Competency-Based Interviews: What You Need To Know

6 min

Getting a dream job is no easy walk nowadays as employers want to make sure their candidates are a perfect fit for the company's goals, level, and culture. For this purpose, HR interview strategies are getting more and more challenging to pass without proper preparation. One of the most popular types of interviews is competency-based, designed to get to know a candidate better and test their skills in practice. However, there is good news: all you need is a bit of homework and confidence. Keep reading to find out the main competency interview questions and the best ways to tackle them.

What is a competency-based interview

The main point of such interviews, which also may be called behavioral, structured, or situational, is to find out how the information about skills provided in the candidate's CV corresponds with their approach to work in reality. This usually gets tested through questions about the candidate's past experiences, accomplishments, failures, mistakes, and so on. Typically, hiring managers look for specific skills and personality traits, so they go for the questions that make a candidate tell true stories involving necessary experiences without describing them straightforwardly or in a "sell yourself" manner. The most common competencies tested in such interviews include the following:

  • teamwork and leadership skills;
  • problem-solving and conflict resolution;
  • industry awareness;
  • level of adaptiveness;
  • multitasking;
  • strategic thinking and planning skills;
  • interpersonal skills and communicability;
  • stress resistance.

How to prepare for a competency-based interview

Even though preparing for this kind of interview may appear to be the same as preparing for a lottery, the truth is that quality research and a bit of self-reflection is the key to success. Therefore, use the following guide to come to the competency-based interview feeling confident and prepared.

1. Analyze the job description

As for any interview, it is better to know what your target company is looking for in the candidates. However, what you want to do in this step is not only screen the job description but also look for hints on what the competency-based questions may look like. For example, if the job requirements include creative thinking, you may be asked to share a situation where you had to demonstrate this. So, your best strategy is to determine which skills are considered a top priority to the company.

2. Think about your experience

Now, being aware of possible question directions, try to tailor them to your career path. And before you jump into your memories, here are some tips to take into account:

  • If you have rich enough working experience, you can remain focused on it, but an entry-level candidate can talk about internships, volunteering, education, etc.
  • Don't prepare sample answers because you want to give yourself some wiggle room. Instead, highlight positive and negative illustrative turning points to have some reference in the interview. 
  • Keep in mind that competency-based interview questions aim to find out how you handle problems while increasing performance, so avoid long storytimes without drawing conclusions.

3. Use the STAR approach

After having collected all needed information, practice systemizing and summarizing your experience. One of the best techniques is STAR, an abbreviation for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. The STAR answer consists of the following elements:

  1. Describing a situation where you have demonstrated required skills;
  2. Outlining your specific task at that time;
  3. Talking about the actions that you took to achieve a certain goal or which have resulted in certain outcomes;
  4. Concluding with results: what happened in the end, and what were the lessons you took from that situation. Note: if you struggle with sharing the lessons, this may indicate that the example is not quite right for an interview.

These three steps will give you an idea of what you can bring to the interview, so we recommend practicing them in advance.

Possible competency-based interview questions and answers

Example #1

Question: Tell me about a conflict you had with your colleague. How have you handled it?

Answer: Actually, I didn't have a lot of major conflicts as I am usually cold-headed, but there was one time when I got into a serious disagreement with my colleague. It was a busy period for our team because we were preparing to make a big deal, but that colleague kept falling out of the working process. I tried to pretend nothing was happening, but our performance worried me greatly, so I confronted them in one of our team meetings. At first, I thought it was right because the team agreed with me, but then I found out that this person had severe health issues and was just about to take a break, approved by the HR department. I realized my mistake, but it was too late as they didn't want any dialogue with me. After a month of their break, I finally got a chance for a personal meeting and sincerely apologized. This situation taught me that some issues should be discussed privately for quality communication within the team, so I have improved my interpersonal skills. Besides, the team performance also went up.

Example #2

Question: Describe a situation when you took a risk.

Answer: I remember a period during the pandemic's beginning when our sales performance constantly decreased. Typically, we promoted our services by working with potential clients face to face, which was obviously impossible at the time. So, as a team leader, I had to develop a sales-increasing strategy. The only reasonable option was significantly upgrading our social media, so I convinced the budget team manager to double our expenses on SMM. It was challenging, as any financial experiment could result in a crisis, but I tried to show how this was a suitable solution for us. At first, the performance kept falling because the strategies were still yet to work, but in the next two months, we managed to stop the decrease, and in the next quarter, our sales jumped to the pre-COVID level.

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