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Your Guide To Answering Competency Based Interview Questions

competency based questions

Job interviews can be nerve wracking experiences, so it pays to be in the know about the types of questions that you may be asked. Competency based interview questions are designed to test your background and experience to see if you’re a good fit for the role in question.

If you have applied for a job, it’s a good idea to go prepared with answers for likely competency based questions that you may be asked. The employer will use them to gauge your response to how you have acted in the past for scenarios that are relevant to the new role you’re interviewing for.

Read on for insight on how to answer these types of questions well.

What Is A Competency-Based Interview Question?

A competency-based interview is designed to assess how you handled challenges and situations in your previous roles. An interviewer may ask how you demonstrated various skills and behaviours when faced with day-to-day or difficult situations.

For example, “Tell me how you have managed a difficult customer in the past”.

These questions tend to begin with prompts like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…” The aim is to get a clear overview and evaluation of the competencies necessary for success in the desired position you are applying for, such as teamwork, decision-making, communication, problem-solving, leadership, time management, flexibility, creativity, integrity, or even trustworthiness.

This interview format is usually referred to as a behavioural or criterion-based interview.

The idea behind this interview technique is that by assessing your past behaviour, these questions provide a cue into how you will most likely behave in the future.

Types Of Competencies

When getting ready for a competency-based interview, start by understanding the key skills that the interviewer might be looking for. You can get a good idea of this information from the job description itself.

For example, a customer service role is going to need empathy, patience and good people skills. It’s a good idea to think of examples you could use before your interview so that you’re prepped and ready to go, rather than thinking on your feet in the heat of the moment!

If you can demonstrate you possess the right skills for the role, then you’re likely to put yourself in a good position.

There are usually three types of competency that interviewers will be keeping an eye out for;: technical, functional, and behavioural.

Technical Competencies

Technical competency is assessing whether you have specific knowledge or skills that are needed for the job. For example, if you’re applying to be a Nurse, you will need a nursing degree or if you’re applying for an accountant position, you will need to have passed your accountancy exams and be qualified to act in this position. If you’re applying for an interpreter role, you will need to be fluent in several languages.

Examples of questions to assess technical competency:

  1. What software would you use to create a report demonstrating the team’s performance against KPIs?
  2. How would you approach solving a complex mathematical problem?
  3. What treatment plan would you issue to someone suffering from anxiety.

Functional Competencies

Functional competencies are quite different from technical competencies as they involve behaviours rather than skills or knowledge necessary to carry out job-related tasks effectively.

For example, if you’re seeking a position as a salesperson, having robust communication and negotiation skills is crucial.If you’re looking to secure a mentoring role, you would need excellent listening and empathy skills as well as the ability to coach others.

Examples of questions for assessing technical behaviour competence:

  1. Describe a situation where you used your communication skills to influence someone.
  2. Share the methods you use to stay organised and manage your time effectively.
  3. Can you provide an example of a challenging situation at work and how you successfully coped with it?

Behavioural Competencies

Behavioural competencies are the personal qualities that you demonstrate. FOr example, in a management role, you would need to demonstrate clear leadership and problem solving skills. These skills are sometimes tested by interview activities, particular in group settings, but can also be assessed by asking the type of questions outlined above.

Examples of questions for assessing behaviour competencies

  1. Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer.
  2. Give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
  3. Describe a time when you made a mistake at work and how you dealt with it.

How To Answer Competency Based Interview Questions

When responding to competency-based interview questions, there are a few crucial points to bear in mind.

  • Firstly, ensure you comprehend the question. Competency-based interview questions are often lengthy and intricate, so it’s vital to listen carefully so you can pick out the key points that you need to address. If you’re uncertain about the question being asked, you can ask the interviewer to repeat the question or clarify what they mean.
  • Don’t be afraid to take your time with a response. If your mind has gone blank, don’t panic – you can always tell the interviewer that you will need to take a second to gather your thoughts. They will appreciate your honesty in these situations over making up a garbled response!
  • If you find yourself needing a bit more time, consider repeating the question back to the interviewer. For example, if they ask about a challenging situation you’ve dealt with, you can repeat, ‘You have asked me to talk about a time when I dealt with a challenging situation.’ This simple repetition can buy you a few extra seconds to formulate your response.

Techniques For Answering Well

When responding to the question, be sure to offer a specific example. Vague responses won’t make a strong impression on the interviewer. Competency-based questions can sometimes lead you to veering off topic or providing excessive detail about the situation. It’s necessary to stay focused as they are keen to hear about a particular situation you’ve experienced to assess your competency.

When you are in front of an interviewer and you want to answer those competency-based questions, take a deep breath.

An easy guide known as the STAR technique will help you to shape your response.

STAR technique simply means situation, task, action, result. They are basically tools that will improve the way you process and address the questions.

  • Situation: Offer the interviewer context by describing the situation.
  • Task: Clarify what was required for you to do.
  • Action: Elaborate on the specific actions you took.
  • Result: Conclude with the end result, ensuring it portrays you positively, even if the overall project faces challenges.

For instance, if asked about a time when you had to use your communication skills to influence someone, you might say:

“I once found myself in a situation where I needed to convince my team leader to change our approach. The task was to persuade them to see my perspective and agree to the change. I took action by clearly explaining my reasoning and supporting it with evidence. Ultimately, they agreed to the change, and we were able to improve the process.”

By employing the STAR technique, you’re providing a concrete example of using your communication skills to influence someone, offering the interviewer valuable insights into your competency.

The best way to end your answer is to finish with the positive results that the situation produced. This shows that you accomplished something and ends on a positive note. In the example provided earlier, the result was successfully convincing your team leader and enhancing the process.

How To Prepare For A Competency Based Interview

Preparing for a competency based interview is less daunting than it may first appear. Here are some simple tips to prepare well:

  • Get acquainted with frequently asked competency-based interview questions – do a quick internet search for ideas and prompts.
  • Dedicate some time to reflect on your own experiences and pinpoint instances where you’ve applied competencies relevant to the role you’re seeking.
  • Having specific examples ready for your interview is crucial, so don’t overlook this essential step. Writing them down on some cue cards can be helpful as you can refresh your mind just before the interview kicks off.

1. Prepare in advance

To do well, prepare ahead of time. This is by far the most effective way to go about the interview. Get to know the common competency-based interview questions and reflect on your own experiences. This way, you can provide specific examples during your interview, which will impress the interviewer.

2. Use the STAR technique

When answering, employ the STAR technique: ‘situation,’ ‘task,’ ‘action,’ and ‘result.’ The STAR technique helps you present your strengths in a competency-based interview. When preparing, refine your approach by sharing a work situation, explaining your task, describing your action, and detailing the result. The interviewer wants to know about a specific situation, the task you had to do, the actions you took, and the result of those actions.

3. Focus on the positive

In a competency-based interview, concentrate on the positives. This can be tangible results achieved. The interviewer is interested in hearing about instances when you’ve successfully used relevant competencies, so even if you’ve faced challenges, try to present them in a positive manner.

4. Be confident

Lastly, be confident in your answers. If you lack confidence, it will be challenging to convince the interviewer of your relevant skills. Take a deep breath and believe in yourself and your preparation.

How Long Do Competency Interviews Last?

Competency interviews usually take 30 to 60 minutes, but it can vary depending on the company and job.

During the interview, they’ll ask you questions to see if you’re a good fit for the job. They might also ask about why you want the job and also inquire about your future plans.

Usually, a group of two or three people will conduct the interview, and you can ask them questions too.

Every interview will vary, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The best thing to do is to ask the person who confirms your interview with you what format it will take and how long you should allow for it.

How Do I Know If My Competency Interview Went Well?

To gauge the success of your competency interview, pay attention to subtle reactions, responses, and the overall atmosphere during the interview.

You can generally tell if someone is engaged and happy with the responses that you’re giving. Look out for smiling, well done, and nodding as clear giveaways that the interview is going well. Another great sign is if the interviewer asks about your availability for follow up calls, meetings, or start dates.

Body language such as making eye contact while you speak, whether the panel seems interested or distracted, whether they ask you any follow up questions after you have shared insight with them – these are all good giveaways that can give you an indication of when things have gone well.

Self reflection is also valuable here. If you know that you prepared well and answered questions fully and confidently, then you can generally feel like you did a good job.

Of course, the ultimate confirmation of your interview’s success comes with the results. If you get the job, congratulations! If not, you’ll likely receive feedback to help you improve for the next opportunity.

Can You Take Notes Into A Competency-Based Interview?

Most companies are comfortable with candidates bringing notes to interviews, viewing it as a sign of preparation and seriousness. Be cautious though, as if you’re constantly looking at your notes, it may come across as being reliant on them and unable to respond to the questions posed in the moment.

If you bring notes, feel free to acknowledge this in the appointment. Something along the lines of ‘I’m just going to consult my notes so I can give you the best example’ is a great way of showing that you’ve prepared and are using the notes to help them hear what they want to, rather than you needing them.

If using notes, keep them brief. You will want to be able to pick out key words and phrases to jog your mind in the moment, and not scan through pages of long form text!

Try to keep notes on paper rather than on your phone as phones can be distracting and look a bit unprofessional to keep checking your phone, especially if notifications keep going off or it vibrates on the table.

Final Thoughts

Mastering competency questions in interviews is a great skill to have when you’re in the job market. Being able to present a great example to a relevant question is a sure fire way to position yourself positively when in front of an interviewing panel that is deciding if you’re a good fit for a job or not.

Always take time to figure out the type of competencies the job will entail and then match up your past experience to present useful examples of how you possess the skills and attributes needed.



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