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Phone Interview Tips for Superheroes

By Stefanie Hoover, CFI

By now your inbox has probably been saturated with tips on how to stay productive while working from home. Most of them may seem fairly obvious, as a work-from-home professional for the past seven years, I still read them looking for new ideas. For my investigator friends, I thought this would be a good time to get out and dust off some pointers for conducting phone interviews. Chances are high that people are still stealing and that you will still have to deal with it—no matter that you are quarantined.

As we all get used to a new normal for the near term, hopefully you’ll get excited about the prospect of phone interviewing, whether you’re a veteran or a rookie at the “art of interviewing” over the phone. Instead of presenting the entire method, here are some boiled down tidbits as a refresher.

First, let’s look at it for what it is—a chance to be a Superhero while still wearing your jammies, sweatpants, or whatever makes you comfy and productive. Especially in this strange time, doesn’t everyone want to picture Batman in a onesie? Batman, just doing his thing remotely, scanning his laptop while Alfred works at least six feet away in the other room, catching bad guys and using the Bat Phone to get confessions. (Yes, I am home bound, and the imagination is starting to kick in).

Tip #1. Make sure your versions of Alfred know they need to be quiet during your phone call. 
Set up something for them to do ahead of time that will take at least two hours. It’s not that you’ll need two hours to do the interview, you’ll need this time to focus on your prep and wrapping up the call. I can vividly remember starting an interview during naptime and having to juggle the mute button while I found something for the dogs to chew on. It’s more than awkward trying to have a business conversation with a dog barking. Oh, and make sure you remember if the mute button is on or not. I’m not naming names, but a customer once heard me telling my dog to sit, and it was pure comedy!

Tip #2. Have all your tools at the ready.
I’m a big fan of phone interviews and this is one of the reasons: you can absolutely be looking at evidence while you’re talking to the subject, they have no idea. Continuity and flow of the conversation is very important during a phone interview. Don’t let yourself get too distracted by looking for documents. Have you ever noticed when someone on the phone with you is looking at their email? They suddenly give vague answers and seem checked out. Same thing for a phone interview but magnified, the subject is listening very intently to what you’re saying so you must be engaged the entire time. No checking Facebook!

Tip #3. Make sure the witness at the other end is fully prepped.
It’s their time to be like your sidekick Robin. Robin was a Superhero too, right? They need to know how this process works and exactly what their role is so they can feel like a Superhero when you’re done. Go through the what-ifs that might come up. “Robin, here’s what you’re going to do if they hang up on me. This is the plan if they won’t sit down and pick up the phone. Here’s the next step if they refuse to talk. Here’s our plan if they won’t write a statement. Here’s the final phase after we get the written statement.” Go through all the scenarios ahead of time and remember, Robin has likely never been a witness to a phone interview before, so this is all new territory.

Tip #4. Have the rest of the Justice League lined up to ready to help. 
Human resources, your boss, and store management, if needed, should be aware of what’s happening (follow your company guidelines). Even though I found that phone interviews were smoother and easier to handle than a face-to-face interview, you never know when something will go sideways. This is not the time to surprise your team. Have your ducks in a row ahead of time and get your business partners briefed so they can make informed decisions quickly. Especially during these stressful days, don’t add to the burden on your team.

Tip #5. Lastly, practice your method ahead of time, including the rationalizations you plan to use. 

I’m pretty sure Batman tries out throwing those little metal bat shaped things before he goes out and uses them. You should practice, too! In a phone interview, it’s important to exude confidence with your voice, as that’s all the interaction you’re going to have with the subject. No body language here. Confidence comes with practice. Use your significant other, who’s probably at home too, as a guinea pig. Get on your phones and do the introductory statement, ask for honest feedback. Or connect with your other homebound loss prevention teammates and practice over the phone. This time in our history is an opportunity to get some training and hone some skills we’ve been too busy to complete. Turn lemons into lemonade people!

We’re going to get through this, I’m hearing great things from many of my retail friends about teams pulling together. Let’s help each other and lift up our communities. We’ll rise above it, just like The Dark Knight Rises, and be back out there fighting crime in person soon enough. Stay healthy Superheroes!

CFI Benefits Beyond the Title

By Stefanie Hoover, CFI

Have you seen those holiday car commercials featuring people giving themselves the gift of a car? They are constantly on TV and in my opinion, they seem a little creepy. I get what they are trying to do: it’s mildly amusing, and sometimes it does feel nice to give yourself a gift. However, I’m not sure that a new car is in the cards for everyone. If you are thinking of giving yourself a gift this holiday, may I suggest the gift of the CFI designation? Buy the online course and make a promise to yourself that you’ll study and take the test, because this truly is a gift that keeps on giving.

“What’s in it for me?” you ask? I’ve pulled together some food for thought to go with your holiday meal, starting with my two cents.

As a solution provider, it lends instant credibility. Most retailers know how much work it takes to pass the CFI exam and appreciate that I can understand at least part of their worldview. Plus, reading body language and being in tune with the person opposite me can really help move a conversation in the right direction.

Membership in this group has allowed me opportunities to meet some amazing people. For the past several years, I have volunteered as a member of the International Association of Interviewers (IAI) Midwest Chapter. I truly enjoy working with this team and they all give their time selflessly. I asked this group of diverse professionals how the CFI has helped them in their leadership roles or in working together with teams. Here are some different takes on what the CFI has done to help my peers throughout their careers.

“I think the biggest thing the CFI has added for me from a leadership perspective is the networking and partnerships that have arisen out of my involvement with the IAI Midwest Chapter. I leverage these on a weekly basis, and they have been critical in assisting our field team on some key investigations. I anticipated that being involved with the chapter would help promote the IAI and CFI brands and encourage more discipline in interviewing though continuing education. What I didn’t anticipate was the personal growth that I would get out of my time as Chair!”
Tim Lapinski, CFI, LPC, Divisional Vice President of Enterprise Risk Management, Helzberg Diamonds

“Having received my CFI certification has proven to be very beneficial to me both from an individual standpoint as well as a leader within my LP department. Personally, I utilize the many tools that are provided to us to continue to better myself as a loss prevention manager. From a company standpoint, having CFI status has afforded me the opportunity to participate in stretch assignments and act as a group leader on different projects within our department.”
Jodie McDonald, CFI, LPC, District Loss Prevention and Safety Manager, Office Depot

“The CFI designation has made me a resource for my team and peers. I often field pre- and post-interview questions and get asked to help quarterback interview planning. I decided to study for and sit for the CFI exam during a time I wasn’t even working, and it helped me be my own leader. I found the structure and routine around the studying aspect, like the book list and prep course, helped me maintain focus and discipline as I looked for work.”
Jay Ganal, CFI, CORCI, Loss Prevention Manager, Athleta / Banana Republic / Gap

“The CFI has allowed me to have credible expertise as it relates to interviewing. My leadership has called me to mentor others, and the team feels comfortable calling me with questions and asking for advice.”
Deanna Lawton, CFI, Senior Investigator, Corporate Security – Loss Prevention, Verizon Wireless

“I had spent just over 29 years in law enforcement prior to obtaining my Certified Forensic Interviewer Designation. Many people wonder why, at the end of a career, would a person want to go through the rigorous educational and testing process necessary to receive this designation? My response: This certification validates my entire career as a police officer and detective. Many people have achieved the same experience, knowledge and training as I, but cannot point to any official record of this. The Certified Forensic Interviewer Certification documents a person’s knowledge of the lawful and proper way to conduct an interview. Obtaining the CFI Certification also rekindled my passion for passing on the wisdom and knowledge gained over an entire career in the art of interviewing. Professionals possessing the Certified Forensic Interviewer Certification associate with other professionals who possess the same certification. Together, they take a leadership role in the art of interviewing, attending and conducting seminars and guiding others who have a desire to conduct interviews in a lawful, respectful and competent manner.”
Thomas F. McGreal, CFI, Detective, Chicago Police Department, ret.; Instructor, Wicklander-Zulawski

“As a Manager to a team of Investigators, going through the process of obtaining the CFI designation increased my knowledge and confidence to better coach and inspire their dedication to growth in Interviewing. Personally for me as a leader, having the CFI designation has not only given me a strong sense of accomplishment in my professional development, it has given me pride in knowing that I’m part of a group of professionals that have the same common goal of continual growth in the evolution of interviewing.”
Carrie Baritsky, CFI, Senior Loss Prevention Investigator, TJMaxx

In closing, I wanted to include this quote from a friend who is incredibly passionate about what the CFI can do for an LP professional:

“My department is a huge proponent of the CFI certification. From the onset of hiring a new employee and sending them to their first W-Z class, it is understood that achieving the CFI is a huge career goal. We build our team to strive for this certification as it instills confidence and credibility among our team members in their ability to deliver an interview. As soon as they meet the required level of experience, we have them prep and sit for the CFI exam. There are few things in this profession more rewarding than receiving that first phone call from an interviewer who has just sat for the exam and hearing them yell, “I passed!” In that moment, I can almost envision that person raising their arms above their head with the biggest smile on their face like they’ve just won an Olympic event. I only wish that our entire team was there to celebrate that moment with them. The next best thing is being able to announce to the rest of our team that we have our newest member to the CFI club! Seeing our team congratulate and praise that person on their achievement knowing all the hard work they put into it is rewarding for all of us. The CFI builds a team dynamic and it builds a positive confident spirit within our department.”
Carmen DuBose, CFI, LPC, Regional VP Asset Protection, Hibbett Sports

Can you feel the passion with these folks?! If you are debating whether you should go through the studying and sit for the test or you’re trying to decide if you even have the time, feel free to reach out to me, Carmen or anyone on the various IAI boards. We’d be happy to talk to you about the benefits. The CFI is guaranteed to have longer lasting impact than a new car with a big red bow on top.

Holiday tips for LP professionals.

Holiday Tips for LP Pros

By Stefanie Hoover, CFI

The holidays can be stressful in retail, to state the obvious. With crowded stores, frazzled employees, and grouchy customers, there may be days when you want to go hide. They can also be a lot of fun as we try to close out our year with great results, using our groups’ collective energy to power through to the end.

During my career in retail, I’ve experienced a mix of both, and I’ve come to realize there are things we can do to limit the stress and experience more of the adrenaline-fueled fun. Here are a few ways to help get yourself through the next few weeks in one piece.

Don’t get pregnant right before the holidays. True story. Working seven days in a row, 13 hours a day, and trying not to throw up throughout most of it was not fun. I don’t recommend it. I have vivid memories of driving to Iowa in the snow and stopping at Culver’s for a chocolate shake multiple times without a clue as to why. Oh, and pulling off the side of the road to deal with “morning sickness”—which was more like “all-day sickness” in my case—made my drives more interesting. Even more interesting was timing interviews around those Culver’s shakes. If you can plan better than this, I recommend it.

Don’t pick a Prius as your company car if you plan on surviving the holidays in the Midwest. Sorry if I offend any die-hard Toyota drivers with this one, but that car was really a mistake for me. What started as a plan to be eco-friendly and save on gas ended with many near-death experiences and ridiculous three-hour drives home in the snow. I believe I set a company record for accidents in that bright blue Prius. Never again!

Stay organized. I was on the road so much and doing so many cases every day that I had yellow notepads and garbage everywhere. Things became complicated and added to my stress when it came time to write up my case reports. It’s amazing how quickly a company car can get messy—I’m looking at you, Ford Focus! That thing became a rolling garbage can. Try to do your case reports as soon as you can because it’s way too easy to forget things when cases are coming at you full throttle.

Find a fun coworker. One of my operations partners was a complete Christmas nut. As annoying as it seemed at first, when he started wearing Christmas ties every day and put reindeer antlers on his car, you couldn’t help but appreciate his enthusiasm and pure love of the season. He helped make things bearable. Everyone got gifts, holiday parties were a must, and, in general, he just made the holiday season more fun.

Play games. A little healthy, holiday-themed competition never hurt anyone. Try to get your coworkers involved in a game that inspires people to perform. It could be Investigation Bingo with a holiday themed punch card, based on the type of case, dollar amount of admission, or some other metric. Or if you work in the home office, it might be Holiday Karaoke at lunch, White Elephant to see who gets the worst gift, or three-legged races in the hall to compete against human resources. Get creative! This will help you focus on something other than all the interviews you have stacked up for the week.

Wear the right shoes. You will be on your feet all day. You will be trudging through slush, road salt, and worse. Pick shoes that can handle all of that and maybe even bring a pair to change into in case something happens. This is not the time to try out those cute boots with the pointed toe and high heel.

Sleep whenever you can. Alarm calls at 3 a.m., delayed flights, and long days can all lead to a disrupted sleep schedule. Let your family know that you will not be your usual self during these weeks, and could they please honor the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door? Mommy will return to her normal self after inventory.

If you can enlist your spouse to help with the holiday shopping, you’ve won half the battle. Thank God for online shopping now, but early in my career my husband was on point for our kids’ Christmas lists. That way I could sleep instead of going back out to shop, which was the last possible thing I wanted at that point. Plus, I’m confident no one wanted to see a pregnant, sleepwalking zombie throwing random toys into a cart.

I hope you found this list helpful, or at least it brought back some good memories for you. Good luck during the holidays and may all your LP teams be merry and bright!

Portrait of tired businesswoman

Impostor Syndrome in Forensic Interviewing

By Stefanie Hoover, CFI

Have you ever woken up and looked in the mirror and said to yourself, “I look like Keanu Reeves today?” And it’s not even young Keanu; it’s Keanu after his comeback!

Maybe you don’t have a Keanu moment. Maybe it’s someone or something else like Hootie from Hootie & the Blowfish, or just a blowfish. Whatever or whoever it is you see in the mirror, we can all be hard on ourselves at times. I’m not sure why these feelings come and go. Maybe it’s a bad night’s sleep or worry over a work project or stress in general, but we all have good days and bad days.

Some days you are on fire, some days you have to “fake it ‘till you make it.” At several points in my career when I was doing employee interviews every day, there were times when I had an overwhelming feeling that I should run screaming for the hills; there was no desire, no want, no internal push to talk to one more employee. I was at the top of my game, but I would have this feeling that I wasn’t really that good and that this was going to be that interview where everyone—my boss, HR, my coworkers, and especially the subject—were going to find out that I really sucked! I was a fraud!

If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced impostor syndrome, or a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. According to the Harvard Business Review, impostors suffer from “chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” Highly successful people often suffer from impostor syndrome, so it’s even more common than you might think.

We’ve all heard about performers who have incredible stage fright, and it always sounds like BS because they can stand in front of thousands of people and pull it together. How do they get through it? How can they be scared to death on the inside and exude confidence on the outside?

From my limited Googling, I found that they practice their trade over and over until they can do it in their sleep and run on autopilot when the fear starts to come over them. They have preshow rituals that help them to calm down and focus on the task at hand. They have totems to comfort them during the performance so when they start to feel the doubt closing in, they can focus on that totem instead. It might be a bedazzled microphone or a lucky rabbit’s foot or a special person on the side of the stage—whatever it is, they associate comfort and confidence with that totem.

I don’t think what those performers and I experience is uncommon. In talking to colleagues, many of us have these moments of impostor syndrome. Speaking at meetings, giving speeches or presentations, and doing interviews can all cause anxiety and bring out insecurities. Sometimes it hits me when I’m getting ready in the morning to go to a meeting. These moments drive my husband nuts. He’ll walk into the room and see I have on a third or fourth outfit, and he’ll just sigh heavily and walk out. I’ll try on multiple outfits or spend too much time with my hair and makeup because my need to look confident outweighs my actual confidence level. I get to the point where I compromise with myself and say, “This is going to have to be good enough today.”

So, knowing how I am, as I’ve lived with myself for a while and have a pretty good idea of how I operate, what do I do to get through my Keanu moments? Here’s a list of tips I’ve found personally useful.

Prepare the night before. If I have a big meeting or presentation, I have my clothes picked out the night before. I may even try them on ahead of time to see how I’m feeling about the outfit. Sounds crazy but again, through years of research, I’ve found myself rejecting perfectly good outfits from the night before because I didn’t try them on and finalize the outfit in my head.

Do some breathing exercises. Before the presentation, I go to the restroom and take a few deep breaths or find a quiet hallway or sit in my car and just breathe.

Exercise helps. When I’m working out, I feel more confident in general and this carries over into my job. Exercise helps me work out some of my stress and feel relaxed afterwards.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Before walking into an interview, I rehearse the WZ method and introductory statement until I know it backwards and forwards. The chances of me forgetting anything are slim if I have the method down pat. Confidence booster!

Visualize. I think about what ifs ahead of the interview and practice my response. I rehearse my soft accusation and practice my response if I get a denial. Basically, the entire interview is mapped out in my head, just in case I start to panic during the actual conversation.

Bring comfort items. For me, it used to be my leather-bound WZ folder. When I would feel my confidence level dipping, I could look over at my binder and remind myself that I had all the training and tools that I needed to be successful and think, “You got this!” Now when I’m in a business meeting, it’s my favorite briefcase or even a pen I love.

Ask for advice. It’s OK to admit you’re nervous and seek advice or input from others. Back in the day, I would call Wayne before every interview and get his advice. He offered help in my WZ class, but I had no idea that very few people actually took him up on it! He was a great calming influence and would talk me through the possible scenarios during the interview.

If you get stressed or if you start feeling a bout of impostor syndrome, you’re not alone. We all have coping mechanisms, we just need to try to use the healthy ones, and these are what has worked for me. I’d love to hear from others about what methods they use to calm and focus before an interview.

Next time you look in the mirror, if you see Keanu, just know it’s temporary, and there are some things you can do to “fake it ‘till you make it.” Actually, I hate that phrase because you’re not faking it. You really are good at what you do, you’re smart, you’re special, and gosh darn it, people like you!

The Impact of “Toxic” Co-workers

Does it seem like we label everything around us now? A certain look on your face has a name, people are naming their cars, every nuance of a feeling has its own name, even animals have a name for their feelings. And of course, it’s all documented on social media. It’s like society has decided that each and every element of the human experience must be shared at all times. Well, let’s rethink that in the next few paragraphs as we talk about our work environment.

By pure coincidence, over the last couple of months, I have had lengthy conversations with two industry friends about co-workers who left their companies after complaining about a “toxic” work environment. Both of my friends were completely confused by their co-workers’ comments because they didn’t match their own experience. One former co-worker let loose in an exit interview and the other on social media about their workplace being “toxic.” I’m putting toxic in quotes because it’s the opinion of the departed employees. What is the definition of a toxic work environment anyway? I’ll bet I could ask 20 people and get 20 different answers. And what is it that leads those working in the exact same location to have such a vastly different opinion about their workplaces? How can 30 to 100 people work at a company for years and thrive while one person deems it to be a toxic cesspool?

Maybe because it’s not the reality of everyone in that office; it just might be the experience of that one person, and maybe that experience isn’t reality. For those of you reading this who are wondering if it’s you or if it’s the environment that’s toxic, it’s time to look in the mirror and ask yourself a few tough questions. In the spirit of holding ourselves accountable, here’s a list of things to keep in mind before you go on social media and rant or bad mouth your last “toxic” company:

  • Have you ever quit a job because you felt you couldn’t get along with others?
  • Have you been asked to leave because “you seem to be unhappy” or “this doesn’t seem like a good fit for you?”
  • Were you ever fired for attitude issues or other interpersonal skills?
  • Do you find yourself engaging in gossip or other office drama?
  • Do you take joy or delight when co-workers fail?
  • Do you find it burdensome to train others, share your knowledge, or help the team?
  • Is your performance subpar and do you find yourself blaming the “toxic” environment for it?
  • Are you having issues relating to multiple people in your office?
  • Are you always on a performance plan to improve your interpersonal skills and just can’t seem to improve?.

This list could go on and on. Those of you reading this who have managed people can probably remember someone in your career that would answer yes to one or more of these questions. It’s not a lot of fun to manage through these situations, mainly because the person who is “toxic” will most likely never self-identify as such. They will label everyone and everything around them but don’t have the introspection gene to place the label on themselves. It can be frustrating. Compound this trait with the tendency to drag their co-workers down with them and sow the seeds of chaos and mistrust—one employee can do a lot of damage to your company morale. I read or heard somewhere that even if low-performing employees make up one to 10 percent of your team, they will require 80 to 90 percent of your energy. That’s a real time suck!

Let me tie this all back to interviewing skills. As much as I’d like to say that if you just use your CFI skills or pre-employment interviewing techniques you will weed these people out, I can’t. Some will still slip through the cracks. What I can tell you from my experience of managing and observing and listening to other managers is that you can’t get “warm body syndrome.” Don’t hire someone because you think they are the right person—you must know it. If you see red flags in their job interview, don’t ignore them and chalk it up to nerves. Take those odd comments into account. If you don’t click with them, there’s a reason.

Post-interview, you have to act quickly when you’ve discovered that toxic person and move them out before they do too much damage. Everyone’s productivity is affected by the gossiping pot-stirrer who calls off every day because they are too emotionally damaged by the pressure you have put them under with their performance plan. Get the toxin out before it spreads.

I think labels can be good at times when you are trying to quickly convey a message to a large audience. When we do things like label a unique personal experience with a highly loaded word, that’s where we get into trouble. Maybe we should all take a time-out before we vent something on social media. Could someone invent an app for that?

Development During the Interview

Sometimes old habits die hard. In fact, on many occasions, they refuse to die on their own, so they must be dealt with from time to time. What started out in my career as a great habit has morphed into something else altogether at home, with my daughter. More on that later.

Early in my career, Development of the Admission, or “What Else and Who Else,” helped me to produce some good results in the field. Every time I sat in an interview room, I’d hear a voice in my head, usually my boss, saying, “Hey, that’s great you got an admission, now find out what else and who else.” Over time, I wasn’t satisfied with getting what I just had on paper or video; the real prize was getting accomplices or additional admissions.

Over the years, I developed some tricks to help me get additional nuggets of information—the frosting on the cake so to speak. There are a number of methods you could use to make it easy for the subject and yourself. Before every interview, I would pull the store roster and make notes about those folks that we knew the subject was friendly with, close to in age, or from the same neighborhood. Then I put together a key with symbols or numbers. For instance, the number 1 would indicate someone the subject had personally seen stealing, the number 2 was someone they heard was stealing, the number 3 was someone they thought could be stealing. There could be additional numbers for policy violations or harassment.

This list could then be compared to the list I had prepared ahead of time and crosschecked to see if anyone was missing. This method could also be used with merchandise, if your store has a wide variety of merchandise. I never walked in with a pre-printed list, and instead used my memory to mentally “walk” around the store departments then took notes later, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the list and code method with merchandise as well. If you decide to use a list of merchandise, you could have the subject make tallies next to merchandise they stole. You could also set up symbols or numbers for merchandise that the subject saw other people steal.

The caveat on these methods is that the subject must be in a cooperative mindset and feel very strongly about your investigation’s credibility, otherwise it may look like a fishing trip. I would usually wait until the additional admissions had started to flow before introducing any of these lists.

In my experience, the hardest part of the interview is getting the associate to talk about others who are stealing. It’s usually the hardest part for the interviewer to ask about as well. This might be because the area the interviewer is probing has shifted to something new, and more rationalization needs to occur. Or it might be that the interviewer is projecting a lack of confidence or not asking the questions in the right manner, using the assumptive question and a follow-up question. An example of the correct way to format these questions would be: “Jane, out of all the associates who work here, who have you seen steal merchandise? It’s not everyone is it?” What I have heard investigators do quite a bit is ask the question incorrectly: “Jane, who have you seen stealing? Was it Joe? Was it Dave? Was it Steve?” This format will get you objections every time.

Development is a part of the original interview, not a new interview. I would suggest staying with the same pace and manner of questioning that got you the first admission; it worked, which means your subject liked it. Keep in mind, introducing a list of associates or merchandise may not be the best way to go as it could be a distraction or change the feeling in the room, so you’ll have to play that by ear.

In working with new investigators over the years, I’m pretty sure they got their feelings hurt when they would call me after an interview all excited about an admission and, just as I had heard from my first bosses, my response would be: “That’s great! What else did you get?” Hopefully they know now, as I learned, that it was an effort to develop good habits as they continued their interviewing careers.

So, what happened with my daughter and development? She’s 13 years old and just experienced her first brush with theft. No, she didn’t steal, thank goodness. Someone stole from her. We coached her on some things to say, and she got a partial admission along with an apology. What do you think my questions were to my daughter? “What else did she steal? Did you get her to tell on her other friends? What else is going on?” Have I mentioned that I feel sorry for my kids? We let this one go, but I’m sure my daughter will be locked and loaded for the next interview and its development!

two business men shaking hands

Take a Swing at Developing Rapport in Interviews

My husband Wayne and I have been sharing a lot of sad, knowing looks lately. You see, our son Greg, just graduated from high school and is off to college in just under two months. What a tired cliché to say that these years pass by quickly, and yet what an accurate one.

We were driving to Greg’s baseball game the other night sharing some quiet moments on the drive. Wayne and I were both at the NRF conference in Anaheim, so we had missed his first few games. I could see that Wayne was filled with excitement and anticipation to get back to what he loves—coaching baseball and, more specifically, coaching his son. We’ve been lucky to have had Wayne coach all four of our kids, the boys a little bit longer. With Greg wrapping up his baseball career, this season is bittersweet.

We pulled up to the game and I looked over at Wayne, it was like looking at the face of pure joy. He literally bounded out of the truck. He greeted all the players and coaches then started batting practice. Here’s where I link this to interviewing. Wayne developed rapport with every single player who came up to take batting practice. If you want good results in any undertaking, whether it’s baseball or interviewing, you must prep the players first—grease the skids, so to speak.

While I sat in my lawn chair, basking in the sun that’s been so rare in Chicago lately, I watched in admiration as Wayne took the time to make every kid feel comfortable. If he didn’t know them, he walked to the batter’s box and shook their hand, then he asked them a few questions about where they went to school or played on other teams. If he did know them (he’s been coaching some of them for years), he’d share a story from a previous season or ask them how things were going in their life. Then he made a little self-deprecating joke or two.

After all this, the magic happened—these kids were at ease. They weren’t worried about anything except hitting. Sorry, they didn’t all become instant division 1 prospects, but I could see in that moment that they felt comfortable and were having fun.

Take a few minutes to develop rapport with your interview subjects. Make it genuine. It doesn’t have to take hours or even more than a couple minutes to make the subject feel comfortable as long as your words, body language, and facial expression show true interest. This may be the hardest part of the interview if you’re an introvert like me, or if you have become emotionally invested in the investigation. Sometimes it may feel difficult to make small talk with someone who’s been stealing. Push through that, set it aside for a few minutes, and develop rapport. It will make your job easier in the long run. Another bonus from developing rapport is that it helps the interviewer settle down and calm nerves.

I’m getting a little lump in my throat as I picture Wayne pitching batting practice to Greg. His son now towers over him and has about 30 pounds on him, but I could tell Greg still has respect and pride for his dad. Joking around with his son was doing something for Wayne too. It was helping him feel at ease and more comfortable hopping back into coaching.

If you’ve never coached youth sports before, it can be a little intimidating, especially as the kids get older and become “smarter.” Parents are watching as well as the other coaches, so the pressure can be a lot. Just like our jobs in LP, people are always watching, so we need to find ways to help us get comfortable and lower the stress level. Developing rapport for a few minutes can solve this.

Why is this part so hard and why do so many interviewers shortchange it? Here are a few theories:

  • Rapport building is not scripted.
  • Not everyone is great at it.
  • We want to hurry up and get to the matter at hand.

Do yourself and your subject a favor and take a play from Wayne’s playbook. Find a little thing to develop rapport around and make it a habit. No skipping this step. You’ll have better results at the end of the interview, guaranteed.

Baseball has countless metaphors for life. It really is a great game with many lessons, not just for the players but for the coaches and fans too. We’re not sure what we’ll do next summer. Maybe there will be a team somewhere that needs a coach. I hope so.

A Few Tips for First-Timers

Looking back at a few of my articles lately, I’m starting to wonder if the tag line of “Confessions of a Certified Forensic Interviewer” should be changed to “Tales from the Frontline.” Although I’m sure anyone who has been in the loss prevention/asset protection industry for more than a few years will have similar tales to tell. A few things lately have made me reminisce about some of my firsts, and I’ve come up with a list of tips for first-timers. Here you go, enjoy!

Trade Show First-Timers
The first batch of tips concerns trade show first-timers. At the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) conference a few weeks ago, I met some new DLPMs and seeing their fresh-faced optimism took me back to my first trade show. I wish I had given them some advice at the time but didn’t, partly because it didn’t dawn on me in the moment and partly because they were with their boss. Lucky for them, they had a mentor there guiding them, so they were in good hands.

First-timers: try to talk to as many people as you can and get their information so that you can network. Don’t avoid the solution providers; some of the good ones can be your best resource. For those of you without a mentor, it goes without saying that there are a lot of opportunities to embarrass yourself at the networking events, mainly due to mixing alcohol with nerves. While I’ve personally never had a bad experience due to alcohol, I’ve heard lots of horror stories from both men and women about over-imbibing. I’m pretty sure there were times when I said something stupid or didn’t interact as I normally would due to alcohol, and I recommend you learn your limits. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to the session speakers after they give their presentations. They love to hear your feedback and will welcome questions. Make sure you get what you need out of the conference and have a full experience.

Another tip for trade show newbies: you’re going to run into people with egos, but don’t let it bother you. Everyone was new at one time in their career, though some people just seem to forget this. I still remember standing at a reception at my first NRF when my boss walked away for a moment to talk to someone else. I must have looked like a deer in headlights because, in that brief time, a gentleman approached me and proceeded to ask me where I worked and what I did there. He then wanted me to explain to him the formula to calculate shrink. I have a vivid memory of standing there thinking, “What is this guy’s deal?” He was a leader in the industry, and I knew who he was, but I just couldn’t understand why he felt it necessary to embarrass me. After I explained in layman’s terms what caused shrink, he demanded to know the actual formula. When I stammered, he said, “Come talk to me when you have it figured out, honey.” I’ve never forgotten that moment and have come up with a hundred comebacks since then. So, my tip here is don’t worry about it. There are some jerks out there but there are also a lot of great people. Have someone you trust introduce you to the good ones.

First-Time Interviewers
I also have a few tips for first-time interviewers. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the people I’ve trained or mentored in interviewing over the years. Being new at interviewing is nerve wracking. Even after doing over a thousand interviews, I still get nervous. I can remember sweating through a few shirts through the years (side note: it helps to wear a blazer).

My first advice for new interviewers is it’s okay to be nervous. In fact, it’s a good thing because it will keep you on your edge. As soon as you get comfortable interviewing, you are going to get lazy and you are going to miss things. You’ll miss behavior or nuances in their responses, and you won’t get that implication or the extra admissions. Nerves are there for a reason. They keep you on your toes, so just go with it.

Second tip for new interviewers: the person you are interviewing doesn’t know the process (at least I would hope not) for your first few interviews. If you screw up, don’t worry about it. They don’t know that you just forgot to protect the evidence or did your introductory statement completely out of order. Just keep swimming, as Dory would say, and you’ll be fine.

I don’t really remember my first interview because it was all a blur, but I know I didn’t get a confession. I do remember my first phone interview, and even though it was a travesty, I got the admission. My boss and I were traveling together in the middle of nowhere and had to pull over to do an interview. He had already warned me that he was a big fan of phone interviews, and I was expected to do them, a lot! He pretended to take a nap while I proceeded to butcher the entire process. But I muddled through and was able to get a written statement. He knew I knew how to do it, and he was understanding about my nerves. Luckily the person on the phone didn’t know the process and it all ended up fine. So, cut yourself some slack and don’t expect perfection your first time.

Cut Yourself Some Slack
Cutting yourself some slack in all new undertakings is, in my opinion, some solid advice. I’ve always been very hard on myself and have learned over the years it’s okay to be less than perfect. Hopefully as you go about your job and try new things, you’ll remember these tips from someone who has been in your shoes. How does the saying go? “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good,” or “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

One last tip: go out there, try some firsts, and have some fun along the way.

How to Irritate HR

Have you noticed any content on LinkedIn lately that made you cringe? Political rants, personal confessions and questionable selfies are becoming more and more common. Have you asked yourself, “I wonder if their boss sees their posts? Does this guy’s company have a human resources department?”

Unfortunately, no one ever posts an update to their rant, like “Hey guys, in case you are wondering, I was fired after this post. Watch for more posts coming soon as I am now self-employed!”

If you look at my employment history on LinkedIn, you’ll notice I’ve worked for some very diverse retailers. The one thing they all had was a strong human resources department. In my experience, those folks were the glue that held things together, and I learned many valuable and sometimes painful lessons from them.

(If you are new to retail and want to learn from someone else’s mistakes, read on. If you are a veteran and want a chuckle, I’m here for you.)

Here are some mistakes to avoid when working with your HR professional. It’s not a complete list, just the stuff I can remember and am willing to share.

If you really want to annoy HR, make decisions without their input.

Oops. Early in my career, I was pretty naïve, and kind of clueless. I was on the road and conducting multiple interviews daily. In my haste and sloppiness, I suspended an associate after an interview without approval from HR (or the Ops team) because I couldn’t get them on the phone right away. Because, duh, I was in a hurry!

Well, turns out that this associate called their mom and dad, mom and dad called their lawyer, lawyer called the company, and everyone was pretty miffed because they were caught blindsided. Luckily, I got to keep my job after this one, but my credibility was shot for a while. Not a good move!

Give them incomplete information.

Again, early in my career, I assumed a lot. You know what they say: never assume! I thought I knew what HR wanted to see in a report or hear in a recap. I wasted a lot of back and forth when I could have been proactive and created a checklist with their help at the beginning.

Once you understand the other party’s interests and needs, your job becomes much easier. Is your HR team interested in secondary influences on the theft activity, like peer pressure, store morale, or problems at home? Get this information in the interview, and make sure to include it somewhere in your recap or report.

Exclude them.

Having a super fun and exciting team building event? If you want to alienate HR, make sure you tell them about it, then don’t invite them. Oh, and take lots of pictures doing stupid stuff and then post them to cap it all off.

It’s easy to operate in your own bubble and bond with your immediate team. However, your HR partners deal with a lot of similar stuff to what LP deals with—and they need a safe environment to let off steam, too. They have tough conversations—sometimes all day, every day—and they do a lot of interviews around touchy subjects. They are your HR partner for a reason: treat them like one, and make it a point to include them, both in meetings and in the fun stuff, too.

These are just a few of my early learnings. Much of this can be applied to your Operations partner as well. We’re all in it together, and we succeed or fail as a team. Now, go hug your HR partner. No, wait…as I learned from an HR manager years ago: “Touching confuses.” Maybe just stick to a friendly smile.


Stefanie is a regular contributor to the work of the International Association of Interviewers. To enjoy other great content from her and other contributors, please visit CertifiedInterviewer.com

College Admissions Scammers: Scumbags or Science?

Scandal! Cheating! Pay to play! Bribery!

These words, which were once ominous and held such weight and gravity, are now in our faces seemingly every minute in curated news feeds. Does anyone feel shocked anymore when they see them? I may have been slightly shocked for a minute or two by these words in the story that just broke about the investigation into rigging college admissions and cheating on the SAT and ACT.

The FBI investigation into racketeering, among other crimes, has involved some folks who would typically not have their names found in stories like this. As of this writing, the story broke yesterday, and I’ve already read enough about it to have lost the initial shock. I have entered the numb stage I like to call “Meh.”

After all, can you really be shocked that people cheat and try to finagle a system to get what they want? Some of these people remind me of helicopter parents on steroids, like an Apache or a Blackhawk, ready to swoop in and do battle so little Suzy can get into an Ivy League school without actually putting in the effort.

Ten thousand dollars? A hundred and fifty thousand dollars? Pictures of my kid rowing in a racing boat? No problem! Whoosh, let the helicopter fly to the rescue! From my tone here, I may sound a little jaded. I have worked in loss prevention for a long time and have entered the cynical phase. I’ve come to understand that whenever a system has been put in place to regulate access to something people want, people will always find a way to get around these rules.

From the beginning of time, people (and animals) have stolen and taken shortcuts. Once an object gains intrinsic value, like Eve’s apple did once it was deemed forbidden, people will attempt to procure it by any means necessary. Has this been part of our evolution from primate to human being? Was this a way for primitive humans to save energy? It was probably a lot easier for Grog the caveman to wait until Gronk killed a gazelle, bash him on the head with a rock and steal the tasty gazelle, rather than spend the time and energy to hunt it himself.

We have spent eons perfecting our cheating ways. Just listen to any song by Loretta Lynn, and she’ll fill you in. If you’ve raised kids, you get the picture: it’s like they’re born with these innate abilities, or at least, they learn them quickly. According to Quartz, in a study on why children lie, the qualities we want our kids to have, like higher levels of executive functioning, are actually correlated with being a good liar. I’m not making excuses for this behavior. I’m just saying it doesn’t shock me.

Something I have struggled with over the years is how to not be jaded. It’s hard to spend years catching bad guys, observing behavior, doing interviews, and therefore being lied to, and not be a little cynical. When you work case after case and become invested in the time and effort you’ve put in, it’s easy to let it affect your view of the suspect.

I have to remember that we are all human and that humans have evolved to take the shortest route to what it is they want. Maybe it’s economy of scale, an evolutionary adaptation, or just laziness: whatever you want to call it, all humans engage in some form of lying, cheating or stealing.

During my career, I would catch myself feeling particularly fed up with this side of humanity, so I had to do things to give myself a break and restore some faith. I’d talk to other LP folks or to my husband, I’d volunteer or do a stretch assignment that took me out of that mindset and helped me hit the restart button.

Training and focusing on helping someone else can really help renew our belief in human beings as essentially good people.

We can’t let ourselves as loss prevention professionals become numb to what the person in front of us is going through. If you find yourself at that point, maybe it’s time for you to take a little time out. Watch some cat videos or read about people giving back—or go give back yourself.

I find the idea of scamming to get your kids into college reprehensible: it undermines all the hard work that legitimate candidates put in and takes a spot away from someone who deserves it. If you can’t get into USC or Stanford on your own merit, go someplace you actually can get into. Hopefully those involved are punished appropriately.

That said, even when the actress from Full House gets caught for (allegedly) committing fraud, it can be hard to stay positive about humanity. Just remember it might be due to human evolution, and then try to hit your own restart button. I know I find myself hitting “restart” a lot lately.


Stefanie is a regular contributor to the work of the International Association of Interviewers. To enjoy other great content from her and other contributors, please visit CertifiedInterviewer.com