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How to ace a competency-based interview

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Your potential employer wants to discover if you have what it takes for the role, and how you deal with certain problems and situations encountered during a typical working day.

It’s all about competencies; the skills, knowledge, abilities and also behaviours that will make you more likely to succeed in that job.

At RHL, we’re finding that more and more of our technical professional clients are staging competency-based interviews to find the star players they need.

Let’s take a look at the type of questions you need to prepare for - and the best way to tackle them.

Competency-based questions

There are various different types of competencies you could be asked about - and they’ll usually focus on the skills needed for that particular role. You’ll be asked to give real examples from your career to date. 

Below are the five most common we find that candidates need to prepare for, and a typical question for each.

Competency: Communication
Question: ‘Tell us about a time you had to adjust your communication approach to suit a particular audience.’

Decision making
Question: ‘Give an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision.’

Question: ‘Describe a situation when you assumed the role of leader. Were there any challenges, and how did you address them?’

Results orientation
Question: ‘Give an example of a time when you were particularly successful.’

Question: ‘Describe a situation in which you were working as part of a team. How did you make a contribution?’


Tackling questions effectively

Although open-ended questions like these may look like they give you the perfect chance to talk at length, it’s important to keep your answers as structured and concise as possible.

That’s why at RHL we recommend candidates use the STAR technique: ‘Situation’, ‘Task’, ‘Action’, ‘Result’.

Preparing with this technique gives you a proper framework to explain the value you’ve brought to an employer in the past - and how you can do the same to a new organisation.

Set the scene by describing the context, for example who you were employed by and what your role was.

Describe the task of challenge you or your business faced and what you needed to achieve. This is a good time to mention how that task is relevant to the role you’re going for.

Step by step, tell the interviewer what you actually did to resolve the situation, and why. Also mention the skills you used and if possible, link them to the role you want to get.

This is your chance to show off, describing how the situation was resolved because of your accomplishments. Mention, too, what you learned from that task - and again link your competencies to the ones your interviewer is looking for.

Competencies for a specific role

Although we’ve listed some of the most common competencies you may be asked about, above, each job is different so it’s crucial to be aware of your potential employer’s wishlist, too. Scour the job advert and job description for the keywords that spell out the exact competencies they’re looking for.

To get some extra ideas, you could also search online for any other job descriptions for that role for other companies.

Then develop a story for each competency as evidence that you’ve showed that skill in your career. The more time you can spend reaching into your work history to show you have what the employer is looking for, the more advantage you’ll have over your competitors.