Part two interview answers: how are interviews structured?

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Mar 2012

12 Mar 2012 • by Changeboard Team

What is the interview structure and process?

There are two key components to a well conducted interview: 

  • The structure/process and
  • The questioning technique

The interviewer will often use a process called the funnel technique, where essentially they will funnel and probe in more and more depth to gather very specific details about what you did in a particular situation. 

As you can see from the funnel technique diagram below, the interviewer will start with a broad question designed to elicit a specific example, for example, “Describe to me a time where you helped a member of your team to improve their performance.”

Following this, the interviewer will gather further details such as the circumstances, who was involved, when this was, where, what your role was and why were you involved. The interviewer will then move onto gathering information about what you did – your actions, why you did it, and what other options you considered. They will want a step by step run through of what you did.

Finally, the interviewer will want to know about the outcome or results of that situation. What sort of feedback did you get, what hard data have you got about the outcome, what did you learn, would you do anything differently if faced with a similar situation?

All of this is summarised by the CAR acronym (Circumstances, Action, Results) on the right of the diagram so it is important to have this at the back of your mind and frame your answers using it. As you can imagine with this level of questioning and probing it would be very difficult to make something up on the spur of the moment. With this level of probing the interviewer is not only collecting details of what you have done, they are also building confidence that you are being truthful with your responses. Please believe us that it is very difficult to invent answers in this situation – it shows.

Why are competence based interviews used at all?

Although they require more time and effort and are more costly to deploy than other types of interview, employers wouldn’t use them if they weren’t effective and did not provide them with a significant pay-off. Extensive research has confirmed that this type of interview is more predictive of future performance in the work place and outperforms the more traditional, unstructured interview format with which you might be familiar.

What is the interviewer looking for?

You now know what a competency is, what a structured competence based interview is and why they are used. But what is the interviewer really looking for when they ask you all those searching questions? 

They are simply exploring your competence to carry out the job/role that you have applied for. The interviewer is interested in the evidence that you can provide as to your suitability, and more specifically, they are looking for concrete examples of things that you have done. They will be asking you to illustrate your experience and skills by talking them through real examples of work activity in your career to date – thus eliciting that past behaviour evidence that we now know is a good predictor of future performance.

Remember the acronym CAR (Circumstances, Action, Results)? The interviewer is asking you to provide information about the context of the situation, what you did and what the results were. They are looking for a comprehensive answer that illustrates what you actually did. They are not looking for general answers that illustrate what you might do in theory. 


Previous articles that have appeared on Changeboard – click to view:

Week 1: Structured competency interview questions

Here is a summary of what we will be covering over the next nine weeks:

Week 3: During the interview.
Week 4: Task based questions and effective answers.
Week 5: Thought based questions and effective answers.
Week 6: People based questions and effective answers.
Week 7:Tough, non-competency interview questions.
Week 8: Trouble shooting & FAQ.

Buy the book - discount for Changeboard members

For more information on this topic, why not read the full chapter in “You’re Hired! Interview Answers: Impressive Answers to Tough Questions,” available for purchase from the Trotman Publishing website. Remember to use the discount code ‘change’ at the checkout to secure an exclusive 25% discount off your order*.

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