Interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) is one of the most common and important methods for gathering the information required to create quality documents. Successful SME interviews require careful research and preparation in advance.
SMEs may be programmers, engineers, developers, members from sales and support teams, or customer support teams. They have experience and knowledge of a particular domain, platform, software, process, product or topic that you need to write about.
There are various factors that can affect SME interviews. The SME has to take time out of his or her busy schedule to provide you information. It is therefore critical to get the right information and optimize your interview time.
Here are some of the best practices that you can apply before, during, and after the interview to maximize the optimization of time and resource (SMEs). The majority of these ideas stand valid whether you are a fresher, freelancer, or a consultant writer.
Preparation to be done before the interview
Even before the interview begins, there are a few things that you can do in order to experience a positive interview outcome.
- Describe your objectives: List out all the objectives for which you are meeting the SME. This will help you to stick to the objectives during the course of interview. It will also help the SME to understand what all information you are looking from him/her. Moreover, it will help in streamlining the interview by knocking off the redundant questions and optimize interview duration.
- Study the subject matter: Study and research on the basics of the topic. This will not only help in understanding the lingo of the SME during the interview, but also enables you to actively participate in the interview by asking unambiguous and valid questions.
- Be on time for the interview: Going late to the interview is equivalent to disrespecting the SME’s time. It is better to reach before time and see if you can catch him over a quick tea/coffee session to build rapport before the interview.
During the Interview
Mostly, face-to-face/ conference call interview gives you more chances to gather accurate information for your documentation. It is significant to moderate the flow of the interview in order to get all your questions answered by the SMEs. During the interview, good listening skills, decisive analysis, and the ability to maintain right balance across the length, breadth and depth of the interview (topic) with right skills are vital to successful outcomes.
- Active listening skills: Active listening is the key to successful information gathering. We can note down only some of the information during the interview. However, we can store a lot more in our memory through active listening skills. We can later document it after theinterview.
- Open-ended questions: Ask open-ended questions to the SMEs to gather information so that you can get the insight of the topic. By asking open-ended questions, you provide room to SMEs to explain the length and breadth of the topic.
- Moderate the interview: It is important to be a moderator while interviewing SMEs. You should know how far you want to discuss about the topic. There can be some SMEs who like discussing in-depth information about the topic which might not be necessary for you. You can let them know that your document does not require detailed information beyond certain extent. This will help you in getting the answers to all your questions in the stipulated time.
- Paraphrase information: It is a good practice to paraphrase information back to SMEs. Thus, you will be able to knock off ambiguity about the information. Also, it makes the interview more interactive and helps in free flow of information.
- Identify gaps in the information: It is good to paraphrase the information as it will help you in identifying the gaps in the information flow. Due to short of time, sometimes SME rush through the information. In such occasions, ask relevant quick questions in order to help the SME fill the gap in the flow of information.
- Be accurate: Asking accurate and unambiguous questions saves a lot of time for both the parties. It also helps in reducing the time spent on off-topic discussions.
- Organize your notes in the end: Make it a practice to organize/recollect your notes and rush through it back to SME for quick amendments.
Post interview guidelines
- Give timely attention to notes: You tend to lose information if you don’t recall or use it for long time. Hence, it is recommended to recall and document such information that you were not able to write during the information. Also, this will help in identifying any gaps in the information that you missed during the interview.
- Timely follow up: After going through the collected information and identifying the gaps, it is good to write it in an e-mail and send it to the SMEs for their confirmation. It helps in adhering to your deadlines.