Answering competency based interview questions


Competency, sometimes referred to as behavioural or situational, based interviews are used by recruiters to explore and understand how you have dealt with specific situations in the past and identify if you have the skills, competencies and behavioural traits they are looking for.

At interview you are less likely to be asked ‘hypothetical’ questions (giving your answer based on what you ‘think’ you would do in a given situation); instead recruiters use competency-based questions because past performance is an excellent indicator of how you will perform in the future.

A competency-based interview scores your answer based on what the recruiter understood you to have said.  The clearer and closer your answer matches their role’s requirements, the better you are likely to score. This makes giving a clear and comprehensive answer essential if you want to improve your chances of securing the role!

You’ll want to think about your responsibility in answering competency-based questions in a similar way to that of the job the director/author took when directing/writing your favourite film or book. Films and books have a structure, in very simple terms both have a beginning, middle and end, with each chapter responsible for adding something to the overall storyline – miss part of the story and your opinion of the film might not be as good.

It’s the same in an interview, you need to lead the recruiter(s) through your example in a disciplined manner, one that enables them to understand the key plot points for example: –

  • Introducing the main characters
  • When and where the story is set
  • What needed to be done
  • And all the other elements that we’ll discuss now

There is a well-established technique used to help structure your example answer(s) which is referred to as the STAR technique.

STAR has 4 elements which are: –

  • Situation – here you are setting the scene and introducing the recruiter to your story. This includes covering when your answer was set in time, where you were and what was happening in your life, what was your role at the time, who else was involved, what had/has happened?
  • Task – What did you want to achieve, what was your aim?
  • Action – What steps did you take to work towards your aim? It’s important to focus on ‘YOUR’ contribution in your example. It’s not uncommon for candidates to use the word ‘WE’ which obscures their involvement – remember you should be one of the heroes of this story and therefore it’s important that your contribution is the focus of your story.
  • Results – Now is your chance to explain how your actions contributed to the overall achievement of the original aim, be specific about the difference made either to the business or customer.

You may get a follow-up question inviting you to reflect or evaluate your actions and results based on what you have learnt. This adds to ‘STAR’ to make ‘STARR’ (Reflection) or ‘STARE’ (Evaluation). The key here is to think about what you might do differently with the benefit of hindsight as this demonstrates a growth mindset and the ability to reflect and evaluate your work, learning from experiences faced.

Imagine trying to give one of more examples without first preparing them, trying to think of answers on the spot would make the interview far more difficult than it might otherwise be. Many organisations that use competency-based questions will often send them to candidates in advance. However even if they do not it’s worth thinking about the types of questions you might face given the sector the business operates in. For example, if applying for a role in customer service you should think about questions relating to handling difficult conversations, overcoming problems and working as part of a team.

If you are preparing for a competency interview now and want to look at the types of questions that you might face it might be helpful to look at Glassdoor who outline the questions other candidates have faced when applying for roles.

If you are unemployed and looking for support feel free to contact us for an informal chat to find out how we can help.