Equilibrium Institute- Delivering Core Intelligence

Apathy is not consent, it's the demand for Empowerment  

Section 6

Conducting Interviews



 Interviewers tend to remember statements that agree with their own point of view and to forget those that disagree.” Pg. 314 Gorden, R.  (1969)



Interview Data Gathering and Analysis



     Interviews can, and in most cases, should have clearly defined goals. State what you hope to learn and ask for cooperation.  The interview process includes gathering specific data and objectively analyzing it to make well informed decisions.  Once you have identified what you need to know, design a strategy including techniques and tactics to be used in obtaining answers.  Oral interviews have the added advantage of requiring immediate responses verses edited or contemplated responses.  Since a lot of people tend to act on more immediate basis, learning about behavioral tendencies and attitudes is an important consideration in evaluating the compatibility of applicants with duties and environmental conditions or stressors in mind.  For example, a thrill seeker that changes jobs every year would likely not make a great fit in an office with a fairly limited list of duties and seeking someone that will remain in the position for many years.  However, it could be a mistake to assume that a thrill seeker could not prefer a more meditative or simple work life and be satisfying that aspect of his or her personality in their private life.  Impromptu, face to face interviews also allows less time to prepare responses and provides an opportunity for interviewers to observe body language and tone which can convey attitudes and help interviewers identify areas to probe for more information.  Oral interviews provide solutions to literacy problems and offer greater control to interviewers.  Direct observations and other forms of evidence such as records are also helpful in gathering information which can be further verified or explored during an interview.



     Scientific Methods aim to reduce bias and errors to obtain more valid and reliable results. Interviews are subjective because the ability to interpret is dependent on multiple and compounding variables which act on the observer.  Such variables impact the quality of any observations.  This is why designing interviews to capture objective information is important.  When information is consistent over and over again it is held to be more reliable.  Validity means there is no question that phenomena is explained or measured with sufficient evidences so that whatever is presented or stated is factual until otherwise successfully challenged.  Validity is important in research because it helps ensure that conclusions are free of corruption, including errors, or not mere opinions.  For example, it is what it is, not just what interpreters perceive.  Consequently, scientific review methods help to produce more accurate observations that can be shared and confirmed through replicated efforts.  The potential of error and falsehoods are more readily eliminated or identified by utilizing tools found in the scientific method. Therefore, the scientific method helps to limit the dangers of corruption, by making the process of verifying accuracy open to a broad community standard that can be more objectively evaluated and determined.  The precise replication in any experiment or research facilitates the exploration and preservation of knowledge and helps to differentiate the rather thin and sometimes fluctuating line between fact and fiction.  Interestingly enough the closer anything is examined the more obvious the limitation of exactitude becomes.  This is perhaps why some of the greatest Scientists have agreed that imagination is a crucial element that drives questioning that leads humanities expanding understanding.  Even with real limits to exactitude, fact is held to be closer to objectivity than the fruits of human imagination which is equally real and arguably the more dominant reality in the course of most lives. 



     Interviews depend on interpreted understandings between the observer and the observed. Thus, interviews in general are not empirically reliable because the multiple variables that influence human behavior are impossible to fully isolate and changes in conditions make retesting levels of exactitude impossible.  Heiseneberger’s Principle of Uncertainty even makes more exact science data suspect because he proved the closest we come to precision is actually approximation. When analyzing cognitive functions, acts that on the surface appear to be single acts are often compounded actions with blurry starting and finishing points unlike observations made by researchers in the physical sciences (Jackson, Robert 2003). 



     Tools such as the federal rules of evidence that govern admissible evidence provide some logical rules and insights into how to design investigative processes that can assist in gathering and analyzing information to help maintain objectivity and relevance.  Knowledge from the fields of Psychology can help, but experience, skills, and even personality traits of interviewers can impact success.  For example, an introverted individual that has not acquired decent acting and social skills could be at a disadvantage in the interview situation in contrast to an interviewer with a dominant social personality that is extroverted. 



     The design of the interview which includes pace, sequence, and questions structured with trust strategies in mind is paramount to achieving specific interviewing goals which should be identified in advance. 



     Some interviewers rely on fact finding through carefully structured interviews that are scripted.  Others may follow hunches and be less structured or adopt improvised exploration based on answers given, or problems discovered.  A combination of these two styles is recommended. 



     Devices interviewers use to test integrity/honesty, congruence, memory, and abstract reasoning abilities of the candidate include using questions they already possess some answers for and having candidates verify those answers. 



     Not all questions have correct answers.  Those types of questions are referred to as, “emotional tests.”  For example, it is recommended that fact checking occur in the interview process.  If candidates claim to have certain achievements or accomplishments, find ways to verify what is considered critical to achieving the goals of the interview and verify statements provided by the interviewee that are considered essential.  Interviewers can also set up a situation to test and observe the leadership of a candidate to see how well a candidate can adapt in situations and meet specific challenges similar to what might occur on the job.  This is also known as a situational stress test.   Common situational stress tests include problem solving activities, engaging the interviewee in a conflict situation, or observing a candidate managing a task that requires several steps to see how they make decisions and manage time and resources.  



Maximizing the Quality of Information Collected


     People can have different points of view from the same experiences or having observed the same information, this is explained by the way intelligence works and is processed in different people with different mental abilities and associations made during and after an experience. The process of making meaning, reflecting, and comprehending involves multiple cognitive processes impacted by biology, previous conditioning and compounding variables that can help explain why different levels of importance, observation, and diverse perspectives exists in response to the same phenomenon or event.  I like to use the expression, “what did you mean by that,” to help convey this idea to emphasize that what one person means by what they say, can and often does mean something entirely different to the person who is on the receiving end.  Thus, clarification is an important skill to exercise while communicating not only when critical items are unclear, but when communication might appear obvious as well.  For example, it is a common trick in obtaining statements from witnesses to change a crucial detail in the testimony to provoke a correction that gets initialed to prevent a witness from trying to change their testimony at a later time alleging it was a mistake.  This action further prevents an argument over the clarity of the original communication from being drawn into doubt.  Accuracy is more vulnerable on items where understandings are assumed, because those items will be overlooked and may contribute to producing problems later on.   Thus, verifying what is agreed or understood is just as important as getting clarification on what is clearly conflicting, incongruent, unclear, or not understood.   



     Cognitive dissonance is described as painful tension set up when people become aware of incongruence of facts, differences in opinion, or contrasting interpretations. The reduction of this tension is rewarding to the individual.  Thus, uncomfortable tension is often an antecedent to productive and or destructive responses caused by the stress of cognitive dissonance.  Also, many people tend to share information when prompted in a subconscious effort to experience the pleasure of being heard and or resolve guilt through confessions.  This explains why criminals sometimes later confess. 



     Behaviors are highly individualistic and dependent on multiple variables see exhibit A, Variables of Human Behavior. 



Exhibit A



Stimuli + Observer = Response



The biological, social and personality stream which explains all behavior is fluid and flows in both directions which means it the system is holistic and mutually reliant or dependent.



Biological influences:


Internal conditions( hereditary, existing, spontaneous i.e. central nervous system, mutations, nutrition, and energy processes, external/ internal environment elemental exposures (chain reactions/ compounding variables)



Sociological influences: Learned habits, adaptive and specific skills, interactive experiences.





Attitudes, self concepts/ beliefs (values) psychological states or moods.



     Argumentation is sometimes a necessary and beneficial experience leading to new knowledge or greater awareness.  People respond differently during argumentation.  Most people have encountered or observed irrational and dangerous behaviors resulting from arguments.  Therefore, it is understandable why many people prefer to avoid argumentation.  Arguments, or any form of stress can be obstacles that trigger defense mechanisms described by Ana Freud as fight or flight and send someone into regressive behaviors or add stress due to the excitement and adrenaline and other biological impacts that can help explain a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms and reactions.  Therefore, for some individuals arguments can place reason under strain in the heat of the moment. Yet for others the challenge of argumentation could be processed as more positive stress and cause a healthy and fulfilling excitement.  Nevertheless, if it is important to determine the type of stress management or communication skills in the conflict resolution department, it is recommended that interviewers do so diplomatically and with some measure of care and dignity for a wide array of responses that come in the territory of conflict management tool kit for your interviewers.  Also, a more practical measure for how people respond in conflict is an actual situational test event, not a reflection on one.  



     Temperament is partially a conditioned response learned from observations and experience.  For example, coping mechanisms and responses demonstrated by parents or peers in similar circumstances and trial and error play a large part in how people respond to stressful situations.  How one handles stress can also be impacted by biological conditions such as how much sleep, exercise, food, and other lifestyle habits or existing health conditions the person possesses.  While temperament is something that can be observed in a person directly and through personal references, well developed questions can reveal a lot about how the skills and learned attributes including habits, present in the personality of the interviewee impacts their behavior. 



Tip:  To reduce inhibitors and increase the quality of communications, interviewers should state expectations, ask for cooperation, set a realistic time-line, use non-offensive and clear language and qualify rare or unique terms when necessary. 



     It is important to consider social (i.e. cultural) and psychological barriers to giving and receiving accurate information during interviews.  For example, power dynamics such as social status or sexual orientation, race, age, gender, may all influence answers.  Levels of trust and fears also contribute to the level of comfort and cooperation obtained during an interview.  Laws impact interview structures because what can and can not be asked is obviously relevant.



     It could be useful to identify appropriate peer interviewers in situations where interviewees can be matched with interviewers when possible.  This is suggested because some researchers found trust is more readily extended to someone viewed as a peer than someone that is not, generally.  However, be cautious in making assumptions.  For example, there are situations where people do not identify themselves by typical race, gender, or age categories as diversity also includes lifestyle and the experiences that help formulate personality rather than observable characteristics.  Rather people are complex and may identify outside of their own backgrounds and have unique social status beyond what is apparent.  To ensure a good match when you have options, you can invite the interviewee to meet and converse with potential interviewers briefly and then select one.  The advantages include hearing the types of questions the interviewee asks and the interviewer selected will inform you about their ability to follow directions, compatibility on the team, decision making skills, and may offer some areas to probe later in the interview based on the reasoning of the selection the interviewee made.  Otherwise, make an educated guess based on the hobbies, interests, and past experiences listed on the application and find an interviewer that could be viewed as a peer.  In short, the greater the commonality between the interviewee and the interviewer the more readily an interviewee may trust and thus divulge useful information.    



Tip: watch out for harmful impacts from;


Distortion, resistance, intimidation, peer pressure, confusion, mis-statements, miscommunication, error, persuasion, and using inferences incorrectly.  Each can negatively impact information sharing and damage trust.  Allow enough, but not to much room for expression.  Too much room can leave the interviewee feeling they are not providing enough, or the correct information you are seeking.  When an interviewee is uncomfortable they can also either attempt to take over, or become less cooperative, or even disinterested.  Such responses can interfere with information gathering in a number of ways.  Having a reasonable pace is crucial and balance of time between the interviewee and the interviewer is also important. 



     Permissive non-judgmental atmospheres encourage the cathartic effect.  The cathartic effect is a process wherein trust is established and sharing can produce relief or pleasure by releasing stress.  What that means to interviewers is that information is more likely to be shared if trust is present.  Based on the assertions of Dr. Raymond Gordon, Sociologist, (1969 pg 95-96), neutral, open, and empathic processes facilitate greater communication.  This is logical considering the tension that is often created by perceived differences which can give rise to conflict or simply be unfamiliar and uncomfortable challenges to one’s own perspectives. 



     Distortion in communications can be directly impacted by attitudes because people are largely emotionally and biologically driven.  Objectivity is present to different degrees in individuals, clouded by perceptions, beliefs, (bias) and learned habits which are all subject to error or limitations in ability based on factors like maturity, experience or lack thereof, or general natural cognitive abilities which impacts behavior (conscious and or unconscious).  The correlation between sleep or hunger and the quality of thinking and decision making is one example of how thinking can be compromised by biological influences.  Metabolism, stress, memory recall functions explain some common distortions that are prevalent in communications.      



     Knowing what interests and motivates someone increases chances of gaining cooperation.  Where more experienced interviewers in law enforcement are concerned, threats of punishment or rewards have been known to produce unreliable responses.  Without collaborative evidences, forced confessions are simply pleas to end the experienced torture (cite), but hopefully interviews don’t have torture on the agenda.  By the way, where behavioral modification is concerned positive reinforcement is more reliable than punishment (1999, Maag, John PhD.).



     Warm up questions are stimulating ways to lead into a topic. Abrupt questions can lead to shorter less re-lived responses.  The sequence of questions can help develop the context for deeper questions where trust can be gradually established. Incorrect sequences that show implied inferences can lead interviewees and consequently contaminate answers.  For example, if you got someone to agree with you based on the power dynamic of wanting the job, the agreement could indicate a willingness to be compliant and adaptive, but it may not represent the most accurate information. 



     Watch out for questioning about secretes and questions that could give rise to conflict of interest, competitive interest defenses or questions that trigger defense mechanisms that damage rapport.  Bias in questions i.e. cultural leading can also impact responses.  For example, asking about Christmas plans could create a climate of tension, or a loss of cooperation.  Such questions could also lead to discrimination if answers impact hiring decisions in an unfair way.  Interviewers need to be familiar with the range of questions to refrain from asking interviewees and keep questions relevant to the employment opportunity at hand within the legal limits of your State and or those that pertain to the type of job available.  In California Employers can find a helpful list of questions not to ask at www.dfeh.ca.gov .     




Tasks Interviewers Should Master


  • Displacement of negative attitudes/ with real positive attitudes so that rapport is maintained.  For example, if you’re in a bad mood, or an answer is not satisfactory not showing reactions could be important to maintain trust or morale.


  • Accurately receive information- listen, observe, and empathize accurately.


  • Make valid inferences- ensure adequacy of information being exchanged to reach the interviews goals and verify your understanding on critical information.


  • Maintain eye contact and maintain a generally positive disposition regardless of personal bias.


  • Identify when people may use a smoke screen to obscure relevant material to avoid psychological strain (fear, guilt, pain, trauma, (reliving experience.)  Probe where needed to get the information you need.


  • Identify unwilling versus unable though willing, i.e. resistant replies versus someone trying to answer but not able. I.e. a technical question for which they lack qualifications or experience.


  • Sell the value of the interview to increase cooperation


  • Avoid ego threat- exchanges where the interviewee’s self-esteem is threatened i.e. avoid disapproval/ rejection.


  • Demonstrate acceptance-it builds trust. An accepting and sympathetic attitude goes far towards eliciting candid responses.


  • Status impacts cooperation.  The more you’re on an equal level with the interviewee, the greater the trust potential.  For example, mandatory versus non-mandatory types of questions can be determined partially by the relationship between the parties involved in an interview and the applicable laws of your area.  Make sure your questions are geared accordingly.


  • Correctly identify and respond to refusals, fabrications, and determine relevance/ explore any implications, if relevant. 


  • For statements to be dependably real- congruence between what the party says and how they act is important and should exist.  For example, if someone tells you they’re really interested, but they are distracted, or their tone does not really reflect interest that is easily detected and devalues the claim that the party is really interested.  This could damage trust if words and actions are not consistent, unless explained.


  • Attitudes or bias can interfere with the ability to observe or respond accurately.  Explore doubt, values, or attitudes expressed with tact to ensure an accurate depiction is obtained. 



Variables impacting the quality of the information:


     Distortions can occur due to a time lapse, errors in hindsight reflecting in contrast with what a respondent originally thought or did at the time of an event.  The quality of the person’s memory and abstract logic abilities also can play a role in the rate and extent of compensation and creative supplements that a person may subconsciously associate or invent.



Why People Tend to Cooperate in Interviews


     Values can be latent (acted on at later times as opposed to as they are occurring.)  For example, criminals sometimes give detailed case histories because they feel it may help deter youth from the criminal world.  Also criminals have been known to confess crimes once they have adopted religious values.  Disaster victims often cooperate so that it may benefit others.  This sharing can be explained as being a process that involves the release from unpleasant emotional tension by expressing feelings. (See cathartic effect.)



     Deviants often have difficulty following directions.  In other words, sometimes the cooperation is there, but candidates may not be capable of supplying helpful information in the manner it is requested because they have an aversion to following rules.  Being creative is one thing, but not answering a question is another matter altogether.  If someone does not answer, probe.  Give them similar questions later or ask them to elaborate to further explore.   



     When respondents whom have certain information realize an interviewer already has the information or could have it, and is insisting on having the truth, a respondent may give information even though it damages there own image.  However, such confrontations should be carefully applied if as an interviewer you’re attempting to observe how the candidate manages stress, or makes decisions under pressure.  Staged confrontations or conflict should maintain dignity and respect for the interviewee if retention is the aim.  Providing an explanation following the situational test could help a candidate not leave with a negative impression and better adapt to other phases of the interview that may follow. 



Extrinsic rewards-


Interviews can also be a means to an end.  In an employment interview, the candidate is expected to be absolutely cooperative because they want a chance to obtain a job.  People have different motivators and re-enforcers for their own behaviors. Thus, when tangible rewards are used, the rewards need to those potentially getting them.   Wages and benefits coupled with schedules, policies, and working conditions that impact employees are all important to prospective employees.  Be sure to clearly articulate the benefits of working for your company which often extends beyond some of the details like salary and medical benefits usually discussed.  To get an idea of some of the perks of a job try polling workers on the job to learn some of the less obvious benefits.  



     The motivation behind social exchanges is driven by several different reasons.  Homans and Thomas, among other Psychologists, put forward observations basic to human motivation:


  • People will perform for esteem, admiration, to fulfill a desire for recognition


  • Altruistic appeals for the greater good attract some people.  Altruistic deeds usually increase self-esteem and are often made in pursuit of an unconscious desire to feel better about ones self or to gain some control over an area perhaps previously uncontrollable in their lives. 


  • People may experience pleasure from sharing joys, fears, successes, and even sharing failures or pain depending on their personalities.  A desire to be understood and cared for or valued is linked to securing basic human needs for survival.  Communication stems from those primary needs. 



     Examples of behavioral interview tactics include exploring personalities.  Ask people to describe situations that involved them or provide an actual on the spot situation to observe responses to learn about how the person prioritizes, judges, organizes, manages time, solves problems, makes decisions, can reveal challenges and how the person copes with stress. 



     Ask candidates to give you an example regarding their experiences, such as: being creative in solving a problem, coping with strict deadlines, handling a stressful situation or dealing with conflicts.  Other commonly asked critical questions include: describing a situation where the candidate made a regretful decision or mistake and how they addressed, or did not address it.  Asking for experiences that illustrate how the candidate worked with a team to complete a project, dealt with an angry customer can also help elicit the candidate’s leadership skills.  Time management, delegation, the ability to persuade are all common areas employers explore with candidates, but ultimately each position and company will have a unique set of requirements and desired traits and qualifications for positions relevant to a company’s business needs and the culture of their workplace.  The key is to be prepared with relevant assessment tools to gather critical information in the interview that can be helpful to limit bias and properly assess the existing technical and adaptive skills of the candidate. The information gained is used to estimate if the applicant satisfies specific requirements for the position, or what areas may need further grooming to ensure an exact match and then weigh if any needed investment would likely be worthwhile or not.   




Getting Beyond the Poker Face


     To assess a candidate’s self-awareness and self image, questions that require self-knowledge are helpful.  For example, ask how do you think your boss and co-workers would describe you?  This question in specific also shows the persons self confidence level and hesitancy should not be assumed, but clarified by the candidate.  To gain information about areas for further development, you could ask the interviewee what sorts of training they might need to perform well and why.  This could, if verified, also help interviewers assess training needs. 



Plan the Interview


     Formulate questions in order to obtain relevant and valid information by considering;



Timing and environmental concerns


Question structures


A.     wording, scope, boundaries= Topic Control


B.     leading versus non-leading


C.    appropriateness of open and closed questions


D.    provide definitions, keep it simple.


E.     use existing information to verify cooperation or develop further questions to confirm any possible inferences or self-evident facts contained within the existing information.


F.     do not provide a context or frame of reference when the objective is to discover a respondent’s frame of reference, or unique perceptions.


G.    keep in mind that word choice, sequence, and frequency can be revealing. With advance planning, interviewers can minimize the impact of bias and maintain greater control to come across as effectively as you can to obtain the information you identify as essential in ranking or verifying the qualifications and match considerations you establish for each position.



Interview Process