By Aulia R. Sungkar (Ollie)

Director at ALVEO

Conducting an interview to make some form of writing is always challenging. This indeed requires lots of preparation.

It gets even trickier when the person you have to interview is a C-level member, like someone who is a part of the Board of Directors or the Board of Commissioners. 

Ollie Sungkar interviews Stewart Whitney, brand leader of Timber Lake during his visit to Bali in July 2014. – The article was published on The Jakarta Post. Photo courtesy of Timber Lake.

At that point, knowing how to conduct yourself and nailing the interview is noteworthy. Besides you playing the role of representing your media outlet or agency, let’s not forget the challenge that most executives tend to be very busy. 

Such a constraint will pave the way for you to not likely have time to do follow-up interview sessions in case you need more additional insights to enrich the content for the write-up. As such, getting the most you can out of the interview with a C-level suite is crucial. 

Here are some of the metiers you should do, as well as those you should avoid when conducting these C-level interviews.

Figure out what kind of angle you need for your writing

Knowing what type of angle you want for what you are making out of this interview is important, as it allows you to be more focused and not be aimless in your pre-interview preparatory efforts and in assembling your list of questions. 

Are you writing a biographical article of the C-suite executive in question? Then you may not need to dwell too long on researching the history of their company. Are you interviewing that executive to write about that company’s business performance under their leadership? Then questions related to their personal life may just be a waste of time. Knowing what you want to get out of this interview is the first step. Once you have that down, start your research.

Do as much research as possible 

The pre-interview preparatory process is long regardless of what type of writing you are making out of it. Not only is the knowledge important, but it also helps you figure out what sort of questions you want to ask. 

For example, if the C-level company’s official website already has some of the information you need, then don’t bother asking questions about things you already know. The questions should be for things you don’t know or about which you are uncertain. 

Research is also important as you don’t ever want to be (or appear to be) dumbfounded by anything the interviewee says at any point in the interview. If the interviewee starts talking about specific recent events involving the company, you must dig it up to keep up with the conversation. It’s also worth noting that you will have to prepare new questions on the fly, which brings us to the next point.

Prepare your questions, but don’t just limit yourself to a list of questions 

Once you have done your research, assemble your list of questions. Remember, any question you ask in the interview has to be relevant to what you plan to write. 

However, do note once the interview is underway, the interviewee will likely bring up some unanticipated issues. Yet, they may add elements that can enrich your article. When that happens, you need to be flexible and ready to ask new questions on the fly if you feel like the answers to those questions can enrich the quality of the write-up.

Prepare for ‘fill-in-the-gap’ ideas to help as your guidance

Having some rough ideas of what the article will come up with will be very useful in helping you assemble your interview questions. 

You can make use of whatever gaps you have in your draft to figure out questions for your interviewee. This way, you can fish the interviewee to fill up those gaps. Next is to have you psychologically prepared for the interview.

Keep hierarchy in mind, but don’t dwell on it

The C-level member you are interviewing has a higher rank in the company than you are at your workplace. Yes, you should be respectful and mindful of such a hierarchical corporate ranking, but you also shouldn’t let it affect your ability to conduct the interview. Let’s put it this way – be leveled up, despite different hierarchies. 

Relax and initiate the interview with respect. Your mood plays a vital role in influencing how the interviewee proceeds. The more affable you are, the easier it is to extract detailed answers from the interviewee. 

Always stay in control

Any writer with experience in conducting interviews will know that interviewees often ramble or go off-topic. If they do that, then you miss the chance to ask your questions or risk getting answers that don’t help you craft your piece. When that happens, politely redirect your interviewee to the topic at hand. 

With the aforementioned tips in mind, you will have high feasibility to make the write-up that exceeds the expectation of the media outlet or agency you represent. Remember, interviewing a C-Level executive is a tremendous opportunity. So, getting it right the first time is paramount.

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