Deb had an interesting post this week: “Appearances Count Even When You Freelance” that had me chuckling and also got me thinking about how writers can shut down their sources simply by walking through the door. Freelancers often brag they get work in their pajamas and while that’s technically true, no one should interview sources in them – at least not in person.
When I conduct an in-person interview with a source I pay careful attention to my attire and match my clothing into the message I want to convey. Of course, a writer wants to be viewed as professional, but depending on the situation, standard business attire may not be the best approach. As a young journalist I found myself dressing to match the corporate attire of those I was interviewing. During that time I tended to interview older professionals and needed them to see me as a journalist and not as some kid with a tape recorder – yes, that was before I got all digital and old…
Now, when interviewing people particularly in more relaxed environment, I find myself using my attire to put people at ease. I have a little trick – I tend to always wear a blazer and glasses with the knowledge that removing one or both gives a non-verbal cue to the interview subject: “I’m getting comfortable and relaxed, you should do the same.”
When choosing appropriate attire, writers should keep in mind not only their interview subject, but the subject matter being discussed and where the interview will be conducted. Interviewing a group of students on the “sexting” craze? You would do well not to look like their parents. Got a tough interview with a lobbyist about a controversial subject? Bust out the power suit. Going to the local nursery to get gardening tips for a organic gardening article? Leave the good shoes at home and be prepared to walk through and observe rows of plants. There will be times you want to stand apart from the environment and other times you will want to blend into scenery. Writers must always remember the interview begins well before you ask the first question. Your initial contact, choice of location and very clothing can make an interview easier and more productive.