Interviews are a normal – and important – part of your job. The way you talk to the public creates an image of you and your agency that’s likely to stick permanently. Even in a correctional institution, the way you question inmates creates an impression that can work to your benefit (or harm) later on.
Effective interviews can go a long way toward providing the information you need for the report you’ll be writing.
Here are a few tips for interviews:
1. Deal with emotions first. A citizen who’s frightened or angry may not be able to give coherent answers to your questions. Reassurances (“You’re safe now”) and empathy (“I can understand how frightening that must have been”) can help citizens get past their feelings to answer your questions.
2. Stay focused. Citizens quickly pick up on your actions and distractions – if your eyes are darting around and you’re jumping from one topic to another, for example. Moving logically from one point to another can do a great deal to calm a situation and get good information from the person you’re interviewing.
3. Control the interview. Gently interrupt tangents and bring the conversation back to the issue at hand. In a frightening scenario, citizens gain security when they know a competent officer is in charge.
4. Close the interview graciously. Thank the citizen for the information. Show that you’ve taken the situation seriously and will be following up, if necessary.
5. Make sure you’ve covered every angle before you finish. Will the citizen need a victim’s packet, your business card, medical attention, or a follow-up phone call? Tying up all the ends thoroughly leaves a good impression of both you and your agency.
6. When you write your report, make a separate paragraph for each person you interviewed. That’s an easy way to organize your report – and it’s easier for anyone who reads your report as well.
7. To avoid time-consuming repetition, consider listing facts rather than writing long sentences:
Gollard told me:
- he came home at 5:15
- he saw the broken living-room window
- he called 911
- he didn’t notice anyone unusual in the neighborhood
Use these tips to make interviews proceed more smoothly, and you’ll see improvements in your reports as well!
A free video – Interviewing Victims – is available for personal, classroom, and agency use.