|Oftentimes during an investigation, pre-background screening, obtaining witness testimony and more, investigators will move beyond the stage of open-source information and onto human-based intelligence techniques. When interviewing a potential subject, whether it be to get expert testimony, witness testimony, industry knowledge, or to speak with someone about a former employee or employer, the steps taken before the interview are tantamount to the success of the interview itself.
But why is pre-interview open-source information gathering an important step in the interview process? One could argue that interview work, especially in certain circumstances, is simply a numbers game. While partially the case, pre-interview information can be a useful tool for an investigator in helping to develop knowledge of both the topic of the line of questioning, develop knowledge of the individual you may be interviewing, and ultimately help you develop rapport as an interviewer and investigator.
Developing rapport and getting to know your subject are also key elements in maintaining professionalism in the interview process. Some of the most important characteristics to maintain during this process are empathy, communication, and professionalism. These can all be enhanced by developing an understanding of your subjects as individuals with backgrounds, professions, and their own personal lives.
Get to know the Topic of the Investigation
A primary element in successfully conducting interviews is organized preparation on the subject(s) at hand. An interviewer should take time to understand and be aware of all aspects of an investigation, including the nature of the interview, the facts and evidence of the investigation, as well as any industry-specific information necessary to discuss relevant topics with a potential interviewee. Interviews can easily be derailed if an interviewer comes off as confused, lost, or unknowledgeable about the topics at question. Showing someone that you are prepared and know what you are talking about can help you develop rapport with the subject, and to show that you aren’t wasting their time asking questions that could otherwise be answered by your own research.
Get to Know Your Interviewee
The first step prior to interviewing a subject is to get a basic understanding of the individual you plan to speak with. Primary steps include identifying an individual’s primary social media accounts, and potential contact information available from the public domain. Where does your subject live? Have they lived in the same place their entire life? Have they moved around quite a bit? Where did they go to school? Where do they currently live? From this basic information you can extrapolate quite a bit of information and make inferences into their life and lifestyle.
Social media, when available and identifiable, can also provide useful information to building rapport. Does your subject frequently interact with certain sports team pages on social media? Do they have other interests that you can relate to? Things like music, hobbies, work, and other basic information about an individual can humanize a stranger and possibly provide points of common ground between you and an individual.
Social media, including professional profiles on websites such as LinkedIn or GitHub can also help you understand your subject, and potentially help you as an investigator narrow down your list of potential interviewees. Are you hoping to gain insight into the IT practices of a certain company or industry? Perhaps you are hoping to gain insight into these practices in comparison between two or more companies or industries. Identifying individuals who have worked in Information Technology at a particular company, or perhaps more than one company in question, might be more useful for you as an investigator as opposed to speaking with someone who worked in Human Resources, for instance.
Public records beyond social media can also provide further insight into your interview subject. Utilizing county-level property information, for instance, may be telling. Utilizing the county recorder of deeds or tax assessor information may help you identify that a subject owns property on a golf course, or near a body of water. Perhaps your subject plays golf or fishes. These are all telling and relatable pieces of information you can identify before ever speaking to someone.
Find a relatable Talking Point
Once you have a sense of the individual you plan on speaking to, you can put this information into practice. Building rapport is not determined only by you knowing something about an individual, but sometimes can take the shape of providing information about yourself that is relatable. Perhaps you attended the same university as the subject, or have family in the same city that they are living in. These connections can allow you to enter a conversation candidly, but armed with relatable information.
Getting to know a bit about a potential interviewee, as well as making sure you are prepared with information about the investigation, and any relevant background information, can help an interviewer establish professionalism and rapport with a potential interviewee. Making sure you understand basic information about the people you are talking to can also help you approach individuals calmly, and with a sense of human understanding that can allow for more robust, professional, and useful interviews.