When you’re conducting virtual investigation interviews, it’s always about the interview subject, “and they have information that you need,” says employment attorney Allison West.
They have to discuss a sensitive subject from their safe space, their home. They might be using video calling technology for the first time. As an investigator, it’s your duty to make them feel comfortable so you can gather their valuable insights. Use these tips to ensure your video interviews are smooth and effective.
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1. Assessing Credibility
When you’re not in the same room with the interview subject, it’s hard to make a real connection. You can’t see their whole body or get “vibes” in the same way through video, which makes assessing their credibility more challenging.
West says that investigators should consider six factors when determining if their interviewee is credible: demeanor, inherent plausibility, motive to falsify, omissions, corroboration and past record. To analyze these, West recommends that you study:
- Witness’s demeanor/manner of testifying
- Character of witness’s testimony
- Witness’s capacity to perceive/recollect/communicate
- The witness’s character for honesty/dishonesty
- Inconsistencies in witness’s testimony
- The existence or non-existence of any testified fact
- The witness’s attitude toward the action/testifying
- The witness’s admission of untruthfulness
Because video interviews can feel awkward and nerve-wracking, avoid accusatory language when determining credibility, says West. For example, if the interviewee crosses their arms when answering a question, don’t say “You’re lying.” Instead, say, “I noticed you’re crossing your arms. Why did that question make you uncomfortable?”
When your tone is calm and conversational, the interviewee is less likely to shut down and more likely to give you the information you need.
2. Keeping the Interview Confidential
While maintaining confidentiality is easy when you’re in a private conference room, virtual investigation interviews put sensitive information at risk.
To keep the interview confidential, agree with your interviewee that you’ll both call from a private, quiet location. That means no spouses or kids around, no open windows and no television or radio on. Show the person your “office” at the start of the interview, says attorney and investigator Lorene Schafer. This proves that you’re taking confidentiality seriously and that they should, too.
Ask the interviewee not to consult with anyone during the interview. This reduces the odds that they’ll have someone feeding them lines not only in person off-camera, but also on their cell phone or other device.
If you plan to have more than one investigator or another third party (such as an interpreter) on the call, introduce them to the interviewee at the start.
In addition, keep confidential documents safe by making a “no screenshots” rule. You can also forbid them from recording the interview, taking photos of their screen with another device and downloading the documents you share or send.
3. Building and Maintaining Trust and Rapport
An interviewee might view their home as a safe place or have a home situation they don’t want you to see. Because of this, building trust and rapport is an essential step of virtual investigation interviews.
Video calls always feel weird, and in as serious a circumstance as an investigation interview, your subject might feel downright uneasy. To ease their anxiety and build trust, try to make the call feel as natural as possible.
First, explain your actions. For example, if you’re looking down at documents or taking notes, the interviewee might think you’re not paying attention to them. Say “I’m sorry I’m looking down at my notepad; I just wanted to jot down what you said.” This helps overcome the disconnect of the video call. You can also reassure them that you’re engaged by repeating or summarizing their points, says West.
In addition, try to recreate what the interviewee would see during a face-to-face conversation. Sit further back from screen so your whole upper body is in view. Light your face so no part is in shadow; ensuring your eyes and mouth are visible makes you appear open and honest.
Conversations can be stilted over video. To help the interviewee warm up to you, start with an ice breaker. Stick to something neutral (like the weather) and avoid negative or stressful topics (e.g. politics, current events). Schafer suggests:
“Thanks so much for agreeing to speak with me via Zoom video conference [or whatever platform you’re using]. I am interviewing you from here in my home office [show room]. I am alone and have cleared two hours from my calendar so we do not have any interruptions. Before we get started, I want to take a moment and acknowledge the unusual circumstances of interviewing you via video in your [home, dining room, car, etc.]. I truly appreciate you allowing me into your private space.”
Showing appreciation and demonstrating that you’re following the agreed-upon rules builds rapport and helps the interviewee relax.
4. Overcoming Technological Challenges
Finally, simply using technology to conduct an interview can be a struggle for both the investigator and the interviewee.
So many things can go wrong with a video interview: you could be disconnected, the platform might not work, a slow connection could cause delays or frozen video. Because of this, it’s important to prepare.
Send the interviewee clear instructions on how to use the platform and ask them to practice using it, suggests Schafer. Interviewers should practice, too. On the day of the interview, have a backup plan (e.g. switching to a phone call, rescheduling) in case something goes awry.
The person might not even have access to the internet or a web-enabled device. In this case, agree to do a phone interview instead. This makes sharing documents especially tricky. You might have to describe or read the documents to the interviewee over the phone to maintain confidentiality.
Want more tips on conducting effective video interviews? Watch our free webinar with employment attorney and investigation expert Allison West.