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.

If you have never done a competency-based interview before, then the thought of doing one now can be horrifying. While it differs slightly in the approach it takes regarding the interview questions, it isn’t that much different to a standard type of interview.

You still need to approach it the same way: study the background of the organisation, 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 an interview that is used to test your knowledge and your skills in a particular job area. When an interviewer asks the candidate a competency question, they are trying to establish if you have the relevant experience for 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 called for this type of interview, you still need to prepare for it like you would a standard interview. However it differs slightly in the approach that you would 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 these 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

List of Common Areas You Will Be Asked a Competency Questions On

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

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

The wording used to describe these competency areas can be phrased slightly different for each organisation but they all usually relate to the same competency.

Types of Competency Questions You Could Be Asked

Different industries will have different ways of phrasing their questions depending on what type of role it is that you have applied for. 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 Organisations
Describe a situation where you had to complete a task with very little resources or support to achieve an objective.

Teamwork Skills
Can you describe a work situation 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 method stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. When you are preparing an answer for a competency question you need to use this method. You will find that using the STAR method makes it a lot easier for you to prepare an answer in advance for a question.

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 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

If you are asked about the competency, communication and interpersonal skills, then you need to have two or three examples ready of how you have used this skill in your jobs.

Anyone who has ever worked in a job uses this skill every day but the key is finding a practical example to give to the interviewer.

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 instance, say you work in the reception of a dental surgery, then each day you are greeting the clients and company reps. Your duties might include making appointments in person and over the phone, following up with clients about upcoming appointments, ordering supplies and generally answering the phone and office emails.


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 in an interview, try not to answer a question like a robot. Your answer needs to appear natural and you need to speak to the interviewer like you would if you were talking to another professional.

Remember to breathe while you are answering an interview question. Also 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 during your answers. This gives you enough time to catch your breath and also allows a gap to exist between your sentences. You need to learn to reply to an interview question with an answer that does not sound like a rambling monologue.

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.


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.


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 content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Sp Greaney


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.

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