Professional interviewers are important people at Acuigen – they work on the front line, carrying out commercially focussed client interviews. In this article, I chatted with Liz Lawrence, who has been working at Acuigen for nearly 10 years. Liz initially joined the company as an interviewer but now works as an executive interviewer.
Before working at Acuigen, Liz ran her own business in the hospitality sector, giving her a good understanding of how businesses work and giving her an excellent knowledge on the importance of customer service. This experience has equipped her with the skills, insight and knowledge to receptively talk to and interview people.
When Liz started working at Acuigen in 2009, her work involved relatively high speed 5 - 7 minute phone interviews, typically achieving 2 or 3 interviews per hour, primarily with consumers and owners of SMEs. Today, her work as an executive interviewer covers many similar conversations and topics, but requires a greater level of pre-interview preparation and planning. Executive interviews on the phone can typically last 20 - 30 minutes - but can take much longer (60 - 80 minutes is about the longest) depending upon how much a client has to say. When documentation is taken into account, the cycle-time per interview can be between 2 and 4 hours to accommodate more comprehensive circumstances. By contrast, an in-person interview takes just under an hour to facilitate, slightly longer to document, but incurs travel time and costs.
Skills as an interviewer
I wanted to know more about the key skills of an interviewer and what Liz brought to the role. Liz had clear views:
- you must be a good listener and overall a positive, effective communicator; having the ability to listen intently and knowing when to speak. Striking a rapport in the first few minutes is vital
- acting responsively and pragmatically to the content received
- making an interview comfortable and enjoyable for the respondent, where their opinions are valued. You must know when, and how, to probe
- knowing when to be quiet and listen
- being able to speak to many people from different backgrounds and career stages, typically CEOs, General Counsel, lawyers, Financial Directors
- speaking clearly is integral as there can sometimes be language barriers. You have to have decent English language communication skills, or have similar mother tongue skills for multi-lingual interviews
Reflecting upon the content of her interviews, Liz commented, “I strive to make the conversations as welcoming and pleasant as I can with the many different scenarios that I cover. Worthwhile interactions that sustain a comfortable rapport are enriching – I’m provided with fruitful and valued information, and knowing that the respondent has also enjoyed providing feedback is the most rewarding element of my job.”
A typical day
“On a typical day, I start work by checking my diary and the team diary, making appointments for interviews and checking the future availability of potential respondents. Depending upon the time zone of a respondent, I can find myself in work for an early morning interview, or alternatively for an interview that we have booked for an early evening – we try to fit around the schedule of the respondent. Also in the early morning, there are interviews that need documentation completing, proof-read and checked. Occasionally I meet with the verifier, who checks my work – sometimes they may have a question for me, or I may need to check something from the interview voice-recording that was taken with clients’ consent, to help with the interpretation of an answer.
At about 11am each day, we prepare to release interview content to our clients, and then it’s on to the next interview.”
Handling tricky situations
“The most challenging interviews are probably the ones in which English is not the respondent’s first language, and they sometimes bring along a colleague to join in on the conversation. Sometimes there can be 3 people at the interview. Trying to control the flow of information and recognise what different people are saying in a phone interview can be tricky – but the voice-recording helps.
Occasionally I get a respondent who wants to vent their thoughts to me, and I’m happy to listen and synthesise what they say. It’s almost like therapy to some busy people who want their voice to be heard.”
The best part of the job
Liz is quick to answer, “Talking to people from all walks of life and engaging with them in a sometimes humorous, interesting manner is the best part of the job. Being able to develop and maintain rapports with such a diverse number of people is extremely fulfilling.”