competency-based interviews

Your guide to competency-based interviews

There are many common types of job interview out there from face-to-face, to group, to phone. But one less common interview you should familiarise yourself with, especially if your career is just starting, is a competency-based interview.

Here’s our brief guide on what a competency-based interview is, what you can expect in one and how to nail it.

What is a competency-based interview?

Competency-based interviews, also known as structured interviews, are designed to test specific skills and competencies related to the role you’ve applied for. They are therefore different to normal face-to-face interviews.

In a normal face-to-face interview, also known as an unstructured interview, you can expect the interviewer to discuss your skills and experiences. They will also ask open questions to gather general information about you to see if you’re suitable for the role. Your success, therefore, is down to the general impression you leave.

Competency-based interviews, on the other hand, are more objective than subjective. Each question is designed to test certain competencies to see whether you have the right skills for the role. These interviews are more common in entry-level roles where previous work experience is not essential. Instead, interviewers would rather focus on how you would react in certain situations by testing key competencies.

What skills and competencies do they test?

Some of the key skills employers test in competency-based interviews are:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Delegation
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Organisation
  • Results orientation
  • Career motivation
  • Decision making

Common question styles

Competency-based interview questions often ask for real-life examples of situations where you have used specific skills. While they may appear in different styles and formats, they are designed to uncover certain personality traits to predict your future performance if hired.

Some common examples include:

  • Tell us about a situation where you got people to work together.
    • This is testing your teamwork, leadership, delegation and communication skills.
  • How do you manage tight deadlines?
    • This is testing your organisation competencies.
  • Describe a time you took the role of leader. What were your successes and challenges?
    • This is testing your leadership skills.
  • Give us an example of a time when a project didn’t go to plan.
    • This is testing your decision making and adaptability skills.

Answering techniques

The best way to answer competency-based interview questions is through the STAR technique, which stands for: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This structured technique is perfect for answering behavioural questions as it clearly displays and evaluates your skills and competencies. Here’s how the technique works when answering a competency-based question:

Situation

Firstly, you must tell the interviewer the situation you were in. Make sure you explain the specifics because that’s what the interviewer is looking for—not a general overview. In addition, you should explain the specifics so you can be sure the interviewer understands the situation you are referencing.

Task

The next part involves telling the interviewer the task you had to complete or the goal you were working towards. Again, you should explain the specifics of what needed to be done to complete this task and what the success criteria were.

Action

This section will be the bulk of your response to the question. You will need to explain what you did, how you did it, why you did it, and reference the specific skills you utilised. Ensure that it’s your skills and decisions that take the focus here. Therefore, when describing your actions, make sure you say ‘I’ and not ‘we’.

Result

To round off your response, you must describe the outcome of your actions. As this is all about you and your competencies, don’t be afraid to take credit for your contributions. Explain to the interviewer the result of the decisions you took and the skills you used. It’s also worth explaining what you’d do differently next time having learnt from this experience, even if it was a success.

How to prepare for competency-based interviews

Preparation is essential if you want to have a successful competency-based interview. If you don’t prepare properly, you’ll have to do a lot of on-the-spot thinking and your responses may not be as strong as they could be.

Firstly, you need to make sure you’re preparing for the right competencies. The interviewer will only be asking you questions on competencies related to the role. Therefore, go through the job description and highlight all the key skills listed, such as communication, teamwork and adaptability.

You then want to reflect on your own experiences. Ensure you identify which examples can be used to demonstrate the competencies listed in the job description. You don’t need to over complicate this by choosing an extraordinary story.

Sometimes the most simple of experiences can demonstrate the most valuable skills. And remember, your experiences don’t have to be limited to the workplace—we learn a lot outside of work, too.

Once you’ve decided on the experiences you’ll be using, break them down using the STAR method, and use this technique to narrate your response.

For example:

I took the role of leader when the project manager for our marketing campaign went home ill unexpectedly. We were due to have a round-up of the week’s tasks and deadlines to ensure we were on track to promote the upcoming event.

I therefore sent an email to the heads of departments involved to explain the PM’s absence and assume the role of main contact. After referring to the project’s Gantt chart, I sent a summary of completed tasks to the heads and a breakdown of tasks to be completed that week. I also checked in with the departments on the status of their tasks over the course of that week until the PM returned. As a result, tasks were completed to outstanding standards, all deadlines were met and we stayed on track for the marketing campaign.

You should now be aware of the subtle differences between normal face-to-face interviews and competency-based interviews. If you have a competency-based interview coming up, ensure you prepare thoroughly, paying attention to the STAR technique, and the job offers will be rolling in in no time. Just make sure you don’t make any of these horrendous mistakes!

Need more interview preparation help? Check out our guides.

About Laura Slingo

Laura Slingo is a writer, editor and digital marketing professional. She has penned hundreds of career and lifestyle articles for various sites and markets across the globe, including Salesforce and The Guardian. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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