Investigative Interviewing Lessons from the Experts

Investigative interviewing techniques include profiling, anticipating problems, and asking what the fact giver wants to know.

investigative interviewing

While the word “profile” has some negative connotations, we use it as a generic term to organize our thoughts and make some broad generalizations about individuals whom we are planning to interview. Our goal is to determine in general terms how an individual might act during an interview or upon discovering an investigation of them is underway.

We can come to many accurate conclusions of a person by looking at their lifestyle, relationships, interests, or other choices they make in life. Where they choose to live or shop may speak volumes about their self-image and how they evaluate themselves and others. Clearly, examining relationships and how they interact with friends, acquaintances, or strangers can lead to assumptions about loyalty and commitment to others.

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One important question to always ask about an individual who might be interviewed or become a target in an investigation is how the person reacted if they had ever been questioned or disciplined before. The interviewer could also include a broader question relating to how the individual handles conflict.

In general, people have developed a strategy that either works for them or that they return to when faced with conflict or unpleasant situations. If the interviewer can determine with some accuracy what this strategy is, it can then be planned for during the interview. This prediction can often prepare the interviewer for the most likely response a subject may make in an investigative interviewing setting.

Anticipate Investigative Interviewing Problems—and Plan for Them

Once the subject has been profiled to determine their likely response to the interview or investigation, the investigator can then anticipate likely problems and prepare a plan for how to handle them. The investigator now goes through a series of what ifs and thinks about the resources and strategies that will be necessary to counter them.

For example, what if the subject decides to get up and walk out of the interview? First, the investigator should consider the evidence available indicating the subject’s guilt and whether it is sufficient to terminate the individual’s employment or perhaps bring criminal charges.

Depending on the company’s policy, there may be a requirement that clear evidence of the individual’s guilt is available before an interview can take place. In other organizations, circumstantial evidence or even a location’s high shrinkage may be enough to initiate an investigative interview.

Depending on the organization’s policy, it is often useful to partner with a human resource representative or senior manager to determine what admissions from the subject are necessary to terminate the individual’s employment.

Get a line in the sand on the decision and a commitment to an outcome. This upfront commitment can save much anguish for the decision maker. In addition, human resources can tell the investigator what will happen if the subject simply decides to end the interview and walk out.

If the evidence is sufficient that action may result in termination, will HR suspend employment pending the conclusion of the investigation, or should the subject be returned to their work assignment? Clearly understanding the options before the interview allows the investigator to have a plan in place with clear outcomes that do not require improvised decisions or solutions on the spur of the moment.

Other possible subject actions to be considered are:

  • What if the subject wants to record the interview?
  • What if the subject wants to have a parent or lawyer present during the interview?
  • What if the subject wants to delay the interview to a later date or time?
  • What if the subject explains away the evidence available to the investigator?

The questions might seem endless, but the prepared investigator can often anticipate the most likely problem areas and develop a plan of action or a specific investigative interviewing strategy that can be employed if needed.

Editor’s Note: Check out the full article, “Random Lessons from the Room: Part Two” to learn more tips about discovering what the fact giver wants to know. Not yet subscribed? No problem – register here for a free subscription! The full article was originally published in 2017; this excerpt was updated August 22, 2018.

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