In my mini-thesis, I investigate the perceptions that managers with hiring power in Kazakhstan have on online degrees when they are looking for employees. In order to gain some insight into the matter, I designed a semi-structured interview and set out to find some employers who would be willing to participate in my little study. What follows is a brief description of my experience conducting the interviews: the challenges I faced, the advantages and disadvantages of the data collection method I chose, and how this experience will inform my thesis.
Perhaps the biggest challenge I had was finding managers outside the educational realm willing to participate in the study. I emailed a few representatives of the bigger companies in Kazakhstan, but failed to receive any positive answers. I ended up having conversations with two vice principals working for the network of school where I am currently employed and a fellow master’s student at Nazarbayev University.
After conducting the interviews, I found out some of the weaknesses of this method. First and most hindering, was the realization that some people do not always feel confident in one-on-one conversations. With one of the interviewees it was like pulling teeth: I could see that they were honestly trying to help me with my research, but they were so uncomfortable that I had to rely on probes after each question to elicit full sentences. Another disadvantage was my lack of skills, which I now realize might at least partially explain why one of the participants did not feel particularly at ease during our conversation. I did not record the first interview on audio, so for the good part of it I struggled to listen, analyze, and take notes at the same time. Also, one of the interviewees had a nasty habit of trailing off topic, and for fear of being rude I just let them go on. Because of that, the interview lasted almost twice as long as I had originally planned.
However, in the long run the advantages of interviews as a data collection method far outweigh the disadvantages. If carefully planned and well executed, interviews are guaranteed to either give you the answers you were looking for or tell you that you are looking for them in the wrong place. After all, no matter how difficult it was, I did manage to get enough information to form some understanding of how online degrees were perceived in Kazakhstan.
It was my first time conducting an interview for research purposes, so it was a good way for me test the water. I am now aware that it takes a long time to prepare good interview questions, and that it takes some serious skills to make the interviewees feel relaxed and ready to share their opinions. I will definitely use this knowledge to organize the interviews for the big research I am doing this year.