Doctoral Experiences of Interviewing Techniques by Juliette Engelhart

Posted in: Doctoral Exchange, Research skills, Student Experience

A student blog as part of the Doctoral Exchange Series organised by the Doctoral College.

Juliette Engelhart, a doctoral researcher at the School of Management researching supply chain management, hosted a peer to peer discussion on qualitative interviewing techniques via the Doctoral College. This Doctoral Exchange Series session did not focus on drafting an interview guide nor how to analyse data, but covered ground on how to actually conduct interviews for data collection and how to avoid possible pitfalls. Joined by many doctoral researchers from various disciplines this virtual session explored three key questions

  • How do you prepare for an actual qualitative interview?
  • What do you do during an interview?
  • What do you do after an interview?

These questions were first discussed in break-out rooms via Zoom and then more broadly debated with the whole group. Juliette prompted some of her interviewing techniques based on her experience. Further, senior faculty members Professor Nancy Harding and Dr Julie Gore provided rich expert knowledge into this subject by reflecting on their own extensive experiences prior to the virtual session via email, which was then shared with the group.

Thank you to all participants who joined this session and actively contributed to its success! We would also like to express our gratitude to the two faculty members Professor Nancy Harding and Dr Julie Gore, who went out of their way to share their expert knowledge in great length with Juliette via email, which tremendously informed our discussion and our future interviewing skills – thank you!

Here are some of the learnings (among many others):

Before an actual interview

  • Have a pilot/test interview with an expert or a friend before the actual interview; try out what it's like to interview and ask them if the questions are clear
  • If you interview the participant at their place, ask them in advance for a setting that you feel comfortable interviewing in (e.g. a quiet room so your recording will not be disturbed with background noise)
  • “Dress appropriately - if you're meeting senior executives wear your best suit, but if you are interviewing, say, service users at a food bank wear more casual clothes. Whatever you do, make sure you are wearing clothes that are comfortable and will not distract you.” (Professor Nancy Harding)
  • Do a voice warm-up
  • Build rapport through a warm handshake (not during COVID times) and smile
  • “Always practice your questions - and ensure that you have a friendly narrative for beginning and endings. Try the HEAR technique to build rapport: ▪ Honesty: be objective and clear about what you would like from the interview session ▪ Empathy: try to understand your interviewee's values ▪ Autonomy: let your interviewee know that they are free to choose how they respond to your questions (and that confidentiality will be provided) ▪ Reflection: identify and reflect back the significant parts of your interviewee’s responses to your questions or interview task to help guide the conversation. (Adapted from Alison & Alison, (2020) Rapport: The Four Ways to Read People. Vermilion” (Dr Julie Gore)
  • Try to think about them [interviewee] rather than myself

During an interview:

  • Ask for permission for recording the interview, explain the process of how the recording helps you focus on the conversation and that all personal or sensitive information that (s)he indicates will be anonymous
  • If you use a mobile phone to record the session put it on airplane mode (calls will disrupt the recording) or have a second device to record
  • If an interviewee does not want to share information about one question, try to reframe the question slightly or try again at a later point in time or ask politely why this question makes her/him uncomfortable
  • Give the interviewee time to answer the question, let the awkward silence be “it is ok” – interviewees sometimes need some time to think before answering the question
  • Have some follow up questions in case the interview lasts longer than anticipated
  • Have some key questions highlighted/marked for a short interview
  • “Making too many notes can be tricky. You need to judge how much this will be possible based upon the technique you are using. Some CTA (Cognitive Task Analysis) interview techniques I use in sensitive settings mean that I am not permitted to record interviews and therefor having a second interviewer available to make notes is essential.” (Dr Julie Gore)
  • “If you make notes, do not, whatever you do, pay so much attention to writing notes that you forget to listen to the interviewee, or show that you are actively listening to them.” (Professor Nancy Harding)
  • “Body language - the problem with observing body language is that you have to make notes, and while you are writing the note you are not observing them. So just note anything that is really important. If you are specifically interested in body movements, it may be worth experimenting with visual recording of interviews, now that video cameras do not cost a fortune. On the other hand, if you use visual elicitation techniques, e.g. photographs, you may have a chance to make notes while your interviewee is looking closely at the photograph.” (Professor Nancy Harding)
  • Follow up if the interviewee used a term that was unclear or if you didn’t understand something or if something becomes interesting to your research (be careful not to go too far off as this will cost you time asking other questions). If something is unclear try to summarise what the interviewee said and ask if you understanding it correctly
  • Ask if you can follow up with after the interview in case something is unclear after the interview

After an interview

  • “Ideally make some notes as soon as possible after the interview - even if this is whilst on a train. I have a collection of colourful notebooks to jot down anything that comes to mind after an interview. I also reflect on how I could have asked questions in a better way and try to think hard about alternative questions I may need to ask in future interviews.” (Dr Julie Gore)
  • “I always ask if I've missed anything that is really important, and then of course thank people for their time. Outside the door I voice record any things I observed that I will forget if I don't record it immediately.” (Professor Nancy Harding)

Additional resources


About Doctoral Exchange

This blog was written as part of the Doctoral Exchange Series, a round-table discussion series for doctoral researchers to share experiences and ideas in a peer-to-peer environment. All topics are student-led. The programme can be found online on the Doctoral Exchange webpage. If you are interested in facilitating a session then please email

Posted in: Doctoral Exchange, Research skills, Student Experience


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