Competency-based interviews assess a candidate’s ability to perform a specific job and their fit for the role. They have become increasingly popular with businesses today, especially for large companies that value culture. 

In cases where hiring managers find it difficult to find the best candidate based on technical interviews alone, they conduct competency-based interviews to find the best fit for their company. 

By exploring a candidate’s skills, knowledge, and experience, these interviews provide employers with a clearer picture of whether a candidate is a right fit for the job.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what competency-based interviews are, the most common interview questions, how to prepare for a competency-based interview, and will provide examples of competency-based interview questions and answers. 

What are competencies?

Competencies are skills, knowledge, behavioural attributes and capabilities that help employers determine whether you have what it takes to succeed in a job position. They can be learned through experience or training. Job seekers need to have the right competencies to demonstrate their abilities to their employers when they are presented with opportunities. 

Competencies are primarily categorised into three types

  1. Technical competencies
  2. Behavioural competencies
  3. Leadership competencies

Technical competencies are the skills and expertise that are needed for a potential candidate to perform specific tasks related to the job successfully. This could be operating a particular piece of machinery, data entry, or industry-specific software applications.

Behavioural competencies are the soft skills and interpersonal abilities that allow the individual to be successful in a job position. They involve aspects like how the candidate interacts with others and their ability to solve problems efficiently. Other examples of behavioural competencies include decision-making, teamwork and collaboration, communication, organisation and customer support skills. 

Lastly, leadership competencies refer to the candidate’s ability to think, reason, use sound judgement, motivate themselves and others, and lead and manage a team effectively. While hiring managers primarily look for leadership competencies in candidates applying for management and leadership roles, that may not always be the case. Examples of leadership competencies include strategic-thinking skills, analytical skills, research skills, creativity, and critical thinking skills. 

When it comes to competencies, it heavily depends on the job requirements and the candidate’s current skills and experiences. Different companies may have different competency expectations, and the candidate must tailor their skills according to the job position and company they’re applying for.

Job seekers can work on their competencies by identifying their strengths and developing their abilities via training and experience. Take the time to understand the competencies that the hiring manager is looking for and focus on highlighting your abilities in those areas in your CV as well as during the interview.

What is a competency-based interview?

During a competency-based interview, the candidate has the chance to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and experience in a particular job role. 

A competency-based interview is designed to help hiring managers understand how well a candidate will fit within the team and the company culture. The questions asked during this interview are focused on the candidate’s ability to do the job effectively.

The hiring manager may ask about:

  • how you handle specific situations, 
  • your ability to communicate effectively, 
  • your attention to detail, 
  • how you manage customer service, 
  • your organisational skills, 
  • your ability to interact and collaborate with your colleagues, 
  • how you prioritise your tasks, 
  • how you approach problem-solving, 
  • how you delegate responsibilities, and more 

The first step towards preparing for a competency-based interview is to gain an in-depth understanding of the skills and competencies the hiring manager is looking for. Brainstorm specific situations you’ve been in that showcase your ability to handle the different responsibilities that come with the job. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to provide particular examples of how you’ve leveraged your skills and expertise within a workplace setting.

In addition to demonstrating your knowledge and skills, it’s critical to gain a good understanding of the company culture. Take the time to research the company and the role you’re applying for to gain an edge over your competitors while demonstrating why you’ll be the perfect fit for the role.

Hiring managers may throw in a few competency questions that probe the candidates on their familiarity with the industry and the company. They may also test the candidates on their commitment to their choice of career and the things that motivate them.

If you’re applying for a receptionist, assistant, or managerial role, the competency-based interview will typically focus on these areas:

  • Communication skills: You’ll be expected to communicate with a diverse range of stakeholders. Therefore, hiring managers expect candidates to have excellent written and verbal communication.
  • Technical skills: While these roles don’t require a lot of technical knowledge, candidates are expected to be familiar with computer devices, industry or company-specific software programs, and other office equipment. 
  • Organisational skills: A major part of a candidate’s responsibilities for these job roles involve the ability to organise and prioritise tasks effectively, maintain the company’s systems and procedures, and manage administrative staff.
  • Attention to detail: Candidates need to have the skill to complete tasks efficiently and accurately.
  • Leadership skills: This includes the ability to lead a team, make decisions on their feet, and coordinate internal and external events.
  • Interpersonal skills: Candidates should have the capacity to work collaboratively with their coworkers and customers, as well as the ability to negotiate and resolve conflict.

A competency-based interview typically lasts about an hour. Most businesses have a standardised interview process, where candidates are usually asked identical questions. 

What are the most common competency-based interview questions?

  • Can you think of a particularly challenging situation you have experienced at work? (could be people/scenario/team/environment based).
  • Can you describe the scenario, your role/challenge, the action you took and the outcome? 
  • Can you describe the most complex diary you have managed (did you have complete control, how did you communicate changes with your boss, who else had access to the diary, how did you prioritise)
    • What did the diary look like on a day-to-day basis?
    • How frequently did this change?
    • How far ahead was the diary typically full?
  • Can you give me some examples of particularly complex travel that you have organised?
  • Can you give me an example of an event that you have managed?
  • Can you talk me through the initial brief you were given, your approach/action taken and the outcome?
  • Can you describe the level and frequency of change you used to work with (how last minute can this be/how do you manage this)?
  • What kind of environment do you feel you excel in and why?
  • Which has been your favourite role to date and why?
  • Has there been a boss/person at work that you didn’t enjoy working with or found challenging to work with? What made it difficult/were you able to overcome this?
  • What is your greatest mistake, and what did you learn from it?
  • What makes you great at your job? And why should we hire you?
  • What could you improve on in terms of your working style?
  • What makes you a great colleague? Why would I enjoy working with you?
  • Can you describe the best team you have worked in/what made it successful?

How to prepare for a competency-based interview? 

1. Explore the competencies and skills you believe you will be asked about

The first step is to analyse the job description, requirements listed within the advert, any relevant job postings, and the company’s official website to gain an in-depth understanding of what the job role demands. List keywords and phrases that highlight the skills and competencies the hiring manager is looking for. 

Next, take the time to brainstorm your own skills and experiences. Create a list of your strengths and qualifications that make you a great fit for the position. This could include qualifications like communication, leadership, creativity, problem-solving, and other technical skills.

For example, let’s say the job description for a receptionist states that they’re looking for a candidate with exceptional communication skills while dealing with customers. This implies that the candidate may have to deal with a lot of customers and, consequently, their issues and complaints. Therefore, highlight instances where you’ve demonstrated empathy and understanding while being firm. 

2. Brainstorm a range of solid examples that are relevant to the role

To ensure you’re ready for a competency-based interview, it’s critical to brainstorm relevant examples that showcase your expertise and skill for the role. 

To help you get started, here are some tips on how to brainstorm examples for a competency-based interview:

  1. List specific tasks you’ve completed in the past that are relevant to the position.
  2. Based on the key skills listed in the job advert, brainstorm examples of situations where you’ve demonstrated these skills.
  3. Take note of past projects you’ve undertaken or been involved in that may give you relevant experience or skills in the areas the company is looking for.
  4. Prioritise experiences directly related to the role, like collaborating with team members or critical thinking.
  5. Focus on qualities that will help you set yourself apart from the other candidates.

Take the time to think through and pick out examples that best demonstrate your skills and capabilities during a competency-based interview and are most likely to impress the hiring manager. 

You don’t need to find overly complicated examples or stories with extraordinary outcomes. The hiring manager is more interested in the role you played and helped achieve the goal you were aiming for.

3. Learn to narrate using the STAR method

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. It’s an effective technique used by candidates to answer competency-based questions in a concise, structured and effective manner. It’s an excellent tool to highlight your relevant skills and experiences to the hiring manager.

If you’re asked to narrate a situation where you effectively handled conflict, you can use the STAR technique to provide the interviewer with a comprehensive story. STAR technique allows you to strategically outline the specific situation you faced, the task you had to do, the action you took and the result you achieved. 

The first step in the STAR technique is to give the hiring manager a brief overview of the situation. Share the context and background of the story, including when and where the situation took place and the challenge you were presented with. 

Next, discuss the task that was required of you. Explain what goals you were trying to accomplish and other relevant details like team members or deadlines. 

The third step is to describe the actions you took to successfully complete the task. Share the strategies and techniques you implemented to achieve the goal. 

Lastly, discuss the results you achieved. What was the outcome of the situation, and how did your actions help achieve the goal?

The STAR example allows candidates to be as specific as possible and provide solid examples while answering competency interview questions. This technique enables job seekers to demonstrate that they have the right expertise and skills for a specific job role and can handle the situations that come with it. 

The STAR technique will also help you stay on track during the interview and help ensure that you’ve answered the question in full.

Examples of competency-based interview questions and answers

Question 1. Can you give me some examples of particularly complex travel that you have organised?

Answer: As an executive assistant, I’ve organised a wide range of complex travel over the years. One memorable example involves an executive’s business trip to Asia.

Situation: The executive manager had a difficult itinerary with multiple destinations and layovers in various cities over the span of 15 days. 

Task: It was my responsibility to organise the complicated itinerary to fit the executive’s desired schedule and the company’s budget. I had to coordinate all the logistics associated with their travel, including organising accommodations and transportation in each city and other services. 

Action: I began by researching the destinations and the best flight options, routes, and duration. I took the client’s individual needs, like preferred seating and dietary requirements into account. I secured their visa and insurance for each country and created a detailed itinerary that outlined all the necessary steps for the trip. I sourced the best and most suitable hotels in each city, including the best deals and discounts. I also researched the best ways for the executive to travel to and from their hotels in each destination and other additional activities they wanted to enjoy. Finally, I coordinated all of the logistics with the various service providers.

Result: The executive was able to travel safely and complete their business trip to Asia as scheduled. I had successfully planned a complex, long-distance journey for the executive with minimal disruption. The executive was also pleased with the efficient and well-thought-out plan. It was one of the many complex travel arrangements I’ve organised over the years. 

This experience taught me the importance of planning well in advance and the value of paying attention to detail when it comes to complex travel itineraries.

Question 2. Can you think of a particularly challenging situation you have experienced at work? (could be people/scenario/team/environment based).

Answer: One particularly challenging situation I faced was while working as a receptionist at a large medical facility. 

Situation: When I came to the hospital, I discovered that the previous receptionist had been on holiday due to illness. Therefore, there was a backlog of patient appointments that I had to process quickly and efficiently. 

Task: My task was to get the patient appointments processed as efficiently as possible.

Action: I built a systematic approach to organising appointments according to priority. I also made sure to get on a call with patients to ensure that their appointments were scheduled correctly and clarify any questions they may have.

Result: I worked diligently and systematically to process the patient appointments within a single day. This improved customer satisfaction since patients didn’t have to experience any unnecessary delays while booking their appointments.

Question 3. What makes you a great colleague? Why would I enjoy working with you?

Answer: As a personal assistant, I have consistently demonstrated excellent communication and organisational skills. I personally believe my best attribute is my ability to get along exceptionally with my coworkers. I’m an extremely detail-oriented and motivated individual who strives to ensure that all tasks are completed efficiently and well within the deadline. 

I’ve always been able to connect with my colleagues and build a strong relationship with them to ensure they are comfortable coming to me with their issues related to the tasks assigned to them or other work problems.

One particular situation which highlights why I would be a great colleague is when I was working as a personal assistant for a CEO of a large company. My task was to create an agenda for an upcoming meeting, but I wasn’t provided with any direction on how it was supposed to be structured. 

I took the initiative to speak to my colleagues about the meeting and their expectations to draft an agenda that took care of everyone’s needs and requirements. I understand the importance of working together and fostering positive relationships with everyone around me. I’m an effective communicator and am always open to feedback to learn from my errors and grow as a coworker.

Final Thoughts

Competency-based interviews are structured interviews that focus on the skills and capabilities required to do a job. They help job seekers demonstrate their potential and showcase precisely why they would be a good fit for a job position. 

At Joss Search we connect job seekers with the best roles in top private equity and alternative investment firms. You can take a look at our live vacancies or chat with our friendly consultants about your upcoming career steps. We’re waiting to help on 020 3096 7050 and