Random Lessons from the Room: Part Three

This is the third in a series of articles where we will discuss lessons that we have learned over the years while interviewing tens of thousands of individuals.


We all make mistakes. It’s inevitable, especially when we are learning something new or trying to do something that we haven’t done in a while. Sometimes it’s difficult to know we have even made a mistake since everything seemed to have worked out the way we anticipated.

In one interview, the subject confirmed what was known from the investigation and even added other information of which we were unaware. So everything must have been just fine since the outcome was what we wanted. If we are only evaluating the outcome of the interview, we may be missing mistakes. If the evaluation of two interviewers is only done by looking at the end result of the confession and statement, we can’t honestly critique the process and structure of the interview; things might not be what they seem. One statement may have been obtained using threats and promises, while the other was a carefully crafted, ethically done conversation that resulted in the confession.

- Sponsors -

When individuals are trained in an interview process, it is important for them to be mentored and benchmarked against the information presented in the training program. Any training program has a drop off in understanding and usefulness if it isn’t reinforced correctly. This requires a commitment by management to provide monitoring and measuring to assure that the interview training is being used as intended. The monitoring and measuring of interviewers needs to be consistent and provide appropriate critiques and reinforcement for it to be effective. All that is necessary to sabotage the monitoring and measuring effort is to have a manager who is off message in delivering critiques.

Some organizations require a new interviewer to conduct a number of interviews under supervision before they are permitted to conduct one on their own. The difficulty with this is that the opportunity to conduct actual interviews may be separated by months from the original training. A related issue is having the new interviewer practice their skills in an actual investigation, rather than in a safer environment.

We first began developing a computerized interactive training video, The Art of Interviewing, with Carter Haley Hale department stores in the early 1990s to supplement our interview training class. It used laser disks to train and test the new interviewer’s skills. It worked well and received a Silver Cindy Award for innovation in interactive training, but it wasn’t easily portable with temperamental technology. We now have a new interactive training program, THE LINK, with advanced technology that is usable from almost any device from desktop to phone.

THE LINK is an interactive computerized interview simulation that does several things to help monitor and measure an interviewer’s performance. First, they are practicing their skills in a safe environment that provides consistent feedback of their performance against the benchmarked process. Plus they can start immediately after being trained. Second, the manager can see exactly where the individual needs help to provide relevant critiques. Third, the manager can evaluate the individual’s improvement over time and has a record of the interviewer’s efforts. Fourth, the monitoring and measuring is consistent across the entire organization and shows its commitment to minimizing potential interviewing mistakes. Finally, THE LINK also allows an interviewer who hasn’t done an interview in some time to freshen their skills prior to sitting with the suspected employee.

If there are consistent undesired outcomes after interviews, the problem must lie with the interviewer since they are the common denominator among the events. To identify the mistake, the interviewer’s process and word choice must be evaluated to determine why they are unable to achieve the desired performance.


The computerized interview simulation mentioned above can also provide a recording for evaluation and mentoring during mock interviews. Some organizations record the actual interviews with associates as evidence of their admissions and treatment. These recordings can also provide a wealth of information to assist in the mentoring of the interviewer and benchmarking their performance against training.

For organizations that choose to record or are mandated to record, there are a number of issues that need to be considered. A recorded interview is much like an unwatched surveillance tape in terms of its value. If the only time surveillance tape is watched is if there was a problem, it is not being used in a preventive fashion. If an organization is recording its interviews, then there should also be periodic reviews of performance against a benchmark to mentor the interviewer and assure they are performing within department guidelines.

In addition to evaluating performance, recorded interviews can be powerful evidence to help the organization establish the interview was done within departmental guidelines and no mistreatment of the individual took place. The recording also establishes clearly the tone of the conversation and the context of any admissions or confession made by the subject. Former US attorney Tom Sullivan, a partner at the law firm of Jenner and Block, has conducted a study of police departments recording interviews and interrogations. The officers using recordings have overwhelmingly found them to be helpful in capturing admissions and confessions, plus providing additional leads for follow-up inquiries.

When using a recording device, the interviewer should be aware of applicable state law relating to recordings of another. Some states require both parties to consent to the recording, while other states require only one person’s consent. In general, we recommend obtaining the subject’s permission to record regardless of applicable state law.

Regardless of whether or not an organization requires recordings of interviews, interviewers should always anticipate their interview is being recorded. One has only to look at the multitude of videos appearing on social media of police officer interaction during traffic stops to know this occurs often. Any cell phone can have a recording function that can be surreptitiously used by another.

Interview Preparation

Preparation for the interview is often an overlooked component for a successful case resolution. As cases become more complex with interwoven events, meetings, and people, the interviewer needs a simplified approach to help remember and understand the case. As the investigation expands and details are revealed, it is often useful to build a timeline of events to help understand and remember the different interlocking events making up the case.

If you remember from your history books, timelines were often used to simply illustrate different historical events and their relationship to one another. An investigative timeline is essentially the same thing, allowing the interviewer to remember at a glance when people entered the conspiracy, the timing of the specific meeting, or even when relevant documents were prepared. Especially during development of the admission where a subject is making partial admissions while attempting to conceal other information, the timeline may be useful in contradicting or expanding the individual’s admissions. The timeline also can help the interviewer pose relevant questions because they have a chronological set of events that are easily referred to during the conversation.

In a simple case, the timeline might contain the times of arrivals of each employee, deliveries that occurred, or when lunches were taken. As interviews are conducted, additional information can be added that may ultimately point to a likely suspect.

In a recent case, we investigated a theft of money from the safe in the manager’s office at a restaurant. We began by charting on the timeline the arrival of each employee, noting their names and job titles. During the interview with the restaurant manager, we were able to ascertain the time during which the safe was unlocked and the employees who were present during that time. These employees were then noted on the timeline as to their arrival and departure from the office. During our interview with the manager, he said that he had to leave for a short period of time leaving a kitchen helper and thåe cashier alone in the office while the safe was unlocked. Two key pieces of evidence emerged from our interview with the kitchen helper. First, he said he stepped out momentarily to get some coffee, leaving the cashier alone in the manager’s office. Second, he said upon his return the cashier was sitting in a different chair, indicating she had moved while he was gone. When the manager returned to the office, the kitchen helper and cashier were still present, and he locked the safe and went about his day’s business. The simple visual of the timeline made the selection of a primary suspect quite simple.

While one could grasp this information quite simply without using a timeline, one can imagine the complexities when investigating a large-scale kickback or fraud case. Money transfers, home or vacation purchase, contract awards, and any of myriad other relevant facts can be captured on the timeline, making the information’s retrieval a simple matter.

In our next column, we will continue with more random lessons from the room.

Stay Updated

Get critical information for loss prevention professionals, security and retail management delivered right to your inbox.