Preparing For Competency-Based Interview Questions

Have you ever wondered what competency-based interview questions are, and how to answer them? We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to help you respond to these types of questions with ease in your next interview.

What are competency-based interviews?

Competency-based interviews pose questions which are less conversational than standard interview questions. They are more structured, similar to a behavioural style interview, in assessing your suitability for the role you’re applying for, based on what you’ve done in the past.

Preparing for competency-based interview questions is like painting a picture for prospective employers of your work to-date, and why this is intrinsically valuable and applicable to them.

You will be required to provide concrete, real-life examples that demonstrate you have, and can use the skills you have acquired, whilst demonstrating behaviours integral to the role. These interview questions work on the assumption that past behaviour is a good predictor of future action. Most hiring managers use these questions in job interviews, so make sure you are well prepared before going into the interview.

Why are competency-based interview questions important?

Competency questions are important because they show employers that you have previously handled the situations and tasks likely to arise in the role you’re applying for.

As a candidate, you should prepare real-life examples of your skills in action. Make sure that the examples you provide not only address the question asked, but equally provide interviewees with a tangible link between your past roles and the one you’re applying for.

Two popular preparation tools are the S.T.A.R. (Situation, Task, Action, Result) and C.A.R. (Context, Action, Result) methods. These techniques provide a framework for answering competency questions by providing a structure to follow and identifying the most important points to share with your interviewee.

What matters most is that your role in the positive outcome is substantial and understood by your interviewees. The examples you use are up to you, and they need not be complex, as long as they are clear and structured.

What can you expect?

Competency-based interview questions will often begin with “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of…” and you can expect that questions will vary according to the role, industry and seniority level of the position you’re applying for.

For example, customer service or administration roles will likely focus on organisational and interpersonal skills, while more senior or management roles will focus on problem-solving abilities and leadership skills.

Here are two examples of competency-based interview questions and how to answer them using the S.T.A.R. and C.A.R. methods:

1. Give me an example of when you used your communication skills to win over a stakeholder who was initially reluctant or hostile to your project.

Situation: In this example, you should start by painting a picture of your project. You need to explain why initially there was little reception to the project and why the person was hostile to the idea.

Task: Explain that you understood it was important to have this stakeholder’s approval and enthusiasm, and you knew, because of your vast knowledge of the project, that once explained, they would be enthusiastic about it too.

Action: Describe in detail how you were persuasive, but patient, ideally mentioning some of the challenging questions that arose. Most importantly, make sure you explain how you were able to answer those questions calmly and confidently.

Result: Ultimately, using your exceptional communication skills, you were able to explain the benefits of your idea and get full stakeholder buy-in and participation. If the project was successful, or exceeded forecast earnings, for example, then be sure to mention this too.

2. Describe how you have managed team members who are under-performing? Was it successful?

Situation: One team member was consistently submitting work to clients that was lacking in quality, substance and often flagrantly ignored the specifications of the brief. He also missed several deadlines.

Task: It was important that I resolved the issue, establishing why less-than-satisfactory work was being produced and determining how we could get the employee to submit high-quality work for clients on deadline again.

Action: After a long and confidential conversation, I learned that he had been both studying and looking after his sick daughter. This had left him tired and unmotivated for work, devoid of his usual creativity and enthusiasm. We agreed to modify his work hours allowing him to work from home several days each week, providing him with flexibility and less travel time.

Result: His work and morale improved quickly, clients received their work on deadline and were satisfied with the submissions. I agreed to have more regular check-ins with him to ensure that the high standard of work could continue and anticipate any potential challenges.

3. Tell me about a project in which you used your problem-solving abilities to achieve some exceptional results.

Context: Your Facebook social media content was failing to garner engagement and increase audience size. This was surprising as it had been steadily growing before, and all other channels were continuing to perform well.

Action: You looked scrupulously through the analytics accounts across your three channels – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – to find out why the engagement had suddenly dropped off. You noticed that three scheduled posts had not been published, and when you tried to schedule a fourth, it too didn’t publish. You called Facebook and explained the problem, detailing the investigative work you’d done and the test you’d undertaken. Facebook found there was a bug in your system, and had their tech team action it immediately.

Result: Within 30 minutes, the bug was resolved and your posts were successfully scheduled and published again. You had alerted Facebook to a problem their automatic systems had missed, due to your analysis of the account and system.

When answering competency questions, be sure to draw from all your relevant experience to show that consistently you employ the skills, behaviour and attitudes employers are looking for.

Highlight situations in which you went above and beyond of what was required of you and show your track record of success and positivity, proving you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Regular practice and mock interviews will alleviate nerves and help you find a narrative or style of response that suits you best.

Look at competency-based interviews as an opportunity to prove that your rich experience, skill set and attitude are too good to pass up on.

Take a look at our job interview page for more interview tips and advice.

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