Competency-based interview questions and responses

Competency-based interview questions and responses

Competency-based interview questions focus on the skills and experience you have developed. Many people find competency questions confusing and difficult to answer. In the following article, I have cherry-picked some guidance to help you successfully prepare for your next interview and land your dream job.

What should I expect?

You would probably agree that interviews can be stressful. We feel slightly vulnerable and fear being rejected. In a competency interview, your interviewers will ask you a number of questions to find out if your skills and experience align with those required for the job. Although you may find interviews a challenge, preparation could help to come across more relaxed and confident.

What questions can they ask me?

Some of the most common competencies employers seek include communication, problem-solving, teamwork, organisation, flexibility and leadership. When you prepare for your interview, you will need to read the job description carefully to find out about the competencies you may be asked to discuss. Some of the most common questions you may come across include:

  • Can you think of a time when you have worked under pressure?
  • Describe to me a situation when you have demonstrated excellent communication skills.
  • Can you share an example of when you have positively influenced a team?
  • Describe a way in which you organise your tasks.
  • Can you give us an example of when you have handled a complaint?
  • Could you talk us through a situation when you had to develop a solution to a complex challenge?
  • Please tell us about your ability to initiate change. 
  • Why do you want this job?

How to answer the questions?

Using the STARE (Situation, Task, Action, Result, Evaluation) framework to structure your answers is a brilliant way to structure and communicate your answers.

Situation – Describe the situation or the challenge you needed to handle. You need to focus on key details and avoid going into too much unnecessary detail. E.g. ‘The department received a complaint from a key customer who felt disappointed by the service they had experienced.’

Task – Explain specifically the task you needed to accomplish. E.g. ‘My manager asked me to contact the customer as a matter of priority and resolve the complaint.’

Action - Explain what specifically you have done to improve the situation or initiate some change. Also, remember to explain why you have taken these actions. E.g. ‘Before making the call, I took a few minutes to familiarise myself with the nature of the complaint and to come up with possible solutions for the customer. When I talked to them on the phone, I listened carefully to their complaint without interrupting. Then, I offered them a couple of options to resolve the situation and let them decide how they wanted to progress.’

Result – Share the results of your action. E.g. ‘As a result of our conversation, I was able to clear up some communication issues. They have withdrawn their complaint and they were happy to remain with our company as customers.’

Evaluation – This part of the framework is for looking at what you would have done differently or better if you faced the same situation again. E.g. ‘If I was in the same situation again, I would jot down some of my thoughts before the call, as opposed to trying to hold everything in my head. Putting things to paper would have helped me to be even more focused on the conversation.’

What are some of the common mistakes?

Many people go into far too much detail when describing their experiences. They start sharing elaborate stories about challenges they have solved and include more than one situation for each competency. They may use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ when responding to questions. Using the first person ’I’ is helpful because you are able to clarify what your role was in the situation.

Sarah has recently approached me to practice some competency interviews. She has been trying to apply for some administrative management jobs within Higher Education with no success. In our mock interview practice, Sarah has given broad and slightly generalised answers. She would explain how she would deal with conflicts within her team however she has not given any specific examples from the recent past. I suggested that she collects one specific and convincing example for each competency. Sarah decided to write down her examples as she was able to remember them more easily.

Practice makes perfect. However, do make sure that you avoid giving over-rehearsed responses. It is useful to prepare examples in advance however it is best to remain flexible. An interview is a conversation that helps your employers to find out more about you. It is also an opportunity for you to learn about the organisation and see whether you would like to be part of them.

Interviews are stressful experiences for most of us. When we feel under pressure, many of us forget to answer the questions. Practising with a friend or a colleague can be a good option as you will be able to polish your interview skills and manage your nerves better.

What are your most important top tips?

#Research online: Prior to your interview, do take some time to explore the company’s website. You might find it helpful to explore some customer reviews as well as some available reviews from employees. Try to brainstorm some challenges they may be facing as well as opportunities for development. Do identify their direct competitors and key trends in the industry.

#Revisit your CV and application form: Do remember to look at your application files and highlight the most relevant skills that could help you stand out from the crowd. Ask yourself: ‘Why should they specifically hire me?’

#Ask for clarification and time:  If you do not clearly understand the question, do not be afraid to ask your interviewers to repeat it. It is best to ask for a few moments to think about the answer when you are not sure how to respond. You could say the following: ‘May I please take a second to think about this question?’

My very best wishes for your next competency-based interview!

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