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You got this: How workplace investigators handle interview anxiety

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Interviewing parties and witnesses for workplace investigations is one of the most interesting parts of being a workplace investigator. Interviews can also be one of the most challenging aspects of workplace investigations, and as a result, can also be anxiety-inducing.

Whether you’re new to workplace investigations or a well-seasoned investigator, it’s normal to feel nervous for interviews. Perhaps you’re getting ready to interview a challenging witness, or you’re planning to talk to a respondent about a series of complex allegations. Maybe you’re an introvert and speaking to people pushes you out of your comfort zone. No matter how worried you are about an interview, there are ways that you can effectively manage your anxiety and conduct an effective interview. Here are five great tips on how you can deal with your interview nerves:

1. Preparation is the key

As for most things, preparation is the key to success when conducting interviews, especially when you’re feeling anxious. In fact, it’s not uncommon for workplace investigators to spend as much time preparing for an interview as they do actually conducting the interview. While you should always take time to prepare for your interviews, taking extra time to prepare for a potentially difficult interview is especially important because it will help you to keep your interview efficient and focused.

When you’re facing a nerve-wracking interview, it can make you feel overwhelmed and unsure of where you should start – especially if you already collected a large amount of evidence. Start at the beginning by reviewing the allegations again to remind yourself of the purpose for the interview.

If you have already completed some interviews or reviewed documents, go over that evidence thoroughly and organize it in such a way that it is easy for you to access relevant materials during the interview. For example, I organize evidence by allegation and party in a Word table that I can also search using the Find function. You can find a similar chart in the text, Human Resources Guide to Workplace Investigations, Second Edition, written by Christine Thomlinson and Janice Rubin.

You should also review the policy in question because it may set out specific information that you need to tell the interviewees – for example, whether the policy contains reprisal protections, advising the interviewee that they are entitled to have a support person present during the interview, etc. If the policy contains this type of information, add it to your interview preamble or outline.

2. Plan, plan, and plan some more

Many of us feel anxious about interviews because we do not know what is going to happen. Planning for a challenging interview can help you feel in control and capable of handling anything that comes up.

Consider creating an overall roadmap for the interview that you can verbally share with the interviewee at the beginning of the interview. The roadmap may contain the purpose of the interview (e.g., to provide the respondent the opportunity to reply to the allegations; to give the witness the opportunity to share their recollection of events), the allegations in the order that you will ask them about (if the interviewee is a complainant or respondent), the timing of breaks, if any, and whether the interviewee will have any opportunity to raise anything not otherwise addressed during the interview.

Before any interview, you should think about what questions you want to ask. But before a challenging interview, consider actually writing each question you want to ask – especially if you are concerned that the interviewee may go off topic. Having a list of questions that you can follow can help you keep the interview focused and on-track. It is also a good practice to write the evidentiary sections of your report as you interview parties and witnesses. This will help you to identify what information is missing so you can focus in on which questions you need to ask, which is particularly helpful for reply interviews. Also think about the order of your questions. For example, try asking the easier questions first to help you and the interviewee “warm up” and ease into the interview.

Some investigators may feel anxious about an interview because they are concerned about how an interviewee may act or react. Unfortunately, we cannot control how other people react, but we can control how we respond. Try preparing some responses that you can use if an interview is becoming emotional or escalating. For more tips on dealing with a difficult interviewee, read Keep calm and carry on: When interviewees become aggressive.

3. Time can be on your side

Another helpful way to mitigate interview stress is to consider when to hold the interview. If you have a time of day in which you function at your best, try to schedule your difficult interviews for that time. If you’re more of a morning person, a good strategy for you may be to schedule your interviews first thing in the morning. If you want more time immediately before an interview to get ready, it may make more sense for you to schedule the interview later in the day.

Also consider not scheduling anything immediately after a potentially challenging interview to give yourself time to decompress and refocus on your next task. I usually take a 15-minute break after interviews to clear my mind, which is especially important if the interview was intense or complicated.

Taking planned breaks during an interview can also be helpful by providing you with some space to gather your thoughts, check in with yourself and get ready for the next set of questions.

4. Be mindful

Mindfulness is not just for yoga and meditation. Mindfulness strategies, like deep breathing and noticing your thoughts, are also effective strategies for managing nervousness before (or during!) an interview. For example, if you find yourself starting to get worried before an interview, take a moment to acknowledge your feelings and tell yourself that it’s okay to be feeling anxious. If you notice that you are getting stressed out during an interview, notice your breathing and slow it down by taking a few slow and deep breaths. This will help you to stay calm, in control, and relaxed.

Consider writing a helpful or calming message on a Post-it note and putting it somewhere that you can look at during your interview to remind you to stay grounded and focused. My personal favourite is “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

5. Progress, not perfection

Something else to be mindful of is perspective: what is the worst thing that can happen in an interview? What would you do or how would you respond if that happened? Whatever your worst-case scenario might be, chances are you will be able to handle it. Remember that every interview is a learning experience that gives you an opportunity grow your skills as a workplace investigator. After an anxiety-inducing interview, give yourself time to debrief: what went well? What would you have done differently? Keep these points in mind the next time you’re worried about an interview and remember that if you got through it before, you will get through it again.

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