A good investigation interview is only as good as the person conducting it. As with all skills, practice makes perfect, but there’s no harm getting a bit of help along the way. Follow these 40 tips to get the most out of your interview subjects and to determine what questions to ask in the investigation interview.
- Pick a non-threatening place for the interview, such as a conference room or private office.
- Give the interviewee a choice of times for the interview, being respectful of his or her workload.
- Provide the subject with a rough estimate of the amount of time the interview will take.
- Remove extra distractions, such as computers, files, paperwork, in the interview room.
- Provide the interviewee with a comfortable chair that doesn’t face a window.
- Create a comprehensive list of investigation interview questions that you can choose from, depending on the direction the interview takes.
- Decide whether or not to record the investigation interview.
- Put the subject at ease when he or she arrives and offer a glass of water or coffee.
Need a quick reference for investigation interview questions? Download the free cheat sheet: Top 20 Questions to Ask in an Investigation Interview.
- Begin by establishing a baseline by asking simple, easy-to-answer questions that the subject is likely to answer truthfully, such as: How long have you worked at the company?
- Ask open-ended questions to get the subject to talk, such as: Tell me about…
- Avoid loaded questions, such as: Are you a tough supervisor?
- Avoid questions at the beginning that can be answered with a yes or no.
- Do not ask accusatory questions that indicate you think the subject is guilty.
- Ask simple questions that address one fact at a time, rather than combining more than one idea into the same question.
- Do not ask leading questions that prompt for the answer you want, such as: Isn’t it true that you punched Jean?
- Ask yes or no questions at the end of the interview to pin down specific facts that were revealed during the interview.
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- Explain that you are taking every allegation seriously and are committed to finding the truth.
- Ask the subject to keep the interview confidential only if you have already established grounds for confidentiality.
- Don’t promise confidentiality, but tell the subject that you will share information with only those who need to know.
- Avoid being too familiar or taking on the role of “one of the guys”.
- Do not share information about what other interview subjects have said (unless you are interviewing the accused or trying to obtain information from a hostile witness).
- Avoid expressing your thoughts, opinions or conclusions about the case or what the interviewee says.
- Do not make agreements or deals with the subject.
- Practice self-awareness by identifying your own potential biases and putting them aside while conducting the interview.
- If the interview is about a specific event, identify the five Ws: who, what, when, where, why.
- Proceed in chronological order to ensure nothing is missed.
- Ask about witnesses or others who can corroborate or comment on the incident.
- Ask the subject to recreate the dialogue of the incident, in order of what was said.
- Request any notes, documents, phone messages, or other evidence.
- Identify the source of the subject’s knowledge: hearsay, rumor, eye witness, other direct knowledge
- Take detailed notes (or have another person present who is taking detailed notes) that list only what is revealed in the interview, without opinion or comments.
- Note the subject’s body language and physical movements, but without interpretation. For example, write that the subject was tapping his foot rapidly, but not that the subject seemed nervous.
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- Repeat any questionable or confusing information back to the subject to ensure you heard correctly.
- Get the witness to confirm any areas where you may have misheard or misinterpreted information.
- Ask for clarification and more detail on any vague points.
- Ask follow-up questions to establish more facts in the chain of events, for example: If you were in the cafeteria at 1pm, how did your access card register an entry into the library at the same time?
- If the subject gave evasive answers or avoided a question, rephrase the question and ask it again.
- Ask the subject whether there are any other questions they feel you should have asked or whether there is anything they would like to disclose before you conclude the interview.
- Allow sufficient time for the subject to think before answering any final questions.
- Use silence as a tool to prompt a reaction, when possible.