How to Prepare for Your First User Interview

The key to conducting interviews successfully is simple: preparation. You can take a shortcut sometimes if you are experienced and skilled, but nothing beats being prepared. In most cases, I would rather have a well-prepared newbie than a too-busy-to-prepare senior researcher conducting the user interview. There different types of user interviews, click here to learn more about them.

In this post, I lay out my suggestions on what you can do to prepare for your first interview. Continue reading to find out.

Understand the purpose

You can increase the chances of success significantly by reading documentation. Learn a lot about the product or service you will be discussing. Understand the purpose of the study you will be conducting.

This investment of time will let you feel confident. You will know what you are doing.

You need to be able to answer the following questions before the interview:

  • What is your research object? Define the product or service you are studying. You should be able to explain it to others clearly.
  • What do you need to find out about your research object? This question focuses on the major objectives of your study and aims to reveal why you are interviewing in the first place. The answer will largely depend on the development stage you are in.

Prepare the detailed interview guide

The interview guide is your safety net during the interview. You can always go back to it to make sure you are on the right track. If this is your first interview, I recommend that you have a very detailed interview guide, not just a questionnaire.

The first section of the interview guide is the introduction. Here you should write all the things you need to tell (and ask) your respondent before the study:

  • Introduce the respondent to the purpose and topic of this interview,
  • Explain how will you use the data obtained,
  • Indicate how long the interview is going to take (hopefully up to one hour),
  • Ensure trustworthiness: briefly describe your approach to anonymity, data safety and the possibility to quit at any time,
  • Ask for permission to record.

The second section of the interview guide is the questionnaire. Make sure to mark the distinction between main questions and follow-up questions. Use simple language and avoid Yes/No questions. Do not be afraid to ask the respondent to elaborate on some answers that are important to you.

The third section of the interview guide is additional comments. These comments should be visible in the margins of the interview guide. They indicate aspects that need your attention during the interview, e.g. when to click “Record” (you would hate to forget that!) or how much time you want to dedicate to each section.

The fourth section of the interview guide is the conclusion. It helps you find words to graciously wrap up the interview. Also, you can use this opportunity to:

  • inquire if the respondent would like to add something to what was already said;
  • request for permission to contact the respondent in the future;
  • answer the respondent’s questions;
  • thank the respondent.

Ensure the comfort of your respondent

The interview will be more successful if your respondent feels comfortable. This goes to both remote and face-to-face interviews. Here are three important aspects to have in mind:

  • You need to make sure that you and the respondent can find each other easily. In your email, provide clear instructions on how to connect: what app will be used, how to use it, and, of course, when to connect. Indicate if the app does not support specific devices or browsers. The same goes for face-to-face interviews: provide very clear instructions on how to arrive at the meeting place and explain where and when will you greet your respondent.
  • Be prepared that your behaviour can also make or break the interview. Try to show the respondent that you are listening: comment with reassuring phrases like “OK, I understand”. Smile, keep frequent eye contact. Always wait until the respondent finishes a sentence, do not interrupt.
  • The surroundings are important, especially in a face-to-face setting. If you have a choice between a large professional-looking conference room and a cosy little room, I suggest you take the latter. Large rooms full of glass and devices are scary. Your respondent will provide an honest opinion only if he or she feels safe and comfortable.

Take care of yourself

While it is crucial that your respondent feels good during the interview, you should not forget yourself. Everyone is different so you know best what you need to feel good. My suggestions are the following:

  • Prepare for either notetaking or recording. There are two options: either you have a colleague who will be taking notes while you conduct the interview, or you record the interview. I hate taking notes during the interview if I am the only interviewer present. I need to focus on the respondent, not spend half the time with my nose in the notebook.
  • Have a bottle of water. Hopefully, the respondent will do the talking, but you can still get thirsty.
  • Don’t drink coffee before the interview. It can make your mouth dry, as well as be the cause of what is called a “coffee breath”.
  • Use the bathroom before the interview. Say what you want but I find this suggestion important.
  • Prepare yourself mentally. Breathe slowly and deeply. Users are good. In fact, most people are good. You can do this, just follow the guide and be genuine. By the way, your smile is beautiful!

A final observation

Conducting your first user interview can be scary. This task can seem super important to you now.

The truth is, one interview means very little. If it goes wrong, it is not the end of the world. Every researcher has experienced some unpleasant or even terrible interviews. You cannot think that an unsuccessful interview defines you as a researcher. No respondent is that important.

Would you like to discuss the post? Tweet or share it, tag me, and I will gladly join the discussion!

@arnasaleks on Twitter, Arnas Aleksandravičius on LinkedIn