Quick Guide for Interview Teams

This guide is designed to provide helpful information to teams of faculty mentors and student researchers as they go through the process of creating and preserving interviews for the Voices of Change Oral History Project.

Sharing this information with interviewees ahead of time can help facilitate the interview process. Knowing the time commitment involved as well as the questions the interviewer may ask can help potential interviewees make an informed decision about whether they should agree to be interviewed. Having this information also helps the interviewee be prepared to give thoughtful and substantive answers to the questions during the interview.

  • Approximate time an interview should take: 45-90 minutes
  • Biographical information the interviewer should collect and include with the interview:
    • Name of interviewee
    • Name of interviewer
    • Date of interview
    • Location of interview
  • Interviewer must provide a release form that must be signed by the interviewee.
  • A headshot of the interviewee is strongly encouraged

Sample Interview Questions for the Project

General Background Information
  1. What is your full name and where and when were you born?
  2. What are the names of your parents and where and when were they born?
  3. What is the educational background of your parents and what do/did they do for a living?
  4. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did your parents encourage your aspirations?
  5. What is your educational background? 
  6. If you went to college, what did you major in and why did you pursue that degree?
  7. Do you consider yourself a religious person and, if so, to which faith do you belong?
Employment Information
  1. Describe your employment history. Why did you pursue the career path you have chosen?
  2. Did you have any role models or mentors who encouraged you along this career path?
  3. Would you say that women are well-represented within your area of employment? Why or why not?
  4. If you have worked outside the home, do you believe being a woman has impacted your employment options or work conditions? If so, how?
Experience with Activism and Political Activity
  1. Were you active in activism or student government while in high school or college?  If so, please describe your experiences and any life lessons you took away from these endeavors.
  2. Does your faith shape your activism or public service?  If so, how?
  3. Are you a registered voter and, if so, do you vote regularly?  If not, why not?
  4. What role do you believe voting plays in citizenship?
  5. What impact, if any, do you believe voting has on your life, community, and government?
  6. Have you, or people you know in your community, ever encountered obstacles in trying to vote?  If so, can you please describe what those obstacles were and do they continue to exist?
  7. What role do you think women ought to have in politics?
  8. Do you consider yourself a member of any particular political party?  If so, to which party do you belong and why does it appeal to you?
  9. Have you ever engaged in organized political activities (attend rallies, canvass voters, drive people to polls, etc…)?  If so, please describe your participation.
  10. What do you consider to be the most important political issues of your lifetime? How did/do these issues or events affect your life?
  11. If you have engaged in issue related activism, what was/were the issue(s) you addressed and what motivated you to get involved?
  12. Do you feel your activism had any impact on the issue you were trying to address?  Why or why not?
  13. What, if any, impact does having women in elective or appointed positions have on public policy?
  14. Have you ever pursued an elective or appointed office in government?  If so, what was the office sought and were you successful? 
Questions for Political Candidates or Officeholders
  1. What do you think were the most important things that enabled you to succeed in your pursuit public office?
  2. Why did you choose to pursue an elective or appointive office?
  3. Did you encounter any obstacles in your pursuit of elective or appointive office?  If so, what was/were the/those obstacle(s) and were you able to overcome it/them?  Why or Why not?
  4. Please describe your experiences in public office.  What do you consider the biggest challenges and successes you had in office?
  5. What advice would you give to women seeking to enter public office?
Women’s Rights and Feminism
  1. What impact has the women’s rights movement had on your life or your community?
  2. What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why or why not?
Race and Ethnicity
  1. What race or ethnicity do you consider yourself to be?
  2. How would you describe race relations within your community?
  3. Has your racial or ethnic identity impacted your ability to achieve your personal goals?  If so, how?
Personal Influences
  1. Are there any current or past political figures you admire?  If so, who are they and why do you admire them?
  2. What person had the most positive influence on your life? What did he or she do to influence you?
  3. Is there a person who really changed the course of your life by something that he or she did or said? If so, who was it, and what did that person say or do?
Questions for Veterans
  1. Have you ever served in the military?  If so, what years and in what branch did you serve?
  2. What did you do in the military (job or assignment) and what was the highest rank you attained?
  3. Did you serve in combat during your time in the military?  If so, where?
  4. How would you describe your time in the military?
  5. Did your military service influence your understanding or view of citizenship and or public service?  If so, how?

Best Practices in Conducting Interviews

  • Always schedule an appointment and confirm the interview
  • Dress appropriately and arrive on time
  • Be prepared – know how to operate your equipment, read through the questionnaire before you conduct interviews, have copies of the release form in hand if meeting in person, etc.
  • Select the interview site carefully (comfort, privacy, access to electrical outlets, etc..)
Interview Techniques
  • Remember who is being interviewed! Let the interviewee do most of the talking.
  • Speak slowly, distinctly, and loud enough to be heard with ease
  • Ask questions one at a time, not in a long series.
  • Pay attention and show interest in what the interviewee is sharing with you.* If the interviewee is “on a roll,” and the material is relevant to the interview, don’t   interrupt, let’em “roll!”
  • Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
  • Start your interview with simple, non-controversial questions
  • Do not be afraid to ask follow up questions or seek clarification of interview details that are unclear
  • Jot down ideas for follow-up questions rather than interrupt the interviewee in mid-story
  • Try to keep the interviewee on track by “politely” guiding the line of questioning back to the subject.  Be patient and expect to listen to some material unrelated to the interview’s purpose.
  •  Be aware of non-verbal communications, yours and the interviewee’s; Be sensitive to the interviewee’s emotional state- you are asking personal questions; Give them time if they need to compose themselves if they become emotional while discussing difficult topics
  • Do not let periods of silence fluster you; give the interviewee time to think.
  • Do not fail to thank the interviewee, and any others involved with the interview, before leaving; Where possible follow this up with a written “thank you.”
  • End the interview at a reasonable time (eg. 1 to 1.5 hours), unless the interview is going well and the interviewee indicates a desire to continue.
  • Above all, be courteous and remember the interviewee (and family, if involved) is doing you a favor by letting you conduct the interview!
  • Leave the interviewee feeling that he/she has made a significant contribution to a valuable historical project.

Interview Tips adapted from the North Carolina Division of Historical Resources, Military Collection, Military Service Interview Guide.

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