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Careers Advice

Competency Based Interviews

Most interviews are now competency orientated but standard interview questions nearly always come up. In this section I discuss some frequently asked questions about competency based interviews and specifically address responses to 5 common standard interview questions.

What are Competency Based Interview Questions?

Competency style questions usually focus on eliciting specific examples from candidates. You will be asked to describe situations where you have demonstrated the required behaviours in previous roles. The responses you give will then be probed in a systematic way by the interviewer to build up a picture of your relative strengths and weaknesses against the competence being evaluated.

For example:

The initial question is open in style:

• Tell me about a time when…….

• Give me an example of a situation where…………

• Describe a situation when……..

This type of question if often followed up with probing questions like:

• What was your role in that situation?

• What action did you take?

• What did you do next?

• What was the outcome?

• How did you respond?

• What would you do differently next time?

• What did you learn from that experience?

• How did you feel when that happened?

• What was going through your mind when that happened?

• How did you do that?

How do I choose the best examples in my response to a competency based question?

Many candidates provide great examples of their experience, but they fail to emphasise the specific behaviours of the competency in question. So you are encouraged to find definitions of the behaviours involved in the required competencies. Then choose the most relevant examples of your current role that demonstrates evidence of these behaviours.

Fact based evidence of behaviour relies on communicating your actions. Providing the detail that demonstrates the complexity of those actions differentiates you from other candidates and creates significant impact. The result demonstrates the impact on the organisation and is of course essential, particularly for senior managers.

Ask yourself:

Do my examples cover the aspects of behaviour defined in this competency? Is this the best example of my experience that I can use to demonstrate this competency? What else could I add to prove that I am competent?Which of my examples is most relevant to the job I am about to interview for?

Many competency frameworks also apply different levels of competence, but if you are using examples of your most recent and relevant experience you should be pitching at the right level for the role. It can be useful to request a breakdown of the competency behaviours from the organisation as it pertains to them.

How can I be more concise in responding to competency based questions?

The STAR structure is the key to achieving this.

STAR is an acronym for: Situation, Task, Action, Result


WHY you were asked to take on a particular responsibility or task


WHAT the responsibility or task was. i.e. WHAT you were asked to do


HOW you completed the task, what you actually did

The actions involved that demonstrate the competency behaviours. This is your FACT BASED EVIDENCE


OUTCOME achieved as a result of your actions

What was achieved and how it was measured. Linked back to the organisational and personal objectives cited in the SITUATION and TASK

Many talented and even senior candidates fail to provide the right kind of evidence when they communicate their examples. Even though you think you have chosen a specific example you can tend to spend most of the time discussing the situation and the responsibility you were tasked with.

Just because you were given a responsibility, does not mean that you completed it effectively. Discussing WHAT you were asked to do does not constitute evidence of past behaviour. You must communicate HOW you actually did it in order to PROVE that you are competent.

So the most important sections are the ACTIONS and RESULTS. When you are developing your examples it is essential that you only use key words to organise the information. Writing long sentences will only serve to confuse you when you try to recall information at interview.

Remember you know your job like the back of your hand. You just need to create a filing system in your brain so that you can easily access all the information when required. Using key words not only helps you do this, but it also ensures that you can adapt examples to the specific questions posed at interview.

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