The military interview: brush up on those people skills

The term military photographer usually creates visions of explosions, helicopters and impressive tactical maneuvers. While these jobs do happen, the majority of work that military public affairs (PA) specialists perform is inside, sitting in front of an interview subject.

Almost every story in this job field will include an interview of some sort. The location, subject and equipment may vary but the basic rules do not. The key to success in any situation is knowing your gear and working well with your team.

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mike DiMestico checks the focus on his Nikon D800 camera in preparation for a studio interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

A team of Navy Mass Communication Specialists (MC) was recently called on to interview Terry Cosgrove, a retired Navy MC master chief who was an important innovator in that community. This brought an extra dose of pressure, as it’s not every day your subject has an intimate understanding of the interview process.

The interview occurred at Defense Media Activity, the headquarters for all things military media. This was good news for the team, because that meant access to some nice studio equipment. It was part of an ongoing process to create a documentary film about the MC rating.

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gregory Juday signals that his Zoom audio recorder is rolling and ready to start an interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

The first step to a successful interview is early setup of the equipment. Everything must be ready when the interviewee arrives. This is the first test of a PA specialist’s people skills. Petty Officer Don White conducted the interview, and stressed the importance of teamwork.

It’s very important that we are all on the same page because you want to present a unified front. You want to look professional.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Don White keeps his notes close by during an interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

Once the subject is ready and the cameras are rolling, the interview begins. This is the second test of the people skills. The interviewer must walk the line between obtaining the information he needs and keeping the tone friendly and conversational.

“People’s time is important. You want them to know you appreciate their time. You want the subject to be as comfortable as possible. Especially talking to a retired MC Master Chief.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Don White listens to his interview subject, retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

The trick is to not read through the prepared questions like a robot. White summed it up simply:

“Your subject will know if you’re not being genuine. Have some interest in it.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove speaks to Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Don White during an interview at Defense Media Activity. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

The interview subject will usually walk away with a sense of whether or not he was really listened to and valued. The reputation of the media agency is on the line every time an interaction with a client occurs.

Cosgrove may have been a friendly client to begin with, but his satisfaction with the event is still the sign of a good PA team.

“It’s just great being around Sailors again. That’s one thing that I do miss is the energy, the excitement, the can-do attitude. I don’t miss the Navy that much. In retired life, I’ve moved on, but being around the people that make up the Navy is something that I do miss.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) A Prolight on a 4 x 4 diffusion screen lights studio 4 at Defense Media Activity during an interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

The technology of today advances at breakneck speed. The professional communicator must constantly learn to stay relevant. People skills, on the other hand, only require practice to keep the dust off. Once learned, they don’t change, but will remain a valuable tool for life.