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Competency Based Interviews

23 May 2023

During a Competency based interview, you will be asked to answer a number of different questions in a way which enables you to demonstrate which skills you possess. You would normally be asked to provide examples of when a given skill was put to good use in the past. (Questions used can also be known as Behavioural or Situational.)

Competency questions can be particularly useful when interviewers are considering candidates with less specific professional experience, or those who are looking for a change in career, as they enable candidates to show what they are capable of and how they would be able to adapt to the role.

It allows the interviewer to probe for more information about the transferable skills that the candidate has picked up over the course of their career. Transferable skills are the kind of things that can often seem like intangibles or “soft” skills. Leadership and team working abilities are two of those that are often in high demand.

The typical structure of a question asked in a Competency based interview could be:

"Describe a situation when you assumed the role of leader." Once you have answered that question, the interviewer might go on to ask "What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?" This helps them to understand how you behaved in that situation, and why.

Being able to understand the context of the actions that you took and the circumstances that led to them is useful to interviewers in order to get a fuller picture of the situation and how you were able to construct a response to it. 

Examples of Competencies / Transferable Skills

During a Competency based interview, you will be asked to think of examples where you demonstrated the use of, e.g. teamwork, leadership, problem solving or decision making skills. The number of competencies that can be asked about is entirely up to the interviewer, and will depend on the type of person they are looking for.

Critical thinking is another competency that can be of use to a potential employer. The ability to objectively analyse a situation and to form a judgement based on that analysis can lead to excellent results for the organisation as a whole. It means not accepting things at face value but delving a little deeper and being able to come up with your own take and potential solutions for any problems.

Interpersonal skills can tie in closely to teamwork but actually it is a much wider area of competency than that. Having excellent interpersonal skills can be the difference between a new team member feeling welcomed or alienated at the company, and many organisations will put a premium on having people who are empathetic, understanding and generally good with other people on a human level.

Dependability / Reliability is another key competency and being able to demonstrate times when you have been a reliable influence at your previous employment or in the course of a leisure pursuit can make for a good story in the interview. Interviewers want to know that the people they are looking to recruit to a company will be able to demonstrate that they are dependable.

This can take the form of things like always being there to open up on time, or being trusted with the spare key in case the manager couldn’t make it in on time for whatever reason in an emergency. It can also mean that you always managed to hit your deadlines on time and were punctual to a fault in previous employment.

How to prepare for the interview

Preparation is vital before you step into a competency based interview. You may have been through a set of competency based questions during the application-form stage of the selection process.

If so, you should review the statements or answers you gave, make sure everything makes sense and that you've done a good job of getting your point across. Try sitting down with a friend and explain the competency to them: if they understand your story and can relate it back to a specific question, it means you’re on to a winner.

Tell a Compelling Story

So much of competency based interviewing is basically storytelling. If you can figure out how to tell the best story about the desired area of competence then you will do a lot better. Take the time to practise talking about it as a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an ending as this will allow you to say it with a lot more fluidity and ease during the interview itself.

Do Your Research

If you've not provided any competency related information at an earlier stage, you'll need to do some research to work out what competencies you could be asked about during the interview.

The best way to go about it is by reading over the job description and picking out the key skills needed in the role. If there's nothing to work with, look for a similar job online and work from that.

Common competencies which can be tested at interviews include working as part of a team, working under pressure, demonstrating leadership and communicating effectively. Once you've worked out what you could be asked about, you should begin thinking how questions could be formed for each competency (in a similar way to the one we've included above) and from there, plan your answer.

This is by no means a sure fire way of knowing what will come up: most interviews include something unexpected, so stay open minded. This does however mean that you can prepare some relevant information that will help you. Even if the exact questions you came up with don’t appear, you can still incorporate your practised answers (provided you stick to the question) because any skills you picked out will relate to the job you’re applying for; providing you understood the job description properly you should have a good idea about the answers the interviewer is looking for.