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Interviewing is hard work, certainly harder than not making the effort. I have observed a multitude of good (and some great) interviewers and they share some common characteristics, as follows:
INQUISITIVE – Simply put, most good interviewers want to know what's going on, have their suspicions easily easily and are nosy.
OBSERVANT – Successful interviewing means thinking on your feet, while observing your surroundings and constantly observing the subject being interviewed.
o Not a job for those people who go through life half-awake.
ENERGETIC – No one makes interviewers put forth the effort to get that confidence, it's something that comes from within.
o You either have the desire or you do not.
ABILITY – Good interviewers can talk with people and put them at ease, while eliciting useful information.
o There's a fine line here between being an officious "John (or Jane) Wayne" and a complete BS artist.
PROBLEM SOLVERS – Interviewers must look at the big picture to succeed in obtaining incriminating claims from a suspect.
I once saw an investigator lose a rape confession because he wanted the suspect to first admit stealing the car that he used to commit the rape!
o The suspect was willing to admit doing the rape, but did not want to admit stealing the car.
o The investigator doggedly continued questioning the suspect about the car until the interview ended with no admissions at all.
o When I was asked to help with the interview, I just skipped the whole car issue and secured the rape confession.
o We later discovered that the suspect had been a relation to admit stealing the car because it belonged to one of his family members.
Lesson: what's most important to you, the interviewer, is not necessarily what's most important to the interviewee.
PATIENT -Police often damage the memory retrieval process by:
o hurrying witnesses
o interrupting people when they are talking
o using appropriate sequencing of questions
o stopping the statement process too soon.
The most common question I'm asked by students is this:
"Can anyone learn to be an effective interviewer or is it an in-born skill?"
Here's an analogy which may help explain the answer. Think of interviewing like playing the piano. Some children are born with a gift for playing the piano. With diligent practice, they become master concert pianists. Others have very little natural ability, but they are also diligent in their training. After years of practice they become adept at playing and become "practitioners" of the piano. The common denominator is: PRACTICE .
Without diligent practice, no one (irrespective of natural ability) will ever play the piano. Interviewing is like playing the piano in that there are some people who are natural communicators and some who are not so blessed. However, if each person practices, both types will become effective interviewers. A good interviewer should understand basic human behavior, should be intelligent, friendly, patient and persistent.
Remember: Good officers do not needarily make good interviewers.