Competency Based Interviews

Traditional interviews are increasingly becoming an assessment tool of the past. Once the preferred method is used by employers, they are now being replaced by competency-based interviews.

Although some jobseekers may not agree, the move towards competency interviews is a positive one. Competency Interviews are a fair and objective form of interview focusing on what is essential for success and indicate that an employer has put some thought into recruitment and assessment. Traditional interviews can often result in hiring decisions based on the applicants interviewing ability rather than their ability to perform in the role. This article will help you understand competency interviews and how to prepare.


What is a Competency-based interview?

‘Competency’ is now a widely used term in business circles, meaning the skills and behaviours relevant for performance in a job. Competency Interviews are structured interviews focusing on several key competencies relevant for a particular role. On average a candidate will be assessed against 4-6 competencies, for example – Planning & Organising. Competency questions will normally begin “Tell me about a time when….” or “Give an example of a situation/scenario where….” The belief underpinning Competency interviews is that the best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour. Therefore, interview questions will ask you to revisit a specific situation or task. Through using probing questions, the interviewer will seek evidence of your actions and the outcome.

How should I prepare for a Competency Interview?

The most common tool is the STAR technique. An easy way to describe competency interviews is story telling with a beginning “once upon a time”, a middle and a happy ending. The STAR technique will help you structure your answers to Competency questions. “S/T” represents an explanation of the Situation or Task. “A” represents your Actions. Finally, “R” represents the Results or outcome of the situation or task. It is important to stick with this format during a competency interview.

Why do some jobseekers fail at Competency Interviews?

Preparation – This is the most common cause of failure. Interviews are a stressful situation, and the mind can switch off and go blank. Identifying relevant examples of situations or tasks prior to interview will help you answer competency questions under the stress of interview.
Poor story telling skills – As we all know some people are better at story telling than others. Many interviewees skimp on detail and thus undersell themselves.


Examples of competency-based interview questions:

Give me an example of a complex process or task that you had to explain to another person or group of people.

In your example, focus on your ability to express yourself clearly and adapt your language to your target audience. If, for example, you are explaining technical information to a non-technical audience, you’ll need to keep your language simple, giving examples and perhaps using visual aids to explain complex ideas. Actively encourage questions and periodically check for understanding by asking for feedback.

Describe a situation where you influenced someone to accept an idea that they were initially reluctant to take on board.

In your answer show how you explained your idea, clearly outlining its objectives, how you researched it and how you highlighted how it would benefit the company. Show how you anticipated objections and were able to overcome them. Outline how you listened carefully to the concerns of your colleagues, assessed the logic of their reasoning and challenged their assumptions. Also, make sure to highlight your ability to build a rapport with others, choosing the most appropriate communication style for each individual person.

What types of people do you find it difficult to get on with?

Your focus in this answer is to demonstrate how you are flexible in your ways of dealing with people, even those who are very challenging! For example, you could say that you find it difficult to get on with confrontational people. The way you effectively deal with them is to focus on the task involved, remaining calm and never letting a situation becoming personal.

Give me an example where your listening skills proved crucial to an outcome.

Your listening skills are under the spotlight here and your example should include the following: your ability to actively listen, ask questions to clarify, and rephrase information back to the sender to ensure an accurate and successful outcome.



When asking these questions, an employer wants to see that you can communicate clearly and effectively. You need to show that you can make a strong case, can present persuasive arguments and keep cool under pressure. You’ll also need to show that you are happy to challenge other peoples’ assumptions as well as defend and justify your own point of view.


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