How to answer competency based interview questions?

As organisations strive to find the very best talent, competency based interviews are becoming even more commonplace.

Today, candidates need to think much more about how their experience and skills are relevant to a role, and be prepared to give examples of where they’ve put them to the test in real life scenarios – competency based interviews are a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on what you’re good at.

For interviewers, this style of interview helps get to the root of what makes a candidate tick and where potential gaps in a person’s experience may exist.

This article will look at the best techniques for answering competency based interview questions, what interviewers are looking for and how to prepare to answer them.

What does a competency based interview involve?

A competency based interview is made up of a series of behavioural questions. You’ll typically be asked to describe past situations and explain how you handled them in order to demonstrate your abilities relating to the role you’re applying for. As a result, successful candidates will have lots of relevant examples up their sleeve from previous roles that they can draw on.

Kirstin Schulz, Head of Assessment Consulting for Alexander Mann Solutions, says: “The reason why they have become so popular and well established is because they make it much easier to compare candidates like-for-like. They are based on the assumption that past behaviour predicts future performance – this therefore helps the people who are conducting the interview to assess candidates against what matters for each particular role.”

For more information, read about what competency-based interviews are?

How should I go about answering competency based interview questions?

When it comes to typical competency based interview questions, your answers need to be structured and should consist of what you did, how you did it and what the quantified outcome was. Without even one of these three elements a potential employer may question your ability or experience.

The STAR Technique

To help you prepare for a competency based interview we’d recommend using the STAR technique to help you structure an answer (see the outline below for each element):

  • Situation: Start by outlining the situation you were in.
  • Task: Talk about the task at hand. What was required of you?
  • Action: What did you do? What action/s did you take and why?
  • Result: Summarise the results of your actions.

What competencies are employers looking for?

A typical interview will be structured around a five key elements:

Leadership: Interviewers are looking to uncover your level of decisiveness competency to gauge if you are a strong leader who has the confidence to make tough decisions and guide a team to success.

Communication and interpersonal skills: This is an essential element for anyone working as part of a team. Candidates need to demonstrate that they can work as part of a team and communicate with individual members to ensure deadlines are hit and projects are accomplished.

Organisation: Organisational skills are becoming even more important for businesses – particularly given the rise of the digital economy which sees more demands being put on organizations to deliver products and services quickly to customers and clients.

Management: Organisations rely heavily on their workforce, and without the managerial skills of employees they wouldn’t be able to function effectively. As a result, candidates need to think about what makes them a good manager and specific tasks they feel they’ve managed well.

Analytical and problem solving: Problem solving is essential to any modern role. What’s more it doesn’t matter how complex or simple a role is, problem solving is required of individuals on a daily basis.

How should I prepare for a competency based interview?

Examples are key when preparing for competency based interview questions. Think about the work you’ve done over the past two or three years and situations where you demonstrated the behaviours and competencies in the job spec.

For example, if you’re going for an engineering role, you may be asked to talk about your problem solving and analytical skills in greater detail – in which case you may want to jot down a few examples for easy recall.

Also, think about how you can frame your examples using the STAR technique outlined in the previous section, this will help you remember your examples and ensure you’re concise when using them in an interview.

Alternatively, if you’re going for a retail role, it’s likely that your ability to interact with people – your interpersonal skills – and your communication skills will be a bigger focus for interviewers. As a result, you’ll need to do your interview preparation accordingly.

Schulz says:

“I recommend that you are as familiar as you can be with the role that you are interviewing for. The best way to do this is to, whenever possible, have a clear job description and get to know the personal profile inside out. If you don’t already have one, check the company website or search out the original ad.”

How to answer competency based questions:

Leadership question: Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was challenged.

Think about: Your personal attributes, such as your decisiveness, tenacity, knowledge, independence, risk-taking and personal integrity. Employers are looking for someone who is confident and can make the difficult strategic decisions we all must make from time to time in our job. When it comes to structuring your answer think about what your idea was, why it was challenged, and how you dealt with it. Round off your answer by discussing what the eventual the outcome was?

Managerial question: Tell me about a time when you led a group to achieve an objective.

Think about: How you’ve taken charge of other people and demonstrated your leadership, strategic thinking and project management skills to resolve a tricky situation or deliver a project on time and to budget. Structure your answer by talking about what the objective was, the approach you took to engaging your team or group, and the processes and plans you put in place to achieve the objective. Close by talking about the outcome, for instance was the project successful?

Analytical question: Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.

Think about: Your decision-making abilities, innovation, analytical skills, problem-solving, practical learning and attention to detail. You’ll need to structure your answer by talking about what the problem was – particularly if there were any negative impacts on your employers business, the new approach you took and why you felt this was the appropriate course of action, and what the eventual outcome was.

Interpersonal question: Describe a situation where you got people to work together.

Think about: Your social competence, such as how collaborative you are and your ability to work as part of a team. Try to structure your answer by stating what the situation was and why it was important, how you got a group of people to work together and what the eventual outcome of your efforts were.

As with any interview, preparation is key, and this is certainly the case when it comes to competency based interview questions.

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