You may have read my post in regards to the Incompetent EEO Investigator, this summary will detail some of the qualities and skills that separate the average investigator from the professional EEO Practitioner. I decided to write this article on a positive note to address what is necessary to be a competent EEO Investigator, hereafter referred as CEI.
The EEO community is small and word of good or bad services can circulate fast. The CEI works “under the radar” and seldom is recognized for their professionalism. When I supervised a team of service providers, receiving no correspondence from the client was good news. Service providers are paid to produce a sufficient work product so praise for good work is not to be expected. Look at it this way: When you pay bills every month for a service you use, the company never calls to say thanks for paying on time. However, see what type of attention you receive when you do not make a payment. The CEI is rarely mentioned or spoken about, so my purpose of writing this short review is to highlight and uncover what a CEI does well and how to spot this type of professional.
I have separated this review into two parts. The first part of the review will address the basic professional skills an Investigator should possess, and the second part will address the technical skills necessary to be successful.
Many of these characteristics listed below would be essential to a model employee in multiple industries, but are still a prerequisite to becoming one of the best EEO service providers.
Proofreading: Do you proof read your emails before they are sent? Typos receive the type of attention you do not want; however, oversights do happen from time to time but repetition of those errors can be considered unprofessional. Investigators should make a template of the emails that they send to the different parties when introducing themselves, this way they will only have to worry about inserting the correct name and contact information for the intended recipient. It pays to take the time and make as many email templates as necessary for the different types of correspondence and request that you will be making. This way, you only need to proof read your messages once and you already know the content is effective. However, there are certain situations when you will need to make a personal or customized correspondence.
Timely: Have you heard the term “Being on Military time”, that is something to strive towards for organizational purposes and the respect of others schedules. A CEI should make every effort to be prompt for telephonic interviews, in-person interviews, and when performing any of their other duties such as status reports, answering emails, submitting ROIs, and returning affidavits. There are many moving parts during an investigation, mark off the task and move forward but understand the difference between rushing and being prompt. Responding to emails in a prompt manner shows respect for the sender’s inquiry and will enable you to expedite matters and have ample time to perform efficiently.
Flexibility: Investigators should be able to execute and accommodate for all different time zones and undesirable situations (early or after hour interviews) to keep the case moving forward. It is vital to your effectiveness to be able to reschedule and meet other’s preferences or last-minute changes in schedule. Service providers have free time available, CEIs use that time as a backup alternative to scheduling conflicts. Taking on too many cases can prevent any type of flexibility. If I schedule eight (8) interviews in one day, that leaves me no time for bathroom breaks, lunch, or to handle other matters with cases; after the 3rd or 4th interview, I will not be a professional interviewer as my attention span and patience will be short and there will not be ample time to meet other deadlines or turn affidavits around.
Listening: You will run across many types of personalities while interviewing hundreds of people who are in unique positions and at different levels in their career. Based on a Complainant’s accepted issue(s), protected class(es) or their job duties, the information you will need to extract will always be unique to the circumstances and listening will help you decipher what is key to your purview. Listening is the key to asking the appropriate follow up questions and taking accurate notes which will be utilized for your final work product. At times you will encounter an individual that is emotional or is “long winded” on the phone. This is when you have to be patient and let the person talk but be alert and listen for key words. The key words fall into the category of: who, what, when, where, why, and how?
Forthright: There are times when a fine line must be walked when conducting an interview. Depending on a participant’s education, position title, and personality some egos can be threatened without intent. You want to be professional and polite, but you have a job that needs to be accomplished under statutory guidelines. Letting those that you interact with know that your intent and purpose is business, is vital, as you are in control of the Investigation. Patience is a good virtue to have but you have no time to play “the check is in the mail” game with signed affidavits. If someone you are interviewing is “talking in circles” and is not getting to the point then you need step in and take control of situation but politely and at all times in a professional manner.
Interpersonal skills: You are the Investigator, but you do not need to be a robot and conduct an Investigation is such a manner. You will need to speak with people other than participants in the process such as the EEO Specialist, Human Resources, and Representatives. Establishing professional working relationships is important for all parties to work towards in order to complete tasks. The more cases an Investigator conducts for a specific Agency there is a good chance they will interview the same management officials so it is important to make sure all of your communications stay professional.
Demeanor: Being a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and a “know it all” is a fine line to walk, how you answer questions and administer your purview is key in being effective as a CEI. Empathy and dealing with “difficult” personalities call for different skills or rather structured approaches.
Common Sense: Some have it, some do not… A CEI definitely has it and will need and utilize it on a daily basis to remain successful. For example: If a person has been terminated, they will not respond via their previous work contact information. If you are unsure of someone’s sex, then refer to them by their first name; not Mr./Ms. If you cannot read a document because of the print quality, there is a good chance other people will not be able to do so; therefore, do not use that document. When you write an email, there is a good chance others will see that correspondence, whether intended, or not, therefore pay attention to what you write.
Accountability: When CEIs make an error, they acknowledge it without making excuses. How many of us are guilty for not adding an attachment to an email, or spelling someone’s name incorrectly? A simple, “that was my oversight, I am sorry for any inconvenience” is necessary when you are at fault depending on the circumstances. Accept that no one is perfect, learn from your experience, and move on.
In addition to the standard professional skills that any professional should utilize, EEO Investigators should have certain technical skills that are vital to their success. An EEO Investigator works solely and does not have a corporate culture with a dress codes, office etiquette, and scheduled breaks. EEO Investigators follow a Statement of Work (SOW) that is a blueprint for their work product. Based on the characteristics mentioned above in reference to professional skills, only timeliness are stressed in a SOW which EEO Practitioners must adhere to, however, there are many characteristics which are key to being successful as well. Let’s examine in detail some of the characteristics that a CEI exemplifies by their work product and is more in line with a standard SOW.
Corroboration: There are many sides to an argument or altercation and Investigators should interview the necessary parties until those gaps in testimony are addressed. A CEI understands that the decision maker is the obvious person to interview, but who proposed or recommended an adverse decision is vital supplement information which accurately and thoroughly covers the context of the employment action.
Comparators: A CEI understands how to gather this critical piece of circumstantial evidence for all discrimination theories and employment circumstances. They understand that EEO is about discrimination based on a protective class, so they find a similarly situated individual of a different protective class that had a different experience from the Complainant’s noted adverse action. A good CEI will do this as second nature to insure their work product illustrates comparative information so a decision maker has the facts to make a substantiated analysis.
Evidence: They know how to extract information from documents provided, even better, they know which documents have that information and who can provide them for the record. A detailed statistical analysis or chart is drafted that can illustrate if a potential pattern of discrimination has occurred or not. Excerpts from all relevant policies concerning the allegations made is normal protocol and common sense. Gathering detailed statements from relevant parties that were or should have been privy to the circumstances is standard protocol.
Witnesses: Interviewing only relevant witnesses that have information to address the nexus or corroborate testimony is effective for time management. As an example: In relation to corroboration, the alleged harasser’s first line supervisor could address if that employee (the alleged harasser) was counseled or disciplined as alleged by other responding management officials. Hearsay is something that a CEI avoids and they identify witnesses that were present or in a position to possibly witness an action that occurred or did not occur. Many coworkers usually know something about the allegation through rumors or hearsay, but only a few are usually directly involved and have pertinent information. When presented with proposed witnesses, asking the necessary questions to determine if that person has relevant information/involvement is the key to saving your time and making the report thorough but concise.
Neutral: No matter what any affiant says or what type of documentation is presented, the CEI’s purview is fact finding and not merit determinations; neutrality at all times. It sounds easy to not pick sides, but Investigators can be persuaded into taking sides if they start to judge affiants based on information obtained during the course of the Investigation. Never assume anything actually occurred based on anyone’s statement; refer to excerpt on corroboration and witnesses.
Interviewing Skills: All of the skills covered above fit into this category. Asking questions for a CEI will come across as natural and the interview should be controlled without being too assertive. Being able to structure the interview based on the interviewees’ personality is an advanced skill and effective for retrieving evidence in a timely manner. Making the environment comfortable for the person being interviewed is necessary as some people want many questions answered before proceeding with the interview, while others are in a hurry to get the process moving; adjust how you conduct your interviews, being a robot will not work all the time. A CEI will have hands on experience in dealing with different emotions such as crying, defensiveness, rudeness, and nervousness. They know how to handle the situation rather than meet the emotion with an involuntary reaction and/or proceed as if nothing has occurred.
Writing style: CEI’s make sure to summarize testimony thoroughly by providing the who, what, when, where, why, and how? All of this is illustrated in a concise manner that follows a logical order or sequence of events. Writing a report is to detail the facts and parties involved rather than for entertainment purposes or storytelling. This is one of the difficult learning curves for new EEO Investigators. Writing in a systematic manner is to summarize facts and can be considered a boring read, but it is effective, and is a good work product that illustrates the Investigator’s purview. The CEI writes and simply sticks to their purview.
Questions: It is imperative to structure interview questions in a logical or chronological order. Drafting the questions in a logical order primes the interviewee to answer the next question. Experienced Investigators can include a mix of different types of questions to extract various amounts of information they need by using open, closed, and leading questions. The same exact question can be asked in a different way based on the delivery and tone of your voice. Does the Investigator come across as assertive, speculative, curious, or professional? The timing of when questions are asked is key, a CEI will not interrupt an interviewee to “shoot off” their questions but rather wait for the right time to speak and address certain matters. Relevant follow up questions are common sense to the CEI and require thinking on the spot because they are not drafted prior to the interview.
CEI’s are constantly learning and or exposed to different types of cases and scenarios. The learning process is continuous in the beginning but slows after a few years of conducting multiple complaints. The CEIs are assigned the more difficult cases, but they are well equipped to handle them as if they were investigating a straightforward case. CEIs need to advance to handling challenging, rare, conflict, or complex cases to sharpen their skills for career advancement. CEIs are able to handle complex cases and do not make a career off one or two issue type cases. I recall receiving resumes from Investigators that had conducted 100s of EEO cases but their work proved that they had never handled a complicated case. I learned that it was not a numbers game, it was the various types of discrimination cases and the level of difficulty that determined how competent the service provider would be. There were investigators with 20 years of experience that could barely juggle three (3) “standard” cases without something slipping through the cracks. There was never a shortage of EEO Investigators to hire when I was looking to fill positions, there were plenty of Investigators with EEO experience and certificates, but one (1) out of eight (8) had what it took to thoroughly investigate a matter on their own. Over time it became apparent that it took multiple characteristics and skills to be a CEI.
The above list is not conclusive to being a CEI but does cover skills that are necessary to be one of the best EEO Investigators. Do you personally have all of these professional and technical skills listed or do you have other unique traits that are the foundation of your success? If there are characteristics mentioned that are your weakness, push yourself to work on those areas that are most difficult to utilize so you can be one of the best in the industry. Please share your thoughts on how you became a successful EEO Investigator or what characteristics you feel are vital to be a CEI.