Qualitative Interview: What it is & How to conduct one

A qualitative interview is commonly used in research projects involving new products, brand positioning, purchase dynamics, behavioral analysis, exploring market segments, etc. Recent data also suggests that it is highly effective when used in employee engagement initiatives.

It has also proven to be extremely helpful when it comes to problem definition as well as developing an approach to a particular problem.

What is a Qualitative Interview?

A qualitative Interview is a research approach used in Qualitative studies where more personal interaction is required and detailed data is gathered from the participant. Qualitative interviews usually involve follow-up questions and are conducted in a conversational or discussion format.

A qualitative interview is a more personal form of research compared to general questionnaires or focuses group studies. Such formats often include open-ended and follow-up questions. 

How to conduct a Qualitative Interview?

Qualitative Interviews usually have a more personal format compared to other approaches and include getting to know your participant in detail allowing them to open up and provide detailed feedback. Researchers also use open-ended and follow-up questions extensively in such interviews for the same cause.

The process also requires additional attention and active listening from the interviewers. Qualitative interviews are an integral part of focus groups to generate discussion among a group of people to uncover key subject insights based on personal experiences and increase communication within the group.

What are the various types of Qualitative Interviews?

The interview itself can be conducted over multiple formats. Firstly, Structured Interviews where a list of predefined questions is asked to the participant via physical interviews, phone calls, or hire questionnaires. Whereas, unstructured Interviews are conducted with little or no preparations following a more conversational format based on participant interests and skills.

Lastly, semi-structured interviews are a combination of both where researchers start with a structured format and also use follow-up questions and discussions.

Learn more by reading our guide: Types of Interviews.

What are some of the advantages of using Qualitative Interviews?

The relative absence of researcher bias due to direct interaction with participants when compared to focus groups or quantitative approaches.

Qualitative Interviews also provide flexibility to both researchers and participants in regards to participation, two-way communication, and cost-effectiveness.

Qualitative Interviews also provide the space and time to develop a certain sense of intimacy between the interviewer and the participant. This allows the researcher to respond openly without a filter.

Another advantage of using Qualitative Interviews is keeping your research costs at bay.

Disadvantages of a Qualitative Interview

The subjective nature of Qualitative Interviews may often lead to missing the objectivity of the research as a whole. Observer bias can often mislead the direction of the research based on the participants’ subject experience.

Similarly, negative reactions can often derail the researcher’s approach, especially when dealing with customers. The risk of being the participant black sheep in the herd is fairly common in closed group interviews like organizational research studies.

One of the key strengths of Qualitative Interviews can also be a key weakness. The open-ended nature of such interviews may also be the main hurdle when coming to summarizing an interview. 

To summarize, Qualitative Research can either be a valuable tool to discover problems or help elevate any research programs with subjective data or leave researchers with amorphous and contradictory data. The key is to use the approach in combination with other qualitative and quantitative research techniques to enhance the depth of the data gathered.


Authors: Harpal Singh & Shabeen Shareef