Competency Based Interview Questions and Answers

In most interviews especially in the UK and Ireland you are likely to be asked Competency Based Interview Questions.

These can be asked from Graduate level right up to Senior Management and are especially common in interviews in larger organisations and government departments.

Questions of this type require you to give very specific examples and are often phrased in the following format:

  • Tell me about a time in the past when you…
  • Provide an example of a situation when you…
  • Describe a scenario…

This article deals with Competency Based Interview Questions and Answers and is designed to help you be prepared and ready for your interview.  I discuss some of the most useful methods to apply in interviews when answering competency questions and give you tips on how to prepare effectively.

Sample Competency Based Interview Questions

Ok so here are some difficult competency questions dealing with different skills.

Take a moment and see how you would answer.

  • Describe a time when your work was criticised. Why was it criticised and how did you react?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to communicate complex technical information to a client. What was the situation, what approach did you take and what was the result?
  • Tell me how have you communicated change to ensure that all affected staff were kept up to date?
  • Talk me through a situation where you used your communication skills effectively, resulting in an improved level of customer care.
  • Tell me about a recent decision you made where you acted outside of standard procedure. What were the circumstances and what was the result?
  • Talk me through a mistake or something you did wrong in your previous job.
  • Tell me about a time you had an excellent working relationship with your superiors, what key words would you use to describe it?
  • Tell us about a time when you showed leadership. What did you learn from the experience?
  • Describe a time you had to deal with a difficult or challenging issue with an employee. How did you handle it and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you had to work exceptionally hard to provide great service to a customer or client.
  • Tell me about a time you went above the normal duties of your job to satisfy a difficult customer.
  • Describe a complicated problem you have had to deal with. How did you tackle it and what was the outcome?

Want Great Answers to Competency Questions?

These questions have been taken from the InterviewGold Online System.

To get sample answers to these and to 500 other competency questions today – click here.

Two powerful formulas for Answers to Competency Based Interview Questions

Almost all Competency Based and Behavioural Questions ask you to provide an example that details a situation you have taken part in.  As straightforward a request as this is, not being prepared with a solid example may cause you to ramble, which could result in a poor score.  The best and most effective way to deliver a high scoring competency answer depends firstly on choosing the right example and secondly structuring the answer in very specific way.

Here  are two highly recommended formulas for creating Competency Based answers:

1. The STAR technique: S or T = Situation or Task, A =Action, R = Result

Also called the SAR or PAR technique, STAR provides a simple, step by step process to develop and present your answer.

2. The iPAR technique: i= Introductory statement, P = Problem, A = Action, R = Result.

Similar to the STAR but more focused and with the use of a powerful opening statement you can set the scene for the rest of your answer and grab the interviewers attention.

Top Tips when Answering Competency Based Questions

  1. When considering how to answer, I strongly recommend using authentic examples from your past experiences, as opposed to giving a fabricated or made up account.
  2. It is tempting to use a competency answer from a book or online and pass it off as your own. I strongly recommend against this.  Instead, use the formulas and advice outlined here to develop your own personal answers.  This will help you avoid a potentially awkward situation during your interview, should you be asked to elaborate on a particular point.
  3. You should also take great care to ensure that your answers are relevant to the question being asked. They need to contain a sufficient amount of detail.  Show a strong command of the core competency and clearly demonstrate that you skilled at using it.
  4. Study the job description thoroughly so that you completely grasp exactly what core competencies are essential to the position.  Use this information to develop and rehearse relevant examples of past situations where you applied these skills.
  5. Always frame your answer with a proper introduction, and make liberal use of ‘I’.  In fact, every one of your answers should be in the first person; always choose ‘I’ over ‘we,’ even in cases where you are discussing a past team collaboration.
  6. Carefully examine your resume / curriculum vitae to fully prepare your responses, and devise competency answers which correspond to your highlights and achievements.  Doing this will provide you with plenty of useful information that you can then use effectively no matter what type of competency question you are asked.
  7. Even making a bulleted list in advance as opposed to devising full answers can be helpful. This will ensure your examples will be fresh and at the forefront of your thoughts during the interview.

Sample Competency Based Interview Answers

Keep in mind that your answer should be told in a story format to keep the interviewer’s interest.  Listed below is an example of a competency answer that employs the STAR technique mentioned above.

Example Competency Question:

Tell me about a time when you used your initiative to resolve a complex problem. What was involved and what actions did you take?

Using the STAR method, here is a sample answer:

Situation= Soon after joining my last company I discovered that the average time taken to complete a customer refund was 14 days. This was unacceptable and was taking up an excessive amount of agent time and resources.
Task = I was tasked with reducing this to 2 days with added benefit of saving time and resources. In addition, we were being  flooded with a large volume of customer calls and negative feedback by e-mail with questions asking why it was taking so long to compete the refund. This was giving the company a bad reputation and ultimately our sales were suffering.
Action = The first thing I did was create a detailed brief that both analysed the problem and outlined the potential benefits of the newly proposed process. I devised a new process for dealing with refunds and I organised a project team whose task was to implement this new system.  I set up a system for internal and external feedback and communication, ensuring that everyone involved was on board and up to speed.  I hand-picked four software companies who specialise in the system we needed and after having demonstration and on hands testing, selected our preferred supplier. Throughout the project’s entirety, I successful managed the team members, updated and revising project milestones as necessary and in the end delivered a system that performed superbly.
Result = I overcame every obstacle I encountered, improvised when necessary, and successfully implemented the new system on schedule and under budget.  This new system allows my team to respond to and process customer refunds within the 2 day deadline.  Even more pleasing was the fact that the Board of Directors awarded me a prize for top performing team leader as a result of this project.

As you can see the key is to use the structure to lay out your answer in a clear and logical manner. Be prepared for follow up questions asking what you opted for a particular decision, or what challenges you encountered. With proper preparation and practice you will be able to master competency based interview questions and answer like a professional.

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