October 5, 2023 | Barb Carr

Avoid These 3 Interviewing Mistakes

interviewing mistakes

When an employee is a witness to an incident that occurs in the workplace, what he or she witnessed becomes valuable information for finding and fixing the root causes.

Retrieving accurate information from memory is hard work; thus, when an interview is not set up properly, a witness may not remember important details. If you can improve upon just one or two things and avoid these interviewing mistakes, your interviews will be much more productive.

The two short videos below are actors playing the role of interviewer and interviewee in a mock interview for a General Motors incident investigation training module. They created one “good” interview and one “bad” interview scenario.

Let’s take a quick look at the bad scenario, and what not to do when interviewing.


Three Interviewing Mistakes Every Investigator Should Avoid in Interviewing

Now, let’s break down the mistakes that were made.

  1. The interviewer did not communicate open, friendly body language during the greeting or try to “break the ice.” Notice that the interviewer appeared disinterested in the interviewee when she sat down, and he gestured with palms down which may convey to the interviewee by body language that he already knows what happened. Soon thereafter, he actually says the words “I know what happened” and “I gotta ask you some questions so I can fill out this report.” At this point, the interviewee may feel like the interview is just a formality and he doesn’t need her information.  Interviewing mistakes like this one are a good way to completely shut down the interviewee right off the bat.
  2. The interviewer asked closed-ended, leading questions. “Was Larry wearing a seat belt?”  “Was Larry speeding?” “Was Larry out partying again last night?” The interviewer put the interviewee on defense with this line of questioning.  Also, these questions are limited to a “yes” or “no” answer and will not elicit much information, and they are leading. The interviewer already told her “I know what happened” so she may have been afraid at this point to say “yes” or “no” because it may not be the same thing the interviewer “knows.”  Overall, interviewees want to provide good information so when interviewers lead them into thinking they already have “the right” information, the interviewees may doubt what they witnessed so they can also give “the right” answer.
  3. The interviewer does not set up the interview properly and interrupts constantly. Interrupting when an interviewee is delivering a narrative (i.e., telling the story as she remembers it) is the worst mistake an interviewer can make because it causes the interviewee to lose her train of thought and valuable information she may provide.  The interviewer has already made the mistake of assuming the principal role with his “I already know what happened” attitude so the interviewee will wait for him to ask specific questions without volunteering anything.  The interviewer also said, “I only have a few questions here.” This makes the interviewee feel like he is in a hurry so she should keep her answers brief.

How to Improve the Interview

  1. Begin the interview with a friendly tone to develop rapport.  This includes open body language (smile, eye contact, open palms).  Tell the interviewee about the purpose of the interview (to find the root causes of the incident so they can be corrected).  If the interviewee was injured or witnessed a tragic accident, ask her how she is feeling or how she is doing since witnessing the accident.  Be human. Research proves that the amount of information an interviewee remembers changes based on the tone established during the first few minutes of the interview.
  2. Save closed-ended questions to follow up on something specific the interviewee said. When the interviewee is telling her story of the incident and a question pops into the interviewer’s mind about what she said, don’t interrupt.  After the witness gives her story, try open-ended questions before closing in on small details with closed-ended questions.  This will keep the interviewee in memory retrieval mode for a little longer.  The interviewer should write down questions and ask them after the interviewee has finished her story and the questions should pertain to the story. For example, “You stated that you were on Workstation 3 when the incident occurred. Is that your normal workstation?”
  3. Set up the interview.  There are three steps to setting up an interview so that you get better information from the interviewee. The first step is to tell the interviewee explicitly to assume the principal role.  “I didn’t see the incident, so I’m relying on you to tell me what happened.”  The second step is to ask the interviewee for his or her story of what happened  “Picture, in your mind’s eye, where you were right before the incident occurred.  Think about where you were standing, and what you were thinking and feeling at the time. Get a clear picture of your surroundings.”  The third step is to ask the witness to report small details. “Tell me everything you remember about the incident no matter how trivial.”  Then don’t interrupt!

Let’s take a quick look at a “good” interview.


Kudos to these two actors and their efforts to make our workplaces safer!

Want to learn more? Mark your calendar for the 2024 Global TapRooT® Summit, Horseshoe Bay Resort, (near Austin, Texas). The Pre-Summit Course, 2-Day Effective Interviewing and Evidence Collection (April 29 – 30, 2024) has an entire day devoted to improving your interview process.

Interviewing & Evidence Collection
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