We have been inundated with requests for information on how to prepare for competency based interviews and this week we have featured some basic rules with a couple of books recommended to read to help you in your pursuit of a new job.

What is competency based interviewing

Competency based interviewing is also known as behavioural interviewing. Each question is designed to test one or more specific skills as well as assess how the interviewee coped and managed in varying situations.  This is different to a general interview which is is often used as a fact finding exercise where the interviewer can find out about the candidates motivation e.g. why are you interested in this role? Or what do you know about our company?

Answers in a competency interview are based on questions which have been prepared around specific skills and competencies that the job the applicant is applying to needs and probe into an individual’s behaviour in specific circumstances which need to then be evidenced by specific, real examples.  The interviewer will then dig further and ask the candidate to explain their behaviour or skill.

Typical questions you might be asked include  

Most questions tend to ask for examples of situations where you have demonstrated specific skills, they can appear in different formats. Answers should always include specific examples / evidence to show you have the right skills based on your prior experience.

  • Describe a time when you managed situations of conflict with internal or external clients ?
  • Describe a situation where you worked in a team and what was the outcome.
  • Tell us about a time when conflict led to a negative outcome and what did you learn from it
  • Give us an example of a situation where you had a fundamental disagreement with one of your managers.
  • What was the outcome?
  • Tell us about a situation where you made a decision and then changed your mind
  • Tell us about a situation where communication skills made a difference to a situation?
  • Tell us a time when you had to summarise complex points
  • When do you think it is justified to go against principles or policies
  • What positive and negative feedback have you received about your writing skills?
  • What is the decision you have put off the longest and why
  • Describe a time when you reluctantly delegated to a colleague and what was the outcome.
  • Describe a situation where one of your projects suffered a setback due to an unexpected change in circumstances.
  • Tell us about an idea that you managed to sell to your manager and what was the challenge.
  • Tell us about a time when someone asked you to do something you objected to and what was the outcome.

These answers are ranked in order of importance and relevance to a specific job and situation  the applicant is applying to, and each answer given is assessed and rated, usually on a scale system such as the one below which is used by some of our clients.

The criteria are marked

0 = no evidence reported

1= little evidence of positive indicators

2- limited evidence of positive indicators and many negative indicators  

3- satisfactory display of positive indicators, some negative but nmore decisive

4= excellent strong display of positive indicators  

Types of skills and competencies that competency-based interviews test

The list of skills and competencies that can be tested varies depending on the post that you are applying for. For example, for a Personal Assistant post, skills and competencies would include communication skills; ability to organise and prioritise; and ability to work under pressure. For a senior manager, skills and competencies may include an ability to influence and negotiate; an ability to cope with stress and pressure; an ability to lead; and the capacity to take calculated risks.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the more common skills and competencies that you may be asked to demonstrate:

Competencies and skills for competency-based interviews 

  •   Adaptability
  •   Compliance
  •   Communication
  •   Creativity and Innovation
  •   Decisiveness
  •   Delegation
  •   Managing Conflict
  •   External awareness
  •   Flexibility
  •   Independence
  •   Influencing
  •   Integrity
  •   Leadership
  •   Leveraging diversity
  •   Resilience and tenacity
  •   Risk taking
  •   Sensitivity to others
  •   Team work

How to prepare for a competency based interview

Check with your recruiter and make sure you understand the skills and competencies that will be tested. Job descriptions and person specifications don’t always give you all the information you know. Sometimes it is the detail behind the scenes that make a difference

Once you have identified the competencies then it is important to find and identify specific situations which can give good examples relevant to those specific skills and competencies being sought. Make sure you are able to explain these, (the situation and outcome)  in a  clear and concise manner.

Using STAR

Many of our clients use the STAR technique to structure their interview and using this method to prepare for  questions is a great way to make sure that you have answered the question in full


Describe the situation, how you came to be in that situation and what happened.  E.g if asked for a situation of conflict in a team describe how you came to be in the team and why there was conflict.


Explain the task you had to undertake


This is where you explain what you did and here you need to discuss YOUR role , what you did and how you did it and why you decided to do it that way. Here the interviewer assesses your reaction to a situation drove you to do it that way. You will need to provide detail and show the way you handled the task. For example were you calm, firm, forceful in handling a situation of conflict? Did you listen to why this person behaved the way they did or did you just tell them what they had to do without giving them a voice? The interviewer may be looking to see if you can bring the best out of people.


This is where you discuss the outcome, what the results were, what lessons you learned how this impacted on the role,  business or team and whether you managed to achieve your objective.

For more information about competency based interviews you can read our article here and we also recommend the following books

Competency-Based Interviews: How to Master the Tough Interview Style Used by the Fortune 500

By Robin Kessler


“201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style”

By Linda Matias


by on May 8th, 2013
posted in Advice