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CBI interviews – what are they and how to conduct them

The interview process can be nerve wracking, and not just for candidates.  It can be just as hard for those on the other side of the table…  As an interviewer you need to be able to assess in a relatively short period of time whether the candidate is the right person for your organisation.  It’s no easy task, luckily there are many tools and techniques to help you make the right decision.

Competency based interview techniques are one such tool, they have grown in popularity over the past decade and for many, are now part of the standard interview process.  But if you’re new to interviewing, they can be hard to master as often feel a little stilted and very formal.  Don’t let this put you off, they are a fantastic assessment tool.

They originated from the need for a way to assess inexperienced graduates, where simply talking through a CV and asking relevant questions wasn’t possible. The questions are structured in a such a way as to assess how past behaviour might be a good indicator of future behaviour.

Pick your competencies

Before you start, you need to decide on the core skills or abilities you require and base questions on these.  For example, individual competencies such as being able to work in a highly pressurised environment, analytical competencies, having the ability to analyse statistics or managerial competencies like the ability to motivate a team.  Other competencies could include interpersonal or motivational ones. Remember to ensure that those you pick are relevant to the role and your organisation.

Write your questions

The questions you ask should be open ended and detailed enough that you can gauge from the answer how well the candidate demonstrates that competency. Where possible add additional layers to the questions to allow for a more in-depth response. For example to assess how well candidates cope with multi-tasking and working in a busy environment.  ‘Working at XX can be very busy and pressurised at times, can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage numerous projects, how you dealt with conflicting priorities and resolved any issues?’…


With CBI interviewing the aim is to make the process fair for all those involved and give as impartial a view as possible.  Before you start decide on a scoring system, be it 1-5 or 1-10 and set scores accordingly.  For example, a score of 1-3 for poor demonstration of a competency, 4-7 for average and 8-10 for above average. Each interviewer marks the candidate’s response and take notes.  These are then added together giving an overall score for each candidate.  If certain competencies are more important than others, then these can be weighted accordingly with scores for these questions being doubled for example.


While CBI interviews are a great way of assessing and scoring a candidate’s ability they are very formal and don’t necessarily allow for time to get to know the candidate on a more personal level.  Don’t be afraid to adapt the process to suit you and the needs of your organisation.  Start the interview with a more relaxed informal chat, this will help to put both you and the candidate at ease before the more technical interview starts.  Or you can use it as an additional stage either before/after a less structured interview.

However you decide to run your interview don't forget that it is a two way process.  You need to impress the candidate and sell your organisation to them, as much as they need to sell themselves to you.

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For more information on how we can help with any of your people needs from outplacement and talent management to recruitment please get in touch.



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