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What Is a Competency-Based Interview and How Do You Prepare for It?

I love to share advice and tips gleaned from my own experiences.

The thought of doing a competency-based interview for many people can be a little bit overwhelming. They differ slightly in the approach that the interviewer takes when asking interviewees the interview questions but they also allow you to show more of your experiences and skills compared to those of the regular interview based questions.

You still need to prepare for the interview in the same manner you would with a regular interview. So take time to study the background of the organization, look up the LinkedIn profile of current employees and basically prepare some answers for your interview questions. But once you have done that, then you are pretty much ready for the interview.

What Is a Competency-Based Interview?

A competency based interview is a type of interview that is used to test the interviewee’s knowledge and skill in a particular area of a job skill. When an interviewer asks the candidate a competency question, they are trying to establish if the candidate has the relevant work experience in their employment background to work in this job.

There are three things that the interviewer is trying to find out about you.

  1. Are you the correct person for this role?
  2. Will you be able to perform the daily tasks that are involved in this job?
  3. Have you carried out any similar tasks in previous jobs?

How to Prepare for a Competency-Based Interview

When you are preparing for this type of interview, you still need to prepare for it like you would any standard job interview. However since the interview questions will differs in the approach that they take, there are two things you need to do.

  1. You need to learn what the STAR approach is (see below).
  2. You need to sit down and list out every task that you have ever done in each of your previous jobs.

Once you have those two things done, then you can start preparing your answers.

How to prepare for a competency based interview

How to prepare for a competency based interview

Key Competency Areas That You Will Be Asked Questions In

Some of the key competencies areas that they like to test candidates on are:

  • Leadership Skills
  • Planning and Organizations Skills
  • Teamwork Skills
  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills
  • Evaluating and Problem Solving
  • Knowledge of the Job
  • Experience of the Role

The wording that can be used to describe or explain these specific competencies can be phrased slightly different for jobs within different organizations but they all usually relate to the same competency.

Types of Competency Questions You Could Be Asked

Competency questions will vary among industries. The way they phrase the questions and the way that you answer it will differ among jobs. The type of role that you are applying for will also dictate how you prepare an answer for a competency.

Here are some examples of how a competency question can be phrased.

Leadership Skills
Describe a time where you had to take on a position of authority and you had to motivate the team to complete a project under a deadline.

Planning and Organizations
Describe a situation where you had to complete a task with very little resources or support to achieve an objective.

Teamwork Skills
Describe a past work example where you had to work with a difficult team member who caused conflict in a project? What approach did you take to solve the situation?

Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Describe a time where you had to use your communication skills to solve a difficult task in your workplace.

Evaluation and Problem Solving
Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision and come up with a new plan in your role at XYZ Ltd.

Knowledge and Experience
Can you give me an example of how you would approach this task in this role? Do you think your role in XYX Ltd has prepared you for the tasks that are involved in this role?

Once you know what a competency is, then you can usually prepare an answer in advance for that competency.

How to Prepare an Answer for a Competency Question Using the STAR Method

The STAR acronym method stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. When you have a competency interview, the best method you can used to prepare your answer for possible competencies is the STAR method. You will find that the STAR method makes preparing an answer ahead of time a little bit easier and simpler.

Situation: This sets the scene and outlines where you were and what the issue was.
Task: This is the problem that you need to resolve.
Action: This will list what response you took or outline any actions that you had to implement to solve the problem outlined in the task.
Result: This will list the outcomes of the actions you took to solve the issue.

Example of How to Implement the Star Method

When you are asked in an interview about the competency relating to communication and interpersonal skills, then you need to have two or three work examples ready of times that you have used this skill in your past jobs.

This competency is used every day in the workplace by employees who probable don't realize that they are using it. This is one skill that some people have more experience in than others, especially if you work in customer relations roles. The key here is to find a good example that is practical and easy for you to remember.

If you deal with the general public by phone, email or in person, then you can give an example from this area. If you work as a cashier, then similarly you also have loads of experience in applying this skill.

Job Example

For example if a candidate works in a dental surgery reception, then every day they are greeting the clients and the company reps. Some of their duties might include making appointments with patients in person after their appointment or over the phone. They need to also follow up with patients to notify them about their upcoming dental appointment. Other duties could be ordering supplies and generally answering telephone phone calls and office emails.

Result

All of these tasks involve some form of communication and interpersonal skills. You have to be polite and friendly when someone attends the surgery as you are the first person they meet once they arrive.

You also need to adopt a friendly and professional telephone manner when communicating by telephone, email or letter with clients or suppliers. In all of these daily tasks you are using some form of communication.

Now you need to just whittle it down to a specific example of how you used this skill.

How to Answer a Competency Question in an Interview Setting

When you are preparing for an interview, prepare you answers in advance but study them prior to your interview so that you aren't answering the interview questions like a robot. You want your interview answers to appear natural and you need to speak to the interviewer like you would if you were talking to another professional about your job.

Remember to take a breath between answering questions. If you have a tendency to speak very fast when in an interview, then you need to learn to pause and count to five in your head between your answers. This gives you enough time to catch your breath and it also allows you a gap of time between your sentences.

It also gives you time to prepare what you will say next. You want your answers to be the appropriate answer to the interview question. You do not want to start rambling.

When you prepare answers in advance for your interview, they are really used as a supplementary tool to help you remember key points.

Sometimes you won't remember everything word for word and that is better as it comes across more natural. The whole point of preparing an answer in advance is that it forces you to look at your resume and it also forces you to remember what it is that you did in your previous jobs.

Conclusion

Preparing for any type of interview is only going to be stressful if you let it be. If you are given sufficient notice for an interview then try to take the time to do some preparation in advance.

It's very rare that you can walk into an interview without doing some kind of research beforehand.

The thing about competency interviews is that they allow you to actually show how suitable you are for a role. Sometimes it can be very difficult to get this across in a standard interview especially if the person doing the interview isn't very good at it.

However with a competency interview you usually have two interviewers who have divided the competencies out among them. The only additional thing they might ask you is to give an overview of the organisation structure and its mission statement.

Sources

A Brief Guide to Competencies (2016), Gov.uk https://www.gov.uk/guidance/a-brief-guide-to-competencies

Competencies for Interviews & Hiring, Gov.bc.ca https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/careers-myhr/all-employees/career-development/competencies-in-the-bc-public-service/interviews-hiring

Making the Most of Your Upcoming Interview, Department of Energy, https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/03/f9/Final%20Version%20of%20Interview%20Module.pdf

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Sp Greaney

Comments

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on September 11, 2020:

@Umesh Chandra Bhatt, thank you. Glad it was easy to follow.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 09, 2020:

Good points. Nice presentation.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on September 04, 2020:

@ Chitrangada Sharon, thank you. Yes, I hope it is. Preparation is the key to getting ahead in this type of one.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 04, 2020:

Great article, with useful tips and suggestions.

I am sure that it would be helpful to many, who have to appear in an interview.

Thanks for sharing this excellent information.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on September 03, 2020:

@Pamela Oglesby, thank you. Yes, it's the type of interview that you really need to have prepared for. But after the first one, the rest aren't as hard.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 03, 2020:

Sp, I think this article has a wealth of very good information. It certainly sounds like a good way to prepare for a compentency based interview and to be successful.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on September 02, 2020:

@Mary Norton, thank you. Yes, you are totally correct. From my personal experience, you really do need to do some preparation prior to the interview or you will end up flustered. Unlike a standard interview where you can sometimes walk in with less preparation.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 02, 2020:

This article is a very comprehensive help for those going in for their interviews. A neighbor of mine just mentioned how the interview her daughter was in went. Looks like some interviewers could be really difficult so this preparation is crucial.