What are competency-based interviews?

We’re all more than aware of how stressful interviews can be, but try throwing a new and unfamiliar formula into the mix… Competency-based interviews are increasingly popular among recruiters but there really is nothing to fear if you know what to expect. We walk you through some of the common questions and give you hints and tips on how to deal with them…

What is a Competency Based Interview?

What is a competency-based interview?

Put simply, it’s an interview in which you are asked questions that relate to past situations that you’ve found yourself in, primarily at work.

The purpose is to try to gain an overall impression of what you’re like as a person, including your strengths and weaknesses and how you handle situations.

How is it different from other interviews?

As opposed to “normal” ­– sometimes called “free-form” – interviews, the person conducting a competency-based interview might have a script, occasionally written by a psychologist, to help offer up answers and insights into your capabilities. So, instead of being asked whether you like to work as a part of a team, you’ll be asked to describe a time when you did so; how you behaved in that situation will give your prospective employer an insight into how you might behave in the future.

What sort of questions can I expect? Think along the lines of…

• Tell me a time when you worked as part of a team.

• Can you think of an example of how you best used your communication skills?

• Describe a situation in which you solved a dispute.

• What has been your greatest achievement?

See, it isn’t as scary as it sounds, right?

What are the benefits?

They are straightforward and many people find them easier to prepare for than a normal interview. They also help prospective employers to better ascertain your suitability for a role, meaning that you’re more likely to be in a position that is a good fit for your personality, background and skill-set.

And the pitfalls?

There’s no denying that competency-based interviews can feel daunting, but the key is to be honest and draw on your background, even if it might seem tenuous.

If you don’t have a huge amount of work experience or aren’t currently working, give examples from school, voluntary work, hobbies or even, if appropriate, your personal life.

How can I prepare?

What you’re asked will, of course, vary depending on the job and person conducting the interview. The interviewers might tell you ahead of time what will be covered, but if they don’t you can still prepare.

Start by looking through the job description for key words that describe the skills and strengths needed for that role. Then spend some time thinking about the competencies (listening, communication or team skills, for example) that might relate to this and list a couple of times when you used these skills to achieve a positive result.

A great guide for preparation is the STAR (Situation, Task, Actions, Results) technique. Use this to structure your answers and you’ll be on to a winner!

Here’s how it works…

• Think of a situation when you applied the competency in question.

• Explain what the tasks were.

• Describe the actions you took to fulfil those tasks.

• Highlight the results that were achieved.

Any final tips?

Don’t be afraid of talking about something that didn’t turn out perfectly. The important part is to show what you learned from the experience. Explain what went wrong, why it went wrong and what you would do differently next time round.

If, though, you are stumped, then think about how you would handle a similar task or situation if it arose in the future. But be honest about this: as with any interview, if you tell fibs, there’s a good chance you’ll be caught out in the near future.

Good luck!

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