5 Keys to Preparing for a Competency-Based Interview

Young candidate nervous at job interview

You may be used to a general interview format, where previous experience and qualifications are discussed, as the interviewer goes through your resume. A competency-based interview is much different, focused on testing for specific skills and traits that might predict your ability to be successful within the position.

What is a Competency-Based Interview?

“A competency-based interviews allow the interviewer to find out if you have the right experience, expertise and cultural fit, one that matches the DNA and culture of the organisation. Conversely, it provides the applicant with the opportunity to demonstrate their skill, intellect and zeal for the role.” explains Joshua Ratilal, Group GM for Meetig8.

If you’ve never participated in a competency-based interview, here are five ways to prepare yourself ahead of time.

1. Expect Common Competency-Based Interview Questions

First and foremost, competency-based interview questions are usually open-ended with the goal of having the interviewee describe a relevant situation or experience. Questions will typically start with prompts like, ‘Tell me about a time when…’

As an applicant, you’re expected to elaborate on a specific scenario and ultimately relate your answers to why you’re a valuable and relevant candidate for the position. Matt Reaney, the Founder and CEO of Big Cloud Recruitment gives a few examples of common questions:

  • Tell me how you’ve taken on leading a project.
  • Describe a difficult situation you’ve encountered and how you solved it.
  • Can you give an example of a time when you led a team?
  • Describe a time you’ve had to deal with conflict and how you resolved it.

Questions about hypothetical scenarios may also arise where you have to demonstrate creativity and the ability to solve problems on the fly.

2. Do Your Research

While it may go without saying, once you’ve scheduled the interview, make sure you read and understand the entire job posting. “Ideally, the recruiter will stipulate in the job advertisement or pre-interview pack exactly what competencies they are looking for and what they will be assessing you on,” explains Sue Harding, Client Services Director at WSA.

However, this might not always be the case. Harding suggests, “If you are unsure then read through the job specification, the advert and any information and highlight keywords which relate to skills.” These are the skills that you want to prepare specific interview responses for.

Finally, research the company itself to get a sense of their culture, and any skills or traits that their organisation values. You want to market yourself as someone who has (and can continue to) demonstrate a skill set and demeanour to match the role and the company.

3. Brainstorm Anecdotes

After you have a comprehensive understanding of the company, the role and the skills needed to succeed, it’s time for preparation. Reaney advises to come up with anecdotes that you can pull from during the interview. “Prepare 5 to 10 short stories on the key types of questions you expect to be asked. Make sure they really get across the positive impact you’ve had in all situations, with positive business outcomes.”

Don’t worry if you’re a university student applying to your first job, or have minimal professional roles to discuss. Work with what you have and don’t exaggerate your answers. “Always speak from your own experience,” says Mo Khan, recruitment manager at CTRL Recruitment Group. “Even if you give examples from college or university, it’s important that you’re truthful; as with all competency-based interviews, they will ask you to expand on your examples.” Nothing makes a poor impression like lying during an interview.

4. Use the STAR Technique

If you want to practice, whether it be a mock interview with a friend or mentally running through potential answers yourself, Reaney suggests using the STAR Technique. He explains how to use the acronym to stage your responses:

  • Situation: Set the scene and context for the interviewer.
  • Task: What was your challenge?
  • Action: What did you do to overcome said challenge?
  • Result: Highlight a positive outcome, drawing on how your action impacted it.

“Think of your past experiences, and how they would benefit the company you’re interviewing for,” says Reaney. “Not only transferable skills, but transferable actions — what positives can you bring to the role that you’ve exhibited before?”

5. Ask Your Own Questions

Another tried-and-true interview technique is to flip the table and interview the company representative at the end. “The interviewer will ask if you have any questions for them,” explains Chris Delaney, career coach and author of The 73 Rules for Influencing the Interview. “The answer should always be a solid ‘Yes’—ask about the working day, the team, development opportunities, company progression, new industry technology, ask anything!”

Not only do you want to uncover as much information as possible about the company itself, but this is another opportunity to show that you’ve done your research and that you’d like to learn more.

Any interview can be nerve-wracking, no matter the style. If you know that an interview will be competency-based, preparation is crucial for success; you can’t merely re-iterate your resume. Instead, research the role and the company to understand their ideal candidate. Prepare stories about yourself that demonstrate your unique selling points. With a little preparation and practice, you’ll nail the interview and maybe even land the job.

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