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Tips on How to Answer Competency-Based Interview Questions

What is a Competency-Based Interview?

They are also referred to as structured, behavioral, or situational interviews and are designed to test one or more skills or competencies. The interviewer will have a list of set questions, each will focus on a specific skill, and your answers will be compared against pre-determined criteria and market accordingly.

The past is the past, well not entirely. Competency interviews work on the principle that past behavior is the best indicator of future performance. Competency Interviews can be used by employers across all sectors but are favored by large graduate recruiters, who might use them as part of an assessment center.

Competency-based questions are very formal and differ from normal or unstructured interviews. In unstructured interviews, recruiters will often ask a set of random questions relevant to the job i.e., ‘why do you think this role is a good fit for you?’ or ‘what can you do for the company’? Whereas a competency-based interview is more systematic, and each question targets a skill needed for that particular role.

According to Prospects, key competencies regularly sought after by employers include:

  • Adaptability

  • Commercial Awareness

  • Communication

  • Conflict Resolution

  • Decisiveness

  • Independence

  • Flexibility

  • Leadership

  • Problem-solving

  • Organization

  • Resilience

  • Teamwork

Competency-Based Interview Questions

As mentioned above, questions asked during competency-based interviews aim to test a variety of skills and you’ll need to answer in the context of actual events. The questions asked will largely depend on the job you’re interviewing for and the sector you’ll be working in.

Each question will open with ‘Tell us about a time when you…’, ‘Give an example of…’, or ‘Describe how you…’

According to Prospects, competency questions you may be asked at your interview include:

  • Describe a situation in which you led a team

  • Give an example of a time you handled conflict in the workplace

  • How do you maintain good working relations with your colleagues?

  • Tell me about a big decision you’ve made recently. How did you go about it?

  • What has been your biggest achievement to date?

  • Describe a project where you had to use different leadership styles to reach your goal

  • Tell me about a time when your communication skills improved a situation

  • How do you cope with adversity?

  • Give an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace and tell me how you overcame it

  • Tell me about a time when you showed integrity and professionalism

  • How do you influence people in a situation with conflicting agendas?

  • Give an example of a situation where you solved a problem in a creative way

  • Tell me about a time that you made a decision and then changed your mind

  • Describe a situation where you were asked to do something that you’d never attempted previously

  • Tell me about a time when you achieved success even when the odds were stacked against you

How to Answer Competency Questions

According to Prospects, using the STAR (situation, task, action and result) method to structure your answers is a useful way to communicate important points clearly and concisely. For every answer you give identify the:

  • Situation/task - describe the task that needed to be completed or the situation you were confronted with.

  • Action - explain what you did and how and why you did it.

  • Result - Describe the outcome of your actions.

More importantly, where possible, try to relate your answers to the role that you’re interviewing for. While your responses to the interview questions are pre-prepared try to avoid sounding like you’re reading from a script.

Whatever you do, don’t attempt to wing it by thinking on your feet, as the quality of your answers will suffer. Also, any lies or invented exampled can be easily checked, so be truthful at all costs.

How to Prepare for a Competency-based Interview

The key is preparation. Firstly, it’s essential that you read and understand the job advert, description and you pick out the main competencies that the employer is looking for and think of examples when and how you’ve demonstrated each of these. Attempt to draw on a variety of experiences from your studies, previous employment or any work experience you’ve undertaken.

In regards to answering the competency-based questions, familiarize yourself with the STAR approach to answering questions and practice your responses with a friend, and ask them what you can do to improve your answers.

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