Good profile interview questions

Written by catherine ketley
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Good profile interview questions
Build rapport with your subject. (Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images)

If you want to write an interesting and entertaining profile article, you must start with a reliable set of questions for your interviewee. Standard biographical questions will elicit background information, but then you must delve deeper to uncover the details that will bring your article to life. Consider the publication and the audience you're writing for; a local community newsletter will require a different approach to a specialist fan magazine. A successful profile interview depends on questions that allow readers to engage with the personality and learn something new about him.

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Establish a rapport

Begin with gentle, open-ended questions that will settle your interviewee and make him feel comfortable discussing his life. Many profile pieces are written because the person is currently in the news, so show an interest in what he is doing now. Respond positively and encourage him to go into detail about his latest project. Take notes on his work and explain how you will promote this in your article.

Encourage reflection

You'll probably already have basic biographical information, so flesh this out with questions that require your interviewee to reflect on his upbringing. Examine how childhood routines have informed his attitude to life as an adult; questions about parental or school influences will often spark memories about specific, entertaining incidents. Create a flow of recollection by asking follow-up questions and allow the interviewee to move into unexpected areas that will interest your readers; asking him about childhood Christmas traditions could reveal sibling rivalries, regret at losing his grandparents or even where his interest in musical theatre came from.

Challenge perceptions

Your readers will already have their own impression of your interviewee. Reveal new aspects of his personality with unusual questions; ask him to reminisce about his first date, disclose his most embarrassing moment or explain his views on a topical news story. The most candid responses usually come from unexpected questions. Link the questions so that you are peeling back the layers of his personality and uncovering traits that have previously been hidden from your readers; his favourite movie might reveal a romantic streak which you can strengthen with the detail of how he proposed to his wife.

Be honest

The best profile questions are direct and frank. Approach difficult or sensitive areas honestly and sympathetically. Often, a personality will talk about even the most traumatic event if you show a genuine interest in how it affected him. Ask about his feelings, what he considers his best and worst features and what he regrets. Depending on the tone of the profile, you could establish what he thinks of himself by asking what he would like written on his gravestone. Allow him to have the last word by asking him about his hopes for the future.

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