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Key Skills for Effective Investigation Interviews

Get the information you need by making your subject feel comfortable talking to you

Posted by Dawn Lomer on September 2nd, 2015

Investigation interviews are the most important evidence-gathering activity undertaken during an investigation.

Entire cases have been opened and closed solely on the strength of the information uncovered while talking to those connected to an incident.

The ability to conduct effective investigation interviews is, therefore, an important skill for every investigator to master.


Effective Interviewing Isn’t Easy

It requires both hard and soft skills that are built through extensive training, practice and experience.

Looking to improve your interview skills? Need more interview tools on hand? Check out this list of the Top 20 Questions to Ask in an Investigation Interview.

Good interviewers also possess certain qualities which are, fortunately, fairly common among those who are drawn to the field of investigations.


Nosy Nellies Needed

If somebody is not relaxed and they are not feeling like it’s a conversation, they are less likely to provide information.
One of the most desirable qualities is being nosy, says Jonathan Davison, Managing Director of Forensic Interview Solutions, a global provider of investigative interview training and consultancy services.

Davison says that a nosy person has the ability to hear something and want to explore further to find out more.


Conducting Preliminary Research

Sometimes this can involve doing some social media research on a subject before the interview, as Davison did on me before I interviewed him for this article.

Going into the interview, he already knew about some of my hobbies and interests, and was able to engage me in conversation on some things we had in common.

And this brings up the other important quality – or skill – necessary for a good interviewer to possess.


Building Rapport

That is the ability to build rapport with somebody, to put them at ease and make them feel comfortable talking to the investigator.

“Whether you do a bit of research before on the person or whether you get an immediate feel, it’s the job of the interviewer to be able to change their approach, their personality, to the individual they are speaking to,” says Davison.

“Doing a little research on social media… that gives you a little thread into somebody’s background that you can talk about.”

Building rapport is all about getting the interview subject to feel comfortable.

“If somebody is not relaxed and they are not feeling like it’s a conversation, they are less likely to provide information,” says Davison.


Tips for Establishing Rapport

To begin establishing rapport an investigator might begin by asking whether the subject has had any previous contact with the organization that they’re dealing with, suggests Davison.

He also recommends asking about their previous experience with interviewing.

“If people haven’t been interviewed before, generally [their experience has] been the job interview. People are nervous, tense, and they don’t know what the process will be. They may be expecting a Q&A type of interview but we want people to have a fluid conversation.”

Davison also recommends asking the subject what they prefer being called.

“You might immediately get off on the wrong foot by using a name they don’t like.”


Training and Practice

When people are given a process or a system to work with they become more efficient at gathering information.
Training in the interview techniques is, of course, highly recommended.

You should practice and hone your conversation skills, he says, and if using a recording device, its use should be seamless to avoid making the subject uncomfortable.

Training in techniques for note-taking can be beneficial for investigators to be able to capture what is being said effectively, rather than relying on memory.


Learning About and Implementing New Methods

“When people are given a process or a system to work with they become more efficient at gathering information,” says Davison.

Davison’s firm focuses on the PEACE framework and incorporates cognitive interviewing, enhanced cognitive interviewing and conversation management techniques.

“But the key thing about treating somebody how you’d like to be treated yourself is an under-riding theme of any one of those models in any context,” he says, “and I think if you take that approach you’re not going to go too far wrong.”

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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