The Art of the Interview

Every day we make connections with other people. People we know and those we’re meeting for the first time. Family, friends, colleagues, the cashiers in the grocery store and very often in my case, the coffee barista early in the morning. Maintaining interpersonal relationships is surely an important key to personal growth, happiness and even career advancement.

There exists a special group of people, many of who are Certified Fraud Examiners, who possess the unique ability not just to excel in their day-to-day interactions, but are capable of having a conversation in a way that elicits information from the other person. They’ve spent years honing and practicing this skill: the art of interviewing.

According to Jonathan Davison, Managing Director at Forensic Interview Solutions, interviewing is essentially a conversation with a purpose, which needs to be appropriately managed. Conversation management aims to provide an interviewer with an appropriate framework to manage a conversation. “How well are we as interviewers, CFEs, planning and preparing strategies for every interview we conduct?” asked Davison.

A great place to start, explained Davison, is with the five key elements of managing a conversation:

  • Contact: Establish rapport and set out the aims and objectives of the interview.
  • Content: Obtain facts using appropriate questioning.
  • Conduct: The way in which the content is covered.
  • Credibility: The way in which the interviewer is perceived.
  • Control: Directing the flow of the interview.

“Are we flexible or are we a slave to a Q&A approach where we have to write the questions beforehand?” he asked. Davison used an example called the Fan Technique to show how an interviewer can build rapport and reorganize their prepared questions in a way that throws the subject off their game.

Imagine the middle of a hand fan as step No. 1: straight in the middle is straight to the heart. As you subsequently move outwards, you’re moving before and after the heart of the matter. Some fraud examiners will want to hit their subjects straight in the heart, but the fraudster is often prepared for that.

“I might talk about something that’s not related to the fraud at all right away,” said Davison. He explained he might move closer into the heart of the fan with his questions, but then jump back out. Doing this, the subject could potentially make a comment they haven’t meant to because you’ve pin-balled around them. They’re thinking so much about what they’ve just said, what they previously said and what they plan to say.

However, being flexible doesn’t mean winging it. Even a flexible interview needs proper planning and preparation. This is where the P.E.A.C.E procedure can come in handy:

  • Plan and prepare
  • Engage and explain
  • Account, clarify and challenge
  • Closure
  • Evaluate

“Do you have a plan A, a plan B, a plan C?” he asked.

Davison emphasized the importance of being sufficiently prepared, but evaluation is also an integral part of an interview, just as much as any other phase. From the interview you need to evaluate the information obtained, the whole investigation in the light of the information obtained and your performance, either alone or jointly in the case of more than one interviewer.

These methods provide just a glimpse of the techniques fraud examiners use to conduct a successful investigative interview strategy. “At the end of the day, the onus is on interviewers,” said Davison. “It is their attitudes and behaviors that directly affect the outcome of the investigation process.”