How to answer competency based job interview questions main

How to answer competency-based job interview questions

What is a competency-based interview?

Competency-based interview questions are used by interviewers to assess specific attributes, knowledge and behaviours. For example, an interviewer will be looking to understand more about behaviours you display that would make you successful in the role by asking about different ways in which you used analytical abilities in a previous role to solve a problem.

Alternatively, if it is your decision making that they are looking to understand, they may ask you to provide information on how you made informed decisions to deal with a particular work situation.

While these questions will usually be situational, typical competency-based interview questions are far less likely to be hypothetical, enabling you to draw directly on real-life examples and focus on specific competencies.

Before answering these types of questions, take a moment to think about what the interviewer is really looking for. Read through the job description again and think about what competency-based interview questions will come from this.  

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. Use the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) to help you structure your answer and tell a story. You can read more about this technique more in our STAR method guide.

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 there being no training and development offered. 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 your teamwork and empathy and how you applied these to help your colleague – 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 help him with some ongoing training and support, and since then, he’s been using the software with skill and helping our team to deliver results that contributed to the increase in company profit.

Example competency-based interview question 3:

“Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership skills.

How to answer: For this question, your response should show that you encapsulate all the key elements that make a good leader. Things like empathy, time management, strategic thinking and great communication skills are all factors the interviewer will want to hear.

Example of a good answer: I was given a task by my manager where I held responsibility for meeting the required deadlines, managing external and internal stakeholders, and ensuring work was performed to a particular standard. By setting up an appropriate project management strategy, I was able to communicate effectively with all participants, and achieve a great outcome for the organisation by winning the continued business of multiple clients.

Other common competency-based interview questions

  • Tell us about a time you handled conflict at work. 
  • What has been your biggest achievement? 
  • Take us through a time where your communication skills helped solve a problem. 
  • What is a challenge you faced in the workplace and how did you overcome it? 
  • Explain a time where you were asked to do something that you'd never attempted, and what steps you took to do it. 

Remember competencies are the knowledge and behaviours needed for the specific role so during your interview preparation double check the job description for what they are looking for and think of examples of when you’ve demonstrated these competencies. Having examples ready to go will enable you to answer these questions with confidence.

FAQs on competency interview questions

How do you prepare for competency-based interview questions?

Read through the job description and think of past work experiences that align to what is listed on the job description. Having these scenarios ready to go will help you to answer competency-based questions that get thrown your way. For each scenario, make sure you’re able to go through the STAR method.

What are some of the top competencies?

Interviewers will select competencies from a wide range of options, but typically, they will usually ask questions surrounding communication skills, leadership, adaptability, problem solving, teamwork and resilience.

Behavioural questions are another type of question that you might be asked.

Looking for further advice on interview preparation and job hunting, download our Job Interview Guide or read more career advice on our website.

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