What is a Competency Based Interview?

competency based interviewAre you familiar with what a Competency Based Interview is? Perhaps the concept is new to you and you are browsing this site to find out what they are all about. Or, maybe you are due to take part in one, and wish to learn exactly what they entail. You might even have been through one before, and had difficulty adjusting to this unusual and difficult style of interview.

Regardless of your situation, I’m more than happy to offer you my experience and knowledge of Competency Based Interviews. This is an interview technique that I have been using as an interviewer for many years and I can see the benefits and drawbacks for both the candidate and the employer.

Firstly let me give you a little bit of background, Competency Based Interviews, which businesses have utilized for over three decades now, came in to use with the advent of Competency Frameworks, and have evolved to become a widely used employee recruitment tool. Competency Interviews were originally devised as a way to gauge performance, and aid in developing and training present staff members. Now, they are extensively used in the recruitment and selection of potential job candidates.

What is a Competency Based Interview?

In simple terms a Competency Based Interview is one in which specific questions are asked targeted at discovering whether you possess the skills needed to do the job well.

So how is this different from a standard interview you ask? Well, generally speaking, most traditional interviews are more like an exploratory discussion where the interviewee and interviewer engage in a fluid, back and forth conversation.  But a Competency Interview, by contrast, is a rigid and structured affair, with each candidate being posed the same exact questions, and in the same manner and sequence.

The stark contrast between standard and competency interviews becomes readily apparent the moment the interview commences, and you are posed with the opening question. For example in a standard interview you might be asked ‘What will you bring to the role?’ This is a very broad question which gives you the freedom to talk about any skill or experience. In a Competency Based Interview however, the questions might be phrased as ‘Tell me about a time when you made a complex decision? As you can see this is a very specific question related to Decision Making requiring a real life example from you.

Sample Questions You May be Asked

So as mentioned above the task of the interviewer is to discover if you actually possess the skills they need. These are often referred to as Competencies and include the most common:

Achieving resultsDemonstrating InitiativeRelationship Building

Team Work

Effective leadershipDeveloping ColleaguesEffective Communication

Analytical Thinking


Interpersonal SkillsStrategic ThinkingOrganising and Planning

Making successful decisions


In your interview you may be tested on say 5 or 6 of these competencies and for each you may be asked 2 questions each.   These questions will be designed to facilitate the interview process in being as standard and unbiased as possible.

As discussed earlier, the main differences between the interview types can be found in the phrasing of the main questions. In a traditional interview for example, a candidate might be asked the question “How would rate your communication skills from 1-10?” The typical candidate will almost certainly respond with a high rating. But in the absence of further proof, the recruiter cannot confidently verify the accuracy of this statement.

A Competency Interview Question, however, aims to ascertain that very evidence. It achieves this by requiring the applicant to both discuss at length, and give specific details of instances where they were called upon to use those specific skills for example: ‘Describe a time when you communicated effectively to a group of people.” As you can see this question relates to Communication skills and your answer should detail a clear example of when you did this successfully.

Other Competency Based Interview questions related to Communication might be:

Describe a situation in which your communication skills were essential to the positive care of a customer. What did you do and what was the outcome?

Talk me through a time where you used your communication skills effectively resulting in a successful outcome.

Describe a time when you successfully conveyed your ideas to an audience who were unfamiliar with the subject matter.

Your Answers Will Be Scored

The other key feature of Competency Based Interviews is that your answers will be scored against pre –determined results. These are called Behaviours and can be positive and negative. For example looking at Communication skills, positive behaviours the interviewer will look for someone who:

  • Develops messages using structure and logical order
  • Tailors content of message to meet the needs and interest of the audience
  • Conveys messages in a clear and concise manner in language appropriate to the receiver.
  • Checks understanding of the audience and adapts message and tone accordingly
  • Uses most effective channels as appropriate to the situation

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Good News – Competency Based Interviews are more fair and accurate

There always remains a risk of human bias in the traditional interview process, as the decision making process can easily be swayed by random personal elements. An example of this is an interviewer “feeling” a certain way about a job applicant. So rather than the hiring decision being based on the competency of the candidate, the interviewer instead relies on an unsubstantiated gut feeling. Although this ‘method’ sometimes results in the ideal candidate being chosen, more often than not it is an incorrect decision that will eventually become an expensive rehiring process for the company.

By instead utilizing a Competency Interview strategy, an employer can be much more confident that their eventual hires measure up in the key areas. Due to their structure and application, this type of interview does not allow for human bias, and thus eliminates favoritism or discrimination.

  • Increased accuracy in hiring decisions
  • Standard recruitment models throughout a company
  • Decreased risk of human bias, partiality, or favoritism

The application of Competency Interviews has many inherent benefits, which include increased accuracy of candidate identification, elimination of interview bias, and the improved pairing of job candidates to their eventual duties.

Tips to Help You Succeed in your Competency Based Interview

Success in a Competency Based Interview as with any comes from quality preparation and the starting point is to study the Job Description to learn which competencies are expected. As an example, if a job description lists Decision Making, Team Work, Achieving Results and Use of Initiative as necessary competencies, you should document two examples relating to all of these.

The key points you should be able to recall are: what type of situation it was, what your role was, exactly how you acted, what went into your decision, and the end result. By learning the specific competencies and rehearsing your answers in advance, the information will be at the forefront of your mind during the interview. This will aid you greatly in giving clear and concise answers to the interviewer. Remember, you are there to prove to the interviewer that you are the absolute best candidate for the job. And the best way to do that is by delivering thorough and succinct examples of your command of every competency required.

Learn How to Succeed in Your Competency Interview

We all know how challenging Competency Based Interviews can be and the key is proper preparation and practice. InterviewGold for Competency Based Interviews is the leading online interview skills training course and will quickly and easily teach you how to excel and win the job.

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