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What's a Competency Based Interview?

24 Apr 2023

All job interviews share one common goal, i.e. to see if the candidate is suitable for the job. Recruiters want to see if candidates have the right skills, experience, technical know-how and attitude. An important element of any interview is where the recruiter has the opportunity to listen to the candidate explain what they can do, or have done in the past, which makes them ultimately suitable for the job.

Techniques for doing this will differ according to the type of organisation and recruiter involved.

A ‘normal interview’ can just seem like an informal and unstructured chat, where the recruiter is really just trying to find out a bit more about you, your history, what you can and can’t do. With this type of interview, you would generally not feel like you’ve been grilled.

The ‘competency’ interview can feel very, very different.

In these types of interviews, the recruiters are generally much more focused on finding evidence that you have the right skills / abilities (i.e. competencies) for the job rather than just relying on the information you provided in your CV or application form.

In these interviews, the recruiter will have a list of competencies they are recruiting against, and will typically ask a series of questions related to each one. A typical competency based question asks you to describe evidence of your ability to carry out a certain element of the role, or how your past behaviour matches the type of person they are looking for.

An example competency based question, in relation to a leadership competency, is as follows:

‘Can you tell me about a time where you have had to lead a team of staff through a challenging project?’

In answering this, you would be expected to give a detailed example of when and where you did this. The recruiter may then ask you further questions about the answer you have given and scenario you described, drilling down into the detail.

Other typical competencies against which employers recruit include:

·       Leadership

·       Change Management

·       Customer Service

·       Communication

·       Problem Solving

We don’t think these types of interviews are difficult, as candidates are just being asked to be honest. But, when nerves kick in and suddenly you have a memory lapse, they can seem horrendous.

If you believe you are going into a competency-based interview, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to think of a range of different stories you can tell about different scenarios around various competencies. If you can manage it, these should follow the STAR model, so Situation. Task. Action. Result.

Your story should outline the situation, which could be you and five others, the task could be to complete a report, the action was that you took the lead and assigned the sub-tasks to each member, and the result was that the task was completed successfully thanks to your leadership.

Our favourite trick for making sure you do well?

Practice, practice and practice.

And then, practice again