Reflections on an Interview with a Zookeeper

The apprehensions I had prior to conducting the interview failed to have alleviated by the time Monday arrived and on Tuesday I still didn’t feel entirely positive about the experience. I really felt I had prepared for the interview. I know the subject well and am familiar with the secondary literature but I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for something you’re about to embark on for the first time. The interview itself got off to a little bit of a bumpy start. I think it would have been helpful to have perhaps met the interviewee before the interview itself, just to break the ice and get to know each other a little. At the beginning it felt a little awkward but once we got going and settled into a rhythm, that soon subsided. The only other thing was, I had complied with a request to send a list of themes and at the beginning I felt a bit like the answers had been rehearsed. I had avoided sending specific questions for this reason so was a little thrown when my interviewee offered up large chunks of narrative and answered a number of the questions I planned to ask later, all in one go. But that’s the thing isn’t it, to be a good interviewer you need to be prepared for that to happen, to be flexible and to deviate, and while I thought I was prepared for that, it took me a while to find my feet and relax into it. I’d say after about the first 15-20 minutes things were more at pace and the rest of the interview developed more naturally. Questions arose as we went on which I asked and I was always met with a response. You could tell the interviewee was passionate, proud and well informed about zoo keeping and that made for a fascinating interview.

There are some rookies mistakes on the recording. I thought I had communicated by nodding and miming, but I didn’t do that all the time. Especially at the beginning I had this really annoying habit of responding or repeating phrases – what that was about I don’t know. I can also be heard at one point to say “I don’t know what to ask you now” – doh! Aside from that and a few other things, I actually really enjoyed it and learnt an awful lot. There were some really interesting anecdotes and I learnt new information about the profession, especially the interviewees role in some significant developments. I soon realised that I was in the presence of someone who has been very influential in the zoo keeping community. His pride at that came across but so did modesty – it was interesting to see that develop.

I walked away from the interview feeling that it could have gone better, but on reflection and having listened to it back, I’m quite pleased with how it went. All the questions I had intended to ask were answered, as were many more and I achieve my intention of discovering why the interviewee followed this career path, how he got to where he is today and where he thinks the future of zoos is headed. I really enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot about interviewing technique as well as the theme itself. In fact I have had another reply and am keen to follow up this lead as well.


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