ACFE Communications Coordinator
In the most recent Fraud Talk podcast, Jonathan Turner, CFE, CII, ACFE Regent Emeritus, speaks about his top interviewing tips. As Turner says, “Everything that you do that adds another tool to the toolbox makes you more successful.”
Here are three of Turner’s tips for fraud examiners to remember while conducting interviews:
1. Have an Open Mind
In interviewing it is important to not let your own biases get in the way of the investigation. Biases can cloud your judgement, reality and, most importantly, your investigation. A flaw with many investigations is when you ask a question with an answer in mind, warns Turner. “If you walk in with a predetermination of what they’re going to say, you’re only going to capture part of what they have to say.”
One of the earliest fraud cases that Turner worked on was for a company that had received handwritten letters with serious allegations. He was hired on retainer to see what facts in the letters, if any, were true. The letters made some outrageous claims and Turner made a mistake that many people make. “I let my bias get in the way of my investigation,” admits Turner. “I judged the letters based on their content and their style instead of giving them the credence that they really deserved.” Once the interviews began, Turner was shocked to realize that the witnesses he interviewed had seen the shocking behavior that the letters stated. “One of the things that I use in interviewing to this day is to remember that no matter how outrageous the claim or how crazy the scheme sounds at first, you always have to be open to the possibility that it’s true or is a reflection of truth.”
Don’t do all of the talking — provide moments of silence, pause and wait. “The No. 1 tip is listening,” says Turner. “Listen to what they’re saying, let them take you places. If people feel like they are being heard, it encourages them to speak.” By listening instead of speaking you leave the interview open for the interviewee to say something you were not expecting. “It’s astounding how many people have confessed to things that I didn’t even know they had done,” says Turner. He mentions that there is always a temptation to come into an interview and show the interviewee how much you know, all of the facts that you’ve spent time figuring out and all of the details you’ve noted. But the weakness in that is that the interviewee begins interviewing you — you are telling them what you’ve learned rather than learning any new information. “I should walk out of that interview feeling like I’ve learned everything that there was to learn and feel like the other side has learned as little as I could possibly give them,” says Turner. “I always consider my best interviews the ones where the bad guy walks away thinking, ‘I just got away with that.’”
Mistakes happen. Everyone, even the most skilled fraud examiners, will make mistakes. How do you minimize those mistakes? Practice, practice and more practice. Turner has two exercises that will help even the most introverted fraud examiners become interviewing professionals (if they have the guts).
Write down five things that you want to know (anything) and go into your local grocery store, walk up to a stranger and ask that person those questions. “The reason I suggest this exercise is most of what makes people nervous about interviewing is their own internal anxiety about asking the questions,” says Turner. In order to interview successfully, you have to practice asking people questions to a point where you get comfortable asking them. Why did Turner choose a grocery store for his practice site? Because “to get people to engage in a conversation with you, you will have to use your powers of persuasion.”
Ready for the next exercise? This time, time yourself and try to get someone (a stranger – in a grocery store) to talk to you for two, then four, six, eight, 10 minutes. Use this one as a listening exercise. Ask them a question, listen to their responses and let that drive you to the next question.
These exercises will allow you to develop ease when asking strangers questions while evolving your ability to think on your feet and interview effectively.
Hopefully these three pieces of information spur your interviewing skills forward. And when all else fails, “Remember that the basics work 99 percent of the time.”
Hear the complete interview with Turner at ACFE.com/podcast.