The Great Pretender: Reflections on Interview Simulations

October 28, 2008

About a week ago, I presented my annual two- day Employment Investigations Training through Minnesota Continuing Legal Education. This is a terrific opportunity for me to teach in a lengthier format than I usually do, and to experiment with new material. This year, the second day presented three simulated interviews based on a case-overview Since it was our first year using this format, there were a few glitches, but for the most part, the feedback was terrific.

Conducting simulated interviews in front of 100 people is daunting for a number of reasons, the least of which is the high probability that something unexpected will happen and I, the interviewer, will publicly deviate from adhering to all of the wonderful skills and protocol I have been recommending to participants. Inevitably, it happens. Inevitably, the benefit of having the audience as “coaching partners” outweighs the awkwardness. This year, after a full day of interviewing actors in a “blind” case, I found myself noticing some nuances of interviewing that I thought I’d share with my readers.


While watching a “real time” interview might not be entertaining, it does provide an opportunity to experience the importance of pacing. As we “feel out” our interviewee, we begin at a careful and relatively slow pace, attempting to mirror the most comfortable and least threatening pace for the interviewee. Once the interviewee has had an opportunity to begin to tell his or her story, we can “move things along” or slow things down by the timing of our probes. A one word probe, echoing an ambiguous phrase by an interviewee slows them down and presses for more detail, while, “and then what happened?” signals that it is time to move along. Similarly, as we begin to “deconstruct” any inconsistencies or flaws in the statement of our interviewee, we can use a sudden change of pace to disrupt what may be a complacent recitation, to try to throw someone off their line of thinking, or to put pressure on the interviewee. Taking up delicate subjects in a slow, measured manner can signal to an interviewee that you are not rattled by discussing difficult situations, increasing the likelihood of candor. Read the rest of this entry »

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