A Step-by-Step Guide to Interview Transcripts
An interview transcript is a written record of the oral content of an interview. It records who was present, where and when the interview took place, and what was discussed.
The transcript may be detailed, recording every word, or more of an overview based around the main points of the interview.
The interview transcript may be created:
- Manually by a person attending the interview
- Manually by listening to the recording and typing up the transcript
- Automatically through a computerized audio-to-text converter
The latter option can be successful where the transcript features one main speaker, but the converter may miss the nuances of human conversation or even mis-hear certain words.
Another restriction of using a computerized converter is that it can only copy what was spoken; it cannot sum up a part of a conversation or draw conclusions.
There are a range of ways that interview transcripts can prove helpful to an employer, both internally and as part of a recruitment process.
A direct, word-for-word transcript that lays out everything that was said may prove helpful where the same questions are asked to a number of interviewees, as in the questions an employer may ask candidates for a job.
A detailed interview transcript can help the employer to build a direct comparison between each candidate.
Or a transcript may be produced as, or accompanied by, a summary of what was said in an interview. This is especially useful where the transcript will be shared with a number of staff members, including those who do not need to have a detailed view of the content of the interview.
In some scenarios, it may be helpful to create both a detailed transcript for clarity, and a summarized version for easy communication.
An interview transcript documents what was discussed in a format that is easily stored, whether digitally or in paper copy. This documentation can be forwarded or retained as necessary.
It also provides written evidence of what was said at the interview. In certain circumstances, such as redundancy or a misconduct investigation, there may be a legal requirement or it may be best practice to retain a record of any meeting.
It improves the speed with which candidate interview performance can be assessed, allows a comparison between how a number of candidates handled the same questions and provides a reminder of pertinent information.
It may be necessary to share an account of the interview with colleagues or external contacts.
An interview transcript is easy to forward, whether by email or as a paper copy, and ensures a level of clarity that might be missing from a verbal account by the interviewer.
During an interview, the interviewer does not need to make notes, because they know that the interview is being recorded, whether by a device or another person.
This allows for an easier flow of conversation between those present and a greater level of focus in the interviewer.
Even an individual with the best memory can forget a detail from an interview.
Recording an interview and then transcribing it into an actual document removes the need to remember everything that was said.
Where an interview is not recorded and transcribed, there may be disagreements over exactly what was said.
This is especially the case if arrangements were agreed on at the interview, such as a job offer, a pay rise or a change to working conditions.
An interview transcript removes any doubt over what was discussed in the meeting and may act as proof of an agreement.
There are two approaches to this issue – best practice and the legal requirements.
The best practice approach is to always inform the candidate or interviewee that the interview will be recorded.
Where there is a requirement of them, such as to speak towards a microphone in the room, speak clearly or technical requirements if the interview will take place remotely, these should always be made clear from the outset.
From a legal approach, the law on recording interviews and the storage of data will vary depending on the country.
In the US, it is advisable to check state and federal laws, specifically federal law 18 U.S. Code § 2511 on what permission is required before an interview can be recorded.
In some US states, permission from one party (the interviewer) is the only requirement whereas in other states, the interviewee must also give their permission.
In EU countries, storage of the recording and interview transcript will be governed by GDPR requirements, and the interviewee may have the right to access the interview transcript.
Before you record an interview, check the relevant laws where the interview will take place. If the interview is remote and the interviewee is in another country or US state, check the laws there too.
Should you decide to record an interview and transcribe it into a document, there are certain factors you should consider and a number of steps to follow.
The first consideration is how you will record the interview. This will first depend on whether the interview is in person, over the phone or held by video.
If the interview is in person, you may ask someone to keep written notes of what is said and also make an audio/video recording.
Audio recordings can be made using a microphone and audio recording software on a computer, a mobile phone or a digital voice recorder such as a dictaphone. Video recordings can be made using a mobile phone or a dedicated video camera.
If the interview is held over the phone, you may use software uploaded to your mobile phone or a microphone that is attached to a recording device.
A video interview, for instance, carried out by Skype or Zoom, can be recorded using software on your computer, or whichever video-conferencing software you use.
Make sure you know exactly how you will record the interview before the day arrives, that the technical requirements are in place, and that everyone involved knows what to do.
Do you want the transcript to be a word-for-word copy of the interview, a summarised version or somewhere in between those two?
These three formats are generally referred to as:
Standard verbatim – This is a lightly edited version of the recording that repeats everything that was said in the interview, but leaves out false starts, repetitions and ambient sounds.
True verbatim – This is a complete version of the recording, including coughs, false starts, repetitions and ambient sounds.
Intelligent verbatim – This is an extensively edited version of the recording that makes sense of garbled sentences, improves grammar and removes false starts and non-verbal communications such as laughter.
The format that the transcript takes will often be decided by its purpose – for instance, to compare candidate responses, to provide legal evidence or to provide a detailed summary that will be communicated to a team. The format should be decided on before the interview is held.
Here is an example of each format – ‘IN’ signifies the interviewer and ‘CA’ signifies the candidate:
IN: So could you give me an example of leadership skills? How you used leadership skills at work.
CA: Right. Well. Okay. Leadership skills. I used leadership skills at work when my boss, my manager, went on maternity leave. I took the lead on several projects, well, two major client projects and one smaller internal project.
IN: So could you give me an example of leadership skills? How you used leadership skills at work.
CA: Right. Well. [pause] Okay. Leadership skills. [pause] I used leadership skills at work when my boss, my manager, went on maternity leave. I took the lead on several projects, [pause] well, two major client projects and one smaller internal project.
IN: Could you give me an example of how you used leadership skills at work?
CA: I used leadership skills at work when my manager went on maternity leave. I took the lead on two major client projects and one smaller internal project.
Before you transcribe the interview, listen to the entire recording. This will:
- Accustom your ear to the voices of the people involved
- Identify how many speakers there are
- Allow you to make initial notes
- Identify any problem areas of the recording
- Give you an idea of the content of the interview and the terminology that will be used
The interview transcript should begin with the following details:
- Any other attendants
- Date and time of interview
- Interviewee: Andrew Smith, employee
- Interviewer: Helen Montgomery, HR manager
- Also present: Steve Jones, Head of Accountancy
- Date and time: 21 October 20XX at 3:00 p.m.
- Location: Head Office, XXX
If any abbreviations will be used in the transcript, these must be stated next. For instance, in the three verbatim examples above, the abbreviation for ‘interviewer’ is IN and ‘candidate’ is CA.
These are used to signify who is speaking.
Stating the abbreviations before the text of the transcript removes any chance of confusion and ensures ease of referencing.
Use the abbreviations consistently throughout the document.
Make sure that it is clear who is speaking at any point in the transcript.
Do this by showing the name, abbreviated or not, of the speaker and adding a line break between speakers. You may also wish to state when a participant joins or leaves the discussion.
Here’s an example using the abbreviations AS for Andrew Smith, HM for Helen Montgomery, and SJ for Steve Jones:
HM: Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Andrew.
AS: Not at all. It’s a pleasure.
[SJ enters the room and sits]
SJ: Sorry for being late. I’m Steve Jones, head of accountancy. The vacancy reports to me.
SJ: It’s not obvious in your resume, Steve. Could you clarify whether your qualification was [02:04:13 unclear].
The transcript should go through a number of stages:
First draft – This is the initial version of the transcript where the pertinent details of the interview are recorded. You may wish to type out the whole transcript at this point, with no editing or exclusions, and make a record of everything that was said.
First proofread – Check through your first draft for errors and reclarification of words you may have missed or mis-heard.
First edit – Make any necessary edits as a result of the proofread, then adapt the transcript to the correct verbatim format. For instance, remove non-verbal communications, repetitions and false starts.
Second proofread – Check that all edits have been made, including replacing timecodes with the correct word or words.
Carry out any formats necessary, including spell and grammar check.
Forward the finalised document to the relevant parties.
Remember to save each version (first draft, first edit, following edits, finished transcript) as separate documents in case you need to refer back.
An interview transcript can form a helpful and lasting record of a meeting.
However, it does require a level of preparation and research, an understanding of how it will be used and an eye (or ear) for detail.