• Rachel Doyle

Competency based interviews - how to handle them

Don’t overthink it but do prepare


When you are faced with competency based interviews it can feel daunting. If you’ve ever had a competency interview before, you will know that they are almost never the same. One experience never leaves you feeling prepared for the next. That is because there are a huge number of competency based questions that an interviewer can ask you at an interview and it depends on the experience they have had in interviewing before and how comfortable they are at identifying your skills and strengths from your CV and conversations with you.


The image shows a candidate in a competency based interview

It is possible to find answers to all sorts of competency based interview questions


On the one hand, sticking rigidly to a competency based interview framework as the only way to interview a candidate can really limit an employers ability to identify the best candidate for a role, they’ll end up with someone who is great at competency based interviews. With so much information available on the internet and a variety of answers available to choose from, how can they be sure that the experience and examples given are actually what someone did during their time in a role or not? Being totally reliant on a competency based interview doesn’t allow an employer to fully adjust an interview based on the CV in front of you. How does that work if you are asking questions of someone who has been freelancing for the last ten years, or someone who might have had a career break and is returning to work?


What is a competency interview?


They are interviews which use questions for you to demonstrate your experience, how you behaved, what your approach was and what the outcome of the situation was. The employer wants to see the ability to analyse how you acted in a certain situation, how you worked or collaborated with your colleagues and what leadership or ownership you took over the problem. They will be looking for a range of skills to identify how you might work in a team dynamic or stakeholder environment.


How can you prepare for a competency based interview?


If you are faced with a competency interview, fear not! There are things that you can do to prepare yourself for the opportunity. If you are really keen on the role then sometimes you just have to go with the flow. This is not something you can ace without putting the work in, so set aside enough time to really consider your answers to questions. It’s better to be over prepared than not at all. Whilst one company may go easy on the competency interview questions, another may stick to it rigidly, so you are prepared for all eventualities.


Know your experience


It sounds obvious but when you have built up a number of years’ experience, your skills and competencies can feel a bit lost. Spend some time thinking about your previous work experience and identify a number of times or situations that can demonstrate your ability across a range of skills necessary for the role. Unless you are regular on the interview circuit you won’t have had much experience at this but it is worth spending time preparing. When you have identified what you have done in a business and role, you can then work out skills that are relevant to the role you are applying for. Always keep one eye on the job spec so you can demonstrate how you match the skills that they deem necessary for the role.


Some common areas to thinking about:


Spend some time identifying how you cover off the following areas. Make sure you prepare a couple of examples, as it is likely that there will be some overlaps between the skills. Many recommend that you focus on the STAR [Situation, Task, Action and Result] model in your approach but in reality being able to talk about the situation and the solution and the part you had to play in it, coherently and in an ordered fashion should cover off these areas without being too clinical about it. Remember some interviews might want to identify how you interview under pressure and how you can think on your feet as real life work situations aren’t always planned.


Here are some competencies to think about. Demonstrate a time when you:


  • Communicated effectively by adapting how you communicate and listen to other people

  • Worked well within a team

  • Showed leadership skills

  • Were able to convince someone to see your viewpoint

  • Resolved conflict within a team or with another department

  • Worked collaboratively on a project

  • Were able to resolve a challenge - using creative thinking

  • Used critical thinking skills to identify the solution to a problem

  • Didn’t deliver a project to an agreed timescale



Keep an eye on the job specification


There will be other competency based questions in relation to your specific job needs or requirements. Take note of the questions that they are asking you. This is a clue as to the type of environment that you are letting yourself into. If they are pressing a lot on what feels like negative questions particularly around the point of conflict, managing disappointment when deadlines are missed or how you manage challenging characters, then you can take quite a lot from the experience. You can use this to direct your follow up questions with them, to ask them directly if they have these challenges. Remember that the interview is also your chance to ask questions of the interviewer and about the team and business and work out if they are the right fit to you.


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