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Competency Based Interview

Competency Based Interview

For more detailed information about competency-based interviews, including a list of potential competency questions, click here.

Preparing for a competency-based interview

The world of interviewing appears to be getting ever-more complex. From skype calls to assessment centres, formal versus informal, and with a breadth of new technology added into the mix, each interview can have its own unique format. Long gone are the days when you could simply rock up in your best suit with a freshly printed copy of your CV and hope for the best.

But amongst all the myriad ways to interact with potential new employers, the competency-based interview is arguably the least well understood. 

What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview is designed to allow a candidate to demonstrate their experience in a core competency (skill) relevant to the role at hand. The questions are based on the idea of telling a specific anecdote from your career that demonstrates your skills in an area. These questions often begin with “Can you tell us about a time...” as they are inviting you to provide evidence rather than make a statement.  In reality though, even a closed question such as “Have you been a manager before?” should be answered in the same way, allowing you to provide a full answer that demonstrates your skills rather than just a yes or no answer.

How do you answer a Competency-based question?

The easiest way to plan your answer is to tell the interviewer a specific story relevant to their question. This story should highlight your own experience relevant to the area the competency they are questioning you about. A popular approach for doing this is the STAR METHOD:

Situation – setting the scene and background as relevant to your example

Task – explaining what you were required to do

Actions – a step by step of what you did to overcome this task /issue/problem

Results- what the outcome was. 

Example of how to answer a Competency-based question

One of the most difficult types of competency-based questions are ones that, on the face of it, seem negative. An example of this would be “Can you give me an example of a time that you did not hit the projected target date for a project you were working on."

The key to these questions is to acknowledge the negative situation and to demonstrate how you utilised your skills and experience to turn this around. In short, there should always be a happy ending.

To use the question above as an example, at first glance looks like you are being asked to tell a story about a time you didn’t perform to your highest levels- not exactly what you want to highlight when you are trying to get a new job! But actually, this is asking you to show problem-solving ability, creativity, tenacity and determination. Here is an example answer;

S- “During my time with Company A I was tasked as team leader to work on the implementation of new software that had been purchased by the organisation. Company A had invested over £2m in this new CRM and had a strict deadline for seeing a return on investment for this large outlay.  The team I was managing consisted of a process analyst whose role was to work closely with the business to identify the sticking points where this CRM would change in the way the individual teams completed their day to day activities.  It was within the completion of this that a roadblock occurred.

T- The task I had asked the process analyst to focus on was the interaction between finance and the customer service team on the production of invoices and returns. Customer satisfaction surveys had clearly shown that there was a disconnect between the two teams, leading to high levels of customer dissatisfaction when requesting a return and therefore a refund. The MD had made it clear that this was one of the clear deliverables to be fixed by the new CRM system, and had set a deadline of May 2014 for this fix to be implemented.  Upon returning the process documents the process analyst returned a recommendation that this deadline would not be possible. She suggested that the time for training, a lack of belief in the new process, and a lack of desire from the individual departments would cause this delay, alongside some practical requirements for the business to change their financial software to interact better with the new CRM. This initially looked like a major problem.

A- I began by breaking the problem down into several key segments. I believed that the issues I needed to address were:

  • How do I get the software to interact with the new CRM?
  • How do I get the individual departments to buy into the new CRM?
  • How do I get them up to speed with the new system ASAP?

Once I prioritised the tasks I began by contacting the CRM providers, our own Head of IT, and the finance system providers. I gave them an overview of the problem and organised a conference call to allow the three critical stakeholders to communicate. They duly worked together to deliver a scenario where the eventual fix could be in place a week ahead of schedule.

Whilst this was ongoing I began to organise a roadshow, the purpose of which was to show the individual departments the benefits of the new system. I wrote a presentation based on the features and benefits of the system, both as an overview for the whole organisation and then for each individual departments’ role. I stressed the investment this had involved and the practical examples of how it would make their lives easier. At the end, I allowed time for questions where they could air their concerns. This worked very well and give me the opportunity to deal with any concerns before the system was implemented.  Some highly relevant points were made, and some minor changes were made to how the system would be used, resulting in wider engagement. After this process, I sent out an anonymous Survey Monkey survey asking for feedback on the roadshow for a view of the new system in terms of a positivity score and the impact on the business. This came back with an 80% approval rate

Finally, alongside the training team from our IT department, I organised a series of training sessions. I also put in place a range of differing training schemes designed to aid each individual department in constant upskilling.

R- The results of these actions were very positive. Despite the initial negative feedback the system went online, fully integrated on the day it was due to, and each individual further milestone was hit. A later decision to involve the departments in the ongoing improvement of the system worked very well also, having spread out from the initial roadshows I conducted to address our cultural lack of desire to change. The MD conducted my yearly appraisal that year and gave me a 96% satisfaction with for project’s delivery and commended it in the further notes.

Please note the use of specifics throughout. The interviewer is not looking for what your team did - they are looking for you to demonstrate the core requirements of the role. They also need specific details and facts about the tasks and outcomes. This serves to make you more focussed and detail orientated while adding the colour that keeps the interviewer engaged.

How to prepare for a competency-based interview

Hopefully, you will have a job specification that will provide you with some clues for the key characteristics and areas that the role involves. It's also a great idea to have an in-depth chat about it with your recruitment specialists - they will know the culture of the organisation and will have a good idea of what is important to them. Armed with that knowledge, make sure you allow yourself time to think about the job. Take your CV and think about the different roles you have completed, the challenges, projects and events you have been involved in, and start writing out some examples you want to use following the STAR method. It's a good idea to practice these - your Eden Scott recruiter will be delighted to help you with this and provide input/ feedback.

Hopefully, this has removed some of the mystique and fear surrounding competency-based interviews. Far from being something to fear, they’re actually a great, focussed, targeted way to demonstrate your successes. You can show employers that you take a challenge or problem head-on and utilise your skill and ingenuity to solve them. Interviews can be stressful, so having a firm grip on how to really demonstrate why you are the best person for the job can put you miles ahead of the competition.

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