What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview can also be known as a structured, behavioural or situational interview. They will often feature some form of activity or task which will test a candidate’s ability to do what their CV and cover letter has said they can do, alongside situational-style questions aimed to find out how they have used specific skills to solve problems.

Asking competency questions helps you to tease out how a candidate will apply the skills and knowledge they’ve gained in their career in your organisation.

What answers should you be looking for from competency-based interview questions?

Jobseekers should recount real-life experiences when answering competency interview questions. They should identify the competencies you have highlighted in your question and provide specific, ideally measurable, examples of occasions they’ve used these skills.

How an interviewee structures an answer to competency questions can provide you with an excellent insight into how they approach their work. Answers to competency-based interview questions should use the STAR method, with candidate explanations comprising of the following:

  • Situation – A brief background to the scenario where they used the skills in question.

  • Task – What were they asked to do which required them to use these skills?

  • Action – How did they go about resolving the task/situation?

  • Result – What impact did their solution to the situation have?

You’re looking for jobseekers to structure their answers to competency interview questions in a manner mirroring this. Not only does this demonstrate that they have prepared for the interview, but also that they have clarity of thought when put under pressure.

The danger with competency-based interview questions is that candidates can prepare for them by using the job description to identify scenarios or skills you’re likely to ask them about. This can lead to them offering pre-prepared answers which provide less insight into how they think on their feet.

What is the importance of asking competency-based interview questions when hiring?

Asking competency questions allows you to immediately see how an interviewee would respond in work-related scenarios, removing some of the guesswork of whether the role is right for them.

You will also quickly ascertain how they use the skills and experience listed in their CV and cover letter.

What are the best competency-based interview questions to ask?

This list of competency questions encourages interviewees to use real-life examples in their answers. You get to understand how a candidate made a decision, and see the outcome of their actions.

Our top 10 competency-based interview questions will help you recruit the skills your team needs.

1. What are your greatest strengths?

This is a classic interview question, and with good reason.

It’s a chance for your candidate to prove they have the right skills for the role. Keep the job description in mind to see whether the interviewee understands how their skills relate to the role.

Remember you’re looking for transferable skills, not proof that they’ve done the role before.

2. What will your skills and ideas bring to this company?

This competency-based question is an opportunity to see which of your candidates stand out from the crowd.

A good interviewee will show an understanding of your company goals within their answer. A great candidate will offer practical examples of how their skills can help you achieve that vision.

3. What have you achieved elsewhere?

Confidence is key in this competency-based question. It gives your candidate an opportunity to talk about previous successes and experiences that relate to your vacancy.

Make sure the achievements you take away from their answers are work-related and relevant to what you’re looking for.

4. How have you improved in the last year?

Candidates can tie themselves up in knots trying to disguise their weaknesses. This competency-based interview question is a chance to show a willingness to learn from their mistakes.

It’s also an opportunity to test the interviewee’s level of self-awareness and desire to develop.

Competency-based interview questions ask for real-life examples to show a candidate’s skills.

5. Tell me about a time you supported a member of your team who was struggling

This competency-based question will test your candidate’s ability to show compassion towards their colleagues without losing sight of their own objectives.

Those further along in their career should be able to reference training or mentoring that not only helped their co-worker but also improved team performance.

6. Give an example of a time you’ve had to improvise to achieve your goal

In other words: “Can you think on your feet?” It is increasingly important to be able to react to unexpected situations.

The candidate’s answer should highlight their ability to keep their cool and perform in a scenario they haven’t prepared for.

7. What was the last big decision you had to make?

The answer to this question should be a window into your candidate’s decision-making process and whether their reasoning is appropriate for your role.

This is a competency-based question designed to highlight how an interviewee makes decisions. Do they use logical reasoning? Gut intuition? However they manage big decisions, does their approach match what you’re looking for?

8. Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult person

All candidates should be able to reference an experience of working with a challenging colleague. Look for them to approach this question with honesty and a clear example of working through the experience.

Rather than passing blame, there should be a recognition of the part they have played in the situation, and how they might tackle it differently next time.

It’s essential to get a sense of how candidates would fit and thrive within your company culture.

9. What was the last thing you taught?

You’ve asked the interviewee about their skills, but can they show a capability for teaching others about these skills?

This question isn’t restricted to managerial or senior roles, and should be asked whenever you’re looking for a candidate who will add value to your team.

10. Why are you a good fit for this company?

The key to this competency-based question is whether the candidate can explain how their transferable skills would fit your role. This tests both an awareness of their own abilities and an understanding of what you are looking for in a new employee.

The candidate should be able to confidently explain why they want to work for your company, and convince you that they would fit your team culture.

If you’re interested in learning more about interviews, please contact your local recruitment specialist.

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