How to improve your answers to competency questions

How to improve your answers to competency questions

  1. Understand competency interviewing:
    • It is one of the most common types of interviewing.  Some companies base their recruitment solely on competency interviewing. Many others integrate competency questions within their interview.
    • The questions ask for an example of a time when you demonstrated a particular skill (competency) in the past e.g. “Please give an example of a time when you worked in a team situation to solve a complex problem”. Evidence of past performance is a good indicator of future performance.
    • There are common compentencies that many employers look for. See Targetjobs:Competency-based interviews for a list.
    • Employers usually make it clear in their job advert/job description which compentencies they are looking for - and which they are likely to ask about at interview.

  2. Use specific examples.
    Try to avoid talking generally (e.g. using phrases such as “In teams I usually…”). It is important to use examples of specific occasions or situations.

  3. Think about challenging examples.
    You are likely to have many examples of team working and problem solving. The best answers usually involve situations which were particularly challenging and in which you played a significant role in overcoming the challenge.

  4. Use a range of examples.
    You can use examples from any part of your life e.g. University, work, hobbies and interests. It is fine to use the same situation as evidence for more than one skill, but it is a good idea to demonstrate a range of examples if possible.

  5. Use a standard format.
    Use the STAR technique to formulate your answer:
    • Situation
    • Task/Challenge
    • Action
    • Result

      This helps you to keep your answer specific and to provide the detail that the interviewer is looking for.

  6. Know what they’re looking for
    Some organisations publicise their competency framework, e.g. the Civil Service, which demonstrates the types of behaviours they’re looking for in the answers to these questions.

  7. Keep your answer concise.
    When using the STAR technique people often focus too much on describing the situation.  Instead, try to summarise the situation and focus on the Action part as this is where you can best demonstrate the behaviours that they are looking for.

  8. Prepare.
    It can be difficult to think of examples when you’re in the interview. If you know the competencies the organisation is looking for, prepare your examples in advance. If you don’t, look at the common competencies (see Targetjobs:Competency-based interviews for a list) that most companies look for.

  9. Practise.
    Search online for example questions relating to that competency and practise tailoring your examples to answer these questions.