Competency Based Interview Guide

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Competency Based Interview Guide


Our Competency Based Interview Guide is designed to help you prepare for interview and give you the best possible chance of success.
‘Competency-Based’ Interviews (CBIs) are typically done face-to-face and although they may may feel like a conversational encounter, they are in fact extremely structured.

CBIs require a lot more preparation than informal interviews. The up-side is that this structured approach removes much of the personal bias from the interview process, offering a fairer assessment based on skills, experience and overall job suitability.

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Competency Based Interviews Explained

Competency Based Interviews (CBI) are sometimes called Structural interviews, Behavioural interviews or Evidence Based interviews.

Whatever the terminology, the common aim is to use specifically targeted competency questions to discover whether or not an applicant matches the requirements of the position.

  • In your CBI the employer will explore particular skills, or competencies, as they are formally called.
  • While traditional interviews involve random open questioning, these interviews are more systematic, with each question targeting a specific competency.
  • The questions themselves are phrased in a very specific way designed to elicit how you behaved during a particular situation.
  • CBIs are designed to identify a more accurate selection of candidates, and a better performing workforce.

So, what are competencies?

Put simply, competencies are the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to deliver a successful performance in a job.
There can be anything from six core competencies and upwards required in most roles and these will be detailed in the employer’s Competency Framework.

Competencies are often categorised as follows:

Core Competencies

  • Achieving Results
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Attention to Detail
  • Building Relationships
  • Communication
  • Coping with Pressure
  • Creativity (Conceptual Thinking)
  • Coping with Pressure
  • Customer Focus
  • Decision Making
  • Judgement Negotiation
  • Organisational Awareness
  • Persuading and Influencing
  • Planning and Organising

Personal Competencies

  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Determination and Drive
  • Empathy and Sensitivity
  • Initiative
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Motivation and Commitment
  • Professional integrity
  • Respect for Diversity
  • Self Confidence and assertiveness
  • Vigilance
  • Situational Awareness

Managerial Competencies

  • Conflict Management
  • Developing / Empowering Others
  • Financial Management
  • Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Change Management
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Vision

Two Main Lines of Questioning

It might feel like a conversational encounter but Competency Based Interviews are in fact extremely structured. Each candidate is usually asked the same questions in the same order and with the same amount of time and prompting.
This keeps the interview process fair to all candidates.

Type 1: Opening line of questioning:

Competency questions require you to provide specific examples of how you dealt with a situation and usually start with:
  • "Tell me about a time when you..."
  • "Give an example of a situation where..."
  • "Describe a scenario when..."

Type 2: Probing or 'follow-on' questioning:

Your interviewer will likely ask you further questions after your initial answers. These are called probing, or follow-on questions and are designed to draw more information about your skills and experience.

Here are some probing questions for the competency of Problem Solving:
  • "How was this problem affecting others?"
  • "Why did you regard this problem as significant?"
  • "What obstacles did you encounter when resolving this problem?"
  • "What information did you use to resolve the problem?"
  • "What resources did you call on to help?"
  • "What would you have done differently?"

How your answers are scored

Unlike informal interviews, Competency Based Interviews are scored. Organisations will score and assess in different ways: decisions are made based on evidence and this is why the examples you use should be selected carefully.

Essentially, your answers must demonstrate the positive behaviours - or competencies - required.

Example Competency Based Interview Scoring Card:

How to answer Competency Based Questions

Most Competency Based and Behavioural Questions require you to give a real-life example of a past situation you have been involved in. This sounds straightforward however it is very easy to give a long rambling answer resulting in a low score.

Step 1: Prepare your answers

  • Responses need to be relevant and sufficiently detailed to show that you understand what is required, that you possess the core competency and can use it effectively.
  • Every answer you give should specifically address the skill being addressed.
  • Prepare a diverse set of experiences: suppose that you are asked six behavioral questions during a thirty-minute interview. Using a distinct context and/or experience for each question will help you portray a diversity of skills, interests and experiences.

Step 2: Use the S.T.A.R Approach

Begin by examining the question: think what is the purpose of the question, what specific skill is the question trying to address?

Then, pick an experience that you could describe to address the question at hand. In your mind, recollect specifics of your experience. Structure your answer and narrate your experience using the four steps in the ‘STAR’ technique:
  • ‘S’ for Situation: Commence your answer with the background to your experience. Detail the circumstances of your involvement. Provide sufficient detail to develop a context to the rest of your narration.
  • ‘T’ for Task: Describe the challenge at hand: what needed to be done, what should have been done. Detail the outcome that was expected, constraints or conditions that needed to be satisfied.
  • ‘A’ for Action: Elaborate your specific action in response to the challenge. Specify analytical work, team effort or project coordination. Use ‘I’ and ‘we’ statements as appropriate.
  • ‘R’ for Results: Explain the results of your efforts: what did you accomplish, what did you learn, how did your managers and team respond, how did your organization recognize you. Wherever possible, quantify your achievements and improvements — e. g., “20% improvement in …” or “reduced manufacturing costs by £1.5 million per year…”

Sample Interview Questions

See below for many common competency based interview questions:

Adaptability Interview Questions

How quickly and how positively will you adapt to changes in work practices, work roles and work environments and the general flux of the modern workplace? How do you manage or avoid stress?

  • Tell me about a time when you changed your priorities to meet others’ expectations.
  • Describe a time when you altered your own behavior to fit the situation.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to change your point of view or your plans to take into account new information or changing priorities.
Administrative Interview Questions

These are generally checking that you have effective work habits, and the knowledge of workplace routines and some experience of common office administration systems.

  • Tell me how you organise your work and schedule your time.
  • Tell me about computer software packages you are familiar with and your experience in using them.
  • Tell me about your experience of managing a budget.
Problem Solving & Decision Making Questions

What’s your problem-solving style? Do you manage your activities to minimise or avoid them? How do you behave in a crisis?

  • Tell me about a difficult decision that you have made.
  • What significant problems have you faced in the last year?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision under pressure. What were the circumstances and what did you do?
Communication Interview Questions

Are you an active listener, do you really listen and do you hear what is actually said. Are you able to read the non-verbal messages that others communicate? Do you communicate in an engaging and convincing way?

  • Describe a situation you were involved in that required a multi- dimensional communication strategy.
  • Give an example of a difficult or sensitive situation that required extensive communication?
  • Tell me about a time when you really had to pay attention to what someone else was saying, actively seeking to understand their message.
Organisational Awareness Questions

How aware are you of the wider organisation around you? Are you open to different cultures and working styles?

  • Describe the culture of your organisation and give an example of how you work within this culture to achieve a goal.
  • Describe the things you consider and the steps you take in assessing the viability of a new idea or initiative.
  • Tell me about a time when you used your knowledge of the organisation to get what you needed.
Client Focus Interview Questions

If your role involves dealing with other people: externally in the form of clients, or internally in the form of senior managers, your interviewer will want to see evidence of how you cope:

  • Give an example of how you provided service to a client/stakeholder beyond their expectations. How did you identify the need? How did you respond?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a client/stakeholder service issue.
  • Describe a situation in which you acted as an advocate within your organization for stakeholders’ needs where there was some organisational resistance to be overcome.
Teamwork Interview Questions

Employers need people who are socially competent. The desire to build and maintain relationships in and beyond the workplace is critical. Many workplaces function on the basis of project teams.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked successfully as a member of a team.
  • Describe a situation where you were successful in getting people to work together effectively.
  • Describe a situation in which you were a member (not a leader) of a team, and a conflict arose within the team. What did you do?
Influencing Others Interview Questions

Can you influence another person to change their thinking or take some action - Perhaps a colleague follows your advice or a client decides to buy a service or product?
At management level have you the skills to persuade and involve rather than coerce and punish? Are you ethical in your dealings with people?

  • Tell me about a time when you were able to change someone’s viewpoint significantly.
  • Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something that you disagreed with.
  • Tell me about a person or event that has been influential in your personal development.

Your Next Steps

Now you understand the process behind Competency Based Interviews, it's time to make sure you are fully prepared to land your new dream role. Use our handy checklist, or diver deeper into example questions by profession via our quick links below.

Choose from one of the following options for the next stage in your
interview preparation:

Interview Preparation Checklist

How to Prepare

Here you will find a checklist of how to prepare for successful interview.

Questions by Profession

Search by job title

Here you will find example interview questions based on the role you are applying for.

After Your Interview

Contact your consultant as soon as possible after your interview has finished.

This is very important so that you can debrief your consultant on how you think your interview went: good or bad. If you’re worried about any aspect of the interview, your consultant may be able to smooth things over with the company. If you’re feeling positive then this feedback will also be important to share with the client.

To your interview success!

Step 1
Understand the process

Competency Interviews require thorough preparation: take your time.

Step 2
Research the role

Research the company, the job description and person specification.

Step 3
Prepare examples

Prepare examples of your skills and experience based on competencies.

Step 4
Practice your answers

Know your skills and experience inside out: practice, practice, practice!

We're here to help you succeed
We believe in your abilities and want to see you do well at interview, get the job and progress your career!

If you are unsure about any aspect of the role or the company – no matter how small – then please get in touch with your consultant straight away so we can help:
  • Questions by email: Simply reply to your interview confirmation email from your consultant.
  • Questions by phone: Call our office on 01273 607129 to speak to our teams directly.
To your career success!

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