Tips for Interviewing: Getting at Emotion

A compelling story may hang on a great interview—especially if the story is a profile or longer feature. Similarly, a good story can turn into a great one based on noteworthy quotes from an interviewee.

There’s no lack of basic interviewing tips, most of which you’ve probably already heard or internalized. Do your homework in advance and learn as much about the subject as you can. Have a plan and a list of questions you want to ask (and if you’re running short on time, skip to those most critical for the story). Ask open-ended questions.

But as the interview is progressing—and if the opportunity presents itself—try to get at emotions. This is best done near the end, after you’ve built up some rapport and the subject is more relaxed. Consider questions like:

  • “What was your favorite part of the project?”
  • “What was your biggest struggle with … ?”
  • “What were you proudest of?”
  • “What was most memorable about … ?”

As an example, in a podcast episode about student mental health at the University of Minnesota, the director of the animal-assisted therapy program was asked if she had any memorable or poignant moments from over the years. Her answer, in part:

"There are a handful of students who have been very clear that they would not still be on the planet if it hadn’t been for their ability for them to come to PAWS and for the ability to have that program here on campus. That they were suicidal, that their mental health was that low. They had a plan and they had the means to carry it out. One death is too many, and to know that there are distinct people who have been able to share with me that this meant that much to them. … That’s important. That’s worth it. That’s worth everything right there.”

Of course, quotes like that are few and far between. But if you can get people to open up a bit, to reveal the feelings behind the facts, it can make for much more authentic and memorable stories.