With nearly 14,000 interviews under her belt, Terry Gross knows a thing or two about asking questions.
As the host of the NPR show Fresh Air, she’s held conversations with world leaders, famous actors, rock stars, and bestselling authors. After 42 years on the job, her favorite icebreaker question is surprisingly simple: “Tell me about yourself.”
Gross told the New York Times that she avoids asking more pointed questions in order to let others lead her to who they are, without her having to make a presumption about who they could be.
If it sounds like a substitute for researching her subjects, it isn’t. At work, she is known for her rigorous preparation and for sitting in a separate room from her interviewees whenever possible, so as to mimic the experience of the listener. “I try to clarify in my own mind why this person matters, and why it’s worthy of our listeners’ time,” she told the Times.
Her empathetic and sharp interview style has made Gross one of the most celebrated radio hosts of all time, but she believes the skills acquired interviewing celebrities on the air are transferable to many scenarios. For example, she offered some great tips on how to rectify a job interview that is destined to go off the tracks.
“If somebody is asking you questions and you don’t feel that you have a strong response for it, say, ‘Let me share an experience,’” she said. By treating the interview as a two-way street, the interviewee regains the power to also direct the course of conversation.
As one of the greatest conversationalists on the airwaves, Gross’ advice is worth listening to—even when she’s not asking the questions.