How to Stay on Topic When Conducting an Interview

Anyone who has ever been in a leadership position, whether at Incept or another company, knows that one of the hardest parts of the job is keeping everyone on track. Whether it’s in a board meeting with thirty people or a one-on-one job interview, people tend to meander off topic and have to be reined in.

At Incept, the Vice President of New Client Results, Billie Johnson, conducts interviews with potential clients. Her job is to evaluate the customer’s needs by conducting round table discussions and interviews, a process called Incept Listen. Everyone is at the table to discuss one topic, but it can be easy to get off track.

So how do you keep everyone on topic? How do you stay in control during an interview?

  1. After you exchange names and pleasantries, before you do anything else, state the main topic. Make it short, specific and easy to remember.
  2. Write the statement down. Make it visible to everyone by writing it on a whiteboard.
  3. If the interview starts to slide off topic (perhaps Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber pop into the conversation), restate the topic. Remind everyone why they’re there.
  4. Set time limits, and remind the interviewees at regular intervals how much time is left for the interview.
  5. On the other hand, it’s OK to be a little flexible. If the interview is all business, it might not be as enjoyable or even, arguably, as meaningful. If someone wants to talk about Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber, it’s all right to talk for a minute or two. But beyond that, though, the interviewer has to draw a line.

What advice do you have to keep an interview on topic?