Putting a personal code of conduct in writing can help keep professional investigators sane, efficient, and ethically sound. Here’s mine:by Eli Rosenblatt CFE, CFI, MiCFE, CCDI, Copyright 2013
1. When you think you are reaching the end of the available background information, keep digging. There’s more. There’s always more.
2. No matter how many times you have run a background investigation, done a workplace interview, or prepared trial exhibits, it always helps to refer back to a thorough checklist. Close your eyes for a second and remember exactly what it felt like when you’d already sent off the report, and you discover some basic piece of information left out that should have been included. See rule 1. Apply that to everything.
3. Don’t just rely on a spellchecker. Proofread everything.
4. Don’t say anything about a party not present unless you have real trust in the discretion and tact of anyone within earshot. As they say in Spain, “En boca cerrada, no entran moscas.” (Flies don’t enter a closed mouth.)
5. Unless you know for certain (s)he would be comfortable with it, don’t call the attorney out for something (s)he did or didn’t do, or offer (even constructive) criticism in the presence of the client. Wait until the client’s gone.
Keep digging. There's more. There's always more.
6. Backups, password protection, and encryption. You do not need to spend inordinate time and energy on these. That said, with the free and cheap tools available today, you also do not need an advanced degree to get really, really good at them. Research the best solutions, spend the time learning how they work, and implement them into your workflow. Go, do that now. It’s super important. No really, go, the rest of this list will be here when you get back.
7. Okay, did you ensure that you won’t have to panic in the case of a catastrophic power loss, fire, or hard drive failure and can get back up and running in a relatively short time? And did you ensure that you aren’t hiding passwords under your desk or on a post-it or in some random cleartext file? Great! Now, on to rule #8.
8. When dealing with requests from clients and colleagues, learn to say NO (gracefully), and master the art of the qualified YES (later, at a specific time, for a specific duration, etc).
9. Almost everything takes longer than you think it will.
10. Everything takes longer than you thought it would when you really thought you had rule #9 down pat. Plan ahead and budget your time and money accordingly.
Everything takes longer than you think it will.
11. Whenever practical, farm out the little stuff. Take the time to do the math, and figure out ways of getting an assistant, intern, TaskRabbit, or colleague to take something off your hands.
12. Always take time to mentor and be mentored.
13. Always express *specific* appreciation for a job well done, and offer kind constructive criticism.
14. Continuing education is not just for getting licensing credits. Use every available practical opportunity to advance and deepen your understanding in unfamiliar areas, or to remind yourself of essential best practices.
15. Know your audience, and cater to them. “War stories,” or anecdotes “from the trenches,” can be entertaining, but should serve to underscore or outline the details of a useful lesson. Don’t be boring. NOTHING is worse than boring. Corollary: if you are going to do a slideshow presentation, please, for the love of God, please make your slides engaging and illustrative. Putting big blocks of text and long lists of bullet points up on a screen is a sure-fire way to put your audience to sleep.
Don't be boring. NOTHING is worse than boring.
16. “Doing things over and over is over.” Whenever practical, take advantage of scripts and automation utilities.
17. Think carefully about rule #16 and don’t go overboard with it. Don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to script a mind-numbingly repetitive task that you will, for certain, only have to do once.
18. Similarly, don’t fall into the “productivity trap.” Find productivity tools that work for you and stick with them for as long as they make sense. Searching for, reading about, and messing with all the latest and greatest productivity-enhancing software, tips, and gadgets can be a full-time job. That’s just dumb.
19. You can never get enough practice doing good interviews. Never underestimate the power of role-plays, and whenever possible, seek out the advice of folks who have been doing successful interviews for many years and who keep their skills fresh.
20. Learn and master the art and science of firewalling your time and attention.
Alienate strangers, gatekeepers, county clerks, apartment managers, and all manner of bureaucrats at your peril.
21. Inbox zero!
22. Build a good telephone rapport with strangers, gatekeepers, county clerks, apartment managers, and all manner of bureaucrats from whom you wish to obtain information. They can save your bacon. Alienate these people at your peril.
23. Create and maintain—and review!—an ongoing list of Tips And Tricks And Random Stuff To Remember: Where those obscure records are available, whom to call about that one nugget of information you can only get by fax, shortcuts to filing the right paperwork for faster processing, frequently called-upon reference information, etc.
24. Create and maintain—and review!—an ongoing list of Lessons Learned: Mistakes you’d like not to repeat, what worked really well before, and how to do it even better next time. In the health services and management consulting worlds they have this term: “Continuous Quality Improvement.” You can certainly take this too far, but try as much as you can to keep things moving in your practice.
25. It is totally okay to insist on being given reasonable deadlines for upcoming tasks. “Whenever you can get to it” can be infuriating. At the same time, be prepared to identify exactly what it is you’re capable of doing in the allotted time, and how long something will really take you. See rule #10.
You owe no allegiance to a particular client, only to the facts. Let the data be your guide-star.
26. Pay close attention to possible conflicts of interest and all other ethics concerns. A good habit to cultivate is keeping a running list of case names (and the players in those cases) that you can easily refer back to.
27. Remember that sometimes a quality investigation means slogging through a stack of 5-inch binders full of transcripts and cell-tower data. This is not sexy, and it is not why we got into the business. Dinner before desert, folks. Just like grade school, tackle the tough stuff first.
28. You owe absolutely no allegiance to a particular client or party over any other, only to the facts. Let the data be your guide-star.
29. Develop your practice as one that is well-known for maintaining the highest integrity and the clearest communication. Your signal-to-noise ratio should be as high as possible.
30. You must take frequent breaks. You must get adequate sleep and proper nutrition and plenty of cardiovascular exercise. You must consistently make genuinely distraction-free time to spend with family and friends, or just for yourself. Yes, especially when you have an ankle-biter (or 5) in the picture, these things can all be quite difficult to maintain. To whatever extent possible, work to make these non-negotiable.
About the Author:
Eli Rosenblatt is an investigator, CFE, and forensics expert in Portland, Oregon. He owns Eli Rosenblatt Investigations and Core Service, LLC and has, quite possibly, the best-designed business card in all the world.