Pros and Cons of Telephone vs In-Person Interviews

Originally published at: Pros and Cons of Telephone vs In-Person Interviews | ClearanceJobs Blog

Two years ago, all national security background investigations that required an applicant or source interview were done in-person by a background investigator. Only in extreme circumstances (e.g., deployed, geographically challenging to be cost effective, or hospitalization) were telephonic or video interviews allowed. Fast forward to March 2020, now most interviews are getting done via telephone…

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As an applicant, I personally prefer in-person interviews.
Would I have a choice for my re-investigation to request an in-person interview ?

Subjects engage in more cat and mouse behavior via video. There is something to be said about occupying the physical space in front of a Subject.

Phone and video are here to stay, Im sure. There is just too much money to be saved.

I think it may have to do with agency and/or clearance level as well.

A couple of years ago I was contacted at work from an investigator who was investigating a friend/colleague of mine who was put in to get upgraded to TS (DoD agency, non-IC). I was one of his references on his SF-86. The interview was done completely over the phone and lasted maybe 5 minutes.

Last year, I was put in for TS/SCI from an IC agency that I accepted a CJO from. The investigator drove 3 hours from where he was based to come on the installation I currently work at to interview me and 5 of my references. He was able to get on the main part of base by himself but I had to escort him into my building and reserve conference rooms so he could interview each of us privately in person.

I would like to have a full tool box. There are many times i review a case and wish the interview would be done in person. Many times I am glad for the video interview/phone option. Not every Subject needs the bright lights and warm room to complete their investigation.

Also, my org covers large parts of three states and two time zones (yes, just my org, not just my team). Driving three hours one way and hoping to find an interview location for a minor in possession or financial issues is silly when the interview can be completed just as well as by video. The developed felony or disqualifying mental health diagnosis should be done in person.

Just let me have a range of tools, please…

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I had a phone interview last year it went just fine. The biggest problem I had was that the interviewer didn’t have a way of presenting their credentials to me. I was going to ask they email or text a phot but they said that I really needed to see those than it would have to be in person.

We are not allowed to photocopy or take pictures of our federal identification or credentials - actually no one is allowed for any federal identification because of federal laws.

Here are three choices. It is up to your comfort level.

You can verify your DCSA investigator through a verification process by either a phone call or an email. Google “how do i verify a DCSA investigator” for the number and email.

You can also ask the investigator for information not generally known from your SCA - I offer this to my Subjects when we have to use the phone instead of video. I’ve had Subjects ask where they lived in a certain period to who are the three listed references.

You can decline the telephone interview and wait until we are allowed back into the field.

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Yes…but depending on the agency it might take a very long time to happen.

Phone interviews are definitely easier for investigators. I’m just not sure that the customer is getting the best investigative product when an entire investigation is completed by phone. Subjects have consistently treated their Sf-86 information and the entire investigative process as somewhat of a farcical routine. Now, with everything by phone the entire process has just been downgraded even more. Subject’s and Sources have every excuse an opportunity to take advantage of the impersonal nature of the phone. We have no idea what they are really doing on the other end of the phone call. I am often quite certain Subject’s aren’t really listening to the question being asked (because they are actively doing something else) just answering the questions the way they know they should be answered.


As a person who was recently interviewed over the phone as a reference, I can share something that will come as no surprise: I was easily distracted during the phone call by stuff going around in the office… and yes, looking at the computer, checking email, all that stuff.

I think I had to repeat or rephrase a couple of answers because of the limitations of doing this over the phone.

Used to be the company security office would set the investigator up with an office or conference room and we’d meet one-on-one. That way I did not have any distractions… and neither did the investigator.

Like I say, I dont expect anyone will be surprised by this but thought I’d chime in.

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Now that you mention it, I was walking around, eating/drinking stuff during the reference call :laughing:
But that’s just for 15/20 mins.

When I spend almost 2.5 hours in a conference room for my subject interviews, I just can’t imagine doing that over the phone.
It would probably last 3+ hours on the phone and be very aggravating…

I for one love sitting around in my jammies talking on the phone all day.

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There is no circumstance in which a telephone or video interview would be even a fraction as worthwhile as an in-person interview. Any investigator who disagrees with this is probably just phoning it in (pun intended) with his/her in-person interviews already.

If there is a serious plan to rely on video interviews henceforth then maybe it’s best to scrap in-person interviews altogether because the process will have become something between rubber-stamping and NATSEC theater. Certainly not an investigatory exercise.

If there is serious consideration of making video interviews the standard based on things like “reduced windshield time” or increased investigator productivity, then yeah, scrap in-person interviews for the same aforementioned reason.

During my many years as a BI the investigation process consistently moved away from being investigative to a mere mechanical box-checking exercise. Less investigation yet more report-fillers (made up of pointless and worthless “reporting requirements”).

To improve the process make it more investigatory and less stenography. Reports should only cover errors in important information, developed issues, and noteworthy discrepancies or explanations. That’s it. And of course, all reports should be written in straightforward factual narrative devoid of any standard disclaimers.

I got off on a tangent there, sorry. I couldn’t help but point out that the movement to video/phone interviews is just one more step of minimizing the front end (investigations) while the the back end (coverage/reports) continues grow as an onerous, bureaucratized waste of paper electrons.

If an investigator were given the choice of windshield time vs. keyboard time— typing in the required inanities— I’m sure he/she would unhesitatingly choose the former.


tap…tap…tap… Subject has no knowledge of the closed Collection account #12345678 with $0 balance, 0 past due, Unknown high credit… tap… tap… tap


When a Subject who answers “no” to all the counterintelligence questions while being interviewed by phone and then years later is caught spying, one of the charges they face is lying during their investigation. It seems to me that a Subject’s valid defense at that point could be “I was being asked these lengthy confusing questions over the phone /VTC with a bad connection and I really didn’t understand what the questions meant”. I think it’s just a matter of time before someone does something and we start questioning the phone/VTC thing and the pendulum swings back.

That is the same thing they can say when asked in person.

In person, video, or by telephone, the investigator is the one responsible for the pace of the interview.

We will beat this subject to death. I believe we should have the capability to do all three. For the record - I prefer in person interviews because it allows me to complete parts of the case all at once - it is harder for supervisors and coworkers to stall you when you are standing at their desk. I am a very experienced investigator and find little difference between my video and in person control of subject interviews. I have had more frustration with phone interviews but then the Subjects did themselves in because I already had the information they denied.


Just a matter of time is right which translates into…until something bad happens. I 1000% guarantee in the future that if phone interviews continue it will ONLY be DCSA (tap, tap, tap) because other agencies will never continue phone work. When all this started they tried to keep us in the field well after the lock down until they just couldn’t and now for the past few months are sending people to the field for some cases.

I agree 100%…this is not an “investigative process” and anyone who thinks their Subject interviews are protecting and aiding national security is just lost in the sauce. We have all been “phoning” our subject interviews even prior to the phone/video interviews, all you have to do is write down what the subject says, type it up and send it up…the subject could be lying to your face and you could have evidence in front of you that the subject is lying, yet there is nothing an investigator can do but type " Subject has no knowledge of …" even after being confronted, if the subject keeps being uncooperative, the investigator has no power or say in regards of the outcome of the investigation. the title investigator is and has always been misleading, there is no “investigation” being conducted. all that we are doing is gathering information that the subject WISHES TO PROVIDE. nothing else nothing more.

sooo long story short, phone/video interviews are much better…you can crack better numbers with the extra time you save driving around and stuff.

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I really dislike being lied to. When it happens by phone, the one aspect I rather like is not needing to be stone face and I can roll my eyes all I want while on the phone.

I don’t miss in-person interaction at all.


They can of course say they didn’t understand the line of questioning whether it’s in person, video, or telephone…but I believe it’s more easy for a judge/jury/grand jury etc. to sympathize on a phone interview. It introduces much more reasonable doubt. Everyone has had an experience with a bad connection and knows how frustrating it is not being able to understand.