Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Competency-based interviewing

The interview begins with the first contact you have with any MnDOT employee. The interactions you have with any employee can affect the outcome of your interview. Being rude to the receptionist could cost you the job.

Competency based interview questions are intended to draw out examples of your past behavior in order to predict how you would behave in the future. The interviewer will ask you to describe a time when you faced a specific situation and how you acted to resolve it. The interviewer is looking for examples of how you make decisions, how you react to unknown circumstances, how you interact with other people, etc. The interview is structured, therefore it is fairer. The same core questions are asked of all candidates in a consistent manner.

Strong answers will describe specific situations where you focus on your actions. Interviewers are attempting to get a glimpse of you as a worker. Often, competency based interview questions cover specific themes required by the position, such as: time management, teamwork, initiative, organizational and communication skills, etc. In preparing for an interview, review the job description to discover what competencies and skills the interview panel is looking for.

Answer competency based questions with a complete story of a situation you were involved in that demonstrates your ability to act in the situation. Answering the questions associated with The STAR method will help you thoroughly explain your experience.

Situation – What was the setting?

  • Who was your employer?
  • What was your job title?
  • Would dates of employment help tell your story?

Target – What was the goal or target?

  • What happened?
  • What or who was involved in the situation?
  • When did it happen (early in your employment or later on)
  • What was the aim, goal, objective or target?

Actions – What actions did you take?

  • Use “I” statements to clarify your role in the situation.
  • What was your role in achieving the aim / goal / objective / target?
  • Exactly what did you do to achieve the aim / goal / objective / target?

Results – Be honest but not shy about taking credit for your behavior; make sure your answer contains multiple positive and if possible, quantifiable results.

  • What was the outcome of your actions?
  • What happened or how did the event end?
  • What did you accomplish?
  • What did you learn?
  • Have you used this learning since the situation occurred?

Think about telling the story as if you were explaining the situation to a friend or replaying a compact yet complete and to the point movie for the interviewers.

STAR method examples

Question: Describe a situation when you had to deliver excellent customer service following a complaint.


While a laborer for XYZ Company during the 2015 season, I was...


...laying concrete foundations. The owner approached me because our work was too slow and a crew was coming the next day to complete the next stage of work. I apologized and said I would contact my supervisor.


I called the supervisor and explained that we needed to hurry because workers were scheduled to arrive for the next stage of construction.


The supervisor approved the additional concrete delivery and some overtime. The owner was able to meet their next deadline and was satisfied as a result.

Question: Tell us about a time when you had a conflict that you successfully resolved at work.


While a receptionist for ABC Company during my initial months of employment, I was...


...still being trained in. A caller requested to speak with the company president because he was angry. I asked him what was wrong, and listened to his story. I asked if I could put him on hold and he said yes.


I called the department that was responsible for his complaint. I asked who was the manager and then called them. I explained the situation and they said they could resolve it, so I transferred the call.


The individual and the manager both contacted me again to let me know that the situation had been resolved, thanking me for assisting them and also letting me know that the situation was resolved.

Sample Competency Based Interview Questions

  1. Please describe a situation in which you had to solve a problem without having all the information you needed. What did you do and what happened?
  2. Safe operation of equipment is an important part of this position. Please give an example from your past when you witnessed another employee using a particular tool in an unsafe manner. Explain what you did when you witnessed this happening.
  3. Tell me about a time when you introduced a new idea to improve your work. What steps did you take to implement the change? What was the result?
  4. Tell me about a time when you followed policy or procedure when it would have been easier not to. What did you do? What was the result?
  5. Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How/why was this person difficult? How did you handle it? How did the relationship progress?
  6. Tell me about a challenging work task. What made it challenging? How successful were you at getting results?
  7. Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?
  8. Tell me about a team project when you had to take the lead or take charge of the project. What did you do? How did you do it? What was the result?
  9. Tell me about a time when you had to work on a team that did not get along. What happened? What role did you take? What was the result?
  10. Describe your leadership style when dealing with staff and co-workers. What are the key challenges facing today’s leader?

Group interviews

MnDOT often uses a group interview process. A group interview typically consists of a panel of three interviewers and a group of five to seven applicants. You will be notified in advance if your interview will use this format. You will be provided with a copy of the interview questions at least a half hour in advance of the interview.

When preparing for a group interview you should consider all of the same tips as a traditional interview and add the following:

  • Group interviews allow the interviewer to see how you interact with others
    • Be on time
    • Leave your cell phone in your car
    • Introduce yourself for each interview question
    • Be respectful of the other candidates
    • Show you can be a team player
    • Don’t always go first
    • Don’t always go last
    • Don’t talk – listen to other’s responses
  • Show the interviewer that you can also be a leader
    • When you are given the option to participate or answer a question, it is in your favor to do so
    • Volunteer to answer questions
    • Don’t provide the same answer as someone who answers before you
    • Don’t try to overshadow or dominate over the other interviewees in your group – good leaders also listen
  • Group interviews also test your ability to manage stressful situations
    • Keep your cool – focus on answering the questions asked by the interviewer
    • Some interviewees have told us that they feel less anxiety in this setting
    • Because other interviewees are in the same situation as they are in and
    • They aren’t always ‘on the spot’ because they can take a break and prepare for the next question while others are responding to the question

MnDOT's shared competencies

MnDOT’s individual competencies represent what we value in our employees. They include the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that we recognize as being critical to our future success. Consider your strengths in these competencies while preparing for an interview. If you can work examples of these into your responses:

  • Character
    • Exhibits the traits of self-awareness, integrity, humility, accountability, dependability, and trustworthiness
    • Leads by example and demonstrates respect for all
    • Innovation
    • Actively seeks new, and better ways to create a safe, efficient, reliable, and sustainable multi-modal transportation system
    • Fosters creativity and envisions opportunities
    • Embraces change and explores alternatives
  • Leadership
    • Listens, appreciates, encourages, inspires, mentors, serves others, and builds community
    • Leads change effectively
    • Exercises foresight, acts strategically and aligns with the vision
    • Plans, coordinates, delegates, and manages time and resources effectively
    • Promotes productivity and balance through a flexible, results oriented work environment
  • Responsibility
    • Accepts personal responsibility for actions
    • Demonstrates a strong work ethic
    • Displays a high degree of professionalism
    • Contributes to a positive working environment
    • Recognizes and values cultural differences
  • Team work
    • Collaborates with internal and external partners
    • Works and communicates effectively with others
    • Openly discusses conflict and works toward a resolution
  • Technical ability
    • Performs the job with a high degree of competence
    • Commits to continuous learning and improvement
    • Assists others with technical expertise

General interview tips

Before the interview

Interviewing for a position isn’t just something that occurs on one day. Interviewing is about being prepared to share your knowledge and skills with the panel. There are several things that should be done prior to the interview.

  • Prepare your resume & list of references. (Also transcripts, certifications, etc. if needed.) What is your complete work history? Write down what work you have done and the years or seasons you have done it in. Do you have outside experiences that relates?
  • Research the position. Review the MnDOT website. Review the requirements for the position and be ready to explain how you meet the qualifications. Refer to the Self Inventory form to help you brainstorm and prepare. Have a brainstorming session and write down anything and everything you can think of that would pertain to the position you are applying for.
  • Talk to others in a similar position. See what they are doing in the position and how you have done similar work. Ask what you could do to best prepare.
  • Think about what you would look for in someone if you were going to hire them. Think of the skills and attitude that would be required for the work.
  • Rehearse specific answers. Use the attached self-inventory form to help you.
  • Rehearse for the interview with someone. This will help you practice for a panel interview. Ask for feedback.
  • Think of a few key scenarios when you demonstrated your skills well. Make sure the person understands what happened. Think about telling the story as if you were explaining the situation to a friend. Is your role as the storyteller clear? Is the outcome clear?
  • Be ready in case something negative that happened to you comes out in an interview. Use this situation as a learning experience and explain how you’d do things differently.
  • Always assume that the interview panel knows nothing about your work history or the job you currently do. You need to tell them as if it were the first time they were hearing the story and details, by explaining what you did, how you did it and the outcome(s). In other words, explain your work experience as if it’s the first time you have met these people, even if you know them. Set the scene; include information about where you worked and what your job title was.
  • Remember to have a positive attitude during your preparation and interview.
  • Prepare examples to bring if you think it will help you. (Examples include work plans you’ve done, papers you’ve authored, photos of work projects…)

The day of the Interview

  • Take everything with you: name and phone number of the person you’re meeting with and any documents you may need.
  • Remember to take your resume and use it to recall important details as you respond during the interview.
  • Dress in a professionally appropriate manner for the level of the position to which you applied.
  • Arrive early to help you relax and be mentally prepared.
  • Leave your cell phone in your car.

During the Panel Interview (typically three or five MnDOT panel members conduct the interview)

  • Listen first. Do not begin to frame your response before the question is asked. Focus on what the panel is saying when he/she is speaking.
  • Do not assume that the panel will credit your previous MnDOT experience, even if you work with them every day! Panel members document your response and are trained to assign points based on the answers you provide, not on your resume or what they know about you.
  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand.
  • Organize your thoughts before you speak. The panel understands that you may be quiet for a while as you organize your answer.
  • Answer all parts of each question. If you need to, ask that the panel repeat the question.
  • Be ready in case something negative that happened to you comes up during the interview. Stay Positive! Explain that it was a learning experience and explain how you would do things differently the next time that situation occurs.
  • Sell yourself – focus on your strengths!
  • Be aware of tone & body language – yours and theirs.

At the end of the interview

  • Ask unanswered questions about the work, timeline for hiring, position requirements, etc.
  • An interview is a two-way street. Preparing questions to ask your potential Supervisor about the position and MnDOT will ensure that the position is the right fit for you.
  • Selling yourself is an important part of the interview process. What else would you like the interview panel to know about you or your work experience that they didn’t ask you already?
  • Send a follow-up ‘Thank – You’ note to each of the interviewers within one day of the interview.

Future career planning

If you are not planning to interview or change positions at this time, it is still important to prepare for the future. There are things you can do now to help you be more prepared for future career interviews.

  • Talk with your supervisor or the supervisor of a position you are interested in. Explain your plan of what you want. Ask if there are ways you can learn or improve to better prepare you for the position. Ask if there are any special projects or things you can help with that would give you additional experience.
  • Seek opportunities: Look for ways to gain experience in the areas you need. Volunteer for projects or leadership roles. Write down these opportunities for future reference.
  • Describe your accomplishments. Keep an ongoing list of accomplishments, as it will help you when you update your resume or attend an interview.

Conduct a STAR self-inventory

  1. Obtain a copy of the position description.
  2. Look at the job tasks and the required Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs).
  3. Determine what you know, what work experience you have and how you got it.
  4. If you don’t have the necessary work experience, think about your previous work history. Is there anything there that is related to the KSAs?
  5. If not, is there any school, volunteer or other experience that you could draw from that would demonstrate that you have the required KSAs?
Job Task or Knowledge, Skill or Ability Situation – Who was the employer? What was your job title? Would dates help tell your story? Target – What happened? What or who was involved? When did it happen (early/late in employment)? What was the aim/goal/objective? Action – Use “I” statements to clarify your role; What was your role in achieving the goal/target? Exactly what did you do to achieve it? Results – What was the outcome? How did it end? What did you accomplish? Can you quantify the results? What did you learn? How did you use what you learned?
Example: Organize and plan work Project leader for AP Construction, performed concrete repair for two seasons 1999-2001; supervised 6 people I was planning a repair project and it needed to be completed in two weeks or less. I was responsible for planning all aspects of the project: ordering gravel, sand; scheduling employees; assigning work tasks such as…Scheduling work for next day; verifying work to the plan; keeping a schedule and/or timeline. The project was completed on time, but there were numerous difficulties that were experienced as a result of a delay in deliveries, but I successfully resolved each one by analyzing the problem. We were able to complete the project on time and within budget.



  • Janz, Tom; Hellervik, Lowell; Gilmore, David C. Behavior Description Interviewing, Prentice-Hall, 1986.
  • Drake, John D. Perfect Interview: How to Get the Job You Really Want. Fine Communications, April 2002.
  • Lain Kennedy, Joyce. Job Interview for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, April 2000.
  • Yate, Martin John. Knock 'em Dead 2002: The Ultimate Job-Seeker's Resource with Great Answers to over 200 Tough Interview Questions. Adams Media Corporation, September 2001.