The Top 10 JTBD Interview Tips

JTBD interviews play a key role in learning your customers’ progress. But let’s face it… they’re not like your usual interview type.

Jobs to be Done (JTBD) interviews play a crucial part of understanding the progress your customer wants to make and to building better products.

But, let’s face it, they’re unlike most interviews you’ll have come across.

The driving force behind an effective JTBD interview is all about intent and context. 

It’s the intent behind a new decision and the context in which someone made a decision the shows you where real patterns are. We’ve conducted thousands of interviews, and I’m often asked what’s the secret to an effective interview. In fact, we wrote about this very topic for people struggling to sell and understand their customers in Demand-Side Sales.

Here are the ten JTBD interview tips we’d make to ensure you get the results you need.

1. The setup needs to be casual

Set a casual, conversational tone from the beginning. Ask for first names of people, places, dates.  Almost like you want to shoot a documentary

Do this: “I’m doing some early research to understand the language people use when talking about buying our product. There’s no right or wrong answer. I don’t have a long list of questions. This is about helping us understand the words you use, and how you fit our product into your life.” 

Don’t do that: “I’m doing research. Tell me why you bought this.” 

It’s important they don’t feel like there’s a right or wrong answer. When setup correctly the conversation becomes more casual. We truly do not bring a list of questions, because it’s not about our product; it’s about the buyer’s progress. We follow the interview where it takes us and fill in the timeline as we go along. Also, at the start ask the names of key players, like their husband or kids. Then use them later in the interview when you ask a follow-up question. Suddenly, you’re at a different level of familiarity.

2. Details help to jog memories

Details help jog their memory

Yes, you’re digging for the details, but the details are also how you jog their memory.

Do this: “What was the weather outside?” “Who was with you?” “Did you call them, or did they call you?”

Don’t do that: “Tell me about the day.” General high-level questions do not work.

Asking detailed, specific questions about tangible aspects is a trick to jog an interviewee’s memory. Asking innocuous details surrounding their purchase triggers bigger pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. “It was snowing! Oh, now I remember…”  The brain can remember vast details when prompted or surrounded by details. 

3. Context creates meaning

The irrational becomes rational with context. When the answers feel irrational, it’s typically because you don’t know the whole story. “Hold on, I am confused…”

Accept this: “I bought the pizza because our team won the big game, and we all wanted to go out to celebrate.”

Don’t accept that: “I bought the pizza because I like pizza.” – “Like” is not a cause, it is an excuse of not knowing why.

Most people if asked would say they like steak and pizza, so why did they buy pizza in that moment? Why didn’t steak make sense in this context? Context has as much meaning as the product. 

4. Contrast creates value

Providing an interviewee with contrast leads to greater understanding. Have them tell you why they decided against an alternative path. I use a bracketing technique to help provide contrast where neither option is right, and they need to elaborate

Do this: “Why do it virtually? Why not just get into your car and drive to the doctor?”

Don’t do that: “Why do it virtually?”

Without giving them contrast they often can’t figure out why they did what they did. Ask people to tell you what it’s not. Most people can eliminate or tell you what it’s not easier than they can tell you what it is.

5. Unpack vague words

Everything is bound. You are trying to figure out the interviewee’s reference point. 

Accept this: “It installed fast, in just under two minutes. The last program took five minutes to install.”

Don’t accept that “It installed fast.”

One person’s definition of the word fast may be entirely different than another’s. There’s no healthy, only healthier than… There’s no fast, just faster than…

6. Energy matters

Listen for the energy. It’s not just what they say but how they say it.

Question this: “I bought this new laptop and it’s REALLY good.” “[Sigh] I bought this laptop and it’s good.”

Don’t question that: “I bought this new laptop, and it’s really good.”

Do they accentuate words? Does the intonation go up or down? Downward intonation implies there’s something wrong. Listen for pauses and sighs. Did you hear a comma, but there is no comma? Did you hear all caps, but there’s no caps? As soon as you hear this emotional energy stop and ask further questions. “Wait, tell me more about that. Why is that important?”

When we conduct effective JTBD interviews with customers, Greg Engle and I focus on how people say things as much as what they say.

7. Play “dumb”

When you want to question what they’re saying, put it as your own stupidity or your naivety. “How much RAM did you get on the new computer?” you might ask.  “Well, I don’t know,” they respond apologetically.  In this scenario you need to be able to delve into the topic without making them feel dumb.  “I am confused” is one of my favorite sayings…but you have to mean it when you say it.

Do this: “I mean what’s RAM anyway. You know what I mean?” 

Don’t do that: “Why don’t you know how much RAM you got?”

The moment someone feels stupid they shut down. The moment they think you are judging them they feel insecure.  Sometimes interviewees set up a response by saying: “This is really stupid but….” And I will respond: “Oh, I do that all the time.” 

8. Set-up bad questions

A lot of times there’s a question that is either a little bit too personal or a little too close to the vest. You know that if you don’t ask, they will never tell you, so set it up: “Okay, this is a bad question, don’t feel you need to answer it and please make it better”

Do this: “I’ve got a personal question, and if you don’t want to answer it you don’t have to, but why were you at the doctor?”

Don’t do that: “Why were you at the doctor?”

When you set it up as a bad question, they are always expecting the worst, much worse than the actual question. It disarms them from what might have been a negative or awkward response. 

9. Good cop, bad cop

It always helps to interview in pairs. You don’t have to, but when you do, you can play good cop, bad cop. 

Do this: Argue with each other to fuel the conversation. 

Don’t do that: Argue with the interviewee.Or we play back the story wrong and argue with each other over the details. It’s a good way to check what’s most important to the interviewee.

10. Use analogies

Often the interviewee will hit a wall and not have the language to express their thoughts completely. Don’t push, instead use analogies to help build language. 

Do this: “How is buying a phone like buying a laptop?” 

Don’t do that: Continue to push in the same when they are at a loss for words.

Sometimes asking them to compare two things that are not similar at all works well. It forces people to think and use better language.


And there we have it; our top ten JBTD interview tips.