Getting Interviews As a Writer: What I Learned From My Ex Job as a Journalist
People are busy, and their time is valuable. Getting a slice of it requires persistence—and some flexibility.
I started my career as a journalist, following in the footsteps of my parents (both journos). If I'm honest, I didn't love it.
Yes, I liked conceptualizing stories. I loved researching and getting facts. I also appreciated that a lot of journalism requires stepping away from your desk to attend events and talk to people. I even enjoyed the editorial process, something many journalists find dull.
But I hated chasing people for interviews. I felt like an unwanted pest, buzzing around an unwilling interview subject like a mosquito until they'd agree to talk to me. I'm sure that's how they viewed me. But it was part of the job, so I stuck with it. And I'm glad I did.
Now, some 15 years later, I'm no longer a traditional journalist. Do I still interview people and see my words in print? Yes. But the style of work is very different, as I've transitioned primarily to copywriting and ghostwriting. The people I interview are ready and willing to talk to me. Often, they're the ones paying me to share their story—in which case they're even more eager to sit down and have a chat.
That said, perseverance is still necessary. Everyone is busy, and their time is precious. Locking down an interview often requires multiple emails, phone calls, and schedule changes. Thanks to my journalism training, I understand the value of remaining persistent. Without the interview, I won't get the story. Without the story, there's nothing to write.
Over the years, I've found the most success securing interviews quickly with these three tips:
Make it a phoner. I understand that there are many great modern video conferencing tools, from Zoom to Google Meetings. However, I prefer to do interviews on the phone. I get the material I need, and potentially shy interview subjects are generally more comfortable when they're "invisible." Plus, it's more flexible. I've talked to a CEO who was in a car en route to the airport, for example, and a contractor who was literally on a building site. In these unconventional circumstances, people often prefer a phone—no stress about creating a "pretty" background. Since I'm located in Europe and often call people in the US, I use Skype Credit for cheap long-distance calls.
Be specific about the time. As soon as I contact someone about an interview, I clarify a timeframe for the interview. Usually I can get what I need in 30 minutes. Some interviews don't take more than 15. Of course, for longer profile pieces—or book-length ghostwriting projects—more time is needed. But for the most part, 20 to 30 minutes is enough. Assuring people up front that I won't need much of their time usually expedites the process.
Maintain flexibility. When I'm trying to get an interview, I do my best to work around the interviewee's timeframe. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to say "yes" to an interview, which means adapting to their schedule. This means I may have calls late at night due to time differences, for example. I have also done interviews on the weekends on occasion. It's not ideal, but sometimes that's what it takes to get the story I need.
And, of course, persistence is key. I often have to chase my interview subjects before I get a chance to talk to them, sending multiple emails and making a phone call or two. Do I still feel like a pest sometimes? Yes. But it's usually worth it when I get the story I need—and when my interviewee sees that their words were handled with care and contributed to a compelling narrative.
Plus, I get to talk to people from all walks of life. In the last week alone, I've spoken to an event venue owner in Georgia and a brewery founder in New York. The week before that, I spoke to a senior care business owner and an IT human resources consultant. That kind of diversity is what keeps my job fresh and interesting—and why I keep doing it.
Thank you for reading my blog! This is a space where I share personal thoughts — an opportunity for self-expression that has nothing to do with my professional writing. None of the thoughts or opinions expressed in this blog should be construed as anything but my own, nor should they be affiliated with any company or person I contract with or write for.
NOW that that's done... I'd love to hear from you about this blog post in the comments!