An interview is a structured question-and-answer session designed for a purpose – to elicit information. Before beginning an interview, review appropriate files to understand all the information that is available about the subject, which will help in formulating a strategy and refining the line of questioning. Consider what type of information each potential witness can supply to the investigation. This preparation stage helps to maximize the effectiveness and the efficiency of you as an interviewer. This article focuses on interviews used to gather information. Questioning techniques will be discussed in upcoming articles.

When initially contacting a potential witness by telephone, state your name and the reason you would like to meet with the witness while disclosing few details about the purpose of the interview. Avoid alarming comments such as “I am investigating a matter,” or “I am a security manager.” Instead say something like, “I would like to meet with you at a convenient time and place.”

Once the subject agrees to meet, time and place become key factors. The interview should be conducted as soon as possible following the event under investigation. A prolonged lapse of time could diminish the witness’s memory of significant information.


Conducting the Interview

For optimal cooperation from the interviewee, do whatever you can, within reason, to accommodate the interviewee’s needs. Hold the interview in a location where the interviewee feels comfortable and secure. Arrange the chairs so you are face-to-face, creating an open invitation for communication. Eliminate physical barriers between you and the witness, allowing you a better position to observe the subject’s behavior and reaction to certain questions.

Select an environment that minimizes distractions while maintaining the interviewee’s comfort level. Distractions can negatively affect the witness’s memory retrieval. In addition, close the door to ensure privacy; however, do not lock it during the interview. Locking the door might make the subject feel like you’re limiting his ability to leave at will. If the subject feels he cannot leave at any time, he might try to claim false imprisonment.

Prior to the interview, have all the necessary resources at hand in the room. For example, you do not want to interrupt the interview to find a notepad.

If you are of the opposite gender than the subject, attempt to bring in an additional associate of the same gender. This is done for several reasons. It helps to raise the level of comfort and acts as a safeguard against accusations of misconduct on your end.

Most importantly, aim to develop a good rapport between you and the witness to reduce stress and set out the format of the interview. Try to put the witness at ease by engaging in small talk like, “How are you doing today?” A witness will likely yield more accurate information in a non-threatening environment. In the process of developing rapport with the witness, you can learn about the witness’s communication style. For example, if the witness appears nervous during the rapport stage, you should not necessarily interpret nervous responses to later questions as a sign of a deception.

Consider the following when questioning the subject:

  • Minimize the amount of time you spend talking. Encourage the witness to speak for the majority of the time.
  • Do not interrupt the witness.
  • Allow a moment of comfortable silence between questions.
  • Ask if other witnesses can confirm information disclosed during the interview.

Start with broad, indirect questions and move on to specific, direct questions when gathering information. Your role as the interviewer is to observe, guide, and listen to the witness.


Documenting the Interview

Recording an interview is an accurate way of documenting it and helpful in any subsequent court proceedings. However, many people are reluctant or uncomfortable being recorded. This obstacle can be overcome once you explain that the recording is in the best interest of the witness in providing the most accurate account of information disclosed. Whether or not you record an interview is a decision you must base on the policies in place at your organization, the type of interview being conducted, and other circumstances involved.

Another consideration is to take notes throughout the interview. If notes will not be taken during the interview itself, immediately document the events while they are still fresh in your mind. If you do take notes, the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Begin on a clean page.
  • Identify the date, time, and place of the interview and the individuals present.
  • Obtain biographical data for the witness, including contact information, Social Security number, and alternate numbers of family and friends.
  • Initial and date the notes.
  • Document the questions asked.
  • Make note of unusual changes in body language and tone, along with the subject being discussed at the time of change
  • Do not document any personal  conclusions after the interview

Ending an Interview

At the conclusion of the interview, review and confirm any notes taken with the subject. Be sure to distinguish information the subject disclosed from personal knowledge and information the subject heard from others. Ask the interviewee if he wishes to change or add any information before submitting the information. Finally, thank the interviewee and request permission to do a follow-up interview, if necessary