Interviewing: using your eyes

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The interviewer, like the cat, must have the ability to see in the dark

 

Looking is part of interviewing. Face, expression, clothes, body language, and surroundings all have their stories to tell.

 

Notice details

When I am interviewing someone, I try to see them as if I were painting their portrait with a brush. Are they tall, short, stout, stooped? Do they have a hooked nose, hair sprouting from their ears. Are their eyes different colours, or odd shapes? What sort of clothes are they wearing?

I’ll note down everything I see and notice about the person, and then write down my thoughts on what these things possibly mean. (Since one cannot know for sure and first impressions are often wrong.)

Sometimes a person says one thing, but a detail of their appearance, or something in their surroundings will tell a different tale. Twenty years ago I did some work with London’s Metropolitan Police: we visited an ex-burglar at his home. He had been out of prison two years and swore he had given up burglary. He was not a reading sort of man, because he had very few books, but on a shelf were no less than three of the latest antiques price guides.

When I think I have noticed everything of importance, I look again and this time note things I think are not important. Everything is important.

Here are some entertaining sayings of Mr Sherlock Holmes: 

‘You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.’

 ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’

‘The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.’

‘It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.’

 

Find fresh ways to describe subtle things

Take a look at this woman. How would you describe her face, her character, and what you think she is feeling? What sort of life do you think she has had? I’ve often looked at this picture and wondered.

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Above is a picture of Mr Mohammed Arif.

As an exercise, what can you read in his eyes?

Who do you think is the woman in this picture? What does the placing of her hand tell us about her feelings for him? If the hand was in a different position, for example lying flat on his shoulder, would it convey a different meaning?

If you had to guess at her thoughts, what could they be?

 

Look for things that aren’t there as well as things that are

Sometimes there’s a story in things that you can’t see. That maybe aren’t there. What if everyone in a neighbourhood has flowers in Dalda tins, but in this one house there are none?

Perhaps there are no children. Why not? Maybe there are no pictures on the walls, not even pages torn from magazines. Why would someone not decorate their house at all?

This is Mr Mohammed Idris (a decent man who is no longer with us). What does this picture tell us about him and his life?

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Below are three pictures of Mrs Laccho Bai. What do they say about her life?

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Next: Interviewing: using your ears