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Student Question

I  have an interview assignment for my class that includes preparation of an analytical memo, research about the interviewee, and an agenda. 

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If I understand the student's assignment, and with reference to the attached document, he is required to analyze and comment upon an interview from the perspective of the individual being interviewed. The first question on the questionnaire asks, "What are your frank reactions to the manner in which the student initiated the interview?" From this, it can be inferred that the student posting this question is required to assess the conduct of a fellow student who is  assigned to interview another individual. It can further be surmised that the student's assignment exists within the context of an academic course designed to educate students in how to conduct interviews, as well, perhaps, on how to respond to interview requests made of the student. Finally, it can be suggested that the assignment involves the preparation and execution of public surveys in which the object of the interview is to identify public attitudes on a given topic, such as politics.

Before interviewing respondents, it is imperative that the individual(s) asking questions be very clear and concise as to the purpose of the questions and the uses to which the information gleaned from interviews will be used. Additionally, it is important that the interviewer (vice, interviewee) appear and act professionally and objectively. Inappropriate apparel or a physical appearance considered outside the norms of contemporary society (whatever that may be in the age of body piercings and tattoos) may dissuade some categories of prospective respondents from being interviewed, and may also skew the categories of respondents willing to accede to being questioned. That may be advantageous depending upon the nature of the exercise, but it may also be disadvantageous if the goal is to identify a broad spectrum of opinions. Hence, the "manner in which the student initiated the interview" is an important indicator of the professionalism of that student.

Any student or professional introducing him- or herself to prospective respondents must be cognizant of his or her body language, including facial expressions and hand gestures that could, rightly or wrongly, be interpreted as solicitous of a particular point of view. And, most individuals would, in this context, place a high value on the interviewer's ability to maintain eye contact and to exude a certain level of enthusiasm for the exercise.

The third question on the attached document--"what is your reaction to the student's organization of the interview as a whole"--and the follow-up question ("Did the questions elicit information that you feel is important?") are very important. Respondents should not walk away from the interview thinking, "gee, he/she should have asked me my thoughts on _______," or "the questions were too involved for such simplistic answers as the interview allowed." Unfortunately, many public opinion surveys lack objectivity; the questions are designed to elicit a certain response that can be exploited for the benefit of the organization soliciting information.

Questionnaires and/or interviews are designed with a specific purpose in mind. That purpose could be something as benign as identifying what types of restaurants are most popular or what consumers most look for when choosing a restaurant, type of automobile, or laptop computer. The purpose could also, however, be a little more nefarious, such as attempting to influence public perceptions of the success or failure of a particular public policy advanced by elected officials. The interviewee, ideally, is sensitive to such attempts at manipulation. Too often, unfortunately, the interviewee is unaware of the context in which certain questions are being asked, or is aware but hopes to influence to outcome him- or herself.

The agenda behind an interview or series of interviews should be clear. Absent the requisite level of clarity, the interviewee should beware. Whether the interviewer is forthcoming, or appears ignorant of the purposes of the interview, can determine the receptivity of the prospective respondents. That, however, all comes back to the issue of professionalism mentioned above. Whether the student's assignment involves the perspective of the interviewer or of the interviewee, the integrity of the interview process must be preserved. Otherwise, the entire exercise is morally fraudulent.

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