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Interviewing Skills For Private Investigators

Sep 3, 2008
Interviewing occupies a large part of the typical private investigator's day, and is one of their most important tasks. Good interviewing generates the greatest amount of information in the least possible time, causes nobody any aggravation, and helps wind up a case quickly and efficiently. Here are a few hints and tips for any new or aspiring private investigator to help improve their interviewing skills...

* Prepare for interviews ahead of time. Don't expect someone to change their plans to suit yours simply because you failed to plan properly. Of course, there will be times when urgent meetings are needed, in which case say so, and arrange a time to suit the interviewee.

* Make a list of questions you will ask before the interview starts. Try to stick to this, but be aware that unexpected questions may arise during the interview. Have your questions printed out in a list, with plenty of space between each item for notes. If an unexpected question arises a different colored pen can be used to record the new question and your interviewee's answer.

* Arrange interviews early in the day if possible, when interviewees are fresh and not yet in a routine which they might find hard to break later.
Arrive early. Never keep your interviewee waiting. Nothing annoys people more than being taken for granted. It also creates a bad first impression, which can make your subject withhold information or be less forthcoming than he otherwise might.

* Dress as if the interview mattered. As it does -- something that isn't always obvious if you turn up with dirty jeans and a tatty tee shirt carrying stains from a recent hurried meal.

* Introduce yourself as soon as you arrive and when you meet your interviewee. A friendly hello and a handshake go a long way towards creating credibility and reducing the awkwardness of 'official' interviews.
Look your subject in the eye, and try not to look shifty or attempt to gather background information while the other person is talking. Give him your full attention, always.

* Explain the reason for the interview. Don't keep your interviewee in the dark. He will want to know why you are asking him questions, why you need the information, and how you intend to use it.

* Create rapport as soon as you can -- no matter whom you are talking to or what position they hold. 'Holier than thou' is not a good attitude to have if you want people to open and warm towards you. Be friendly but not over-friendly. Be professional.

* Allow the other person time to answer your questions, and try not to do much talking yourself. Ask 'open' questions which give the subject a chance to expand, rather than closed questions, which can simply be answered 'yes' or 'no'. Allow him to finish before asking another question. Don't interrupt or cut him short.

* Avoid distractions. Not everyone likes recording equipment or obvious note-taking. Ask before doing either. Many people will refuse to be recorded, but most expect you to take notes. Make notes as brief as possible, and try not to spend too long looking away from the other person.

* Don't try to impress or intimidate your subject. This will simply create an 'us and them' situation which will make your interviewee feel threatened or undermined. Either way, you are less likely to get the information you require. The best approach is natural and straightforward.

If you run out of time, suggest a follow-up interview, but remember you are encroaching on someone else's time. Arrange a follow-up that suits the other person best, not you.

* Leave cordially. Shake hands and thank your interviewee for his time and effort. If necessary, say you will get back to him. Give him your card, and suggest he contacts you if you can be of any assistance to him in the future.

* When the interview ends, write up your notes as soon as possible. It's amazing how quickly rough notes get lost, or you simply forget what you meant. If the matter ends up in court, such a lack of professionalism can be embarrassing and costly.
About the Author
Mark Gustaffson is the author of the Professional Private Investigator Course from Maple Academy (UK), a leading correspondence course in this field. For more information, see the Maple Academy website at http://www.mapleacademy.com.
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