Conducting a Journalistic Phone Interview

Set the right tone for your interview by being personable.

Set the right tone for your interview by being personable.

If you work in a marketing or publications department, it’s only a matter of time before you must conduct a phone interview. In all likelihood, you will take the notes from this interview and write an article for an employee publication or your company’s website. Interviews can bring a lively, dynamic element to any article, so bring the best tools of a journalist to this assignment, and conduct your phone interview with energy and precision.

Prepare a list of questions or “talking points” that you wish to cover. Star those topics that you think will require direct quotations so that you quote the interviewee with accuracy.

Decide whether you will be more efficient and accurate taking hard-copy interview notes or transcribing directly to a computer. If you choose the latter, give the interviewee a heads-up about your preferred method as a courtesy; she no doubt will hear your keyboard strokes while you are on the phone.

Call the interviewee at the scheduled time. Confirm that it is still a good time for the interviewee to talk.

Engage the interviewee in friendly small talk, which can calm that person's nerves. Knowing that a “real person” is on the other end of the conversation will calm the interviewee’s jitters and bridge the distance factor.

Confirm the correct spelling of the interviewee’s name and any other identifying information you may need, such as her title and the names of former employers.

Begin the interview with a sense of purpose. Explain what the interview will cover and what it will culminate in, such as a website article or a Facebook post. You might say, for example, “I’d like to ask you a few questions about how you've used social media to bring new patients to your clinic. I think that your experience will help other physicians use this new technology wisely and effectively.”

Demonstrate interest and enthusiasm, treating the interview more like a conversation than a terse back-and-forth exchange. Without interrupting your interview subject, sprinkle the interview with encouraging phrases, such as, “Oh, I see," “That’s really interesting,” or “I bet that was a challenge.”

Be attentive and ask for details and clarification. Remember that your phone interview is a means to an end -- a story -- so be mindful that you need examples and illustrations to tell your story effectively.

Close the interview by asking your subject if she has anything to add that you haven’t covered with your questions. Often, this harmless wrap-up question can reveal unexpected treasure troves of information.

Thank the interviewee for her time. Inform her of when and where your article will appear.


  • Understand your company’s policies before you begin the interview. Doing so will help you answer a common question from interview subjects: “Can I review your write-up before it’s published?”


  • Take note of any “overlap” of conversation that may occur if one of you is speaking from a cell phone. Negate this nuisance by pausing before you speak so that you don’t unwittingly create the impression that you are interrupting.

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About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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