The following is a guest post from Mark Anderson, Director of Training and Development with Anderson Investigative Associates. AIA specializes in customized training for audit, evaluation, inspection, investigation and human resources professionals. Mark is a retired Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ/OIG) who served as a Program Manager and Instructor at the Inspector General Criminal Investigator Academy (IGCIA) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, GA.
How is interviewing changing? What is different now than it was 20 years ago? How does that affect our ability to be prepared for interactions in the interview suite?
These are all very relevant questions and ones that as a researcher, author, and trainer are of great concern. We then must couple them with some stereotypes held generally about interviewing itself. Do we need more interview training, or once we have been trained up, is that enough? There are numerous organizations that believe once you have that requisite basic interview training, you are all set for a career of interviewing. Research clearly shows that this couldn’t be further from the truth, and operating under this myth results in interviews lacking information or worse, containing incorrect findings. Relying on this errant mindset can lose actions, can fail to uncover wrongdoing, and can falter in identifying systemic deficiencies, a negative across the board for individuals and organizations.
I spent over 30 years conducting investigative, audit, employee misconduct and corporate interviews, both administrative and criminal in nature, for organizations like the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most of those years were without the benefit of additional interview training beyond that which I initially obtained at 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. And might I add, plenty of errors.
Hence, my war stories have some victories, but more blunders that remain imprinted in 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 that would have benefited interview/investigation results for me and my employers. I know 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.
What are we seeing today?
In the training arena, I also spent a significant amount of time researching issues that we were seeing repetitively in the training environment. One of these was the effect of electronics in younger students and its impact on communication and interaction. We also examined the link 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 vast amount of research to peruse and some related to investigative interviews. The results were very disappointing as to the current state of affairs in 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 always some:
- Interview training today creates interviewers that generally displayed ethical interviewing standards. Interviewers know what is required of them by law, 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 and the cognitive load theory.
On the negative side the research reflects several persistent problems which are of concern:
- Insufficient planning and preparation for the interview. This is a very 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 and quality of information obtained during the interview.
- Inadequate listening skills. I’m not sure if you have noticed but we all seem to talk 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.
The first three of these findings dovetail with our inextricable connection to our electronic devices. Cell phones, texting, Facebook have all created a generation that talks in short bursts, has a shorter attention span, and faces obstacles in face to face interaction. None of these shortcomings facilitate an effective interviewing experience. In fact, they result in shorter, less comprehensive, and factually inadequate interviews. As a result, many interview training academies are looking at implementing communication courses prior to the initiation of interview training.
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:
- 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.
In our training we address these electronic and cultural issues and provide solutions through interactive exercises and roleplaying.
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. 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.
If you have any questions, or would like to discuss this, please reach out to me. 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.
Mark A. Anderson
Director of Training and Development
128 Oarsman Xing
St. Marys, GA 31558