After collecting the statement, closing the case file, and thanking the employee for their time, you eagerly call the boss to report your recent success.
“Hey boss, I got the admission!”
Boss: “Great, how much?”
“Well, I knew it was about $100, and she ended up telling me she took $5,000!”
Boss: “Well done, write it up!”
A successful interview, right? Maybe.
We remember those calls, both making them as excited interviewers and receiving them as proud supervisors. Throughout most interviewers’ careers, we become conditioned to recognizing a successful interview as one that resulted in an admission. This same theme is built through the congratulatory phone calls with supervisors, the metrics of admission dollars, and the braggadocious stories shared across the industry. Not to take away from the importance of an interview resulting in a substantiated admission, but there is more than one way to measure success.
Entering the interview with the goal of an admission will create confirmation bias from the perspective of the interviewer and may also create tunnel vision, disallowing a good investigator to look for alternative strategies. Every interviewer should be aware of the other potential avenues the conversation and evidence may lead. A successful interview should be measured against this flexibility.
If the admission isn’t the singular metric of success, then what constitutes a successful interview? Countless conversations that we have had led to denials, explanations, fabrications, and even exoneration. The ability to stay focused on the goal of obtaining reliable information and adapting to the available evidence while mitigating risk is of utmost importance and a valuable skillset. A successful interview may go in countless directions, but let’s explore a few that should be defined as “successful.”
This is a common contingency plan when it seems the admission may not be a viable option. When the subject refuses to cooperate or insists on an alternative story, the interviewer’s job is not to alter the subject’s story but rather to get as much reliable information as possible. Often, the ability to disprove a statement made by the subject could be used in the same fashion as a confession.
A case we had was initiated with an internal suspicion at an organization that the manager of purchasing had been receiving kickbacks from vendors. Forensic audits, asset searches, background checks, and open-source analyses were all conducted to retrieve as much information as possible. There was also evidence of multiple trips with specific vendors that did not seem to have a justified business need, suggesting the existence of personal relationships.
With only circumstantial evidence, it would have been a mistake to enter with a guilt‑presumptive approach. Using admission as the measurement of success could have multiple negative results, such as increased liability, impact on morale, and potential wrongful termination.
Instead, the interviewer strategized a conversation using the participatory method to allow the subject to provide their version of events, whether they were truthful or not. The goal in this case was to obtain as much information as possible that could either explain away the evidence, contradict the evidence, or lock them into their own statement.
Ultimately, the subject told a detailed story, as was the goal of the interviewer. The method in which bids were selected, the policy around accepting gifts, the limitations of these relationships, and most importantly, the ability to afford the current lifestyle were all discussed.
A follow-up investigation was conducted that weighed the subject’s own statements against available evidence, now with more specific targets known. The investigation resulted in clear contradictions in how relationships were formulated, methods of payment, and the source of the fraudulent transactions. The admission did not come from the interview, but the success of this investigation was only possible through identifying factual inconsistencies obtained in the conversation.
From deposit theft cases to time fraud, allowing a subject to tell their story, even if untrue, creates the need for fabrication. Each fabricated statement results in additional testable evidence and provides the investigator with tools to resolve the case—a success.
Sometimes the evidence is misleading or just plain wrong. For example, a homicide investigation led to a primary suspect, a known drug dealer who had connections to the victim. The connections were circumstantial but also provided a significant financial motive. The suspect’s alibi was inconsistent, and he failed a polygraph test, specifically around his stated location at the time of the crime.
This case is a recipe for confirmation bias as we have a suspect with an extensive criminal history, indicators of deception in their alibi story, and a motive to commit the crime. The interviewer recognized that the number of verifiable details surrounding the time of the crime were minimal, and conflicting information was being provided during the conversation. Of course, a confession to a homicide would appear as a successful resolution to the interview, but success has other ways of being quantified, and the truth is a reliable metric.
The interviewer adapted during the conversation and focused more on the suspect’s statements about his alibi and whereabouts at the time of the crime. Through this fact‑gathering approach, the subject provided details that eliminated him as a possible suspect. He went on to explain a drug deal he was involved in at the same time of the homicide, with verifiable evidence and corroborating witnesses. This explained the polygraph results, the faulty original alibi, and his overall demeanor during the conversation. Taking this adaptive approach not only eliminated the possibility of a false confession but also allowed investigators to refocus their case on the actual guilty subject.
Of course, a confession from the guilty subject is often one of the most heavily weighted pieces of evidence when determining the appropriate disposition for the case. Admissions are often a result of successful interviews, but it’s worth a deeper dive than receiving the standard “I did it.”
Let’s take a standard cash theft case that most LP professionals have investigated. A cashier is seen on video taking money out of the register and pocketing the cash. The drawer is audited at the end of their shift and is short $100. The interview results in an expanded admission resulting in the phone call to the boss mentioned earlier: “Well, I knew it was about $100, and she ended up telling me she took $5,000!”
When measuring the success of an interview, we should not focus on the amount of the admission but rather the method in which we retrieved it and the reliability of the information. We should determine what the interviewer did that gave the subject the opportunity to admit to this previously unknown amount. If threats or promises were used, then even a true confession may be unreliable and a clearly unsuccessful conversation. To be a substantiated confession, it must include details that can then be corroborated. Determining how they opened the register, how much money they took each time, what the money was used for, and where it is now are just a few of the questions that need to be answered. Confessions may be vital in some cases but are only considered a success when obtained voluntarily and subsequently substantiated.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work, a suspect doesn’t confess, and the interviewer isn’t able to gain any additional information. When this happens in your case or to your team, revisit the conversation and explore the root cause of the issue. Appreciate the fact that you did not take any drastic measures that could have increased liability for the organization and be prideful of your ability to professionally close out of the conversation. Put your investigative cap back on and be more prepared for the next conversation. Learning from our mistakes is a crucial element in creating success.
Whether you are the interviewer or the supervisor, take actionable steps to rebrand how you identify success in interviews. Stop asking, “How much of an admission did you get?” and start asking, “How did you get there?” Applaud the interviewers who are able to obtain reliable information, even if it isn’t the confession. Appreciate the investigators who were able to lock a subject into a story that can be disproved or corroborated. Respect the interviewer who acknowledges when their evidence was wrong and then understand the success that can come from reflecting on an unproductive interview.
That next time you pick up the phone after an interview, set a new standard and redefine what it means to be “successful.”
This story was originally published in April 2021.