The joy of being invited to an interview for your dream job can quickly be tempered by the knowledge of what lies in wait - the dreaded competency-based interview. However, while this type of interview can be challenging, it allows you to show just how well suited you are to the role and what a great fit you’ll be for the team.
Competency-based interviews are very popular among hiring managers, so it’s important you know what to expect. In this guide, we’ll look at some common competency-based question examples and share a few top tips to help you excel.
What is a competency-based interview?
The aim of competency-based interviews (also known as behavioural or situational interviews) is to reveal the skills, knowledge and behaviours a candidate will bring to a job. Candidates are asked to provide examples of how they have used certain skills and behaviours in the past and what the outcomes have been. This is built on the premise that past behaviour is the best indicator of future performance.
The interviewer will have a list of questions, with each targeting a skill or competency required for the role. In response, you must describe a situation where you have used that skill, explain the action you took and talk about the outcome. The interviewer will then mark your response against pre-determined criteria.
These are some of the skills interviewers commonly use competency-based questions to assess:
Examples of competency-based questions
The best way to prepare for this type of interview is to go through the job description and make a list of the skills and behaviours the employer is likely to focus on. You should then search for competency-based question examples that target those skills and prepare your answers.
For example, if ‘strong customer service skills’ are listed as an essential requirement in the job description, think about a time when you have gone the extra mile to make a customer happy and be ready to talk about it in the interview.
Below are competency-based question examples for some of the common skills you may be asked to demonstrate:
Tell me about a time when your organisational skills helped you succeed.
What is the most complicated project you have managed and what challenges did you overcome?
What is the most successful team you have been a part of and how did you contribute to its success?
Give me an example of a time when you supported a team member who was struggling.
Describe a situation where you had to explain something complex to a client or colleague.
Tell me about a time when your communication skills helped to resolve a situation.
Describe a recent decision you made where you acted outside of the standard procedure.
Give me an example of a time when you made the wrong decision. What was the outcome and what would you do differently?
Tell me about a time when your leadership skills made a difference to the outcome of a situation.
When have you had to deal with a challenging issue or employee and what did you do?
Describe a complicated problem that you’ve had to deal with. How did you solve it and what was the result?
Tell me about a time when you developed an innovative solution to a problem.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced when starting a new job or working on a new project and how did you overcome them?
Tell me about a time when you had to learn how to use new software or adapt to a new system at work.
Tips for success
Thorough preparation is essential if you want to excel at a competency-based job interview. Scrutinising the job description for the skills the employer is looking for and thinking of questions you could be asked is the first step. However, that’s not all you can do. These are our top tips for success:
Answer all questions using the STAR technique
When practising competency-based questions, use the STAR technique to split your answer into more manageable and memorable chunks.
Situation - Set the scene and give the interviewer some context. For example, who were you working for and what was your role?
Task - What was the challenge or the goal you were working towards? Your answer should include a task that’s relevant to the new employer.
Action - Explain what you did to overcome the challenge or achieve the goal.
Result - Describe the outcome (preferably with numbers) and explain how your action impacted it. The outcome should always be positive.
Adhering to this simple, easy-to-use technique will help to keep your competency-based answers structured and concise.
Listen to the question carefully and take your time
When the pressure is on, it’s common for candidates to respond before they understand exactly what they’re being asked. Employers do not expect immediate answers, so take a few seconds to be sure what competency you’re being asked about and decide which experience you want to draw on.
Practice your answers at home but don’t rehearse to the point that you sound robotic. It’s important that you allow your personality to shine through, so give relevant, structured and honest answers that you deliver in a genuine and confident way.