February 08, 2009

Lessons learnt in mock interview

I attended ARM session: The Ethnographic imagination – the art and craft of ethnography on 07 Feb 09. This session was conducted by Prof Pia Christensen. It was a fruitful session, especially the half-an-hour mock interview role-playing activity. In a group of three, the role of interviewer, interviewee and observer were played by each student. The research was meant to explore the interviewee’s perception on the meaning of learning and education in his / her life. 4W1H (‘why’ was excluded due to the ethnographic nature of the research) approach was recommended to generate questions.

I was teamed with Sati and Theo. Sati led both Theo and I to an unoccupied lecture room. After we settled down, we discussed and agreed on the role we play: Sati was the interviewer, Theo was the interviewee and I played the observer role. Next, we spent roughly 5 minutes to prepare for the task. Sati listed the questions to be asked, while I drew an observation table based on the guideline given by Pia (see Table 1).

Table 1: What to observe during participant observation



Researchers should note


Clothing, age, gender, physical appearance

Anything that might indicate membership in groups or in sub-populations of interest to the study, such as profession, social status, socioeconomic class, religion, or ethnicity

Verbal behavior and interaction

Who speaks to whom and for how long; who initiates interaction; languages or dialects spoken; tone of voice

Gender, age, ethnicity and profession of speakers; dynamics of interaction

Physical behavior and gestures

What people do, who does what, who interacts with whom, who is not interacting

How people use their bodies and voices to communicate different emotions; what individuals’ behaviours indicate about their feelings toward one another, their social rank, or their profession

Personal space

How close people stand to one another

What individuals’ preferences concerning personal space suggest about their relationships

Human traffic

People who enter, leave and spend time at the observation site

Where people enter and exit; how long they stay; who they are (ethnicity, age, gender); whether they are alone or accompanied; number of people

People who stand out

Identification of people who receive a lot of attention from others

The characteristic of these individuals; what differentiates them from others; whether people consult them or they approach other people; whether they seem to be strangers or well known by others present

The mock interview started by Sati introduced herself and explained the nature of interview which she perceived. She also guaranteed the confidentiality of the data captured in the interview to Theo. The interview last for 20 minutes and a discussion were held among three of us regarding the lessons learnt in the role-playing. The lesson we learned in the mock interview were shared with other groups. Herewith some useful points to me in the activity:

-         Smile connects people

-         Never expect interviewees to remember things that you have said once, e.g. who you are and where do you come from, etc.

-         A good interviewee would help interviewer in focusing the research topic, provided that the interviewee was given information regarding the key research question and the context of the research in advance. Treat this as serendipity.

-         Interviewer should be flexible in adjusting prepared questions based on interviewee’s background and the real-time interaction with interviewee.

-         Provide options to interviewee or let interviewee determines where to conduct interview. If the interview location is not suitable and only being discovered after the interview has started, do consider to change venue on the spot (let’s get a better place) or arrange another meeting.

-         Interviewer should mention that ‘it is not about right or wrong answers’ at the beginning of interview.

-         Interviewer should ensure that none of the questions is out of the research context.

-         An experienced interviewer would know when to stop.

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