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Competency-based interviews

Answering Common Interview Questions

Competency interviewing is one of the most common types of recruitment.

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”.

Why do employers use competency questions?

Some companies will recruit solely using competency questions while others will incorporate some competency questions into an interview. Evidence of past performance is a good indicator of future performance.

Employers usually make it clear in their job advert/job description which competencies they are looking for - and which they are likely to ask about at interview.

Be specific

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.

When coming up with examples, think of situations where you were challenged. 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.

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.

The STAR technique

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. Avoid the trap of spending too long setting the scene of the situation and focus on the Action part of the answer as this is where you’ll demonstrate the behaviours they are looking for.

You can research what specific behaviours an organisation is looking for by checking their website. For example, the Civil Service publicise their competency framework.

Preparing your examples

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, prepare answers to common competencies .

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