Answering competency based interview questions

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Competency based questions are increasingly popular in interviews as they are the strongest tool an employer has to identify the best professionals for their business.

Competency based interview querstions are questions that require you to answer using real-life examples as the basis for your answer, drawing on specific examples and detailing what you did, how you did it and what the outcomes were, showing your decision making and reasoning.

Although they may be challenging, these questions offer you an opportunity to effectively highlight your key strengths during the interview process as you emphasis your accomplishments and valuable transferable skill set.

We explore some of the key tips that can aid you in best preparing to confidently answer competency based questions.

1. Be prepared

As with any interview, preparation is crucial. Ensure that prior to the interview you have identified examples of specific targets you’ve met or work you’ve done that relates to the job you are interviewing for. The personal specification and key skills desired that are highlighted in the job description are key indicators of the type of questions that may be asked during the interview.

"Employers are looking to see specific examples of work you have done in the past and how you will transfer the skills you gained into the new role," says Nic Sephton-Poultney, Country Manager at Robert Walters.

"Prepare key examples of when you have excelled in previously in tasks and identify where you have demonstrated the skills the employer is looking for."

2. Practice your responses 

When answering competency based questions, you need to be articulate, detailed and structured in your delivery. You must be able to talk the interviewer through your examples in depth, explaining the process used to work through problems or hit targets.

“Key skills that employers seek include excellent organisational and time management skills, along with the ability to handle multiple tasks efficiently and effectively," said Sephton-Poultney.

"Candidates should think of examples to highlight these things prior to the interview.”

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,” continued Sephton-Poultney.

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. 

Employers are looking to see specific examples of work you have done in the past and how you will transfer the skills you gained into the new role.

4. Anticipate the next question

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. 

Some common competency based questions you may be asked include:

  • Describe a time that you had to work to a tight deadline
  • Give an example of a complex project or task you worked on
  • Describe an instance where you developed a strategy to stay organised under pressure
  • Describe a time you had multiple projects on and how you managed your time effectively to prioritise 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,” said Sephton-Poultney.

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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