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How to answer competency based interview questions

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Competency-based questions are used by interviewers to assess your specific skills and attributes. For example a hiring manager looking to understand more about your technical skills, may ask about different ways in which you used Microsoft Excel in a previous role. Alternatively, if it is your communication skills that they are looking to assess, they may ask you to provide information of a how you built strong professional rapport with colleagues to influence decisions.

While these questions may often seem to be situational (our article on how to answer situational questions is here), competency-based questions are far less likely to be hypothetical, enable you to draw directly on real-life examples and be focused on specific skills and competencies than a general approach to situations.

Again, as with situational job interview questions, before answering, you should take a moment to think about what the interviewer is really asking or looking for.

Example competency-based interview question 1:

“Tell me about a time when you were required to use your creativity to solve a problem.”

How to answer: Creative people are often able to think on their feet and come up with new solutions to problems that other members of their team would not have even thought of. Therefore here the interviewer will be looking for you to demonstrate how you approach problems. The STAR technique will be useful in helping you to structure your answer here and tell a story.

Example of a good answer: “I worked at a HR firm where one client was struggling to determine the causes of its high level of employee turnover. My manager asked me to undertake some data analysis to identify any trends or patterns indicating the likely causes. I ultimately devised an anonymous staff questionnaire that employees were able to complete online. We discovered from this that staff were concerned about the company having inadequate provision for their training and development. Many respondents also felt that it was difficult to talk to management. The client used these findings to make changes that helped to reduce their employee turnover by a third over the next six months.”

Example competency-based interview question 2:

“Tell me about a time when you supported a colleague who was struggling.”

How to answer: Again using the STAR technique, your response should demonstrate clearly your teamwork skills, empathy and how you applied these in helping a team member needing help – but also how this improved performance for the business, thereby benefiting its bottom line.

Example of a good answer: “A colleague who had only recently joined the team was having some difficulties with using reporting software. I offered to provide him with some ongoing training and support, and since then, he’s been using the software proficiently and helping our team to deliver brilliant results that have boosted company profits by a quarter in the last six months.”

Remember competencies are the skills & knowledge needed for the specific role so during your interview preparation double check the job description for the skills they are looking for and think of clear examples of when you’ve demonstrated these skills. Having examples to hand will enable you to answer these questions with great ease and allow you to really showcase your skills.

If you are looking for further advice on interview preparation and job hunting take a look at more career advice here

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