Interviewing tips

Notes from Steve Portigal's Interviewing Users


Reaching out to people

  1. It’s easier to start out with people you already know, because they’ll almost certainly meet with you if you ask.
  2. Next are people with whom you have something in common ("we both went to Stanford!" "we both went through the APM program!" whatever)
  3. Then there's people your friends can intro you to. (e.g. Saad intro'd me to Angela who intro'd me to the lab in Santa Clara.)
  4. Finally there are totally-cold reach outs. These tend to have low response rates.

Framing for yourself



Record what’s happening


The interview

Before you start interviewing

Introducing the interview

During the interview

Big goal

Body language

Beside your questions, you say ..

Asking questions

Question types

* *In general, these questions are designed to get someone talking about something specific.

Ask about a specific occurrence “What was the last movie you streamed?” Compare that question to “What movies do you stream?” The specific is easier to answer than the general and becomes a platform from which you can ask more questions.

Ask about sequence “Describe a typical workday. What do you do when you first sit down at your station? What do you do next?”

Ask about exceptions “Can you tell me about a time when a customer had a problem with an order?”

Ask for the complete list “What are all the different apps you have installed on your smartphone?” This will require a series of follow-up questions— for example, “What else?” Very few people can generate an entire list of something without some prompting.

Ask about relationships “How do you work with new vendors?” This general question is especially appropriate when you don’t even know enough to ask a specific question (such as in comparison to the earlier example about streaming movies). Better to start general than to be presumptive with a too-specific question.

Ask about organizational structure “Who do the people in that department report to?”

Ask for clarification “When you refer to ‘that,’ you are talking about the newest server, right?”

*Ask about code words/ native language* “Why do you call it the bat cave?”

Ask about emotional cues “Why do you laugh when you mention Best Buy?”

Ask why “I’ve tried to get my boss to adopt this format, but she just won’t do it....” “Why do you think she hasn’t?”

Probe delicately “You mentioned a difficult situation that changed your usage. Can you tell me what that situation was?”

Probe without presuming “Some people have very negative feelings about the current government, while others don’t. What is your take?” Rather than the direct “What do you think about our government?” or “Do you like what the government is doing lately?” This indirect approach offers options associated with the generic “some people” rather than the interviewer or the interviewee.

Explain to an outsider “Let’s say that I’ve just arrived here from another decade, how would you explain to me the difference between smartphones and tablets?”

Teach another “If you had to ask your daughter to operate your system, how would you explain it to her?”

Compare processes “What’s the difference between sending your response by fax, mail, or email?”

Compare to others “Do the other coaches also do it that way?”

Compare across time “How have your family photo activities changed in the past five years? How do you think they will be different five years from now?” The second question is not intended to capture an accurate prediction. Rather, the question serves to break free from what exists now and envision possibilities that may emerge down the road. Identify an appropriately large time horizon (A year? Five years? Ten years?) that helps people to think beyond incremental change.

Showing a prototype


At the end

Wrap up

As you walk out