Knowledge and Insights
Interviewing in a virtual environment can be a challenge to say the least. Regardless of whether the interview is human resources-focused or for investigative purposes, the challenges are similar and often include unpredictable technical failures, security and privacy concerns, issues with sharing documents and exhibits, limitations in assessing demeanor, body language and credibility, and more.
Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of videotelephony services offered through cloud-based peer-to-peer collaboration platforms have resulted in an exponential increase in virtual interviews. In a recent investigation, Zoom and Microsoft Teams were used to conduct over two dozen forensic interviews of employees scattered across two continents, all within a few weeks’ time. Logistically this may not have been possible prior to embracing the remote culture we now find ourselves in. Following are a few tips and techniques for you to consider when planning and conducting effective and efficient virtual interviews:
First – be prepared. This does not change whether you’re conducting an in-person interview or a virtual one. Be familiar with each document you intend to refer to or share during the interview. Have your interview questions prepared ahead of time but be ready to move with the flow of the interview; you can then circle back to your questions. Work with an associate to manage the documents during the interview. This leaves you free to focus on the questions and assess the interviewee’s responses and body language. Do a trial run, making sure you are familiar with how the technology works and that you have sufficient internet connection ahead of time.
One disadvantage of a virtual interview is that you can only control your half of the interview area. Request the interviewee find a private spot for the interview. Request that everyone participating in the interview minimize the risk of distractions by finding a secure and private space, free from children, pets, or other adults. This is also important in your effort to maintain confidentiality.
Be patient, especially if there is a chance the interviewee is not familiar with the virtual meeting platform. Be ready to talk them through unmuting their screen and allowing video. If the interviewee cannot get video to work, consider rescheduling to allow them time to accommodate the video request. Without video, you will be at a further disadvantage in reading their body language as well as unable to get reasonably comfortable they are who they say they are and are alone during the interview.
As in a live interview, begin the conversation by asking for some general information to establish a rapport. Use this time to assess the sound quality and if the interviewee is an appropriate distance from the computer – ideally, you’d like to see their hands if possible. This also allows you a few minutes to note their general nonverbal behavior and gives them a chance to relax and settle into the interview.
An advantage of a virtual interview is the interviewer and associates have an opportunity to share quick notes and/or suggest questions without interrupting the interview by utilizing a text or email chat. We do not recommend using the chat function offered by the platform being used to conduct the interview though, as this provides an opportunity for someone to mistakenly include the interviewee in the message chain.
Give yourself a cushion when scheduling multiple interviews in the same day. Work in some time to address technical issues and allow time beyond what you estimate it will take for the interview just in case it runs longer than expected. There may not be an opportunity to talk to this person again, so take advantage of the time they are giving you. While the meeting platform may offer a ‘waiting room’, consider scheduling separate meetings with unique links. Yes, you’ll need to sign off and sign back into another meeting link, but the extra precaution helps to reasonably ensure that an unwanted participant does not join the meeting.
Becoming effective in conducting interviews, virtual or live, requires practice. Consider attending interview skills training, assist experienced interviewers during actual interviews, practice role playing and rapport building, and learn and understand verbal and nonverbal clues. Adapting to a virtual environment may be daunting, but with some thoughtful planning and strategy, and sharpened interview skills, you can come out of this disruption a better investigator.
If faced with an internal investigation, consider speaking with a member of Mercadien’s forensic and litigation support team. Our extensive experience working closely with counsel, analyzing data and interviewing witnesses allows us to discreetly and expeditiously uncover the facts and recommend remedial action steps. For more information on the forensic and investigative services we provide, please visit our website Mercadien.com or contact Frank Pina, CPA/CFF, CFE, CGMA, Managing Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-689-2319.
DISCLAIMER: This advisory resource is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute business or tax advice and may not be used and relied upon as a substitute for business or tax advice regarding a specific issue or problem. Advice should be obtained from a qualified accountant, tax practitioner or attorney licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where that advice is sought.