Motivation check with the Critical Incident Technology (CIT)

Digitalisation is creating more and more interesting jobs. These jobs also bring with them new requirements. A basic requirement for the successful execution of an activity is sufficient motivation. Only those who are enthusiastic about their work can deliver added value. Employees must therefore not only fit the company perfectly in terms of behaviour and mindset, but must also meet the requirements of new, digital jobs. It is hardly possible to find the optimal employee with the conventional questions in the classic job interview. Instead, the motivation of the applicants has to be recognized and assessed. The Critical Incident Technique (CIT), which originates from psychology, offers an interesting and comparable possibility across the applicants.

Finding the Right Employees with Critical Incident Technology – Basics and Origin

In order to carry out such a motivation check in recruiting, there is a practical method – the so-called Critical Incident Technique. This technique was developed by Flanagan in 1954. At that time it was still used for the selection of flight personnel. The technique is also known as the “Critical Event Method”. The special: The CIT deals exclusively with events that deviate from everyday work processes, i.e. “critical events”.

The basic assumption behind Critical Incident Technique: People show exactly the behaviors and factors that are most important when they are in a situation that deviates from the norm. This can be both a positive and a negative scenario. This phenomenon is known from psychology – factors that lead to failure are very different from those that lead to success. Therefore, it is essential to examine negative and positive scenarios in the course of CIT.

As a basis, personnel managers should take a close look at which tasks the potential employee must perform within the framework of his new role in the company. It is also important to define which characteristics the applicant must have in order to successfully perform these tasks. Therefore: Ask experts in the company. Because they can assess very well which situations are crucial for success in the new occupation. For example, this could be dealing with difficult customers. Such pressure and conflict situations often lead to very different behaviour patterns. Only those who react confidently and seriously will be able to manage customer contact professionally and successfully in the future. Those who do not act professionally here can later cause the loss of customers.

Applicants should therefore be put through their paces in the recruiting process with regard to such situations. Everyone has a different repertoire of behaviour to act on. Thanks to the Critical Incident Technique such behaviours can be collected, measured and compared.

CIT – The motivation check in practice

Questions related to the activity, so-called situational questions, can be quickly and easily created and integrated within the framework of the application procedure. It does not matter in which form you conduct the interview, whether in a personal interview or in a time-shifted video interview. The following steps will help you to find the right questions:

1. Talk to the experts from the specialist departments, such as superiors and job holders. Ask the following questions: What are the daily tasks? What are special challenges? How do previous job holders organise themselves and what distinguishes them?

2. Also ask for situations that are particularly critical in the respective task area. Do you ask exactly what circumstances caused them, where and when the situation occurred? Who was involved and what actions were observed?

3. Do you also question which behaviors were effective and which were less effective or even harmful?

4. If you have a delayed video interview or a traditional interview, you can test this situation. The previous examples of behaviour serve as orientation where the applicant is.

5. Ask specifically how the potential employee would behave in the given situation and why.

Categorize the different behaviors into categories (1-5). The responses of the candidates are thus comparable, measurable and scalable.

This gives you a realistic, meaningful picture of each applicant, their behaviour and professionalism. You can immediately compare the answers and types of behaviour, especially with time-shifted video interviews, in order to find the right employee for the advertised position.


Asking the right questions during the recruiting process is not so easy. Frequently, HR managers ask standard questions from typical, widespread sources, such as strengths and weaknesses. These rarely have anything to do with the requirements of the new position. In addition, you will usually also receive standard answers to such standard questions. These rarely reflect what really distinguishes a person. Only if you as a recruiter ask the right questions for each job advertisement will you find the optimal candidate. The Critical Incident Technique helps you to find and apply the right questions.

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