"It’s brilliant to see how people’s lives have changed," says Laleen

Laleen Skivington from Bournemouth was just about to knock on her next door, when Louise Miles asked for the lowdown on her interviewing style.

Question and Answers

How long have you been interviewing for?

14 years

How did you get into interviewing?

I was a full-time mum and one day someone knocked on my door and interviewed me about Champagne. Almost 20 minutes into the interview, she said you would be brilliant at this, why don’t you join the company? It fitted in with my family commitments so I decided to give it a go!

What does it take to be a good interviewer?

A sunny disposition! Having the biggest smile and the friendliest attitude are the best ways to be a good interviewer. It doesn’t matter what you feel like that day, as long as you can smile and remain positive. I never go in hard and expect anything and if people reject me I’ll always apologise and rearrange another time. On the doorstep I always back away if it’s not convenient with them. I understand that people’s lives are busy and to give you an hour of their time is a big ask.

What do you enjoy about the job?

When you see someone once a year, there are so many things that they want to share with you and you see the real highlights of their life. Because even if things have gone wrong, they still want to tell you about how they got over it.

What have been the highlights of working on Understanding Society?

When I first met one of my participants she was suffering from dementia. I mentioned it to the team at the office and they managed to arrange a much better care packet; when I see her now, she is as bright as a button! She now has a stairlift and is pleased to have someone back to talk to. She hasn’t got any family in this country, so she hadn’t ever asked for any help, but with the extra support her life has turned around. She now really enjoys her hour session of reminiscing and talking about the year that has passed.

It’s brilliant to see how people’s lives have changed. You can walk back into their lives and often they tell you some information that they wouldn’t tell their nearest and dearest. It’s so nice to see them and they can catch up with you about all aspects of their life including births and new pets. Everything can change in a year.

What is the hardest thing about the job?

The biggest struggle is fitting in around other people’s time restraints because we have time limits of our own. However, our participants are the most important aspect of the study because they are giving us the information and are genuinely helping us year after year. However, the difficulty is fitting around their lives so it’s convenient for them. Last night, I was at someone’s house at 8pm, finished at 10pm and then didn’t get back until gone 11pm.

How do you deal with difficult doorstop questions?

If participants say, “I do this survey every year and nothing changes, why should I continue?” I often reassure them and say that their information is helping to make life better in the UK because if it’s going downhill or uphill we need to monitor that. And what our participants contribute now will help children for decades because it is the biggest survey of its kind.

How do you think Understanding Society is making a difference?

It makes a massive difference, there so much work based on this survey and there is so much good that comes out of this. And the information is not just used in our country; the information is used all around the world.

What other surveys have you worked on?

Another one of my favourites is the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE). It is run by the Department of Education and it follows them through their education years. They have just done their GCSEs so I have known them now for 4 years and they have changed so much. Going back and meeting their parents is very interesting and so is hearing about the next stages in their lives.

When you are not interviewing, how do you relax?

Most of my relaxation time is spent with my kids. I have a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old and spending time with them is important.

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