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How To Survive In a Competency Based Interview

Lets face it, competency based interviews are tough. Competency based interviews are being adopted by many companies as a more in-depth way of assessing a candidate’s suitability for a particular role. The questions may be intentionally difficult and will demand that you provide examples to back up your experiences. The interviewer will look to obtain specific examples of when and how you demonstrated particular behaviours. The employer’s philosophy is that these past examples will display how a candidate will behave in the future.


Preparation for these interviews is vital, particularly if you have not interviewed recently. These interviews will not only highlight you as an individual, but will also show the employer how you cope with stress and challenging situations. Only those prepared will be successful.

Dissect the job spec, highlighting the key skills needed from their ideal candidate. Generate examples from all aspects of your life: work, voluntary involvement, education and personal projects, ensuring they are relevant to the job role you are interviewing for. Try to think of relevant examples.

When explaining your answers, consider adopting the STAR approach. It is an excellent communication technique designed to enable you to provide meaningful, structured and complete answers to their questions. At the same time, it has the advantage of being simple enough to be applied easily to any example. The information will be produced in a rational manner and, as a result, your interviewer will be more receptive to the messages you are trying to communicate.

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Step 1 – Situation or Task

Describe the situation that you were confronted with or the task that needed to be accomplished. With the STAR approach you need to set the context. Make it concise and informative, concentrating solely on what is useful to the story. For example, if the question is asking you to describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult person, explain how you came to meet that person and why they were being difficult. If the question is asking for an example of teamwork, explain the task that you had to undertake as a team.

Step 2 – Action

This is the most important section of the STAR approach. It is where you will need to demonstrate and highlight the skills and personal attributes that the question is testing. Now that you have set the context of your story, you need to explain what you did. In doing so, you will need to remember the following:

Be personal, i.e. talk about you, not the rest of the team. Use ‘I’ instead of ‘we’.

  • Go into some detail. DO NOT assume that the interviewer will guess what you mean.
  • Steer clear of technical information, unless it is crucial to your story or the role. Instead consider the HOW and WHY of your behaviour.
  • Explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.

What you did and how you did it

The interviewers will want to know how you reacted to the situation. This is where you can start selling some important skills. For example, you may want to describe how you aided the team to achieve a particular objective and how you used your communication skills to keep everyone updated on progress etc.

Why you did it

For example; when discussing a situation where you had to deal with conflict, many candidates would simply say: “I told my colleague to calm down and explained to him what the problem was”. However, this does not explain WHY you did this. How did you ask him to calm down? How did you explain the nature of the problem? By highlighting the reasons behind your action, you will make a greater impact. For example:

“I could sense that my colleague was irritated and I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings and his anger, I gave him the opportunity to calm down. I then explained to him my own point of view on the matter, emphasising how important it was that we found a solution that suited us both.”

This revised answer helps the interviewers understand what drove your actions. It reinforces the feeling that you are calculating the consequences of your actions, thus retaining full control of the situation. It provides much more information about you as an individual and is another reason why the STAR approach is so useful.

Step 3 – Result
Explain what happened eventually – how it all ended. Also, use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and what you learnt in that situation. This helps you make the answer personal and enables you to highlight further skills.

This is probably the most crucial part of your answer. Interviewers want to know that you are using a variety of generic skills in order to achieve your objectives. Therefore you must be able to demonstrate in your answer that you are taking specific actions because you are trying to achieve a specific objective and not simply by chance.

In conclusion:-

·       Be specific and personal. The interviewer wants to see how YOU respond to situations.
·       Try to think of genuine examples. Make sure you know the outcome of the example you are using, as this is the focal point of the interview.
·       Explain your answers logically and justify your actions.

·       Arrive at the interview unprepared. It will show, and the interviewer will lose interest very quickly.
·       Assume the interviewer knows what you are talking about. Go into some detail and explain your responses concisely and coherently.
Be yourself, and GOOD LUCK!!!!

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