so I can capitalize on those + dig deeper into specific topics that seem a fertile ground for exploration. Learning to read your own scribbles while recording a podcast should be an olympic challenge!

Our previous chats on using interviews for content marketing:

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