From building trust to exploring the power of good questions, we covered quite some ground in the first part of this interviews-focused series. Now it’s time to dig a bit deeper and find out how doing them enable your growth across the board.
Here are more ways interviews leveled up how I think and how I act.
I noticed patterns in behaviors and mindsets
Whether I interview DJs, customers, innovators, developers, or other marketers, there’s one thing I always pay attention to: what they talk about repeatedly.
The more interviews I did, the better I became at paying attention to what people have in common.
For example, while interviewing guests about their decision-making process for the How do you know? Podcast, I noticed they all have a growth mindset fueled by constant learning and introspection.
While exploring top performers’ mindsets through conversations, I noticed the key principles and ideas they all point towards. The more interviews I did, the more I recognized the strong alignment between what they preach and what they practice. This consistency indicates the behavioral and mindset patterns that underpin their ability to perform, to lead, to be better people – for both themselves and others.
We become what we do constantly. Another recurring fact about top performers is that they’re very intentional when pursuing certain paths or goals. Using this approach, they built a self-reinforcing virtuous circle that powers their performance and capacity to stay true to themselves.
Keeping an eye out for timeless principles did a couple of things for me:
- it fueled my own determination
- it helped me access resources or opened up possibilities that I hadn’t considered before
- it contributed to improving my strategic thinking
- it broadened my range at work, adding diversity, fulfillment, and excitement!
For example, I can easily switch between content marketing and product marketing because I have a strong understanding of how customers use the product.
Another interesting byproduct is that I made my skills and knowledge transferable. I use what I learn from my personal projects in my freelance work and vice versa. What’s more, I can apply what I learn from one industry to another.
I developed my empathy (and became a fierce customer advocate)
What I particularly love about doing interviews is that they’re a key learning experience with multiple lessons to teach at the same time.
When applying what I’m constantly learning from doing interviews in my work, it helps me understand how to connect to people from any context, in any role, with any type of experience. Staying curious about what they have to say enables me to understand how I can be more helpful and facilitate more connections like them.
Because people saw this in the interviews I did, I ended up working with a customer to create an entire podcast season dedicated to empathy! It was an incredible opportunity to talk to some of the most amazing women in marketing and design and discover all the ways they use empathy to improve their lives and other people’s.
Here’s another way I use empathy in my work: customer development interviews – a very powerful reality-check! They reveal the difference between what companies sell and what customers use their products/services. In that space, there’s a huge potential for improvement and growth.
Because I approach interviews with genuine curiosity, I slowly became a better listener. In this context, it’s impossible not to become more empathetic when talking to customers one by one, looking at them as complex individuals and not just a collection of demographic and psychographic traits.
When exposing myself to so many different use cases, points of view, needs, and desires, it’s impossible not to be humbled. It etches into the brain the key idea that we work mostly with assumptions that always need to be tested with real people. This helped me internalize that I’m never a benchmark for anything I create for others – only customers are.
In turn, this helped me become a fierce customer advocate and get better at no-ego marketing.
Call me a dreamer, but I really believe that companies are just groups of people trying to use their gifts to help others while helping themselves in the process. Or so it should be. That’s the kind of company I (want to) work with.
I cultivated a knack for specificity
One of the key pieces of feedback I offer not just to content creators, but also to people, in general, is “be more specific.”
Because your customers and your audience are not an amorphous mass of automatons, they don’t respond to generic messages. Trying to capture a large audience with blanket statements will get you nowhere. It’s the “try to be something for everyone and you’ll end up being nothing to no one” principle at work. Large audiences don’t necessarily convert into paying customers. In fact, the switch happens more often for people particularly passionate by – you guessed it! – specific topics.
In today’s world where everyone’s drowning in information all the time, specificity becomes invaluable. Generic content is devoid of value by default. And you can only be specific if you know your customers well enough if you learn what stories they resonate with, what drives them, what moves them, and which elements of your work (product, service, brand) play into their needs, hopes, and aspirations.
For a content-focused perspective, check out The Specificity Strategy in which Benji Hyam does a fantastic job explaining it. Bookmark it because you’ll want to come back to it, trust me.
Because I read significantly more interviews than I did, I couldn’t help but notice how lackluster and superficial most questions are.
So I spent a lot of time doing research because I was genuinely invested in the topics I interviewed people about. I wanted to ask them questions they’d never been asked. I wanted to delight and surprise. I wanted to get them excited and make it a rewarding experience for them!
Designing specific questions that captured the most interesting and unexplored aspects of their work and life got me there. Magic ensued every time!
I got better at conveying value, expertise, and insight
I work with startups and large companies alike and what they have in common is that they need to empower their team members to share their expertise. This is a growing trend in content marketing and I expect it to continue to surge in popularity.
Until a few years ago, large companies were still reluctant to put some of their brand value in the hands of employees. But they’ve had a lot of competition from smaller or mid-sized companies who had less internal politics to navigate. These fast-movers leveraged tactics like interviews, opinion articles, and contributions to roundups to build their brand, nurture an audience, and build trust in their companies. Now, large organizations are doing it too, especially with ghost writing.
Interviews can be the most effective way of collecting, documenting, and sharing internal expertise. This internal pool of know-how often goes uncaptured and unreflected in companies’ marketing efforts. Having conversations with the team enables me, the content strategist, to capture many types of specific information and stories in a short amount of time. I can “translate” them into content for the website, articles, campaign ideas, product-focused assets, and a lot more!
They also enable people outside the organization – customers, partners, key opinion leaders, journalists, etc. – to see the human side of the business. And this is the essential element that moves customers from a transactional relationship to a loyalty-based one!
For example, doing interviews helped me collect keywords and ways people naturally express their ideas. This improved my content and enriched it with stories and relatable experiences that drive a-ha! moments for readers and customers. In doing so, I ended up connecting teams to their customers and the broader community.
One of the most-read articles I’ve ever written (What is ransomware?) began with such a true story. That article has for over a year on the first page of Google, right after Wikipedia, and brought a boost of 800% in traffic when WannaCry hit in 2017.
Plus, the benefit of talking to industry leaders and having direct access to their expertise is an invaluable opportunity to learn fast. And I never turn down a chance to do that!
Here’s another example for you: this 19000 words-long article made of thoughtful and enthusiastic contributions from over 30 cybersecurity specialists. It all started with me asking them a question I have gotten from a customer: is internet security a losing battle?
Even though it’s one of the longest articles I’ve written, it’s also one that has the strongest time on page (~18 minutes the last time I checked), an indicator that readers are genuinely captivated by the ideas in it.
One contributor emailed me saying:
“I got really excited about the topic and wrote around 3000 words but realized it was too long, so I cut it down a bit.”
I had touched a chord! I had managed to get these incredible experts as invested in the topic as I was. This is still one of my favorite articles to date.
I built my personal brand and improved my writing and speaking
I’ve interviewed people in person, via email, and in podcasts. I’ve talked to them on stages, in clubs, and various event venues. I’ve moderated fireside chats, talked to tens of job applicants, and was on the other side of the recording device quite often.
By saying “yes” to these opportunities (as many of them involved volunteering), I exposed myself to wildly different experiences and contexts. Without realizing it, interviews became the space where I could lean into that 20% of me that’s an extrovert.
These experiences made me a better writer. They enhanced my ability to form my own ideas and express them. They improved my capacity to frame and contextualize ideas. Interviews made me better at spotting sources of value in other people’s work. They taught me how to capture and tell stories that resonate with others and serve their own purposes.
With each new conversation, I learned something new about myself. I collected ideas, frameworks, questions, perspectives, and examples. And then built on top of them.
This is how I came up with the idea of starting my own podcast and exploring a complex topic – decision-making – along with generous and brilliant guests. It’s how I got tens of ideas for articles (case in point: my list of article drafts).
Doing interviews is how many leaders in the local and international community noticed me. One of these leaders hired me for two roles and became my valued mentor. Another became my customer when I started freelancing. We worked together for an entire year. Others invited me to their own podcasts, giving me a chance to tell my own story, which I deeply treasure. (Because I’m more comfortable with talking about my work when someone else asks me about it.)
Every ounce of energy I put into doing interviews – and getting better at it – was worth it! That’s why I continue to do it.
I became a better human
Talking to other people about the things that matter to them changed me.
To feel that connectedness, to inspire enthusiasm in each other – those experiences helped me become a better conversation partner, a more present, and empathetic one.
Doing interviews has always been a great source of personal and professional achievement. Having one on one conversations with great people is not just work for me – it’s a way to enjoy life, to grow, to give and receive (energy, wisdom, support, and a lot more!).
With each interview I broadened my views. Like adding pieces to a puzzle, I filled in some gaps, discovered a lot more, and developed new ways to see the world. That’s a gift and I’m grateful to everyone who shared a few minutes or hours of their life with me in a meaningful way!
In the next instalment of the series, I’ll share my process for acing interviews and a bunch of resources to feed your thinking and tactics.