Competency Based Questions

A Guide To Competency Based Interviews

What is a Competence?

A competence is a word that is used to describe a group of behaviours which an organisation has decided are shown to be effective to deliver in a particular role.

What is a Competency Based Interview?

• A competency based interview is an interview in which each candidate is asked similar questions, designed to obtain information about the match between the candidate’s competencies and those required for the job.
• It is essential that you prepare well and have examples where you can demonstrate evidence relating to the specified competencies.
• In a competency based interview, questions that give information about the key competencies for the job are asked. These questions concentrate on the most important parts of an individual’s past experience, focusing on the behaviours that were demonstrated.
• The responses will then allow the interviewer to ‘match’ the individual to the job, based purely on what is necessary to be successful in the role.

What can you expect during the interview?

CBI interviews are usually used as the first screen interview, held by trained HR staff, there will normally be two interviewers, one asking the questions, the other writing down, verbatim, what you are saying. Your answers will be scored once you have left the interview.

Remember you will not be prompted in anyway by the interviewer.

Once the interview is finished, your answers are scored from 1 – 4 based on the specific evidence given and general answers are marked down.

Initially, the interviewer will usually ask you some questions about yourself and your background to get to know you better. These will be followed up with questions to gain information about the key competencies, often beginning with:

‘Tell me about a time when ……’
‘Describe an occasion when …..’
‘Can you give an example of when you…..’

You will be expected to provide specific examples of when you demonstrated a competence. Remember, the interviewer is looking for ‘evidence’ that you have demonstrated the competence.

How to prepare:

During an interview situation it is extremely difficult to come up with quality answers if you have not fully prepared.

When you are invited for an interview it is important that you check what type of interview screening process the company use. Always ask, it will give you the best possible chance of passing the first interview stage if you know in advance.

If you are told that it will be a CBI then ask what competencies they will be asking you to demonstrate. If they cannot tell you (it may be company policy) then the clues are always in the ‘person spec’ of the job brief/description.

For example: ‘Must be a good communicator, with excellent problem solving skills and good organisational ability.’

3 competencies there for a start!

Successful Answer Structure:

During the interview, remember that you should try to answer the questions as specifically as you can.

Think S.T.A.R. Format

1. What was the Scenario? Describe, in detail, the situation/scenario, paint a picture.
2. What was the task? Describe, in detail, the situation/scenario, paint a picture
3. What did you do personally? What were your Actions?
Remember that the interviewer is interested in finding out about you and what you have achieved, not about your team, project or manager’s achievements. So, remember to talk about the part you played in the team’s achievements, your contribution to the project’s deliverables and how you have supported your manager and the business through the achievement of your objectives.
4. What was the Result? As a result of your contribution, what was the end result?

Competency Based Interview Questions

Practice makes perfect! Here is a list of typical competency questions, answer each question using the above answer structure. Remember, the key is to give specific evidence and not general answers. General answers are always marked down.

TEAM WORK – Can you build relationships? Are you able to work with other people constructively to improve the effectiveness of the team?

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time that you had to work as part of a team to achieve a specific outcome?”

CUSTOMER SERVICE – Do you take time to understand the needs of our customers? Do you go out of your way to deliver that extra service and take personal responsibility to ensure the highest levels of customer satisfaction?

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you demonstrated excellent customer service, what was the situation and the outcome?”

LEADERSHIP – Takes control of situations and events; recognises and rewards others performance; motivates; coaches and develops others. Ability to persuade.

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate a team to reach a common goal?”

ORGANISATION – prioritises; sets stretching but realistic targets and deadlines; plans ahead and has a structured approach to the work.

QUESTION: “Give me an example of a time when you had a number of deadlines to meet, how did you organise yourself to achieve the outcome?”

COMMUNICATION – Are you an active listener, do you really listen and do you hear what is actually said? Do you communicate in an engaging, effective and convincing way?

QUESTION: “Give me an example of a time where your communication skills achieved a positive outcome to what could have been a negative situation?”

ADAPTABILITY, RESILIENCE – How quickly and how positively will you adapt to changes in work practices and procedures? How do you manage or avoid stress?

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you found yourself in a stressful or pressurised situation, what was the outcome?”

SELF-MANAGEMENT, SELF-MOTIVATION – Do you strive to achieve a standard of excellence, use initiative at the appropriate time and show persistence in pursuing goals?

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you had to be self-motivated?”
QUESTION: “Give me an example of something that you have achieved at work that you are exceptionally proud of?”

PROBLEM SOLVING – What is your approach to problem solving?

QUESTION: “Give me an example of a time when you encountered a problem, how did you deal with it and what was the outcome?”

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT – How so you behave in a crisis? What does it take to shake your confidence?

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time where you had a different opinion to a work colleague, what was the situation and the outcome?”

MOTIVATION – Are you personally motivated? Are you able to have a positive influence on other people.

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate others to reach a common goal?”

The above is by no means an exhaustive list of competency based questions, there are many. However you now have an insight into the competencies most regularly questioned during an interview.

If you have a CBI and aren’t sure at the competencies that are likely to be questioned, just ring and I will happily take a look at the job description for you and help you prepare.


photo credit: Women In Tech – 85 via photopin (license)