Expert Interviews 3: Smooth, clear questions

Woman working on a computer in a home office

This lesson will show you a few ways to ask questions and be respectful without wasting any time. 

Introduction: 

Here are three pieces of advice for conducting interviews. What does each one mean? Do you agree?

  1. Ask open-ended questions.

  2. Avoid being too direct.

  3. Express gratitude.

Warm Up: 

Choose a topic based on your teacher's hobbies or background. Ask them one general question and three more specific follow-up questions. 

Language: 

A. Roadmap

Interviewees often appreciate knowing where you are going to lead them during the interview. So, start by laying out a roadmap, then smoothly transition between topics.

  1. First, introduce the idea.
    • First, let me lay out a roadmap.
    • As I mentioned in the email, there are a few key areas to talk about.
       
  2. Next, introduce the points.
    • I’d like to start with A. Then we’ll get to B, and then C. 
    • First, let’s talk about A. After that, we can discuss B, and then C.
    • To begin, I’d like you to tell me about A. Then B, and then C.
       
  3. Then start
    • So, let’s begin with A.
    • So, let’s get started.

Practice

  • Think of an industry you've worked in before.
  • Now come up with three ideas for different questions you could ask an expert.
  • Then, lay out a clear roadmap.

B. Politeness

In English, your level of politeness is set in the first few sentences. After that, you can get more and more direct. This style means you don’t waste time or repeat yourself.

Group the following questions into more formal and less formal.

  1. I’d like to ask you about […].
  2. What is the […]?
  3. Could you tell me about […]? 
  4. Tell me about […]. 
  5. I’m actually wondering about […]. 
  6. Interesting. Tell me more. 

Practice

Use your question ideas from Practice A. Politely introduce the topic and then ask direct questions related to that topic. 

C. Open questions

When introducing a topic, good questions are typically open and neutral.

  • Avoid closed questions, and especially avoid leading questions, unless you are using them to quickly establish agreement.

Which questions would you improve? Why do they need improvement? And how would you improve them?

  1. Do you think bio-plastics are the most sustainable packaging solution? 
  2. What do you think about the profitability of this industry? 
  3. Would you say that bio-plastics are the future of the industry?
  4. I’ve heard that bio-plastics are the future of the industry. Is that right?

Practice 

Pick a topic you know well, and ask your teacher three open questions. 

D. Closed questions

On the other hand, closed questions can sometimes be used when you have a solid understanding of the topic. A quick yes or no answer can confirm what you know. You might use these more as you confirm hypotheses through the project.

It's most polite to use "I" statements.   

  1. Am I correct in understanding that […]? 
  2. It seems to me that […]. Is that right?
  3. I recently heard […], is that correct?
  4. I believe […]. Is that right?

Practice

Confirm three things you know about your teacher, and then ask open, direct follow-up questions. 

  • E.g., "I believe you live in London, right? [Yes.] How's the cost of living compared to other places?" 
    Practice: 

    Case

    A holding company has 6 different innovative subsidiaries. It is facing a variety of challenges:

    1. Lack of consistency and standards across its data storage warehouses.
    2. Source system databases generate different styles of reports.
    3. High cost to integrate data from new source systems
    4. Difficult to maintain consistency according to a code, as past efforts have failed.
    5. Limited ability to utilize modern analytics technologies to improve decision-making.

    Your project is to establish a data warehouse system according to best practice. A data warehouse is an information system that contains historical and commutative data from single or multiple sources.

    You are creating a framework to support rapid integration of new data sources. You would also like to position the business to leverage analytics and AI technologies. 

    You want to know:

    1. The names of 3 companies that are best-practice examples in data warehousing using cloud-based technology for innovative tech companies.
    2. Why tech company implementation efforts for maintaining consistency in data storage have failed.
    3. How to prevent too many styles of reports when warehousing data from a variety of subsidiaries, from the viewpoint of a parent company with a variety of holdings. 

    Introduce the topic, addressing why me, why this, why now, and why you. Then ask your questions smoothly and logically. 

    Interview 1—Olivia Devier

    A data warehousing pioneer, Olivia works as a freelance consultant and expert in the U.K. She specializes in using cutting-edge tools to leverage data and gain insights to accelerate a company's development cycle and fulfill its mission.

    Interview 2—Franz Mueller

    Franz is a partner in your company's Philadelphia office. He has worked with a number of multinational companies to develop cross-border data warehousing. Your team leader, Kenneth, spoke to Franz for a project last year and said he played a pivotal role in the success of the project.