Investigator Interview Questions: How Do I Know What to Ask?

What you need to know about questioning a suspect or witness in a workplace investigation

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on February 5th, 2013

During our recent webinar on preparing for investigation interviews, presenter Don Rabon outlined the pre-interview planning and decisions investigators should consider before interviewing subjects in an investigation. One viewer asked whether Rabon could provide a stock list of questions that are considered to be best practices for various interviewing scenarios, such as theft and corporate fraud cases.

He answered that the focus should be on acquiring question formulation knowledge, including how to formulate “open” questions, which are important in getting subjects to talk. The interviewer’s tool box should, however, also include other question types, including:

  • closed questions
  • a variety of primary questions
  • secondary questions
  • standard, inverted and internal tag questions
  • leading questions
  • control questions
  • neutral questions

“Only then can we get to questioning sequences,” he says.

No Meaning Without Context

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“Questions are our working tools,” says Rabon. “It is critical to know how they function, rather than saying, ‘here is a question to ask, and another and another’.”

He also points out that when evaluating an interviewee’s responses to questions, the responses must be evaluated in context. “Without context, there is no meaning,” he says.

“To put it bluntly, we have to understand fully what the different questioning tools ‘do’ to the interviewee. Having accomplished this, then you can structure your questions and their sequencing to the examination of the process, event, relationship or circumstance upon which it has fallen upon you or those that work for you to inquire.”

Developing Questions

Start with a full understanding of the attributes of the different types of investigator interview questions, Rabon advises. “Then develop the applicable questions that relate to the inquiries that come under your purview.”

Every interview is different, so questions may vary based on the type of interview, type of case and type of person.

One of the strategies Rabon teaches is to allow the interview subject to guide you through the interview, using communication devices that encourage the individual to talk. Open questions, such as those starting with what, how, why, could or would, will encourage the person to respond allowing you to better read his or her verbal and non-verbal behavior.

Your demeanor, vocabulary, and presentation may be different, depending on the person you are interviewing. Developing rapport may involve tailoring your questions and behavior to better connect with the interviewee, with a better chance of getting the information you need. Rabon stresses, however, every interview subject is entitled to professional and courteous consideration no matter what they might have done.

More information on developing investigator interview questions can be found in two of Rabon’s books: Interviewing and Interrogation, 2nd edition, and Fraud Related Interviewing.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.