5 Investigation Interview Mistakes to Steer Clear Of

Interviews are an important part of a successful investigation. However, making the mistakes discussed below can cause an investigation to crash and burn.

Posted by Lindsay Khan in Corporate Security, Ethics & Compliance, Health & Safety, Human Resources, SIU & OIG on September 26th, 2011

Last week I was in Orlandofor the 57th Annual ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits. It was a HUGE conference, with a lot of education sessions and a ton of amazing speakers (insert big round of applause for ASIS and the event organizers). One of the sessions I attended was lead by Randy Tennison, Financial Analyst, Internal Investigations, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. The session was titled “5 Common Mistakes Interviewers Make, and 5 Things Successful Interviewers Do Each Time”.

Tennison brought a wealth of personal experience to the presentation to paint concrete examples of the types of mistakes investigators make – and how those mistakes can be avoided. Here are some of the takeaways from that session:

1. Not Prepping for the Interview

Failure to properly prepare for an investigation interview can lead to the inability to get a confession or achieve whatever the end goal of the interview may be. Tennison focused on the following interview preparation tips and advice:

  • Set up the investigation room properly- remove barriers between you and the subject and eliminate distractions (put phones on silent, turn computers off, etc.).
  • Cover the ground rules with anyone present to witness the interview- keep any interview witnesses out of sight and out of mind. Review “ground rules” with them before the interview begins (ex. don’t open the door, don’t interrupt, don’t leave the room, etc.).
  • Know the witness- are they a close friend of the subject? Someone the subject feels indebted to? Someone the subject has filed an EEOC complaint against?
  • Choose the right investigator- consider reporting lines, cultural issues and personality type when selecting the interviewer.
  • Know who you’re interviewing
  • Get the timing right- Make sure the interview is scheduled during a time where the employee is scheduled to work. Also, consider the timing of the interview from a company perspective. Is the interview immediately before a union vote? Is there any pending litigation that should be settled first?
  • Decide on an end goal- Determine what needs to happen for action to be taken.
  • Determine what will happen after the interview- Will you need to make prior arrangements to arrest on site? Will the subject be placed on investigatory suspension or terminated? Will you need to change locks, passwords, lock combinations, computer access, swipe cards, etc?

2. Failing to Build Rapport

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Tennison asked a very important question: why would someone confess something to someone they don’t like? Establish rapport by learning as much as you can about the person. Tennison suggests easing into the interview by asking the person about themselves, their job, outside interests and more. Demonstrate an honest interest in their responses and ask follow up questions. Use the person’s name when talking to them, and most importantly, let them do the talking. It also doesn’t hurt to mirror their actions, because people like people who are like them. When you build rapport, you’re creating a baseline to evaluate future responses, because some people change the way the talk or act when they are guilty.

3. Failing to Ask the Question

Tennison says that during the interview, don’t dance around the issue under investigation. Statements like “did you misappropriate company assets?” are too vague and can lead to a number of answers – and not necessarily the ones you’re looking for. Avoid using pejorative words like stole, embezzled and fraudulent, as well as words that remove intent, such as borrowed, misplaced and accidentally. Ask the tough questions that you need answers to. Tennison reminds us that you have to be comfortable saying it (the question) or they (the subject) won’t admit it.

4. Failing to Stop Denials

According to Tennison, this is the single most important action you can take during an investigation interview. The more times a subject denies something, the harder it will be for them to admit it. Tennison suggests two ways to stop a denial:

  1. Don’t let it start
  2. Put your hand up, look away and say something along the lines of  “I’ll let you speak in a minute, but I have something important I need to say.

Tennison notes that there are some instances where you might want a denial, such as if the goal of the interview is to determine integrity or when the subject means what they say.

5. Showing Judgment

Tennison reminded us that we can inadvertently give away our feelings through our body language. Everything from the words we use to the way we hold our hands can be a signal of our true feelings. We need to be aware of our own actions to ensure that they don’t get in the way of achieving the end goal of the interview.

Tennison also shared a very funny – but very applicable – video with us. Can you guess which dog was the guilty one?


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Lindsay Khan is the marketing manager for i-Sight Software. With an Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree in marketing from the University of Ottawa, she brings business acumen to the subjects she covers for the company blog and website. Lindsay compiles monthly newsletters, writes and promotes downloadable guides and press releases, promotes webinars and manages our online communities.

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