Within any workplace, investigative interviews are highly valued resources that play an important role in uncovering important information and evidence about the circumstances or events being investigated.

However, in order to utilise them to their full potential and validate their usage in a legal setting, they must be conducted in a thorough manner that is unbiased and judicial. An investigative interview can take considerable deliberation, planning and effort on part of the employer and investigative team handling the situation.

Depending on the nature of the issue, the employee being questioned and the existing evidence, a number of things must be taken into consideration before the investigative interview is commended.

For example, deliberation on the following will be necessary in order to ensure the aim of the interview is met:

  • Who will conduct the interview
  • The interviewer’s approach to the conversation
  • A list or guideline of questions or topics to be addressed
  • What form of record taking chosen
  • Any relevant policies of the company

Successfully conducted investigative interviews will provide essential information that allows employers to establish the facts of a case, support or contest the accounts of other interviewees and decide if any employee misconduct has occurred.

Ultimately, these steps will help the employer decide what the next steps in the investigation are and allow it to proceed smoothly and efficiently. In contrast, a poorly conducted investigative interview that is not procedurally fair or thoughtfully planned can cause serious harm to the company’s reputation, negatively impact the employee culture or result in potential lawsuits.

This article will explore some of the most common mistakes interviewers make when questioning their subjects, from the moment they enter the room to the conclusion of the session. Ensuring you actively avoid these pitfalls will ensure that your interviews are able to gather valuable and relevant knowledge without risking the investigation’s integrity and validity as a form of statutory evidence.

Biggest Mistakes Interviewers Make

Mistake #1: Poor technique

When an investigator sits down to conduct an interview that aims to be relevant and useful, their approach to the questioning has a major impact on how the conversation proceeds. In order to obtain the information you need, its important to:

  • Prevent the interviewee from going on irrelevant tangents
  • Not to use leading or suggestive questions that are implicative in nature
  • Refrain from questions that are excessively aggressive
  • Interrupt while a question is being answered
  • Avoid asking multiple questions at the same time

Engaging in any of the behaviours above is a sign of poor interviewing technique which could risk the viability of the interview as a form of investigative evidence. A good approach would encourage the interviewee to speak freely and go into detail without interruption (as long as what they’re saying is of relevance).

It can be helpful to bridge gaps and pauses with gentle prompting but don’t feel the need to fill in every silence as these moments can actually be an encouragement for greater detail and clarification from the employee. Using phrases that are open-ended such as “explain/describe for me”, “what happened next”, and “how did you” is a great way to do this and help yield greater information from the individual.

Closed language should only be reserved when you are attempting to clarify information and cement details whereby starting questions with ‘who, what, where, when, why’ would be more appropriate. 

Mistake #2: Not breaking the ice

When it comes to having a fruitful conversation in the investigative interview, rapport is key as it allows the individual being questioned to feel comfortable and secure enough to share their thoughts and experiences freely. Rapport refers to the sense of trust, connection and confidence between the interviewer and the interview and it’s incredibly important to try and establish it from the moment you greet each other. Failing to make the interviewee feel comfortable or at ease, especially in the beginning, will translate throughout the rest of the interview and potentially jeopardise it.

To prevent this, an investigator can attempt to establish rapport in a variety of ways, including:

  • Attending to basic needs e.g. offering water
  • Exchanging pleasantries at the beginning instead of jumping into the questions
  • Keeping open body language throughout e.g. eye contact, open palms etc.)
  • Checking in on how they’re doing throughout the interview
  • Thanking or praising them for responding openly and honestly
  • Making sure they’re aware of the interview process and what to expect afterwards
  • Show engagement in what’s being said

Many investigators either skip or rush through the rapport-building process, and whilst this may reduce the time it takes to get through the required questions, it can greatly reduce the quality of answers received.

It’s in the best interest of the investigation to take the extra time needed for good rapport – in fact, research even suggests that the amount of information an interviewee remembers changes based on the tone established during the first few minutes.

For this reason, it’s important to be conscious and deliberate about rapport – it might even be a good idea to have an external party taking the interview notes so you are able to focus without disruption or a break in the flow of conversation.

investigative interview

Mistake #3: Not having adequate preparation

A good investigative interview takes time and preparation – an investigator cannot expect to simply walk into the room with a basic grasp of the situation and yield great results. An unprepared interviewer does not have the knowledge, skills or preparation to get the needed information, encourage a confession or make good progress in the investigation. All interviewers should do their due diligence and prepare in advance to maximise the potential of the interview towards achieving its purpose.

Some preparation tips include:

  • Know who you’re interviewing; their employee background, their role, current duties and responsibilities etc.
  • Have a draft of potential questions
  • Ensure you arrange it at an appropriate time, preferably during the interviewee’s work hours
  • Know what company policies are relevant to the situation
  • Having one or more established aims that will guide the questions asked and the general flow of the conversation
  • Prepare the space accordingly and make sure there are no distractions – the focus should solely be on the conversation
  • Go over all existing information and evidence
  • Make sure the team is all on the same page
  • Establish how the interview will be recorded e.g. note taking, audio/video recording etc.

One method of ensuring that you are adequately prepared for the interview and are able to garner all the required information is to make use of the P.E.A.C.E model which offers a flexible framework for investigative interviewing by breaking down the steps you need to take to make sure your aims are met.

Mistake #4: Not documenting investigative interviews correctly

The documentation of investigative interviews is absolutely necessary for a multitude of reasons. The form of recording is up to deliberation depending on what works best for you and the interviewee (note that you must inform the interviewee that their repones will be recorded and obtain their consent) but it’s crucial that it is done correctly and adequately.

This is because recording an interview is not only important for the procedural documentation of the investigation but also because it can be used for evidence in legal settings whereby it will play a very important role in shaping the outcome of the court. If note-taking is used, all important information must be recorded in as much detail without becoming oversaturated with irrelevant information.

Failing to document correctly can directly impact the credibility of the interview and any conclusions made through it which can pose serious consequences to the investigation’s outcome and also cause legal concern.

Mistake #5: Letting bias impact your interview

Whilst we cannot always prevent the unconscious biases that shape how we view things, it’s important to at least be aware of them, particularly in the setting of an investigative interview. It’s vital for the investigation that an interviewer remains as neutral as possible and does not make assumptions based on factors irrelevant to the discussion such as appearance or rumours.

Also, if the person being interviewed feels they are being judged, they can become defensive and closed off which then impacts the responses they give. During the conversation make sure to phrase your question carefully, refrain from making comments that could be perceived as offensive and do not jump to conclusions in place of listening carefully to what the employee is actually sharing with you.

Investigative interviews are an important part of the entire investigation process and the manner in which they are conducted should be carefully thought out in accordance with the context of each case, the employee and the goal of the session. Making sure that you avoid the common interviewing pitfalls will allow you to gain the information needed from the subject and allow investigative interviews to proceed as smoothly as possible.