Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Guidelines for being a more effective Interviewer

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The Interviewing Process The interview process comprises four stages:

1. The Pre-Interview

2. Research and Preparation

3. The Interview

4. After the Interview

Before the interview, the interviewer conducts a pre-interview. The purpose of the pre-interview includes the following:

•   To meet and establish a rapport with the interviewee

•   To explain the format of the interview

•   To review the logistics of the interview

•   To gather basic facts about the interviewee’s life

•    To fill out the Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ)

Making Arrangements for the Pre-Interview

The pre-interview is usually conducted about a week prior to the interview. Interviewers are encouraged to conduct the pre-interview in person, usually in the interviewee’s home. If a face-to-face meeting is not possible, the pre interview can be conducted by phone. Interviewers should be sensitive about appropriate times to call, and not call on religious holidays, early in the morning, or late in the evening.

Setting the Tone at the Pre-Interview

Establishing trust and a rapport with the interviewee is essential for a successful interview. For interviewers, this relationship begins with the first contact. The interviewer should work to find the right balance between a familiar and a formal approach. A respectful, relaxed, and friendly attitude should be adopted and maintained throughout the relationship with the interviewee.

Dress is  an  important  component  of  demeanor,  and  interviewers  should  dress  in  conservative, professional, and comfortable attire. Interviewers should be aware of cultural sensitivities pertaining to respectful attire.

Documents for the Pre-Interview

The interviewer brings two documents to the pre-interview: the Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) and the Release Agreement.

•   The Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ)

The Pre-Interview Questionnaire was designed to gather specific biographical information about the interviewee, and to serve as a guide for the interviewer. The information gathered from the PIQ is the interviewer’s “road map” to the interviewee’s life story. It provides the interviewer with a general chronology of the interviewee’s life, as well as the names of the immediate family, place names where the interviewee grew up, information about education, social, and religious background, etc. The interviewer should fill out the PIQ with the interviewee and also use it to confirm the spellings of names and locations. The PIQ guides the interviewer’s research and preparation for the actual interview. For example, interviewers research and read about the interviewee’s city of birth in order to gain a broad perspective of the historical, political, social, and cultural forces at work in the interviewee’s prewar life. This information, in turn, helps to generate specific questions that the interviewer will incorporate into the interview. Many interviewees are tempted to tell their stories during the pre-interview. Interviewers should ask them to save their stories for the actual on-camera interview.

•   The Release Agreement

While the Shoah Foundation Institute does not own the interviewee’s life story, it does maintain the copyright to the videotaped interview. As a courtesy, however, the Institute attempts to notify interviewees about the use of their testimonies in educational projects or products. At the pre-interview, the Release Agreement is given to the interviewee for review. Two original copies of the Release Agreement are signed by the interviewee and by any family member before appearing on camera. The interviewee and the family members, when applicable, keep one copy; the other Release Agreement, the PIQ, and the videotapes are returned to the Los Angeles office.

 Conveying the Interview Format and the Procedures

The pre-interview provides the interviewer with an opportunity to inform the interviewee about what to expect when the interview is videotaped. Points that should be discussed include:

1. The interview encompasses the interviewee’s entire life history: prewar experience, war time experience, and postwar experience. The interviewee is asked to think about incidents and stories that he or she wishes to include in the interview.

2. The interview date and time is confirmed with the interviewee.

3. The interviewer will arrive with the camera operator(videographer) and  the videographer’s assistant. Approximately 30 minutes will be needed to set up the equipment and 20 minutes to pack up the equipment.

4. Interviews are conducted individually, e.g. only one interviewee is videotaped per interview.

5. The only people who will be allowed in the room during the interview are the interviewee, the interviewer, the camera operator, and the camera assistant.

6. In order to avoid distractions during the taping, the ringer on the telephone will need to be shut off (with the interviewee’s permission).

7. The Release Agreement will be presented for signature before the interview begins.

8. Tape changes will occur every 30 minutes.

9. Additional questions and clarifications will be asked during the interview when

10. Reflective questions will be asked at the end of the interview. These may include questions about a message to future generations.

11. With the interviewee’s permission, family members (if available) will be invited to appear on camera for the last few minutes of the interview.

12. Personal photographs and/or artifacts, when available, should be considered for inclusion at the end of the interview. These items could include photos of parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren, as well as relevant artifacts such as passports, birth and death certificates, badges, false papers, family heirlooms, or anything the interviewee deems appropriate. Such items are usually discussed during the pre-interview.

13. Interviewees are advised to avoid wearing all white, solid red, or white and black checks.

14. The interviewer fills out the PIQ and the interviewee checks the spelling of proper names and places.

After completing the pre-interview, the interviewer should have a good sense of the interviewee’s general experience. Preparation and research are vital to conducting oral history interviews. There are many factors that should be taken into consideration. Three of the most important ones are understanding the historical context, establishing the “profile” of the interview, and assessing the interviewee’s narrative style.

Researching the Historical Context

Understanding the broader historical context is important in conducting interviews with Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. Based on what is learned at the pre-interview, interviewers research countries, cities, camps, ghettos, and other pertinent information. The Institute has developed several topical question documents that reflect specific historical events. If the interview includes topics that require more specialized research, historians work with the interviewer to obtain the necessary information.

Establishing the Profile of the Interviewee

Interviewers familiarize themselves with the interviewee’s personal, religious, educational, and socio-economic background. The interviewee’s age at the time of the historical event also helps the interviewer understand the interviewee’s perspective about his/her experience. A survivor who was eight years old at the outbreak of World War II saw and understood his/her world differently than someone who was 15 or 20 years old. Interviewers generally follow the chronology of the interviewee’s experience, and identify those experiences that are central to the person’s life. Holocaust survivors who were adults before 1939, for example, require more focus on the prewar period than survivors who were children during the war.

Preparing Topical Questions

Although the interviews are not scripted, interviewers are trained to prepare appropriate questions and topics of conversation in advance of the interview. The interviewee is encouraged to talk about prewar events and personal memories, including family, home life, education, community, religious practices and beliefs, politics, and experiences with anti-Semitism, among other topics. The interviewee is asked to speak about his or her experiences under German occupation. The range of topics is broad, yet specific to each individual. Some survivors fled before the war began. After the war began, some survivors were in ghettos, camps, or in hiding. Others passed as non-Jews or were in resistance groups. Also, survivors are asked about significant moments: deportations, separation from family, and liberation from the camps. Other witnesses (e.g., liberators, war crimes trials participants,  rescuers,  and  aid  providers)  are  asked  questions  appropriate  to  their experiences. Questions about displaced persons camps, emigration, work and career, marriages, and children are among the topics addressed by interviewers in the postwar section of the interview. Questions concerning faith and meaning, dreams, and messages to future generations (reflective topics) are asked toward the end of the interview. Each interviewer develops his or her own style. However, the Institute advises that it may not be necessary to bring a long list of questions to the interview. Instead, many interviewers prefer to prepare index cards with topics, key questions, and brief notes that serve as memory aids during the interview.

Assessing the Narrative Style of the Interviewee

Interviewers assess the amount of guidance the interviewee might need to answer questions and adapt the interviewing techniques accordingly. A few examples are outlined in the chart below.

Structuring the Interview

Most interviews in the Shoah Foundation Institute’s archive average 2 to 2½ hours but can be longer depending on the experience and memory of the interviewee. Interviewers adapt the amount of time dedicated to each period based on many factors, including the complexity of the story, the interviewee’s age during that period, and his/her memory of particular events. The Institute generally conducts the interview in one visit. However, in rare instances, more than one visit may be required.

Practical Matters

In order for the interviewer and the interviewee to focus on the most important aspect of the experience, the actual interview, the Institute offers the following practical advice to its interviewers.

•   The night before the interview, call the interviewee to confirm the appointment for the interview.

•   Allow enough travel time to arrive to the interview on time.

•   Try not to schedule any appointments during the few hours following the interview.

•   Get a good night’s sleep.

Some prominent guidelines for conducting interview:

Interviewing is one of the critical elements in selecting the best-fit candidate for a position.  Here are five guidelines for conducting an effective interview.

1. Plan in advance.

Planning is the key to conducting a successful interview. It should not be an “off-the-cuff” activity. You should invest almost as much time planning the interview as the amount of time you schedule for conducting it.

Before you can start interviewing, you must first develop a profile of the ideal candidate that describes the specific attributes—skills, abilities, achievements, habits, attitudes, and behaviors—someone must have to be successful in the

Carefully review the profile and the candidate’s résumé. Note the elements you want to explore and the information you want to learn. Then, prepare the questions you need to ask. If you don’t prepare them in advance and write them down, you will  forget  to ask   them.

2. Control the environment.

The environment can influence the outcome of an interview. It needs to take place in a private setting, without interruptions and distractions. The objective is to put the candidate at ease. Interviewing is a stressful event for many people. You shouldn’t make it worse.

If  you  are  conducting  a  phone  interview,  make  sure  there  won’t  be  any interruptions. Also, unless there is more than one party involved in the interview at your end, don’t conduct the interview over the speakerphone.

Many people are uncomfortable and guarded with their comments when they are on speakerphone. During a one-on-one interview, don’t sit behind a desk directly facing the candidate. Sit at a coffee table or meeting room table. Clear the table of any material other than what you’ll need for the interview.

3. Use appropriate questions.

4. Maintain a relaxed atmosphere.

The interview should not be an adversarial encounter. Putting pressure on people causes them to clam up, not open up. One of the objectives of the interview is to expose hidden issues. That won’t happen when the candidate is feeling pressure and views you as the enemy. The more comfortable they are with you, the more likely they are to reveal    their real thoughts and feelings.

5. Provide equal time.

Allow time for the candidate to ask questions. Just as you are sizing up the candidate, the candidate is sizing up you and the job. Allowing time for and encouraging the candidate to ask questions allows the candidate time to gather
whatever information he or she needs in order to make a decision should you make a job offer. Additionally, questions are often revealing and may expose an aspect of the candidate not explored.


1.   Discuss the stages of interview process.

2.   Explain how to access the narrative style of the interviewee.

3.   What are the pre-interview documents required?

4.   Describe the prominent guidelines for conducting interview.