The idea of competency-based interviews might cause stress and anxiety for many of us. One of the reasons for these reactions is a lack of knowledge about how to handle these types of questions. Many people also don’t know how to get prepared for this type of interview. In fact, understanding the core concept behind competency-based interviews and questions may help you differentiate yourself amongst other candidates and better highlight your achievements.

Let’s start by explaining what competency-based interviews (or, in other words, situational or behavioral interviews) are all about. Behavioral interviews are based on the assumption that the best predictor of future behavior is past performance in similar circumstances. The purpose of this type of interview is to make the recruitment process as objective as possible and to remove any conscious or subconscious bias by the interviewer by asking each candidate the same questions.

The competency-based interview is very efficient for exploring how a person’s skills, gained from handling situations in the past, would transfer to a particular job. Some skills and competencies that may be assessed by competency-based questions include the ability to influence and persuade others, the ability to cope with stress and effectively manage pressure, compliance, communication, conflict management, leadership, problem solving and teamwork skills.

The interview questions may relate to:

  • Situations (e.g. ‘Tell me about a time when you helped a colleague at work.’)
  • Actions (e.g. ‘What was your role in the cost-saving project that you mentioned in your application?’)
  • Results (e.g. ‘Describe how you dealt with an irate customer.’)

Thankfully, there’s a tried and tested technique that will help you answer these tricky questions. It is called a STAR technique, and it is an acronym that will help you structure your answers:

S is for situation: Start your answer by providing the background of your experience. This may be a situation from your previous employment, university or extra-curricular activities. The situation must be relevant to the competency you want to demonstrate and specific to a fixed point in time.

T is for task: Describe your role and responsibility in this situation.

A is for action: This is the most crucial part of your answer as it covers the specific actions that you took to overcome a challenge or complete the task.

R is for result: The result should be a positive one. This could be a cost savings of 15% or overachieving your targets. It would be a great idea to add what you have learned from that situation, and if there were anything you’d do differently the next time when faced with the same situation.

Being prepared is a key to success.

Here are some more tips to consider when preparing for a competency-based interview:

  • Before your interview, go through the job description and look for the key skills related to the role you are applying for. For each one, prepare an example of how you can show those skills.
  • Make a list of your most relevant accomplishments.
  • Be specific: Use numbers, names and be as detailed as possible. Quantifying your success will not only make your story more interesting but also more credible.
  • Do not forget the word ‘I’: I assume many of us might not feel comfortable talking about ourselves or we are simply not aware of how important it is to highlight our contributions and actions. Remember, the interview is all about you, so start confidently stating why you are a great fit for the job.
  • Embrace probing questions: Recruiters ask these questions to lead you to provide the information s/he needs to hear.
  • Don’t make up stories: Any embellishments or contradictory information will be noticeable.
  • It might seem obvious, but please do not use examples from the internet. Once I had two candidates in a row telling me about the same project in which their roles were significant. They failed when I asked probing questions.
  • Identify backup examples for each skill, just in case you find it tough to find examples during the time of an interview.

By following these tips and using the STAR technique, you will be equipped to sail through your next interview!

Good luck and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.