12 Common Candidate Mistakes in Competency Based Interviews

Interviews, in general, are notorious for bringing out nerves in candidates, particularly candidates who have not prepared or do not have job interview experience. Competency-based interviews are worse because the questions are likely to be obscure or have an answer that requires a “one-word answer.” If you want to perform well and score top marks, you need to create a story before answering the question. 

Fail Badly

It’s crucial to remember you will not be the first or the last person to fail a competency-based interview badly. Yours truly failed a competency-based interview in the early part of his career. It was one of the first interviews I had ever been to after graduating from University.

I remember meeting the interviewer and started trying to build initial rapport which went well. The interview started, and I remember the first couple of questions, which I thought also went well. Sadly this is where it started to go wrong. I was asked the question, “Give me an example of where you’ve gathered lots of information, analysed it and written a report,” and my mind went blank.

Competency-Based Interview Mistakes

After a minute of thinking, nothing came mind, and I began to panic. The fact that I had just finished my thesis, which would have been a great answer, was nowhere to be seen. Needless to say, the interview went from bad to worse, and within a few minutes, I was a complete mess. I badly failed that interview.

In this section, we’re looking at the common mistakes that candidates make during competency-based interviews. If you learn from the common mistakes and make sure you don’t make them, any mistakes you do make are likely to be overlooked during your job interview. Below are my top ten mistakes to make sure that you don’t fall apart in your next competency-based Job Interview.


Prepare for your Interview or Prepare to Fail. Guess what, I did not do any job interview preparation, I did not know what to expect and quite frankly deserved to fail. Preparing for the interview means reading as much as you can find on competency-based interviews. Questions, Answers, Mock Interviews, How to answer interview questions, questions about the company and anything else you can find.

You need to make sure that you read and have a think about as many competency-based interview questions as you can before your interview. My advice is to try and find as many questions but also look at the sample answers to make sure that your answers are on the right track. This way, you can get an idea of how to answer the question.

Remember, DO NOT LEARN answers to competency-based in interview questions parrot-fashion. You must give answers in your own words. I could not answer a question in the same way as you could, and I am sure it’s vice-versa.

STAR Approach

Learn how to answer a competency-based interview correctly. My advice is to learn the STAR approach and make sure that you follow it with each question you answer. The STAR approach means that you follow a set structure when answering each question. This not only to create a great story, which is a key part of answering competency-based interview questions but also stops you from missing bit or going off on a tangent.

What Competencies

It’s a great idea to ask what competencies you will be tested on before your interview. If you know what competencies you will be tested on, it makes it much easier to tailor your answers to what the interviewer is looking for.

One of the best reasons for using a recruiter to help you with your job search is because they will be able to advise you on this. If you’re not using a recruiter, then you must make sure you ask before your interview.

The Pause

Before you start answering the question, pause for a few seconds to think about your answer before you start answering the question. 99.9% of the time, the candidate that stops and thinks for a few seconds about an answer before speaking, produces a much better answer, than those who jump right in. Pausing to think can also be a sign of maturity and show the interviewer your confidence in their surrounding.

Use “I” Rather Than “We”

When answering competency-based interview questions, it’s important to use the word “I” as much as possible. In a competency-based interview, you’re tested on what you did and what role you played within the task. You need to make sure that your sentences start with “I,” however, there is a major difference between saying “I” within your answers and sounding like a dictator where all your answers start with “I told this person to do this.” No one wants to work with a dictator.

A Great Story

60% of giving the right answer in a competency-based interview is making sure that you have a good story to tell. This is something that you can prepare in advance. Make sure you prepare a selection of different stories that you can use as examples.

Where candidates go wrong in a competency-based interview is in their preparation. They do not have any stories prepared beforehand and therefore have to think of an example before answering the question.

The Details

If creating an excellent story to answer your competency-based interview is 60%, then 30% is going into the small details. To answer a competency-based interview question well, you need to go into the details while showing your experience in different situations.

One of the usual complaints from a hiring manager is that the candidate did not use examples related to their personal work experience.

Answer The Question

The last 10% of answering the question is to make sure that you answer “the question.” Often candidates give an excellent answer, but have not really answered the question and therefore are marked down.

Think Outside The Box

Remember to think outside of the box when answering competency-based interview questions. Often candidates, especially those in a back office or support functions, struggle to think of answers to situation-based questions. An example – I once asked a finance support professional the question “tell me about a difficult customer that you had to deal with?” He responded that he worked in finance and did not deal with customers.

Actually, after a few follow up questions, it turns out that he had spoken with customers in the past when dealing with invoicing inquiries. If you’re faced with this type of question, try to think outside of work. Have you ever had a problem with a babysitter or waiter when paying a bill at a restaurant?

Ask Questions

Remember to ask questions at the end of your interview. Candidates always forget this. Just because it’s a slightly different interview structure think they do not need to ask questions. You do, so have some prepared. An obvious question would be, how did I do, but there are others here.

Stay Calm

Where I went wrong in my competency-based interview was to panic, which made trying to think of answers to the next question even more difficult. I appreciate that staying calm during an interview is far easy said than done, but if you prepare as much as possible in advance, familiarise yourself with the interview format, get a good night’s sleep and turn up in advance of the interview, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance.

Final Thoughts

What mistakes have you made in your competency-based job interview? As always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments below, and I will be happy to provide an answer.

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Nick Jones

My name Nick Jones, I am a professional Head-Hunter with over 20 years of experience working all over the world. I specialise in out-of-the-box job search strategies to get your CV directly to the hiring manager, thus skipping any ATS portals or recruiters who think they're important.

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