Conducting investigative interviewing over the telephone is much different from doing it in person. While doing an investigative interview in person is ideal, you don’t always have the option of flying across the country to do an interview.

The difference with doing a telephone interview is that there is an inherent sense of mistrust. In most cases, the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know you and can be completely freaked out about how you got his or her name and number. You don’t really have much time to develop a rapport, so you’ve got to get to the point quickly.

You’ve typically got one shot to get an interview, so here are some tips to make it your best shot:

1From the onset, be open and honest about the reason for your call. You don’t have to tell the person every nitty-gritty detail, but enough that the person will feel comfortable talking to you.

2Try asking a question at the beginning to get the person to talk. “I understand that you previously worked at Enron; is that correct?” Don’t you hate when you get a telemarketing call and the person doesn’t give you a chance to talk? This breaks the ice a little.

3Don’t give the person an out. If you ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” nine times out of ten, people will ask you to call them back later. That may be the last time you ever talk to them.

4Call from a blocked number, at least at the beginning. That contradicts the “open and honest” tip, but people aren’t stupid. If you saw five missed calls from an investigator or a law firm, wouldn’t you get a bit nervous? You don’t want the person avoiding you before you have had a chance to do the interview.

5Let them talk. Even if they aren’t answering the questions you want them to, let them talk. You can always ask follow-up questions.

6Only leave messages after calling a few times. You can learn some painful lessons from Mike about how not to leave a phone message.

7Take good notes. It’s kind of awkward asking someone if you can record a conversation when you haven’t even set the stage. Legally recording phone calls requires that you know which state they are in, which is another awkward question to ask when you are trying to interview someone.

8Don’t have a word-for-word interview script. Scripts can ruin the flow of an interview. It does help to at least have some broad talking points and topics that you need to cover.

9Listen. It seems pretty obvious, but listening is the most important thing in an interview.

10“Would you mind if I called you back if I had some other questions?” It’s always a good idea to end the interview with this question. It opens the door for any follow-up questions.

11At the conclusion of the interview, it’s a good idea to provide your contact information. The person will feel more comfortable about whom they are talking to, and if they needed to, they could follow up if they remember something else. And they will be more open to follow-up later.

12Immediately following the interview, review your notes and add comments. Better yet, write a memo. The sooner the better. Before you forget all the details.

What tips or techniques do you recommend?

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