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How to prepare for and answer competency-based interview questions

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 21 Sep 2020

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Competency questions are very popular with employers during job interviews. These type of questions are often asked to examine whether you are a good fit for the role they are offering. They are used to find out more about you, your personal experiences in the workplace and whether your skills would be a good match or not. Competency based questions are often worded in a certain way. They might begin with phrases such as ‘Give an example of a time...’ or ‘Talk me through a situation when...’. Being unprepared for these questions can leave you feeling like you’ve been put on the spot. However, with the right preparation, hopefully they will no longer take you by surprise. We have some tips and advice on how you might want to prepare for and answer these questions!

Why are these questions important?

Interviews are not the only place you might be asked these questions. Some employers ask similar ones on their application forms and sometimes even on a recruiter page before you submit the application! They can be a bit frustrating and seem like they’re trying to catch you out, but they are asked for a good reason.

They are looking for answers that share information about your experience, strengths and weaknesses, your technical skills and how you might behave in their working environment. The interviewer won’t be looking for quick answers, they want something a little more in depth. So, if you make a statement, back it up with evidence. Make sure you are giving examples and answering the question properly. It can be difficult to think of a situation if you are nervous and this is why preparation might be your answer!

What might they ask?

When interviewers ask these questions, they are looking out for key skills that they value at their company. These may include questions about but not limited to; leadership, teamwork, adaptability, flexibility and problem solving.

So, what type of questions can you expect?

  • Describe a situation where you led a team
  • Give an example of when you handled conflict in the workplace
  • Please explain a time when you didn’t manage to meet a deadline
  • Give an example of a time you solved a problem in a creative way

There are a huge variety of questions you might be asked, and the important thing is knowing how to go about answering them.

Use S.T.A.R

It can be easy to get caught up in a question and lose track of where you’re meant to be going with it, especially if nerves get the better of you. When answering a competency-based interview question, think about the S.T.A.R method.

Situation – Think of a situation relevant to the question they have asked you.

Task – What was the task in this situation? What did you do and what were your goals?

Action – This is your chance to shine. Think of what you did in this situation and make sure you are talking about what you did as an individual as well as what you may have done in a collective team. Discuss what steps you took and how you achieved your result.

Result – This is all about what you accomplished, the end result. What did you learn?

Whilst there is no way that you will know what questions will be asked in the interview, you can play around with some questions and some pre-prepared answers. It’s better to be prepared for a questions that you aren’t asked than being put on the spot and freezing because you’re not sure what to say.

Try and come up with 3-4 situations that you might be able to use for various questions. Think about what you did, how you did it and what you accomplished. That doesn’t sound so scary right? Try and prepare for the more typical questions like the ones mentioned above. Think about times when things maybe didn’t go your way as well as the positives. That way you are prepared for whatever is thrown your way.

Question example

Give me an example of a time where you had to lead a team – In my previous role, me and my team were working on our first project. This was my first experience leading a team and it was far from easy to begin with. We started off very well until we realised that there were some mistakes made in the planning process. We didn’t want to waste much time as we had a deadline to meet. So, we all collectively came together and worked it out piece by piece. We set out roles for everyone to have and in less time than we thought, the problem had been solved. We of course then had to carry out the production side of the project, which for my first lead, went positively well! We met our deadline and I was invited to lead another team on another project!

If you are prepared, these questions aren’t as scary as they may initially seem. Use them as an opportunity to talk about your great experience and give them a reason to hire you. If you do this, hopefully you’ll feel more confident in your interview.