What are the most common competency based questions?

Competency based interviewing has always been a favourite tool of the selection process for many companies and more and more recruitment partners are coming to realise the benefits of selecting new employees using this technique.

The basic premise driving this type of interview is that a candidate’s past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Competency based questions are directly linked to an essential function of the position.

Interviews not based on behavioural interviewing techniques usually tend to focus exclusively on education and experience, precisely the same information that can be found on a CV. Whilst this information helps candidates get to interview stage, it has limits. To predict how an applicant is likely to handle the job, HR managers need to ask for examples of things the candidate has actually done that would demonstrate the key characteristics the firm needs. Competency based interviewing also helps an organisation remove bias, as a candidate is assessed on their  abilities to handle different situations and not on their education and longevity of experience.

The categories and examples of competency-based questions follow:

Organisational awareness

  • Describe the structure of your company and give an example of how you work within this culture to achieve a personal / professional goal.
  • Describe how you would perceive the new company and how you would adapt to this culture.

Strategic thinking

  • Describe your most challenging audit and what you changed to adapt to that scenario.
  • How did you go about assessing your own performance within this assignment?


  • How do you keep your clients informed about difficult issues that directly affect their bottom line?
  • Give an example  of a difficult or sensitive situation that required you to use excellent communication skills.
  • Give an example  of how you have developed communication skills in others (particularly helpful when interviewing at managerial level).

Client focus

  • Give an example  of how you provided service to a client beyond their expectations. How did you identify this need? What was their reaction?
  • Describe the process you use to stay in touch with clients’ short and long-term needs.

Client relationship

  • Describe how you develop new client relationships.
  • Describe how you keep your existing client base despite threats from competition.


  • Describe a  situation in which you were a member of a team. What did you do to make a positive contribution to the team?
  • Describe a situation where there was conflict within the team and how you resolved it.

Leadership ability

  • Describe how you led a team (comprising trainees, juniors and seniors) through a difficult audit. How did you improve their work?
  • Describe a situation where you had to take charge either with a demanding client or with your own team.

Adaptability / flexibility

  • Tell me about the biggest challenges you faced when starting a new job.
  • Describe a situation in which you were assigned new tasks. How did you adapt to this situation? Tell me about a time you had to learn how to use a new system or software at work.


This is particularly relevant at managerial level where partners are looking for an individual who can make a positive profit making contribution for the firm:

  • Describe something you have done that was new for your firm that improved the performance of your team or the value of the work done.
  • Have you done anything innovative (either produced surveys or written reports) that  would be of direct interest to your clients or enhanced awareness of your firm?

Time management

  • Give me a specific example of a time when you failed to complete an audit assignment on time.
  • How did this outcome affect your firm?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • How has that experience affected the way you deal with deadlines now?

The major benefits of this type of interviewing are that these questions allow the candidate to relate their answer to a real life experience rather than giving a generic textbook answer. This enables the candidate to reveal the most relevant information in context to the current job opportunity.

It is ironic that while most hiring is done around technical skills, most staff retention issues arise based on softer skills such as attitude. A technical question would never reveal such a potential behavioural flaw. When competency-based behavioural interviewing forms the framework for the entire recruitment process, interviewers are able to make much more effective hiring decisions.

As more and more companies adapt to new legislation and new environments, each employee is becoming more commercially astute. No longer seen as mere employees, they are taking on the role of business consultants and ambassadors for their own firm. Competency-based behavioural interviewing enables interviewers to select the best possible candidate for their business and as such is an invaluable tool for any recruitment partner.

For more advice on Competency based interviews find out how to prepare here.

by on May 30th, 2018
posted in Advice