Interviewing. Everyone does it. What is the difference?

In the world of investigating it is common place and function for investigators to collect statements, conduct interviews; thus we all say, and advertise, that we “perform interviews”.

Can just any investigator conduct an interview? Claims adjusters take statement’s so what makes an investigator any better?  What separate’s one investigator from the other in the function of interviewing? So the question: Is there a difference?

The answer: Yes there is a difference. For one there is a difference in the type of interview: Is the interview a basic initial fact finding interview? Is it a screening interview? Is it a confrontational interview? Is it an admission seeking interview? Is it an impeachment interview? Etc.

Once the above is determined then it has to be decided:

*Is it going to be an announced or unannounced interview?

*Where is the interview going to take place?

*Who is going to be present in the interview?

*Is the interview going to be recorded?

*Is the interview going to be in person or via phone or remote via a PC with video?

While there are numerous things to consider in regards to who conducts the interview and evaluating the skills of that sources interviewing expertise, there are three critical key areas to consider overall in choosing who conducts an interview.

*Experience and background .  Ex-law enforcement investigators can bring many quality skills to a civil, private investigation, however one must be aware that it can also bring baggage from having years with “the power of the badge” and they may not be able to make the necessary transition into the nuances required in the private sector of investigations. Likewise a poorly trained or “green” private investigator may lack the experience and skills needed to do the job.

*Training. While there is only a certain amount of skill that can be obtained from training one must have a solid background in training to be a highly successful interviewer. This is an area of investigative work that one can never stop learning and improving upon. There is no room for ego in the art of interviewing. One must be willing to learn and grow, getting new training and be self critical in evaluating each interview result.

Understanding People. Some may call this “second nature”, or “intuition”. Call it whatever one wants to, however the bottom line is that a high quality interviewer has a innate skill for understanding people , how they think and communicate based on verbal and nonverbal communication; this can include dress, vehicle care and choice, housekeeping habits, meta-& micro communication patterns, etc. An exceptional interviewer seems to have a natural ability to not only “read/understand “ people, but also has the ability to get them to talk and can pick up on what is not said as much as is what is said.

So what are some specific things that separate one investigator over another when it comes to doing interviews other then the above three general skills listed?

Here are a few:

*Proper planning and design in interview questions. This is a critical skill and a must.

*Choosing proper venue for the interview based upon the case and the subject being interviewed.

*Taking time to establish a baseline of behavior in response to the interview questions while conducting the interview. Again this is critical and a must.

*Having the ability to control the interview yet not shut down the statements of the subject.

*Being able to remain flexible in how the interview is developing.  Being able to balance out what questions need to be asked as planned out yet following up with questions developed through information revealed from the interview.

*One master key to being a successful interviewer is the ability to gain rapport with the subject.

Last but not least, what makes some investigators better at interviewing then some claims professionals is that most claim professionals often are simply trying to meet a deadline to get or keep a claim moving, and with their case load they do not have the time nor resources to properly conduct the interviews needed to actually determine the case disposition beyond basic fact gathering. This is NOT to say there are not claims professionals that are not good at interviewing, nor is it saying that there are no claims professionals that do not excel at interviewing; however in general just by the nature of their job and the structure of the system, they work within, it generally works against them to be such.

Interviews can be of great assistance in investigations, however like any other investigative technique or activity, IF the interview is needed as a major component to case furtherance then it should be a tool that is used with a specific purpose and direction in mind by someone that has the proper skills and expertise; otherwise it will just be a disappointment to all parties except the suspected subject.


No information in this article is intended to be nor should be taken as legal advice. This article is a professional opinion from an investigative perspective and is based upon an experienced investigative background. One should always consult a licensed attorney for legal advice. All rights reserved by 3Tier Services Inc. and Stephen Yerger. 2/2013