Ergonomics 4 Schools

Explore the Learning Zone


What is an interview?

An interview is a specialised type of communication, usually verbal, between two or more people and is carried out for a specific purpose. It is different from an ordinary conversation in that its form and purpose is structured.

InterviewsThe interview may be carried out for a number of reasons, for example:

  • To select someone for a job - personnel selection
  • To collect information - market or social research
  • To assist someone, (for example; doctor-patient, teacher-student) - a clinical or counselling interview

For an interview to have the best chance of success, the interviewer should usually show warmth and responsiveness. This can be seen as a genuine interest in the person being interviewed. They should show understanding, and not stop the person being interviewed from expressing their thoughts and feelings. Finally, the interviewer should not allow their own wishes, reactions or opinions to influence the outcome of the interview.

From this you can see that interviewing is a skilled activity that takes experience and practice.


Planning an interview

If you are going to carry out an interview, you need to think about the steps involved. Some preparation must be done before the interview to make sure that you get what you need from it, and some thought given afterwards to the information gathered.

1 Decide on the purpose of the interview. For example, are you interviewing someone for a job? Are you trying to find out someone's opinion about something? Are you trying to help someone with a problem?
2 Decide what kind of information you need to get from the interview to achieve the purpose. You should have a list of specific goals. If you were interviewing someone for a job, you would want to find out whether they were suited to the type of work and would fit in with the rest of the staff.
3 Decide what questions are you going to ask. You should draw up a list of questions so that the answers help you to achieve your goals. For example, if you were interviewing someone for the job of a postal worker, you might want to find out whether they were fit enough to carry a heavy sack and walk the streets.
4 Carry out the interview. If you were interviewing someone for a job, you should be able to form a fair and honest assessment of the person being interviewed.
5 Study the answers to your questions. Make sure that your goals have been achieved. If not, find out more information.
6 Make a decision about the purpose of the interview. For example, the person interviewed has been successful and will be offered the job.
Personnel selection interviews
personnel selection interview has three purposes:
1. To get information from candidates about their abilities and ambitions;
2. To assess the likelihood of the candidates fitting in well with future colleagues;
3. To give information to the candidates to ensure that they are sufficiently informed about the job to decide whether they wish to carry on with their application.
All questions asked at interview must be relevant to the post, and should not stray into areas that employment law does not allow, such as those that might lead to discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or disability. If you draw up a job description of the activities involved in doing the job, and a 'person specification' that covers what experience, skills and abilities, training, education and qualifications a suitable candidate should have, you will be able to look for matches in a fair and objective way. When short-listing candidates for interview, you should do it on the basis of this matching process. Candidates have the right to ask why they were not short-listed or offered a job and therefore you must keep proper records of the questions asked and the selection criteria for this purpose. These must be kept for 6 months by law.

Most interviews, including selection interviews, fall into four phases of welcome, collecting information, supplying information and parting. After this, you decide who to appoint, take up references, and offer the chosen candidate the job.

Welcome - The interviewer, or a panel of interviewers, usually greets the candidate, chats informally and explains briefly the procedure of the interview. The aim is to make the candidate relax.
Collecting information - This is where you collect information about how the candidate matches the person specification. All candidates should be asked more or less the same questions, and these should cover:
1. Work history, duties, likes, dislikes, achievements, working conditions, level of earnings, reasons for changing job, type of job desired;
2. Education and training, best and poorest subjects, grades, extra-curricular activities, training beyond undergraduate level;
3. Personal factors such as interests, hobbies, family status and commitments, geographical mobility, flexibility.
Supplying information - You give information to the candidate. The candidate may have questions about the demands of the job, the work environment, etc. and should be given the opportunity to ask them.
Parting - The candidate leaves, usually with the promise of being informed of the results of the interview as soon as possible. It is good practice to offer expenses to candidates, especially those who are on low incomes or who are just starting on their career.
1. The interview will typically last between 10 and 60 minutes; the more important the job, the longer the interview. For some very senior posts, or for those with very specialist requirements, the interview and selection process can last several days.
2. The interview will consist mainly of the interviewer, or the panel of interviewers, asking carefully selected and relevant questions, and then listening to the answers. Somebody should be responsible for recording the candidate's answers.
3. The interview is usually a formal occasion in which both parties are formally dressed, behave politely and are not interrupted.
4. The interview can take place across a desk or table, which makes note taking easy but can be intimidating, especially if there is a panel of interviewers on one side and the candidate on the other. It is more relaxing to sit at right angles to a candidate, perhaps in easy chairs or next to a low coffee table.

Interviewing in market, product or social research


Interviews may be used in market research, consumer-product evaluation, social research on attitudes, or before any change is made in equipment or in working methods. It is also possible to reveal design faults in a product by talking to the users.

Methods of data collection
The Personal Interview Method (Closed questions)
The personal interview is the most frequently used method. It is a direct form of investigation where trained interviewers get information from selected individuals (usually called respondents). A formal questionnaire is usually used for the interview. The place in which the interview is conducted depends on the subject and on the method of sampling. It may take place in the street or it may be a 'Hall Test', that takes place in a town hall or other public building. If you want to speak to elderly or disabled people, this is best done in their homes or some place that they visit such as a lunch club. It should be by appointment only; never just knock on a door and expect to be let in. Children should always be accompanied if they are carrying out questionnaires in homes.

The Focused Interview Method (Open questions) 
The focused interview differs from the personal interview in that respondents are encouraged to talk freely, while the interviewer reports what they say. They may even record it on a tape for later analysis (with the respondent's permission). To keep the interview to the point, guiding questions are sometimes put to the respondent. Often, more information can be obtained this way, than when detailed, fixed questions are asked.

Disadvantages of personal and focused interviews:
1. There is great danger that the interviewer, when recording the answers, will interpret them in their own way.
2. The interpretation of the interviews by the researcher is also very difficult and gives an opportunity for personal bias to distort the findings.
3. Statistical analysis of the findings is either very difficult or impossible since the information may not be easy to quantify or code.
4. The interview takes a long time, which increases the cost per interview.
5. There is a high proportion of irrelevant information in the data.

The Telephone Interview Method
This is similar to the personal interview but obviously takes place over the telephone. Again the respondents are asked a set list of questions relevant to the study. This method is becoming very common for market research, as well as being used by service companies, such as banks, who want to make contact with their customers, either to improve services or to sell additional ones.
1. It is a quick method for conducting a number of interviews within a short time.
2. The interviewers can be supervised easily.
3. The cost per interview is low.
4. The sampling can be spread over the country and travelling is eliminated.
5. People who might otherwise be inaccessible, can be interviewed, since the interview can be very brief and arranged for a time that is convenient to the respondent.

1. Telephone subscribers may not be representative of the general population, Mobile phone numbers may be used which do not give information about the location of the respondent.
2. Only a short questionnaire can be used.
3. Observation is not possible, so that the interviewers have to rely totally on what the respondent tells them.
4. The times during the day when respondents can be called are limited, for example to office hours, or early evening, and it is difficult to predict such times. Calling during meals or when people are watching TV can lead to negative responses.
5. 'Call-backs' have to be made when the number is engaged.

The Panel Method
The panel method is used to study changes over time. A panel of the same respondents are used and they are questioned about the same sort of thing over a period of time. There are several types of panel including the consumer-purchasing panel, the consumer-product testing panel, or the television audience panel.
The panel is often recruited by means of personal interviews of a cross-section of the population. The respondents are given diaries in which they enter, for example, every time they buy one of the products being surveyed. They return the diaries at regular (usually weekly) intervals. Alternatively, the panel may be interviewed about the relevant facts periodically. This method has been successfully adopted for radio, television and opinion research.

1. The method is especially useful for research into trends, as the same individuals are questioned over a period of time.
2. Data collected over a period of time can be accumulated and the factors underlying the change can be analysed.
3. The case histories of panel members can be established to give relevant background material to responses.
4. The panel can sometimes be used for enquiries on other subjects, provided that these are not likely to affect the reliability of the panel for its main purpose.

1. Individuals may leave the panel.
2. If people refuse to join the panel it may no longer represent a target population.
3. Being a member of the panel over a long period of time may affect the opinions and behaviour of panelists, so that their responses may no longer be representative of the population at large.
4. The original recruiting drive is usually expensive so investment takes a long time to yield returns.
5. Panel members are usually rewarded in some small way, which adds to the overall cost.
The Group Interview Method ('focus groups')
A small and carefully selected group of people is invited to a discussion on whatever topic is under review. A questionnaire may be provided, but more usually, the group is encouraged to discuss the matter freely, following a basic agenda. The discussion may be recorded on tape, if the respondents agree, or an observer may be present to take notes. The interviewer's task is to remain in the background and to intervene only to bring the discussion back to the point.

1. Group interviews are appropriate in research concerned with motives and opinions where such factors as social status and acceptance are involved. Such factors are brought out through the dynamic group situation.
2. The group interview is relatively inexpensive as one interviewer can listen to up to ten people at a time.
3. The free discussion of the group on a topic can provide valuable information for pilot studies (for example, to suggest questions to ask at an interview)
4. The spontaneity of the discussion may produce information and attitudes that cannot be obtained by other methods.

1. It is usually very doubtful whether such a group can be regarded as really representative of the population at large.
2. Statistical analysis of the material is usually difficult, if not impossible.
3. The influence of the more vocal group members on group opinion is hard to estimate.
4. In the group situation, people may assume roles and behaviour that are not characteristic of their usual behaviour.
5. Some groups are difficult to assemble, for example, managing directors.
Self-administered and Group-administered questionnaires
The interviewer is often a person in authority such as a teacher. They briefly explain the purpose and requirements of the survey to the respondent, or group of respondents, and then leaves them alone to complete the questions. The method usually gives a high response rate and a minimum of interviewer bias. It has the benefit of a degree of interviewer assessment of the respondents, a better explanation to the respondents and personal contact.
For groups of respondents assembled together, the interviewer distributes the questionnaire to the assembly or reads aloud each question for immediate completion. All respondents then answer each question in the same order. Groups of forty can be handled in this way, but they can affect answers by copying, talking and asking questions.
Format of the interview

The following stages usually occur:
1. Decide on the aims of the study and what you are trying to investigate - usually called the 'hypothesis' or 'null hypothesis'. For example, 'men are more interested in sport than women'.
2. Review the relevant literature and discuss with other people. This includes deciding how the data will be analysed, and making sure that the information is collected in a suitable format.
3. Design the study, making the hypothesis specific to the situation. For example, 'men are more interested in playing golf than women'. 
4. Compose the interview questions that will bring out the information that you need for your study.
5. Carry out a small test (called a 'pilot study') to make sure that you have phrased the questions adequately and modify them if you need to.
6. Select a sample of subjects to be approached.
7. Collect your data (usually called doing the 'field work').
8. Sort out and process your data. This can include giving codes to the answers so that they can be put on a computer spreadsheet for analysis by a statistical package.
9. Do the statistical analysis.
10. Put all of the results together and see what they are telling you. This is the part where the hypothesis is tested to see, for example, if men statistically do play more golf than women.
11. Write up the results, relating the findings to other research, drawing conclusions and interpretations.

Data obtained by means of questionnaires is confidential, in the sense that no responses or findings should ever be published which could be traced back to particular individuals. This is a requirement of the Data Protection Act.

In enlisting co-operation for any survey, respondents are usually given this assurance and a guarantee of anonymity. This is often crucial in obtaining frank and revealing responses. Where possible, therefore, you should not ask respondents to put their names on, or to sign, their questionnaires. If you need to maintain a check on non-respondents, the questionnaires can be numbered and cross-referenced back to individuals.

Survey methods
The Mail or Postal Survey Method

For the mail or postal survey, the approach to respondents is made through the postal service. Email is increasingly being used as a way of contacting people, but the principles remain the same. Letters are sent to a group of randomly selected individuals, including a questionnaire to be completed and returned. After a certain period of time has elapsed, one or more follow-up letters may be sent, including the same questionnaire, to those who have not replied. Sometimes a small gift, often an inexpensive pen, is enclosed as an incentive.
The questionnaire should be short, simple and easy to follow. Questionnaires to be completed and returned by mail may also be enclosed in a newspaper, or a periodical or attached to a consumer product. For more information, see the questionnaires topic.

1. A widespread geographical sample may be reached without increased costs, as postal rates generally do not vary with distance within one country.
2. The mail survey may be much cheaper than the personal interview survey, as field expenses are not incurred.
3. No interviewer training is involved.
4. Interviewer bias is avoided.
5. Certain groups that cannot be reached easily or without undue expense by other methods can be reached by post.
6. The respondents can consider their answers at leisure.

1. The respondents are a self-selected group (they decide whether or not they will take part) and so are not fully representative of the population, although personal interviews with non-respondents, when they can be arranged, can give a basis for estimating the difference.
2. The refusal rate is much higher than with any other method. Returns may range from ten to fifty per cent, although they may sometimes be higher than this. Well-written letters and questionnaires that capture the interest of respondents can improve the rates of return.
3. The respondent may misinterpret the questions and give misleading answers when there is no interviewer present to clarify the questions.
4. The amount of information is limited by the need to make the questionnaire simple and short, and by the fact that you can expect little writing from respondents.
5. The last returns tend to come in slowly so that you must allow a substantial margin of time before you can carry out the next step of the survey.

Tip: As personal questions may put off the respondents, you should keep them to a minimum or omit them altogether.



Magdalen Galley