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Competency Based Interviews

Competency Based Interviews

Competency based interviews are becoming increasingly popular as a way to predict a candidate’s future performance. Essentially a series of behavioural questions, the interviewer will ask you to describe a situation which demonstrates your abilities that will be integral to the role you’re interviewing for.

As with any interview: your answers should assume that the interviewer knows nothing of your background and the only detail they will have is what you tell them.

The Competencies

A competency interview will involve questions on the competencies detailed on the job description for the role. We would suggest that specific examples for each competency are prepared before the interview but remember that the interview question could have a different angle to what you were expecting and your example needs to be robust and flexible enough to fit the interviewers expectations.

In most cases the interviewer will introduce the competency being evaluated at the beginning of each question. This will help you gauge the format of your example to match the experience they want you to demonstrate. Please ensure you apply your answer to the competency as a good example can be completely wasted by having a focus on e.g. ‘problem solving’ when the interview clearly stated the question was on ‘influencing’.

Next, identify the situations and experiences that you will refer to in the interview to demonstrate these skills and traits. Well structured, detailed answers are a powerful mechanism within which you can demonstrate how your depth and breadth of experience suits the role applied for. 

Answering Competency Based Questions

Answers to competency based questions are very structured but also tell a story with a start, middle and end. On that basis we recommend the STAR technique:

For example:

S   In my role in ABC Ltd, I was faced with a problem in XXX.

T   This was a critical stumbling block to the delivery of the project and if a solution was not found the implications were that the project would slip past its required completion date and customers having to be advised of the delay in roll out.

A   The first stage of any problem is to clarify what the problem is. I identified the stakeholders involved…in x, y and z departments, via x, y and z methods. I listened to their perspective of the problem and considered a number of outcomes proposing possible solutions. It was also important to listen to the views of my team/the stakeholders to determine any solutions tried before and to take any learnings from why they were not successful. The questions I asked to gain all the information I needed included, "What areas are your biggest challenge", etc. From there I established a number of possible solutions which I reviewed...by...choosing to go with...

R   As a result the solution I choose was implemented resulting in …This was measured through…


‘I’ versus ‘We’

Remember the interviewer is asking YOU to demonstrate YOUR ability to perform the role YOU are interviewing for. They hope to achieve this by YOU demonstrating YOUR experience through the answers to the questions asked. The questions will often start with: ‘Tell me of a time when YOU…’, ‘ Give me an example where YOU…’ When asked to give a specific example, you should describe one specific situation and clearly refer to ‘I’ throughout the answers. 

It is important to remember that the interview is only interested in your specific role and responsibilities in any example given. To use ‘we did’ may suggest a diminished responsibility on your part.


Show Success Metrics 

If you cut costs by 30%, if your changes led to 20% reduction in time spent on a process, if you achieved 100% positive feedback from the key stakeholders...then say so!


Answers Should Match the Level of the Role Applied For

This may seem a basic principle however, common feedback from interviewers is that the candidates answer did not use an example of the right level to demonstrate the competency questioned.

Whilst skill sets can be demonstrated from a wide range of work and non-work situations, it is advisable to use an example where the role was of similar level to that of your interview.

For example : why would someone interviewing for a Project Manager role use a Customer Service example from 5 years previous if they could demonstrate via a more recent example in a similar role?


And finally… Remember to be yourself!  

  • Use real life, relevant, examples and relate them to your experience in the competency area linked to each interview question
  • Structure your example to tell a story: what was the situation, what was needed of you, what actions you took and the outcome. Remember to explain the successes and what YOU achieved.
  • Competency questions are not trick questions - they’re designed to create the best match between you and the company you have applied to.
  • Be prepared: understand the competencies for the role and prepare strong, relevant examples to go with each. 
  • Aim to use different examples that best showcase your depth and breadth of experience

The interview is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your experience to people who want to listen and want you to succeed.