Competency Based Interview Questions
An essential aspect of any interview is the STAR method - click here to find out more.
Competency Based Interviewing is an interviewing technique based on the premise that past performance is an excellent indicator of future performance. Competency based questions are employed in order to make the interview process as standard and as fair as possible for each candidate. It is a technique which is being used increasingly in large organisations where many managers may be interviewing for the same type of position.
The word competency is widely used in business environments and refers to the skills that are necessary to achieve an effective performance level in the job. Every job will have a set of key competencies, some of which are essential and others desired, which are required to do the job properly.
Examples of core competencies required in many jobs are:
Planning and Organising
Analytical and/or Strategic Thinking
In preparation for a Competency Based Interview the experienced interviewer will draw up a list of questions relating to each competency and all directed towards discovering if you have those skills necessary for the job. The interview is structured in such a way that you will be probed for information in support of the role's key competencies. As such, the questions will follow the format of "Can you give me an example of a time when...."
COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
You will be asked to give an example of a situation or task which led you to take a certain course of action. Probing questions will then be used to determine the suitability of the course of action you took, what effect it had, and its effect on others.
Usually the interviewer will have pre-planned questions to ask you. For each of these questions they will ask for real-life evidence and examples of you demonstrating your behaviours or skills. They will know what the desired behaviours are and will look for positive and negative indicators.
The theory behind competency-based interviewing is that past work behaviour is a good predictor of future job performance. When interviewers ask you competency-based questions, they want you to talk about how you have tackled real problems in the past. From this, they are trying to infer how effectively you would tackle future problems if they were to offer you a job.
In responding to a competency-based question, the most important principle is to:
GIVE A REAL EXAMPLE THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO YOU
Don't talk in broad terms about how you generally tackle those sorts of situations - talk about a specific example. The interviewers will also be looking for detail about exactly what you did in such situations, not what the team's role was or what you would do in a hypothetical situation. With a behavioural question, the interviewer is looking for actions taken and results achieved. They are not just looking for an activity list. Make sure you mention specific names, dates, places, outcomes, and especially what your role was in achieving those outcomes. You can choose to use relevant examples from your current job, a previous role, or a situation outside of work altogether.
Once you have talked about your example the interviewer will probably ask you further questions to get a deeper understanding of what you did. They will be interested in the outcome of the situation, whether there was anything you learned from the experience, and so on.
The second key principle is:
BE READY TO TALK ABOUT YOUR EXAMPLE IN A LOT OF DETAIL
Most large organisations use the STAR approach when conducting competency based interviews. This means that when you are answering the questions, the interviewer will be looking for the Situation you were in or the Task you were doing, the Action you took in response to that situation or task and the Result of your action.
Procedures followed and levels of formality will be different in every interview, but the interviewer may record what you say on an interview sheet i.e. under Situation / Task, Action or Result. This assists in the process of evaluation after the interview is concluded. Do not be put off by the note taking, these notes will be valuable at the evaluation stage.
Good luck with your competency based interview! Click here to read our guide to acing the interview for even more interview preparation advice. It covers first impressions, body language, and some common Do's and Don'ts.
POTENTIAL KEY COMPETENCIES AND SAMPLE QUESTIONS
Managing your top team:
- Give me an example of where you had to work as part of a group to achieve a goal.
- Tell me about a time when your interests were subordinated for the good of the team / business.
- Give me an example of a difficult people situation that you have had to handle within your team.
- Give me an example of when you have needed to elicit very sensitive information from a colleague.
- Give me an example of when understanding colleagues has been critical to achieving success.
- Give me an example of when you have contributed to the success of the team.
- Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team.
- Tell me about a time when you have disagreed with the collective decision of a team of which you were a part.
Delivering Business Results:
- Tell me about a time when you have had to meet challenging customer needs.
- Give me an example of where you found it necessary to change a process to meet customer needs.
- Explain how you have gained customer commitment to a proposal.
- Tell me about a time when you have developed services/products to meet unexpected customer requirements.
- Tell me how you organise the activities within your area/work.
- Tell me of a time when you have had to allocate/redirect resources.
- Tell me about a time when you improved financial targets and customer service at the same time.
- Tell me of a time when you have had to manage a risk.
Bringing Innovation to Problem Solving:
- Describe a situation when you came up with a solution to a problem.
- Give me an example of a situation at work where you've found a better way of doing things.
- Explain how you have introduced changes to product/processes/services in your team/ department.
- What methods do you adopt to elicit new ideas from others?
- Describe an occasion when you solved a problem with an unconventional solution.
Managing the Customer Relationship:
- Give me an example where you have turned around a customer relationship.
- Describe a time when making an impression has been critical to success.
- Describe a time when you've had to make an impression on somebody within a short space of time.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to work hard to build up a good relationship with other people (e.g. colleagues / customers).
- Describe a key customer relationship you have built.
Making Change Work:
- Describe how you have communicated the vision/ goals of the organisation to your team.
- Give me an example of how you have managed the concerns of your team during times of uncertainty/change.
- Describe how you have managed a recent change within your team.
- How have you maintained the pace of change in previous change programmes?
- Tell me of a time when you have use a period of change to your advantage
- Give me an example of where a change has impacted on your customer relationship.
Planning and Control:
- Tell me about a time when you have had to plan a project/task/ event.
- Tell me about a time when you had to consider existing/ conflicting workloads when planning a task/event/project.
- Describe a process you have used to check the progress of your work/ projects.
- Tell me about a time when you didn't meet an objective/deadline.
- Give me an example of a time when you have had to change your plans.
- Tell me of a time when you have had to re-prioritise in response to changing business requirements/strategic needs.
- Tell me how you have handled a large task.
- How do you handle your daily workload?
- In your current job, how do you manage your time and workload to achieve your objectives?
- What common obstacles do you encounter and how do you overcome them to achieve your objectives?
- Give me an example of a time when you encountered problems in planning and the proposals that were raised to solve the issues.
Helping Others to Learn:
- Tell me how you manage the development of others.
- How do you use the development tools available to you?
- Have you ever discovered you staff/team were not performing to your standards? What did you do about it?
- How have you motivated slow or difficult team members?
- What have you done if you've discovered team members deviating from the standards or practices you expected of them?
- Tell me about a time when you have had to deliver feedback to a colleague/subordinate.
- Tell me of a time when you have had to work with someone less experienced than yourself.
- What have you done to get things to happen in your organisation?
- Describe a time when you have had to enlist the help of another department or group to complete a piece of work.
- Describe an occasion when you needed to adopt a new approach to get agreement from others.
- Tell me about a time when you found it very difficult to get the agreement of others to an important proposal.
- Tell me about a time when you have won someone round to your way of thinking.
- Have you ever had to modify your personal style to achieve results with a difficult individual or group?
Using Information Effectively:
- Give an example of a time when you had to gather and interpret information.
- Tell me about a time when you had to analyse some information and how you came to your conclusion.
- Give an example of when you have used information to identify opportunities for business development and how you came to your conclusion.
- What sources of information do you currently use?
- How do you manage your sources of information?
Providing Excellent Customer Service:
- What steps have been taken to ensure customer requirements are met by your area?
- Give me an example of a non-standard service that you were responsible for providing to a customer.
- Describe a service provided which you were really satisfied with
- Describe a time when you were really satisfied with the service you had given to a customer.
- Give me an example of a customer complaint you have dealt with.
- Give an example of where you have brought a customer problem to a satisfactory conclusion.
- Tell me of an occasion when a customer has commented on service you provided.
Attention to Detail:
- Describe a time when you have made a mistake and the subsequent actions that you took.
- Tell me how you ensure the quality of your and your team’s work.
- Tell me about a piece of work you produced where accuracy was essential.
- Give me an example of the ways you check the accuracy of your work.
- How do you ensure all aspects of your work are completed satisfactorily?
- Tell me of a time when you have felt it necessary to consult with others in for more detail
- How do you ensure understanding of detail by your customers / team members?
- What do you do to deliver your unit goals?
- Tell me about a time when you delivered something that you felt proud of.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to strive hard to achieve an aim that was important to you.
- Tell me about a time when you were working hard but just didn't seem to be getting anywhere.
- Tell me about a particularly difficult piece of work you have faced. (Follow up with ‘what attitude did you have’?)
- Tell me of a challenging goal you have set yourself.
- Tell me about a time when you led a team of people.
- Tell me of a success you have had, achieved on a collective basis.
- Describe how you have established the priorities and activities of a team
- Tell me about a time when you've had to manage a team which was tackling a difficult situation.
- Tell me about an occasion when you've had to gain the co-operation of people who don't work for you.
- How do you set objectives for you team?
- What problems or successes have you experienced when delegating?
- In what way have you motivated those around you to achieve team goals?
Adapting to Change and Uncertainty:
- Tell me about a time when you've personally had to handle significant change.
- Describe a time of uncertainty or change you have faced.
- Tell me how you have accommodated business change in your unit's activities.
- Describe a time when pressures threatened your ability to work effectively.
- Tell me about an occasion when you felt under pressure.
- Tell me of a time when interruptions from others have affected your work.
Developing the Strategy:
- Tell me how you find out about developments in the market place and within the organisation and the impact they may have.
- Tell me how your unit's strategy fits with organisational goals and values.
- Tell me how you have gone about planning for the future of your unit/ department.
- Describe a strategic change you have recently implemented.
- Tell me or a time when you have influenced strategy.
Making Good Decisions:
- Tell me about the hardest decision you have had to make recently.
- Tell me of a time when you had to make a decision which you know would be unpopular.
- Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision in the absence of complete information.
- Tell me of a time when you have felt it appropriate to call on others before making a decision.
- Tell me of a time when you have had to justify a decision you have made.
- What would you consider to be the most important decisions which you have had to make regularly in your job? What made them good decisions?
- What is the relevant technical expertise that you bring to this role and how would you evidence this?
- Give an example of when you have had to explain a complex idea to an individual.
- Tell me about a time when you have had to communicate with more senior people.
- Tell me about a time when you have had to make presentations to individuals or groups.
Learning and Self Development:
- Tell me about a time when you learned something unexpected, which has since proved useful.
- How do you keep up-to-date with current legislation and how it impacts on the company and, more specifically, your job?