private investigators

14 Interview Tips from a Private Investigator

A private investigator must use all of the tools in his or her tool belt to get to the bottom of a case, whether it’s for a child custody battle, missing persons or a theft investigation. PI’s use many techniques to uncover information including surveillance, research (i.e. background checks), and importantly, interviews.

What is an interview and what is the purpose of conducting interviews? An interview is a conversation between two or more parties to gather facts and information pertaining to a specific case or event. These facts gathered together can become testimonial evidence, can help uncover more background or even uncover the truth in an investigation. Interviews can be used to reconstruct the event or crime in question, to identify new leads and to make connections in cases where the rest of the evidence may seem disconnected.
Also of importance, private investigators often take witness statements that can be used in court. Common witnesses and interviewees include former spouses, children and other relatives, neighbours, employers and landlords.

What are the keys to a successful interview?

1) Knowing and understanding the purpose of the interview is the most important key to a conducting a successful interview. Going into the conversation with a goal is essential to staying on track and obtaining the required information.

2) On the other hand, it is important to begin an interview bias free. Preconceptions can be the source of leading questions and can cause misunderstanding of the information shared.

3) Pick a private and non-threatening location for the interview and give the interviewee a choice of times.

4) It is important to be prepared. Know the kinds of questions that need to be asked and how they will be asked. Being prepared also includes having the required materials, such as notepads, pens and audio recorders (note: always be sure to obtain consent before recording someone, otherwise the information on the recording may not be admissible in court).

5) While it is important to establish a professional relationship with the interviewee, a private investigator cannot become too familiar or agreeable with the subject.

6) Remove unnecessary distractions that can detract from the efficiency of the interview.

7) Make sure to go after the five W’s (who, what, when, where and why) and approach the story in chronological order.

8) Ask open-ended questions and avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. It is also important to identify when it is worthwhile to further pursue an answer, ask follow up questions and pin down specific facts. Do NOT ask leading or accusatory questions.

9) Do NOT share information about the case or event with the interviewee. This can break confidentiality with the client, could result in the interviewee giving tailored answers or it could even be illegal. Additionally, do not promise the interviewee full confidentiality.

10) Use silence as a tool to prompt a reaction or a longer, more detailed answer.

11) Avoid expressing personal thoughts or opinions about the case or about the answers the interviewee is giving.

12) Take detailed notes or ensure the conversation is being recorded. Take notice of body language as well as the inflections behind the words that are said.

13) Repeat any missed questions and ask for clarification where needed.

14) Be sure to thank the interviewee after you have finished. This person may become important for witness testimony down the line.