Interview tips from CSUN graduate student and Mundo Fox freelance reporter Joanna Renteria

Joanna Renteria’s tips were presented during the Cal State Northridge Latino Journalists interview workshop on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013.


Be prepared. Prepare a list of at least five questions before the interview begins. How are you  going to that? Do your research. There might be something you don’t know. Always do it the night before. Have your recorder ready; have batteries. Arrive early. If you have an appointment at 2 p.m., arrive at 1:45 p.m.

Take notes: There is nothing wrong with taking notes. Consider using your recorder’s time log. Take note of the time your subject told you something important, or of note to your story, so you can figure out what time they said it and what time they said it.

Ask more: If you are not limited with time ask away, but don’t go into questions that are irrelevant. Feel free to ask more.

Stay in control: Never give your interviewee the mike — ever! It might look nicer, but you’re going to lose control of the interview.  Don’t let them handle the mike; don’t let them ramble on into something you are not interested in.

Stay focused: Throughout the interview, you are not only having a conversation, you are a reporter. You have to multi-task. Consider: Are you actually getting the answers you want? You want to analyze the interview as it is proceeding.

Be confident: Pinch yourself. It’s time to play this role of a confident person, even though you may be nervous. If you go into an interview nervous, your interviewee might take control of the interview. If you are nervous and not playing the confident part, your interviewee might have power over you.

Make conversation: Become friends with the people you interview; it’s not the only time you are going to interview them. Make conversation before and after the interview (“What did you do this weekend?”).

Thank your interviewee: Thank them for their time for the interview. Always make sure to thank them for their time. Always get their contact information — all of their contact information (email, phone number, for example). Ask your interviewee, can you give me your full name, age, and occupation? Make sure to get that on-camera.


Don’t assume: Don’t assume someone is a Republican, for example. Let them tell you your story. And don’t answer the question for your interviewee if you already know the answer. Let him tell you the story.

Don’t (and do) interrupt: Sometime we learn something new about your subject that might make the story more interesting. You have an idea of what you want to get from the story, but sometimes you learn things that are more interesting. Listen first; then interrupt. Wait for a pause. That way, you’re not being rude.

Don’t ask close-ended questions: Close-ended questions are questions that call for a yes or no answer. We all do this still, but try not to do it because you’re just going to get “yes” or “no.”

Don’t wait: Don’t think that you are going to see potential interview subjects later. You might lose the opportunity to interview them. Do a five-minute interview.

Don’t “Hmmm,” “Ok, yeah,” or giggle: You might be using natural sound if your interview is going to take place on-camera. Smile, or nod in the affirmative if you wish to acknowledge your interviewee’s answer.

Don’t argue: Avoid giving your opinion: Let them talk. In the end, you are going to show whatever you want to show.

Don’t be afraid of silence: Sometimes they are silent because they are thinking about their question. It might just take them longer to come up with an answer. Use this to your advantage.

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