Managing an Employment Interview Using Critical Incidents

Every job is ninety-nine percent routine. However, the one percent represents what are known as Critical Incidents. These are events which occur during the normal course of all jobs. If we know what they are, they can give us an important insight to the skills and knowledge required to handle these challenges.

It makes sense to record and analyse what the Critical Incident was, what caused it and how it was handled. Then, we need to know the outcome and the consequences.

Obviously, once we have recorded and analysed the Critical Incident and the outcome we can assess whether or not it was handled successfully or unsuccessfully. If we are going to appoint people who may have to handle similar Critical Incidents in the future, we can formulate questions around the situation and use them to manage the interview process.

If we structure our questions correctly we can gain some insight into the probable behaviour of the candidate in a similar situation. With some thought we can design our questions so that we can predict with some certainty how the person will behave in the future.  From a management perspective, this is very important information.

Let’s define a Critical Incident. A Critical Incident is something which has happened during the normal work process. It is an incident which demands that the jobholder must make some response which is different. It is important that it is the type of event that is relevant and observable.

A number of surprises can often occur when collecting critical incidents. Surprises in terms of the level of performance required, surprises in the level of decision-making needed by the jobholder and the effect of the Critical Incident on the job and the business.

It is suggested that a series of typical Critical Incidents are collected with the view to creating interview questions because this, more than anything, will bring relevance to the interview process. 

These Critical Incidents are snap-shots in the general flow of events. They are defining points of the extremes of the job. They are small case studies from which we can see the elements of the incident and its performance, how the situation was handled and relationships to other events, conditions and the job as a whole.

A collection of Critical Incidents and their frequency, can often give some indication of the pressure in that particular position. This means that during the interview process and the reference checking, the ability of candidates to cope with the requirements of the job can be assessed.