Here at WriterGirl, interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) is a big part of our job. And trust us — even with years of experience, we still run into a few snags along the way. Whether you’re a rookie interviewer or a seasoned Barbara Walters-type, there will always be challenges faced during SME interviews.
If you’re feeling stressed or intimidated by an upcoming interview, relax and remember that the SME is a person, too. Sure, you may hit some bumps along the way, but it won’t be the end of the world. With practice, preparation and patience, you’ll find that you can have a successful interview no matter what obstacles you hit.
Here are a few common challenges faced during SME interviews and how to tackle them:
Getting time on the calendar
When it comes to SME interviews, it’s important to be flexible. Between meetings, conferences and clinic time, it can be hard to get on the SME’s calendar. Being flexible may mean adjusting your schedule to make an early morning or evening interview time. Chances are this won’t happen often, but bending a bit on your schedule can help you get the details you need to write accurate, informative content.
You may also need to be flexible about how you interview the SME. For example, you may want to send questions via email and allow the SME to respond in writing. This method can help the SME provide thoughtful, detailed answers without having to coordinate schedules.
Managing short interviews
Once you get on the SME’s calendar, you may only have 30 minutes (sometimes less) to conduct your interview. To make sure you get the information you need, try to:
- Prepare your questions ahead of time.
- Prioritize questions that cover crucial details you need to complete the assignment.
- Ask the SME how you can follow up with more questions or clarifications in case you run out of time.
Asking the right SME interview questions
Part of a successful SME interview is asking the right interview questions. This can take some practice, so don’t worry if it takes a few interviews to get it right. The bottom line is that you’ll want to try and get the most out of your time with the SME.
Do your research
Read up on the SME and the subject you’re going to talk about. You don’t have to be the expert (that’s what the SME is for!) but having some background knowledge can help you form more thoughtful questions.
Weave in a few open-ended questions
Allow SMEs time to talk generally and you can follow-up with questions that hone in on the details. Giving the SME room to elaborate may open doors to interesting nuggets of information. For example:
- Ask for the SME’s philosophy about treatment or the SME’s approach to patient care.
- Leave time at the end for a general question like, “Is there anything else you would like to highlight?”
Ask about differentiators
If you’re working on marketing content of any kind, it’s crucial to find the details that will set your organization apart from others. Ask the SME about innovative treatments or tests that may not be widely available, or a way the SME’s team cares for patients that may be different from the traditional approach.
Avoid one-word answers
Don’t take “yes” or “no” for an answer. If possible, try to follow up with questions that can draw out more information. Remember, your time with the SME should be well-spent, so try to get the most information you can.
Handling jargon overload
One of the biggest challenges with interviewing SMEs can be understanding the technical terminology they use. As the writer and marketer, you may need to translate the interview into more patient-friendly language, which means it’s crucial you understand what the SME is talking about.
If you find your head is swimming during an interview, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Chances are, the SME understands you’re not an expert on the topic and won’t mind adding more detail. You could also try phrasing the request as, “How would you explain this to a patient you’re meeting for the first time?”
You may also want to try to record the interview. There are several services that allow you to record a phone call or conference, including UberConference, Free Conference Call and TapeACall. If the interview is in person, you can use a recording app on your phone. Once you have a recording, you can go back and listen to the interview to double-check a fact or term the SME used.
Overcoming challenges faced during SME interviews — practice makes perfect
If you’re recovering from an interview that didn’t go so well, don’t worry! The more interviews you do, the easier it will be to overcome challenges and get the information you need. After a while, interviewing SMEs will feel like second nature. WriterGirl is also here to help if you need it.
Do you have any advice, tips or tricks for conducting a successful SME interview? Share them with us in the comments section below.