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Competency Interviewing Tips

1. Zero in on what seems significant.

  • After getting a brief overview of the event, follow up on specific pieces of it.


    • Tell me more about how you got involved.
    • You mentioned a meeting with the consultant; tell me more about that.
    • Take me into that discussion. What was your role?
  • If it is not clear to you what you should follow up on, ask the candidate to tell you what part was significant. For example:

"Is there some part of that project that stands out for you as significant–a milestone or decision point that you were involved in?"


2. Keep the candidate focused on actual past events.

  • Keep questions brief, specific, and in the past tense.


    • What did you do then?
    • What were you thinking when she said that?
    • What did you say?
    • How did you feel when that happened?
    • What led up to that decision?
    • What happened next?
  • Ask for dialogue. If the person can’t remember, say "Give me a sense of the conversation."
  • If you are getting generalities, philosophizing or hypothetical actions (e.g. "Well, the way we used to approach it was to…."), bring the candidate back to the specifics (e.g. "What did you do in this case?").


3. Keep the candidate focused on his/her role in those past events.

  • If the candidate is talking about what "we" did, ask, "What was your role in that?"
  • If you are still not getting clear information about what the candidate did, stop him or her and say, "I'd like you to stay with what you yourself actually did."

4. Probe for thoughts and feelings behind actions.


  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • How did you know to do that?
  • What was your reaction to that?
  • What were you thinking at the time?
  • What were you thinking before going into that meeting?
  • What did you find satisfying/frustrating about that?

Questions about feelings or reactions can provide a lot of information about what a candidate values or is motivated by.


5. Keep your responses to a minimum.

  • In order to make the best use of time, say no more than necessary to keep the candidate on track.
  • It's fine to be reassuring if the candidate seems uncomfortable, but try to avoid verbalizing your own reactions (e.g. agreeing or disagreeing, expressing surprise or approval, telling related stories, etc.). You don't want the candidate to know your feelings or reactions to what they are saying. Instead, focus on learning more about the candidate's behavior in the event.
  • Refrain from asking "leading questions" - questions that point a candidate toward a particular answer, or express a bias or judgment. Some examples:



Tell me what kind of preparation you did for the meeting.

Tell me about events leading up to the meeting.

Didn't you check with anyone else before making a decision?

Could you say more about how you ended up making that decision?

What did you say to them when they criticized your proposal?

What happened next?


6. Keep track of time.

  • Keep an eye on your budgeted time. If you are not getting any useful information, you can stop probing about a given event and either ask for a new story to address the question, or move to another starting question.


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Last updated January 2000


| What is CompQuick? | What are Competencies? |

| The MIT Administrative Staff Core Competency Model | Hiring for Competencies at MIT |

| Using CompQuick | Competency Interviewing Tips | Downloads |

| Learning More | The MIT Selection Process |