Great interviews start with great questions. Below are some lists and resources to get you started.
It is a good idea to go into an interview with a few questions prepared, and especially highlight any that you want to make sure you ask. However, often an ice breaker and a well-chosen question here and there will keep the conversation going. It is a positive sign when not all your questions are used in an interview (they rarely are).
Also, most interviewees appreciate receiving a few questions in advance. When sending, indicate that they are simply food for thought and the interview will not follow a rigid format.
If only one interview is done with a subject, ask a variety of questions on different topics. You might check out our top 10 list as a handy reference. If a series of interviews is envisioned, it’s helpful to focus on themes in each interview.
Note: If you would like help getting started with interviewing, sign up to receive our free 7-day interviewing mini course.
We also created a free printable book of memory-evoking questions. Print it at home and give as a gift along with the service of interviewing a loved one.
Categories of Questions
- 10 Universal questions for anyone
- Childhood, school and hometown
- Relationship questions
- Family life as an adult
- Work and profession
- Spirituality, religion and values
- Questions for Veterans
10 universal interview questions
This is a great list for a stand-alone interview and is a handy grab-and-go cheat sheet. Some of the questions are repeated in other categories.
- Where were you born?
- Tell me about your childhood, what was the best part? Worst?
- Who was the most influential person in your life?
- What is your profession and why?
- What was the happiest time of your life?
- Tell about a time when you didn’t know if you would make it.
- Who is the love of your life and how did you meet?*
- What is your passion (or a favorite hobby?)
- What is your favorite memory of me?
- What do you value most and why?
Childhood School and Hometown
- What is your earliest memory?
- Who are your parents? Where did they grow up?
- Where were you born?
- How many siblings do you have and where do you fall in your family?
- What were your chores?
- What is your hometown, and what was it like when you were young?
- Did you like school?
- What did you do for fun?
- How did you celebrate holidays?
- How did you celebrate holidays? Did your family have some special holiday traditions?
- What were your favorite meals?
- What were some memorable trips or outings?
- Can you think of any funny stories from your youth?
Family Life as an Adult
- Are you or have you ever been married?
- Do you have children?
- What are traditions you established in your family?
- What were your favorite trips or outings?
- Where do you live now and why?
- Who is your best friend?
- What was the happiest time in your adult life so far? Why?
- What was the hardest time? How did you get through it?
- What were the most important values you wanted to teach your family?
- How would you want your loved ones to remember you?
Editor’s note: This category is not limited to marriage or intimate partner. These questions can also apply to a great friend or business partner.
- How did you meet? (Note: This is such a simple question yet it is an effective ice breaker)
- What are some of your early and best memories together?
- Do you have a song, “our song?”
- Did you ever break up?
- Was there ever a time or times when you didn’t know if your relationship would make it?
- When and how did you know it was meant to be?
- What are the challenges in your relationship?
- How do you work through disagreements or differences?
- What are some of your best fun memories together?
- Do any trips or vacations together especially stand out?
- Can you think of a low point in your life when the other person was there for you?
- How do you keep your relationship strong?
- How are you alike, and how are you different?
- What do you admire most about the other person?
- What are the other person’s quirks or personality traits that you love?
- How are you better together than without the other person?
- Thinking of your relationship, what advice would you give a young person, such as your children?
- Can you think of long-standing inside jokes, or phrases you tell each other?
- What are some of the activities that you share, that maybe other people wouldn’t understand or that are unique to your relationship?
- What are your dreams for the future together?
- Would you say that this person is the love of your life?
* Professional interviewer’s note: starting any interview by asking how two people met is a great ice breaker.
Work and Profession
- What was your first job?
- What is your profession or job?
- Do you like your job?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- How did you get into this line of work?
- Have you belonged to any civic or professional organizations?
- Have you ever been involved in politics or a political cause?
- What are you proudest of in your career?
- Who was your greatest mentor?
- What is your passion and how did you get started with it?
Spirituality, Religion and Values
- Have you ever experienced a miracle or an answer to a prayer?
- Do you believe in God?
- Do you associate with a religion or spiritual practice?
- If you attend religious services, where do you attend? Why do you choose worship with that particular congregation or community?
- What was the most powerful spiritual experience of your life?
- What are you proudest of in your life?
- What do you regret?
- If you could share with your family your most important values, what would you say?
- What experiences in your life that taught you these values?
Questions for Veterans
- Did you enlist or were you drafted?
- Why did you choose that branch of the service?
- When and where did you serve?
- What were your job duties?
- If you served during war time, did you see combat?
- If you saw combat, how did you feel when witnessing casualties and destruction?
- What kinds of friendships and camaraderie did you form while serving, and with whom?
- How did you stay in touch with family and friends back home?
- What did you do for recreation?
- What did you learn from your time in the military?
- What would you want to share with future generations your service, and your feelings about our country?
Easy steps to an oral history interview:
- Download the PDF book of questions and print it from home. It looks nice on cardstock.
- Insert the printouts into a 3-ring binder. Dividers tabs will make it look polished.
- Interview your loved one and record the audio! If you need some help, get our free oral history tutorial (click here).
- Inserting answers and write-ups into the binder will keep everything together.
Supplies you need:
- Digital Recorder + 2. Questions for Dad Printable + 3. Questions for Mom Printable + 4. Interview Tutorial
Printable Question Book
Free download makes a great gift for parents or grandparents.
We love the questions provided by StoryCorps. Check out their collection here. They have some especially good questions to ask those who are experiencing a major illness.
Index of interviewing resources:
You might want to check out our index page of interviewing resources.
Free Interviewing Mini Course:
To motivate and help you do great interviews, we created a free 7-day interviewing mini course. Click on the link for a free download.
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