6 tips to tackle competency-based interview questions

In today's competitive job market, employers are looking for candidates who can not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. That's where competency based interviews come in.

7th Apr 2024

Competency based interviews (also known as structured or behavioural interviews) are designed to assess whether you have the right skills, experience, and behaviours for the role. They often start with phrases like:

  • Tell me about a time when...
  • Give me an example of...
  • Describe a situation where...

While competency based questions can be challenging, they're also an excellent opportunity to showcase your most impressive achievements and stand out from other candidates. In this blog, we'll show you how to master competency based interview questions and land your dream job.

Step 1: Know the key competencies

The first step is to understand what competencies the employer is looking for. Competencies are the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required for successful performance in a role.

Common competencies assessed in interviews include:

  • Communication 
  • Teamwork 
  • Leadership 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Time management 
  • Adaptability 
  • Creativity 
  • Resilience 

Before your interview, thoroughly review the job description and identify the key competencies required for the role. Look for clues in the language used, such as "strong communication skills," "ability to work independently," or "proven track record of delivering results."

Make a list of these competencies and brainstorm specific examples from your work history that demonstrate each one. The more closely you can align your examples to the job requirements, the more compelling and relevant your answers will be. 

Step 2: Use the STAR method

Now that you know what competencies to focus on, it's time to structure your answers. The STAR method is a tried-and-tested approach for answering competency based questions:

  • Situation: Set the context for your example. Where were you working? What was your role? 
  • Task: Describe the specific challenge or goal you were facing. What needed to be done? 
  • Action: Explain the steps you took to address the situation. How did you contribute? What skills did you use? 
  • Result: Share the outcome of your actions. What did you achieve? What did you learn? 

Using the STAR method means that you provide a well-rounded, detailed answer that clearly demonstrates your competency in action.

For example, if the question is "Tell me about a time when you had to persuade someone to your way of thinking," your STAR response might look like:

Situation: "In my previous role as a marketing manager, I believed that our company should invest in a new social media platform to reach younger audiences."

Task: "However, my director was skeptical and wanted to stick with our existing channels. My task was to convince her that this new platform was a worthwhile investment."

Action: "I gathered data on the platform's user demographics, engagement rates, and case studies of successful campaigns from other brands. I also created a detailed proposal outlining our strategy, budget, and projected ROI."

Result: "I presented my case to my director. She was impressed by my thorough research and strategic thinking, and ultimately gave the green light to test the new platform. The campaign was a huge success, resulting in a 25% increase in engagement and a 10% boost in sales from younger customers."

Step 3: Quantify your achievements

To make your competency based answers even more impactful, use numbers and metrics to quantify your achievements whenever possible.

Instead of just saying "I increased sales," say:

"I implemented a new lead generation strategy that increased sales by 30% quarter-over-quarter, contributing to the company's record-breaking revenue growth." 

Or instead of "I improved customer satisfaction," say:

"By redesigning our onboarding process and implementing a new customer feedback loop, I boosted our Net Promoter Score from 45 to 75 within 6 months, putting us in the top 5% of our industry for customer satisfaction." 

Adding these details gives the interviewer a better understanding of the impact you have made..

 Step 4: Prepare for common questions

While you can't predict every question you'll be asked, there are some common competency based questions that come up in many interviews. Here are a few examples to practice with:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to manage a heavy workload. How did you prioritise tasks?
  • Describe a situation where you had to work with a difficult colleague. How did you handle it? 
  • Give me an example of a complex problem you solved. What steps did you take? 
  • Tell me about a time you failed. What did you learn from the experience?
  • Describe a project you led from start to finish. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

For each question, brainstorm relevant examples and practice articulating your answers using the STAR method. The more you practise, the more confident and articulate you'll be in the actual interview.

While it may seem like a formality, asking about the next steps is actually crucial for several reasons. For one, it reaffirms your strong interest in moving forward with the role. It shows that you're eager to take the next steps and the interview isn’t just one of many you have lined up.

Step 5: Showcase your adaptability

In today's ever-changing work environment, adaptability is a highly sought-after competency. Employers want candidates who can learn from setbacks and adapt to change when needed.

When answering competency based questions, look for opportunities to showcase your adaptability. Share examples of times when you:

  • Learned a new skill or technology 
  • Took on a stretch assignment outside your comfort zone
  • Navigated a major change in your role or company 
  • Bounced back from a failure or mistake 
  • Found a creative solution to a problem 

By highlighting your adaptability, you show that you're not only competent in your current skills but also have the potential to grow and succeed in new challenges.

Step 6: Close with confidence 

Finally, remember that a competency based interview is a two-way conversation. While the interviewer is assessing your fit for the role, you're also assessing whether the company and role are right for you.

At the end of the interview, you'll usually have the opportunity to ask your own questions. Use this chance to learn more about the competencies that are most important for success in the role, the team culture, and opportunities for growth and development. 

Asking thoughtful, competency-related questions shows that you're engaged, proactive, and truly interested in the role. It also gives you valuable information to help you determine if the position aligns with your own career goals and values. You can read our ‘5 important questions to ask at the end of every job interview’ blog to learn more about what to ask. 

By closing the interview with confidence and curiosity, you'll leave a lasting positive impression on the interviewer.

You've got this!

Competency based interviews may seem daunting at first, but with the right preparation and mindset, you can use them to your advantage. By understanding the key competencies, using the STAR method, quantifying your achievements, preparing for common questions, showcasing your adaptability, and closing with confidence, you'll be well-equipped to ace your next interview and land the job of your dreams.