How to answer competency based interview questions

Professional preparing for a competency based interview

As employers refine their recruitment processes to improve their ability to identify the best professionals, competency based questions are becoming increasingly popular in interviews. 

While these questions can be challenging, they also give professionals the opportunity to emphasise their accomplishments and valuable transferable skills at the interview stage. Ensuring that you effectively highlight your strengths is key to success.
 

1. Preparation

As with any interview, preparation is key. Prior to the interview identify examples of specific targets you’ve met or work you’ve done that relates to the job specification. The personal specification and key skills highlighted in the job description are good indicators of the type of questions that will be asked at the interview.

Many employers will want you to provide specific examples of past work and relate it to how you will transfer those skills and your experience into the new role.

"Employers want you to provide specific examples of past work and relate it to how you will transfer those skills and your experience into the new role," says Sally Martin, Associate Director at Robert Walters.

"Take the time to consider times you have excelled in previous roles and identify where you have demonstrated the skills the employer is looking for."

2. Rehearse your answers 

Answers to competency based questions need to be delivered in an articulate, detailed and structured way. Candidates must be able to talk the interviewer through their examples, explaining the process used to work through problems or hit targets.

Sally advises, “Many professional roles require excellent organisational and time management skills, along with the ability to handle multiple tasks efficiently and effectively. Think through how your examples highlight these three things to the interviewer before the interview, if your examples don’t highlight this that you may need for the job, try and pick a different example that will.”

3. Pay attention to the interviewer 

Reading clues given by the interviewer as to what they are looking for is key in a competency based interview. As you explain your examples, take note of whether the interviewer’s body language or behaviour is generating a positive response.

The strongest candidates are those who can adapt their answers and behaviours to what they know the interviewer is looking for and present them in ways that influence the interviewer. Take your cues from their level of formality to show that you are paying attention to the situation and positioning yourself in a way to help in whatever way you can. 

4. Try to anticipate questions before they are asked 

Having a good idea of what the interviewer will ask you is a key part of the preparation process. If you have considered the likely competency-based questions beforehand, you are less likely to be caught off guard and more prepared to give a great answer. 

Common competency based questions at an interview include:

  • Describe a time that you had to work to a tight deadline, while still managing your normal workload 
  • Give an example of a complex project or task and how you made sure to see the task through to the end
  • Can you describe an instance where you developed a strategy to stay organised and ensure you get all your work done under pressure?
  • Describe a time you had multiple projects on – how did you manage your time effectively and prioritise your tasks?

5. Be yourself 

“Although part of a competency based interview is selling yourself, you don’t want to come off as fake or insincere. Professionals can tell when someone is trying too hard to give the “correct” answer rather than a genuine one,” Sally continues.

Give relevant, honest and structured answers that showcase your experience while letting your personality shine through. Employers don’t want a textbook answer; they want to see the way that you interact and how you present your information. 

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