Kusserow on Compliance: Investigative Interviews: Conversations with a Purpose

There has been considerable interest generating in methods for conducting internal investigation. As such, I will be providing, from time to time, a number of best practice tips. In this blog I focus on interviewing. It is a principle part of many types of investigations conducted by compliance officers, human resources management, privacy officers, etc. An interview, simply put, can be defined as a conversation with a purpose. Conducting proper interviews can be a difficult process for untrained persons. The following information comes from my 300-page manual/book, Conducting Internal Investigations in Health Care Organizations (ISBN 979-1-936230-60-8),” a large portion of which dealt with interviews. Regardless of the type, in all likelihood interviews will be conducted to gather facts of the matter. The knowledge and skills acquired by the person conducting the interview can make all the difference in the results.

Those who might be called upon to conduct investigations that will involve interviews should consider obtaining some basic training on the subject.

Common Reasons for Conducting Interview

  1. Obtaining evidence of what happened;
  2. Establishing whether wrongdoing had occurred;
  3. Understanding cause of the incident or occurrence;
  4. Relieving innocent parties from suspicion;
  5. Identifying any wrongdoer;
  6. Gaining admissions of wrongdoing;
  7. Developing information for use in future interviews; and
  8. Discovering other problems or conditions requiring action

Properly Preparing for Interviews

Not properly preparing for interviews is one of the biggest mistakes made in the conducting of an internal investigation. It often leads to unnecessary fumbling with papers, poorly constructed questions, or other distraction to the easy flow of the interview. If the interviewer is unclear as to approach and facts, the person being interviewed will question the competence and knowledge of the investigator and will reduce the effectiveness and results. Properly preparing the interviews will make all the difference in the results. The interviews will vary according to its purpose. Before any debriefing of complainants, interviews of witnesses, or interrogations of the subject of the case; there are a number of preparatory steps that will increase the quality of the result. Failing to follow sound preparatory steps, may (a) undercut the results of the interview; (b) diminish the value of the results; and (c) in worse cases undermine the entire investigation. 

Tips on Interview Preparation

  1. Be clear as to the objective of the interview and what information is needed.
  2. Obtain background on those being interview before meeting with them.
  3. Decide on what, if any, documentation is needed for the interview.
  4. Develop a sufficiently detailed outline as a guide to obtaining desired information as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  5. An interview outline is very desirable, but should not be used as a script.
  6. Any overly rigid adherence to notes or an outline will seriously limit flexibility.
  7. Interview outline should serve only as aid to ensure points are covered.
  8. Preparation should not block opportunities for additional spontaneous questioning.
  9. Whenever possible, use open-ended questions that permit the person to tell their story in their own words is the best way to have the conversation with a purpose.


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2015 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.