How to ace a competency-based interview

As with any interview, the key to mastering a competency-based interview is preparation.

If you’ve done your research on the company, you’ve thought about what questions to expect and you’re ready with the answers then you can stroll into the interview with confidence, knowing that you’re going to give it your best shot.

What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview (could also be called a situational, structural or behavioural interview) is designed to test whether you have the specific skills that match the job requirements, as opposed to finding out about your qualifications and experience.

“Part of our interview process involves competency-based questions. We include competency questions as we want to understand how candidates would behave in a real-life scenario. We always look for evidence within the answers as this shows the candidate has experienced a similar situation in the past. But most importantly we want to get a sense of who you are as a person so try to relax and get your personality across as well as the competencies.”

– Holly Byrne, Content Solutions Group Head, Global Radio

What questions will you be asked?

Competency-based questions are normally easily recognisable and will usually begin with one of the following (or similar).

  • Describe a situation where you’ve…
  • Have you ever had to…
  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Can you give me an example when…

How can you prepare for a competency-based interview?

Firstly, you will need to work out the competencies that you are most likely to be questioned about.

To do this, scour the job description to find the key skills that they are looking for in the successful candidate. Also, think about the competencies that are relevant to the industry they’re in. As well as competencies specific to the role, company or industry, there are commonplace competencies that you are likely to be asked about.

In no particular order, some of the most frequent competencies to come up are.

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Time-management
  • Leadership
  • Organisation
  • Problem solving
  • Delegation

When you have your list of competencies, you’ll need to start preparing your answers for them.

Go through your past experience (use your CV) and pick out stories which perfectly demonstrate your aptitude to the skill. As with your CV, your answers need to be tailored to the role.

Using the STAR interview technique in your answers

The trick in an interview is to choose the right story as your answer depending on the question and the competency.

Don’t over-rehearse your stories as they will need to come across as natural on the day. To ensure that you convey your experience in a way that hits all the points that the interviewers are looking for, consider structuring your answers using the STAR technique.

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Using the STAR technique will also help you to cut down on any waffle that you might be tempted to fall into. Start off your answer by setting the scene, then describe the project or responsibility that you were undertaking.

Next talk about the process that you went through to create a solution or positive outcome, and conclude by telling them exactly what that was using metrics if you can.

A good example of an answer to a teamwork question could be…

“My teamwork skills were shown when I lead a team presentation for new business to one of our main prospective clients. Four of us were asked to present a 30-minute proposal as to how we could improve the prospects website conversion rates. As a team, we worked together to study their online analytics and conduct relevant competitor and market research. The client gave feedback to say that they were impressed with the proposal which showed them the benefits of our offering, the predicted results and costs within the allotted time frame. We ended up winning the business.”

Interview basics

Finally, make sure you have these five basics in place for any interview that you attend and go get them!

1. Dress to impress

The night before make sure your clothes are ironed and your shoes are shiny. If you’re not certain of the company dress code, ask before you go or always err on the side of looking smart.

2. Arrive early

There’s nothing like a last minute panic to get you in a fluster so give yourself loads of time to find the place. Leaving extra in case of traffic and unforeseen delays.

3. Research the business

Have a thorough read of their website, social media channels and any other information you have access to.

4. Listen

If the nerves tend to get to you it can be easy to rush through your answers and not hear the questions properly. Take your time and really engage with the interviewers. Make sure you adapt your pre-prepared answers to the questions.

5. Want the job

One of the main things that an employer wants to see is that you are enthusiastic about the role so don’t be afraid to tell them. If it’s neck and neck between you and another candidate then this could set you apart.

Sophie Cross is a freelance writer and marketer specialising in business and travel. She is the editor for London Revealed magazine and her clients include lastminute.com Group and the Coca-Cola London Eye.

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