Answering Competency Interview Questions

Answering Competency Interview Questions

It is very common for employers to ask competency-based questions at interview – indeed sometimes practically the entire interview will comprise questions asking you to describe how you have demonstrated a particular skill or dealt with a particular situation in the past.

Examples of competency-based questions might include:

  • Tell me about how you dealt with a difficult work colleague
  • Describe a time you worked as part of a team to achieve a common goal
  • Was there a time when your ideas were challenged?
  • Explain how you identified a new approach to a problem
  • Tell me about when you had to communicate complex technical information to others
  • Describe a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty at work and provided exceptional service
  • Tell me about a time when you learned from a mistake

When asked a question of this nature, pause briefly before responding. Your interviewer should appreciate that you will need a little time to think about what is your best example of a particular skill from your previous experience.

When answering competency questions, bear in mind the STAR mnemonic:

  • S – what was the Situation?
  • T – what was the Target you were hoping to achieve?
  • A – what Actions did you take?
  • R – what was the Result of your actions and what benefit did the company receive from them?

For example, when asked the question ‘Explain how you identified a new approach to a problem’, you might structure your reply as follows:

  • Situation – The company was concerned about the level of knowledge its staff had of a particular technical issue, and asked me to look at ways of addressing this
  • Target – To produce better trained staff who fully understood the issue in question and could explain it clearly to customers
  • Actions – I wrote a comprehensive training guide on the topic in question, drawing on my own experience of the issue; and devised a programme of training courses to give good practice examples of how staff should apply the guide when speaking with customers
  • Result – Once all actions had been carried out, the staff were fully trained on the topic and could clearly explain the concept when required

Before attending an interview, prepare your answers to some of the most common competency type questions. Consider what skills the job you are seeking requires (e.g. teamworking, leadership, communication, attention to detail) and try to tailor your answers so that you give examples of having demonstrated these skills in the past.

After any interview of this nature, consider the answers you gave to the competency questions. Whilst it is too late for the job in question, you can use this opportunity to prepare a better answer to the question should it be asked in a future interview.

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