Competency Based Interview Questions and What You Need To Know To Answer Them

This Competency Based Interview Questions Guide has been written to help you better understand competency-based interviews (otherwise known as behavioral interviews) and help you prepare for any interviews that you have.

Given the huge time and expense of trying to find candidates these days, companies are using more and more sophisticated means of interviewing to make sure that they find the right candidate for their company.


According to Wikipedia, the term Competency is defined as the ability of an individual to do a job properly. Competency based interview are structured interviews where each question is designed to test a specific skills and the answers matched against a pre-decided criteria. Generally there will be two types of competencies that will be test for – Technical and Behavioural.

Technical Competencies are usually about your acquired knowledge, abilities and skills, which are much easier to train, develop and test. Behavioural Competencies such as leadership, communication or situation related competencies are much harder to train, develop and test, as they tend to be influenced by life, however need to be tested as they can show how you will approach work.

What’s the Difference?

Competency based interviews differ from normal interviews given that normal interviews are essentially a conversation where the interviewers ask questions that are relevant to what they are looking for in a candidate. Questions in a standard interview are very open are the candidate is likely to be judged on the general impression that they give and not what their actual performance on the job or experience and achievements in specific situations and as result do not really predict how a candidate might behave in a specific situation in the future.

Competency based interviews on the other hand are much more structured with each question targeting a specific skill or competency. Candidates will generally be asked questions related to their personal behaviour in a specific circumstance and then will be asked this back this up with concrete examples to support their example. Competency-based Interviews have been proven in the past the achieve and accuracy of over 80% for there predictive ability.

Competency based interviews can vary from interviewer to interviewer and the position that you are applying for. For an assistant position the competencies tested would generally include organisational and communication, whilst a Senior Manager would likely be tested more on their leadership, negotiation skills and their ability to cope with pressure and stress.

Why Are Competency-Based Interviews Used In A Selection Process?

Ultimately interviewing is a nightmare for both company and candidate, however made worse the effects of hiring a bad candidate. A candidate that cannot do the job or leaves within a short period of time after hiring, means a lot of time wasted, which given the demands that companies place on their employees, is unacceptable. A hiring manager that cannot hire correctly will also be over looked for further promotion thus there is an importance to get the right candidate into the right job.

The basic rule of a competency based interview and selection process is that “past performance in similar situations is the best predictor of future performance”, therefore in a college graduate where most candidates probably do not have much actual work experience, you can look at how they have handled situations in the past to work out whether they will be good for your job.

How are Competency Based Interviews Marked

Competency based interviews are marked on a points system where the number of point that you receive for your answer depends on the number of correct answers you give. For this reason a top tip to do well in a competency based in interview is to make sure you elaborate and describe in detail your answers. This will give you the greatest possible chance of scoring all the points on offer.

Generally before your interview starts, the interviewer will have sat down and worked out what questions they want to ask you and what answers they consider would be positive and thus gain points and what answers they consider to be negative and thus loose points.

An Example could be:

Question – Describe a Time Where You Have Had To Lead a Team in Difficult Situation?

Your answer would be scored with something similar to the following method:

  • 1 Point – Provided little or no evidence to suggest any compatibility with leadership is a difficult situation.
  • 2 Points – Provided some evidence to suggest leadership but did not suitable explain where and how.
  • 3 Points – Provided a good answer but lacked examples.
  • 4 Points – Provided a good answer and backed this up with examples that demonstrated solutions to the problem.
  • 5 Points – Provided a Great answer and backed this up with great example and explanations that showed practical solutions, leadership whilst effectively leading the team during a difficult situation and creatively solved the problem faced.

What Competences Can be Tested

Generally companies will supply you with a list of competencies that they will be testing you on, however annoying some will not. In your interview preparation, it’s important that you think about answers to every possible kind of competency based question so that you if any questions come up you will not be surprised. Below are some key Competencies that Employers would look for in candidates and will most likely test for in a competency based in job Interview.

  • Personal Competencies – Knowledge, Personal Values, Independence, Experience, Time Management, adaptability, flexibility, External Awareness
  • Managerial Competencies – Delegation, Influencing, Team Work, Leadership, External Awareness, Risk Taking, Sensitivity
  • Analytical Competencies – Decisiveness, Decision Making Abilities, Creativity and Innovation,
  • Interpersonal Competencies – Communication, Tenacity, Conflict Management Motivational Competencies – Drive, Ambition, Initiative,

How to Answer a Competency Based Interview Question

To make sure that you score top marks on your competency based interview, you need to make sure that you give great answers to the questions that are being asked. Firstly, make sure that you listen the question being asked and give an answer that actually answers the question.

Often candidates will give a fantastic answer, but it does not really answer the question that was being asked. This shows that you have a lack of maturity and cannot structure your thoughts correctly which when translated into business means that you’re likely to be very un-organized in your work.

To ensure that you answer competency based interviews correctly, I would highly recommend that you use the STAR approach as it will give your answer structure and ensure that you do not miss out any important details. The STAR approach to questions stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.Use the “STAR” Approach

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

The STAR approach is a universally recognised communication technique that is design to help you provide thoughtful answers to questions where examples are needed. At the same time it’s simple which gives you the added benefit that most likely you’re going to be able to remember it.

Situation + Task

Situation simply means that you need to give some background to your answer and rather than just move straight into an answer, try to give some of the background. This does not have to be long, but it’s a great idea to say a few words.

For Example – Lets imagine that you have been asked the question “Give me an example where you have showed your team-working skills”. The wrong answer here would be to dive right in and provide examples. The right answer would be to set the scene (Situation) and describe what you had been asked (Task) to do.


This section within the STAR approach to answering questions as generally considered the most important as it’s where you will need to show off your skills, knowledge and personal attributes. The action section come second after you have set the Situation and the Task that you have been instructed to complete. In this section you need to explain what you did. Most importantly, you need to make sure that you talk about what you did and not what your team did.

Its important within this section explain what you did and how you did it and to make sure that you go into some details thus creating an interesting story, however steer clear of technical information. You can also use this section to sell some important skills to the interviewer.For Example – Communication Skills – Kept the rest of the team updated on the teams progress


What was the result? Use this section to explain how it all ended, however make sure that you describe what you accomplished and what you learnt from the situation.For example, some companies view leadership as a competency on its own whilst others prefer to split leadership between a wide range of components (creativity, flexibility, strategic thinking, vision, etc).

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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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