Competency Based Interviews: What are they and how can you prepare?

Leigh Duke


Competency Based Interviews 
During the interview you have a limited amount of time to sell yourself as the ideal 
candidate and the interviewer has a limited amount of time to assess your suitability for the 
role so you will undergo a series of questions based on behavioural competencies in 
addition to an assessment of your technical skills and abilities. The purpose of using a 
competency based interview is to provide a comprehensive framework for conducting fair 
and standardised selection interviewing. They are recognised as reliable and accurate forms 
of candidate assessment. 

A Competency Based Interview is designed to draw out of you what you actually DID, SAID, 
and THOUGHT in a situation within or outside of work. Interviewers are trained to listen for evidence of COMPETENCY and press for detailed descriptions of actual behaviour as research has shown that past experience is the best predictor of future performance. Levels of competency vary between each individual.

Competency Based Interviews are becoming the gold standard for interviewers now and there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself to answer those ‘on the spot’ questions. This will all really help you on the day so it is worth spending a little bit of time preparing before the interview 

How to prepare for a Competency Based Interview 
Use the job description and advertisement to build up a picture of the essential 
competencies required and prepare example of situations where you used these skills to 
achieve a successful outcome. Try not to go too far back to find these situations too as you 
may have difficulty recalling specific details if you are asked to elaborate. 

When answering competency based interview questions choose examples based on real 
experiences you have had. Avoid the temptation to invent or embellish as it’s easy for this 
to unravel if you get caught out! 

In most cases the interviewer is not only interested in your actions or contributions - they 
will also be interested in the way in which you affected the actions of the team. That being 
said, it is important to carefully think about your use of ‘we’ and ‘I’. The interviewer will be 
looking for examples of what you did not what your team or department achieved. Other 
common mistakes are to prepare for just one specific question per competency or not 
listening to the question put to you and trying to answer one that you guessed might be 
asked instead. Seek clarification if you are unsure of the meaning of the question and if 
necessary, take time to answer a question, give yourself time to think 

They will be looking for your answers to be concise, not rambling or skirting around the 
subject. They will want a good specific working example where possible, so have a think 
about one or two examples for each of the following: 

  • The project or piece of work you are most proud of – why you’re proud and what you did to achieve it? 
  • An example or two that shows how you have used your own initiative – asking for help from a senior member of staff / another department, researching a problem using the web or internal knowledge library.
  • An example of where you have added value to a company or project – maybe a cost saving idea or an idea to speed up a lengthy process or improve accuracy.
  • An example of playing your part in helping a team – showing you’re a team player, leading by example, mentoring a new or junior member of the team.
  • An example of good customer service you’ve demonstrated – going the extra mile for a client or stakeholder.
  • An example of when things haven’t gone well and what you did to turn it around – maybe a time you missed a deadline or a delay to a delivery that was out of your control and how you turned the situation around.

Give your response in the form of a story as this will better engage the interviewer. 
A commonly accepted method of answering these questions is to use the “STAR” technique: 

Situation — briefly describe the background to the situation 
Task — specifically describe your responsibility 
Action — describe what you did 
Result — describe the outcome of your actions

Your response needs to be relevant and sufficiently detailed to show that you understand 
what is required, that you possess the relevant competency and can use it effectively. Try 
and provide a specific example rather than in broad terms about how you generally 
approach situations.

You may find it helpful to run through some competency examples with a partner or friend 
prior to your interview.


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