The Pros and Cons of a Telephone Interview.

 

An interview is a conversation between two or more parties where questions are asked and answers are given.  Usually, interviews are formal affairs where the conversation is controlled by an interviewer/s and it’s usually conducted face to face with the interviewee/s.

While face to face interviews may be by far the most common and preferred way of conducting interviews, there are occasions where the opportunity for a face to face meeting may not present or be optimal.  In these instances, other means of communication may be used.

Interviews could effectively be conducted by instant text message type computer programs (e.g. Whatsapp), but like emails, success would rely on the typing ability of the interviewer/interviewee.  Alternately, programs like Facetime and Skype may prove to be the best alternative to Face to Face interviews (and they may well be over time), but currently, the availability and the familiarity of those programs is generally low across the general population.

Thus currently, the only real alternative to face to face interviews are those conducted over the telephone.

 

Telephone interviews can offer the following benefits:

  • They’re much easier to arrange as no mutually agreeable venue or travelling is required.
  • Because no travelling is required, they’re far more cost-effective, particularly if the interviewee is situated in a remote location and/or overseas.
  • Telephone interviews in our experience tend to be more to the point and straightforward.
  • Telephone interviews can be less confronting/stressful for the interviewee and in our experience witnesses who are reluctant to front a face to face interview, may be more amenable to an interview over the telephone thus providing an opportunity to obtain statements from otherwise reluctant participants.
  • Because they’re more relaxed during telephone interviews, interviewees tend to be more candid in their responses. In our experience, they’re more likely to have an amenable attitude towards the interview and the interviewer and more likely to provide longer, more detailed responses.
  • Because of the lack of direct contact, the interviewer is less likely to become sympathetic towards the interviewee and thus better able to maintain objectivity throughout the interview process.
  • Because there are no visual distractions, the investigator can remain focused on the interview process, the responses provided and in particular verbal clues that the interviewee may impart. These verbal clues may include changes in the words used, changes in the tone of voice, pauses, changes in the details offered in descriptions – all of which could flag areas where the interviewer may need to probe for further information or seek other forms of confirmation.
  • A telephone interview is well suited to being recorded (given that the infrastructure exists and the interviewee grants permission), and if such a recording can be done (and is allowed), the interviewer is free to take detailed notes on verbal clues and other information which may assist with the interview and/or investigation as a whole.

Issues/Concerns around telephone interviews include:

  • The Interviewer has to take care to confirm the identity of the Interviewee before proceeding with the interview.
  • The interviewee may be less likely to sign their statement post interview. Unlike with face to face interviews, where a statement can feasibly be produced for signing immediately after the end of the interview, in the case of the telephone interview, the written statement may take some time to be provided to the interviewee – in which time they may recant and/or have second thoughts about signing their statement.
  • The Interviewer has little to no control of the environment within which the interviewee is in and thus may be unaware of any external factors that may influence the interviewees responses.
  • It is not possible to evaluate non-verbal behaviour and/or clues over the telephone.
  • Similarly it is also not possible for the interviewer to examine and evaluate physical evidence and/or relevant environmental and physical factors before, during and after a telephone interview.
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