Competency-based interviews: What you need to know

Interviews can be nerve-wracking at the best of times…

But what happens when you arrive at the interview, feeling fully prepared, and the hiring manager decides to move the goalposts? You might be familiar with certain interview types, for example telephone interviews or group interviews, but have you ever heard of competency-based interviews?

Here’s a quick guide on what you need to know to ace the next competency-based interview that comes up:


What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview is meant to test exactly that: your competence. So, where some interviewers may be more interested in your experience or previous qualifications, what a competency-based interviewer really wants to know is whether you have the right skills to take the position on.


Why would an employer use a competency-based interview?

Often they are used when previous experience in an industry is not seen as essential, for example an entry-level or graduate position.

They may also be used to practically test how candidates would react in given situations. So rather than concerning themselves with past achievements, they place emphasis on predicting how an individual would behave in a certain scenario.

The tasks could range from oral and written communication to planning, organisation and problem-solving.


What are key competencies?

Skills that employers look for when recruiting. Some key competencies include:

  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Communication skills
  • Decision making
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Organisation
  • Goal orientation


Competency based questions and answers

Although the type of question you are asked will depend entirely upon the role and industry you’re applying for, there are some common themes which run through competency-based interview questions.

Some examples include:

Tell me a time when…

Can you think of an example of how/when…

Describe a way in which you…

Essentially, what the interviewer is looking for are practical examples of some key competencies, i.e. ‘describe a way in which you demonstrated excellent leadership’.

Your examples can be from a previous job, they could draw from your education or even relate to an extra-curricular pastime, such as sports teams or groups you may be a part of.

Five key competency questions: revealed


How to answer competency-based interview questions

Firstly, pick out some of the key competencies stated in the job description and think of some examples for each one.

If they’re looking for someone with excellent teamwork and leadership skills, think of a scenario in which you’ve demonstrated this. As well as workplace situations, consider, for example, a group presentation you’ve undertaken at school, a university society you were a member of, or even being captain of your five-a-side football team.


What is the STAR approach?

If you’re not used to answering competency-based interview questions, the STAR model is a useful way of communicating key points clearly and concisely.

Once you’ve identified the ‘Situation’, ‘Task’, ‘Action’ or ‘Result’, formulate it into a short key point, making sure you include how you achieved the result and how your actions addressed the initial situation and task.

A simple answer, using the situation above, would be:

‘I demonstrated my teamwork and leadership abilities when I headed up a group proposal in front of some key clients. We were asked to give a one hour presentation about how we could improve their hiring practices. After extensive competitor research and market trend analysis, we were able to put a competitive price together and present the features and benefits within the allotted hour. We went on to win the business’.

Top tips for competency-based interviews

Here are our top tips for competency-based interviews:

  • Before you arrive at the interview, pick out the key skills highlighted in the job description.
  • For each one, have a pre-prepared example of how you’ve displayed that attribute.
  • Use a wide variety of examples where possible, including during school or higher education, any previous employment or work experience, and in your daily life in general.
  • Don’t lie. They will ask you questions about the subject, and any embellishments you’ve made will be quickly found out.
  • Don’t try and think on your feet. For reasons, see directly above.

The worst thing you can do at an interview? 

OK, so out of all the classic interview nightmares, which are the ones that really worry jobseekers the most?

We spoke to a group of university students to find out – and see if recruiters actually agree…



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2 comments on “Competency-based interviews: What you need to know

  1. Sean Durrant - April 9, 2018 at 15:11

    Competency based interview questions can sometimes be tricky.

    It’s a good idea to prepare.

  2. xerox o - April 15, 2020 at 18:03

    If during an interview, they begin to pummel you with lots of questions, It is likely you will not be hired,or the salary is poor. People who really want to recruit and know what they are doing will know they will hire you ,or move you to the next level – max 10 mins into the interview and the pay is usually good .The reason is that they know what they are looking for and when you strike that cord, they will swiftly make up their mind as time is precious to them. The interview atmosphere is usually relaxed,comfortable and polite,but incisive .