Have you scheduled interview training for the coming year?
Do we need more interview training?
Once we have been trained in interviewing, do we need any more?
I’ve done it this way for years, why should I change?
There are plenty of companies, agencies, and organizations that believe once you have that basic interview training, you are good to go for a career of interviewing. However, research clearly demonstrates that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Operating under this myth results in interviews not maximizing information obtained, or worse, accumulating factually inaccurate findings. Relying on this errant mindset can compromise actions, fail to uncover wrongdoing, and miss systemic deficiencies. This is a negative across the board for individuals and organizations.
I spent over 30 years in the field conducting investigative, audit, employee misconduct and corporate interviews both administrative and criminal in nature, and most of it without the benefit of additional interview training beyond that which I initially obtained in the FBI academy. I received training that was excellent for launching into a career, but so many of the improvements I made in interviewing over time occurred by trial and error. Hence, my war stories have some victories, but more blunders that remain imprinted on my memory. I, without question, know that refresher training, although not eliminating errors would have mitigated many. Coupled with that would have been a huge increase in confidence and competence, benefiting interview/investigation results for my employer and me. I am sure of this because once I entered the training arena and immersed myself in hours of instruction and application, many things that I had learned to do in my career came into much clearer focus, and I became a much better interviewer.
In the training arena I also spent a significant amount of time researching issues that we were observing repetitively in the training environment. One of these issues was the effects of training and refresher training on interviewing capabilities, as well as, the increased focus on technology related interviewing and minimization of emphasis on human factors/relationship interviewing. There was a large amount of research to peruse and much of it very related to investigative interviews. The results were very disappointing as to the current climate effecting interviewing.
Examining these studies depicted some statistically significant data, which is extremely beneficial to reflect upon. Even more important it is consistent with what we observe in the training environment and what students tell us. When we examine areas it is important to share some consistent positives first, because there are some and they should be noted:
- Interview training today creates interviewers that generally displayed ethical interviewing standards. Interviewers know what is required of them by law and policy and procedure, and are following those standards. Whether this is because of the microscopic focus that we are all under in this business, or the advent of technological advances with video and audio recordings, at least we are implementing ethical standards. As a sub-note these standards ultimately help in maximizing the quality and quantity of information we obtain.
- Interviewers frequently used open questioning techniques to elicit information from the interviewee. We have gotten away from the Joe Friday, Dragnet style of interviewing which is very good, as those yes/no questions do not facilitate open dialogue and the sharing of information. Over the next several years, I believe we will see additional focus on extending our open ended questioning techniques because of research being conducted in the area of cognitive interviewing.
On the negative side the research reflects several persistent problems which are of concern:
- Insufficient planning and preparation for the interview. This is a significant area and one that we observe is often short-changed. Studies and practice shows this is greatly neglected in preparation for interviews and the research indicates that approximately one in ten interviews have adequate planning. All interviews should have a plan. Of course the interviewer knows where to go and who they are going to see, but planning as to who this person is, strategic consideration of all elements of the interview, and appropriate themes to elicit the truth are not being fully developed beforehand.
- The research also pointed to significant shortfalls in rapport building. They suggest that 90% of interviews do not have adequate rapport developed. Some rapport may occur, but not at a level to fully understand the interviewee and establish commonalities with that individual. This area is extremely important to ensure the ability to maximize the amount of, and quality of information obtained during interview. Of note, when asking interviewers their strengths, a significant portion point to rapport, but practice indicates otherwise. I believe what many call good rapport falls short of this extremely important subject.
- Inadequate listening skills. I’m not sure if you have noticed but we all seem to talk much better than we are able to listen. The research reflects that interviewers are not applying all senses to listen and ensure understanding from the person we are talking to. We don’t do well at leaving our pre-conceived beliefs and biases outside the interview room.
- The research further suggests “woefully” insufficient management of operations. Managers correct mechanical errors and issues with form, but seldom question or collaborate on ensuring that all avenues of questioning are being considered. This includes failing to direct adequate resources to investigating and addressing systemic deficiencies. The main issue becomes resolution and numbers, not getting to the essential precipitating issues that could have long term ramifications.
Despite these observations, the research points to the long term positive effects of training on addressing the above and other issues. One study stated that “sufficiently trained interviewers outstripped the performance of untrained colleagues” in numerous areas to include the following six:
- Actively encouraging interviewees to talk freely and openly;
- Developing related topics for further discussion and clarification during the interview;
- Fully exploring information obtained from interviewees;
- More effectively dealing with difficulties that arise during interviews;
- The effective employment of pauses and silences during the interview; and
- Development of intimate rapport and strategic themes to maximize information obtained during the interview.
Coupled with this, for the more experienced investigator, the research clearly establishes that refresher interview training significantly improves the performance of advanced techniques among interviewers. I know this to be so true. I spent many years interviewing without refresher training….learning solely by on the job action, or inaction. When I entered the training landscape and participated in substantial interview training, my application and abilities in the field increased dramatically. The only variable I see here is attitude. If you enter the training with the misconception that you know all you need to know, you will not benefit from that training.
As interviewers, supervisors, managers, and administrators this should make us consider what plan of action we have in place to provide adequate human factors/relationship interview training to our on-boarding and seasoned employees. The results returned by doing this will repetitively pay for the cost and time committed to this training.
Anderson Investigative Associates is positioned to custom tailor that interview training to your specific needs. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss this, please reach out to me. If to make a case for training, you need copies of the research I refer to, just let me know. Additional issues pertaining to interviewing and investigations can be found in other blogs that I have written and are contained in most blocks of instruction that our company presents.
If you have additional questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at:
Mark A. Anderson
Director of Training and Development
Anderson Investigative Associates, llc
128 Oarsman Xing
St. Marys, GA 31558