How to tackle a competency based interview

The dreaded competency based interview… If your agency has told you that you will be asked competency based questions, keep a calm head and prepare!
Competency based interviews are not as scary as you may think. As long as you have prepared yourself, you will be fine.


What is a competency based interview?

Many companies opt to use the competency based interview route. These questions will be for you to display your skills, personality and work ethic. You may be asked ‘describe a time where you have worked to a deadline under pressure’ or ‘explain when you have been required to prioritise your work load’. You are required to answer questions by giving give real life scenarios – keep them short and sweet and make sure you get to the point! Avoid going off on a tangent, the answer will become completely irrelevant. And will actually put the interviewer off!


The reason for employers asking such questions, is for them to gather an understanding of how you work – and determine your future performance in the work place. Your interviewers will require a strong candidate, so you need to show them that you are the person they need on their team. Most structured organisations will carry out competency based interviews, in order to benchmark candidates against one another.



Think about situations where you have really excelled and that you are proud of yourself for. This may be in your current role, or whilst you were at university (if you are going for your first job). Think about how you could use this situation, and think about how you can use this as an example in your competency based interview. Break down the question, think about the situation, then think about what you needed to do in order to resolve an issue or to manage the task in hand. After this, it is time to think about what you did and finally, how did your action effect the situation, did it resolve the problem?


When you are being questioned by your employer, ensure you focus on the action and result – this is where you will be able to demonstrate how you are the ideal member of staff for them to take on. Really try to think about your answers, never make up an answer. And remember, your interviewer will be wanting to know how you did it, rather than what you did. Most competency based questions will be asked in order to discover how you cope with problem solving, how you cope with a heavy work load and how you delegate to those around you, how well you work in a team and see how good your communication skills are.


When preparing for your competency based interview, take time to study the company website, and job description provided. This way you will be able to gather a better understanding of what the company does, and then will help you prepare relevant answers for your questions. In the job description, you should be able to understand what is most important in the role, and what would be required of you. Do try to prepare answers which would be relevant to said areas, this may be; leadership skills, time management, organisational skills, and decision making under pressure. Make sure you put across to your interviewer that you are adaptable and will be happy to take on any situation and that you can stay focused when handling a difficult situation.


How to structure your answer to a competency based question

When answering a competency based question, you will be asked to provide answers from your personal life, work life and even when you were studying. Break down your answers, you really need to keep your answer to the point. Your interviewer will want to know key facts, not your life story! Sometimes, the less elaborate the answer, the better the result. You may think that organising a trip to several countries across the globe is impressive, but organising an office trip out may actually be more relevant and impressive.

First of all, you will need to describe the situation to your interviewer, for them to get a better understanding of the task in hand. After this, you will need to speak about the actual task, what was required of you. Then you will need to go into your action, what you did to help the situation, and then speak about the effect your input had on the situation (the end result).

A better way to break this down would be, the STAR method;


·         Situation

·         Task

·         Action

·         Result


By breaking down your answers, you will have a far more effective result. Competency based interviews will not have ‘trick questions’ you will just need to be honest, and explain exactly what happened in your past experience. Some interviewers may ask you if you would do anything differently to change a result, so do consider this when structuring your answers. Think of strong words which will help you with your answers, words such as; developed, took control of, initiated will help show that you are very able when tackling a task. Your answer will need to mostly be focused on the action, followed by the result. Try not to spend too long describing the initial situation to your interviewer, as they do not necessarily need to know this. They may also be sticking to a strict time limit for the interview, time is precious, do not waste it!


If you are asked about how you did something, avoid using the word ‘we’ – your interviewer wants to know about you, not about your team.


Some do not enjoy competency based interviews, and some may see them as irrelevant. Although they can be nerve wracking, they can be extremely effective for the interviewer, do take them seriously. Always try to stay positive in your answers. No employer wants a negative member of staff. When answering your questions, think of examples where you can show that your skills have developed and how you have grown as a person and member of the team.



Categories: Job Seekers, Interviews

No Comments

Back to top