The interviewer training course for my new part time job as a research interviewer stretched over two weeks with a total of one week’s course work (spread out) plus homework.
The training days were intensive and comprised going through the interviewer handbook from cover to cover, doing exercises and discussing scenarios, categories and definitions (and tricky obscure grey zone cases), and undertake interviews as role plays.
The course culminated in an assessment session where each trainee undertook a row of simulated interviews involving tricky scenarios. The assessment interviews were monitored by the supervisors and the forms checked by the office’s data entry staff right in front of us. An excellent, effective yet relaxed exam; and great practice too.
The interviewer handbook was the training’s backbone. It pretty much has the answer to any potential problem in chronological order.
The handbook follows the structure of the interview procedure from initial contact, communication and rapport building over interviews to the admin procedure and paysheet records. Every code and category of the interview forms has its own sub-chapter with numerous examples of when they apply and when they don’t.
There are sections about how to motivate the respondents through attentive listening (which details key attentive listening techniques and how to combine them), and one with common respondents objections with a script for how to address every one of them.
I like how there is a rule for any choice and a script for any communication. I wish I had a handbook like that for my life, that would solve many problems.
The handbook also briefly outlines the statistical principles behind the random selection sampling criteria and why it is fundamental to the value of the data (no statistical models shown at all though;-)
There are outlines of the organisations of the employer and the client, what they use the data for, and why the survey is beneficial to the respondents.
It isn’t just ‘nice to know’ background info. To be knowledgeable about the survey and the use of its data is a key aspect of persuading respondents to participate; and I really like that about the survey. Background knowledge is valued and required.
I’ll now switch to my psychological perspective and address the worries I had about undertaking the course.
I mainly worried about whether I could cope with the social aspects such as breaks and small talk. Particularly if the breaks were undertaken in the nearby noisy and confusing cafeteria or another overwhelming location.
The breaks took place in the same big room where the training took place (and the job interview), except for the last two days.
The breaks were short and concentrated and the training was compact, intensive and well organised, so there wasn’t much idleness at all. Everybody were immersed into taking in all the new information and learning the comprehensive procedural regime.
Food, coffee e.t.c. was brought up, and people got together near the food table in the back end of the room for the breaks. As usual, I found it uncomfortable to be surrounded by chatter but we were only about 10 – 15 persons, the room was large and not reverberate, and the noise level was decent, so it wasn’t too bad.
My co-workers* all appear to be very good ‘attentive listeners’. They all have great conversation manners and are good at asking genuinely interested questions and listening without interrupting. That actually reduces the overall chatter level a great deal; and people are pleasant to talk with, even when the topics are not really interesting.
They are all of mature age and mostly ladies returning to work after seeing their kids through or having decided to downscale to part time work. Several (maybe half?) have done door-to-door surveys such as Census data collection.
I think I’m an attentive listener too … (why would they employ me, otherwise?). I do need to remind myself to focus on people so it isn’t an automatic skill, but works very well when switched on. It is much smarter to listen rather than talk (primarily) because it is:
- Safer – Avoid overloading people with details or (from their point of view) unnecessary far-out philosophical musings
- Enriching – Time is better spent learning about someone else’s perspective and, potentially, gain new information than rambling on about what one already knows…
- Pleasant for other people – most people enjoy an opportunity to express themselves to someone who genuinely listens to them
Social survival & well-being
The social aspect of the training went surprisingly well, even small talk worked out well and was mostly enjoyable. I had a great time most of the time, joking & having fun while also learning important rules & skills.
I always feel awkward around people to some extend, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. For example, my dog seems to feel awkward around people too, but that is because she is a dog. She knows that she doesn’t really grasp what the humans grasp, but she also knows that she is accepted and appreciated for what she is and enjoys human company.
I don’t feel quite human either, but I don’t worry about that anymore. That’s just how I am… and I don’t need to feel ‘similar’ to others**; what matters is to feel accepted and appreciated for what I am.
Cafeteria = Hell
The aspects of the training course that did trouble me were physical: the ventilation system*** (sounded like a ferry and converted the air to fridge temperature), health (nausea, head ache and exhaustion esp. the first week), and the lunch breaks the last two days, which did take place in the noisy nearby cafeteria.
The cafeteria was an inferno of sounds, flicker & movement, and even with my (downsized & discrete) ear plugs it was relentlessly startling and overall overwhelming. It triggered my ever-latent noise sensitivity overload reaction. It was the only time during the course where I felt I was falling out of my role and exposing my lack of grip on what was happening around me.
I remained in the inferno for another 20 minutes or so, first waiting for then eating my food while gradually transforming from deer-in-headlight freaked out to zombie-like somewhere-else minded. I was having conversations during that time, and they even sounded somewhat meaningful and normal… despite my sense of remote controlling myself from a distant place & time.
I swallowed the food as quickly I could and returned to the course room to sit in silence and recover a bit before the others came back, pretending to look in the papers although I couldn’t concentrate on anything. After the training started I regained my attentive, joking mode, but the sensation of shock remained during the rest of the day.
Next day’s lunch break was a repeat, and the shock mode then didn’t retreat until late afternoon the day after (17 hours straight sleep later).
I’m not complaining… Just reminding myself to arrange my life in such a way that I never must eat lunch in a noisy cafeteria while I pretend to socialise. Any excuse, any work around, and even failure to comply with social expectations is better. I hope that this time I will remember, so I won’t land myself in Hell again (and again and again and again).
Training course value
It has been extremely interesting to learn about how this sort of research is undertaken in practice; and see the real life side of theories I learned in subjects such as Statistics and Market Analysis long time ago. The course was of great educational value because it was so real life-oriented and applicable. It was also great fun to discuss categories and definitions and how their logic apply to a variety of situations.
I had the opportunity to listen to people who I’d characterise as having excellent social skills and hear them discuss how to approach strangers, how to present a professional image, how to apply attentive listening skills and how aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication may be perceived differently in different situations. That was social skills reflections from a well qualified perspective I don’t usually have access to.
There were visibly good relationships between all stake holders (data entry staff from the office, current interviewers and client’s staff were present at the course) and overall a good vibe.
Overall, I’m grateful for what I got from the course and amazed that I even got paid to learn plus for driving there and for doing homework. The organisation seems like an excellent employer: well organised, logical and value-based with an emphasis on integrity, treating people properly and doing things properly. I would love to get a chance to work with them beyond the interviewer role later on … but that’s for another time.
What lies right ahead (starting in a few weeks) is the real world application of the training and the moment of truth: can I really do the job?
Ps. The illustration theme is inspired by the brilliant Disney/Pixar animation movie ‘Up’, and all the illustrations are of scenes from the movie.
*We won’t be working together but have similar roles and will see each other 4 times per year.
**I am aware that others are not ‘similar’ either. Any person is unique, of course … However, ‘sameness’ seems to be valued and sought, and the idea of deviating from the norm in some way, to be unable to find and connect with sameness, seems to unsettle most people.
***I complained about it a couple of time but apparently it could not be turned off from the venue’s side