The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For the magazine, see Interview (magazine).
An interview is a conversation between two or more people where questions are asked to obtain information about the interviewee.  Interviews can be divided into two rough types, interviews of assessment and interviews for information.


The most common type of interview for assessment is a job interview between an employer and an applicant. The goal of such an interview is to assess a potential employee to see if they have the social skills and intelligence suitable for the workplace. Similar interviews are also used for admissions to schools, allotment of grants, and other areas.

In most countries there are rules and regulations governing what can be asked in these interviews. Highly personal questions and those unrelated to the job at hand are forbidden, as are questions which invite discrimination ("do you plan to start a family?")

Such interviews can be brief fifteen-minute affairs or they can stretch for many hours even over a series of days.

Another important type of interview is the psychological one that can be divided into three forms: structured, semi-structured and non-structured.


The second class of interviews are those seeking to gather information about a subject. These types of interviews are central to the practice of journalism. Such interviews are also important to any non-fiction writer or researcher. In general the quotes and information gathered in these interviews is used in a publication or edited for broadcast.

Such interviews only occur because the subjects have some interest in being interviewed. There are four main reasons why subjects agree to be interviewed:

  • Ego - The desire to be on television and to have one's opinions aired is a strong one to many. Many people enjoy talking about themselves and their lives.
  • Publicity - Politicians and celebrities are dependent on publicity for their success and an interview is free advertising. As such many subjects insist upon prominent mentions of their latest book or movie in the interview. Such promotional interviews are frequently required by contracts.
  • Money - The issue of whether reporters should pay for interviews is a controversial one. Pundits and experts are almost always paid, and this is often an important source of income to them. Most media outlets have rules against paying eyewitnesses for interviews, in part because this only encourages the fabrication of fraudulent stories in the hopes of being paid. A major exception to this are some tabloids, especially British tabloids. Other media outlets often wine and dine sought after subjects and give them other such perks.
  • Helpfulness - many subjects agree to an interview simply to aid the reporter. This is true of most eyewitnesses and help explain why many famous individuals agree to grant interviews for items such as school papers.

Even after an interview has been granted the subject normally imposes conditions. Almost all interviews have a time limit. The greater the fame and importance of a subject the more limitations they demand. These includes subject matters that are off limits, a veto over the final piece, or even a full list of questions provided in advance. Some politicians, notably Helmut Kohl (Germany), have avoided giving interviews to the press, whereas many others consider this a necessary aspect of political campaigning.

There are several other rules to interviews. If a subject declares that what they say is "off the record" a reporter is not supposed to use such information. If material is "Background" the material can be used but its source cannot be mentioned, if it is "deep background" then the information cannot be used on its own, and can only confirm information already obtained from another source. A subject may also declare that their comments should have no "attribution." In such cases the name of the subject cannot be mentioned, but they should simply be referred to as "a source in ...".

These rules are unwritten and in the past reporters have broken them. However if a journalist published material that was off the record they are unlikely to be able to use that source again. They are known as a "burnt source." Moreover news of such betrayals spreads and a reporter may have trouble with other sources.

The tone of an interviewer is also important. Tough interviewers that are honest and forthrightly pose important and difficult questions are appealing to audiences, but not to subjects. An interviewer that develops a reputation for such aggressiveness may soon find it difficult to convince subjects to sit for an interview. A subject that is offended during an interview may put an early halt to the discussion. Politicians, celebrities, experts on certain subjects are frequently interviewed. Sometimes interviews are ended early (usually by the interviewee); one famous example is the interview of Charlton Heston by Michael Moore in the film Bowling for Columbine. Well known investigative journalists can often only get interviews under false pretenses. Conversely an interviewer that only asks "soft" questions will lose the respect of audiences and colleagues.

The ideal interview is considered to be a face to face one. Most newspapers order reporters to specifically mention that an interview was conducted by telephone or e-mail.


In a police station, an interview is also a conversation between police and crime suspects. To avoid fabrication by police in the UK, interviews are audio recorded whereas in many other countries such as Japan, they are not.

Last updated: 05-09-2005 13:12:32
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04