A recipe for success with competency-based interview questions

I've had experience of interviewing for a huge variety of roles over the years, says Hilary Jeanes of PurpleLine Consulting. The style and techniques may have changed but the objective is the same - to recruit the person with the closest fit in terms of skills and attitude to do the job effectively. And it's a great feeling when you do...

“Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.” ~Richard Kline, actor

“Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.”  ~Denzel Washington, actor

“Stretching was a major part of my preparation.”  ~Edwin Moses, athlete

Many organisations have developed competency frameworks to set out the behaviours that they want their employees to demonstrate.  They use them, amongst other things, as a framework for recruitment.  So interview questions are designed to test whether your past performance demonstrates a match with the job criteria because, as creatures of habit, our past success is a good indicator of future performance.  Here are some examples of competency-based questions.

Preparation is the key to success.  By taking a close look at the job description and candidate profile before your interview you can think through and rehearse examples of evidence from your personal experience for each competency the organisation’s looking for.  You can anticipate examples of the types of questions you will be asked and prepare answers which demonstrate that you can do what is required.  That rehearsal enables you to practice your answers which leads you to feel confident and give an articulate response at the interview.

The STAR model provides a structure for answering competency-based questions well.  STAR stands for Situation, Task, the Actions you took and the Results you achieved. 

And it’s even better if you are able to demonstrate how the results had a positive impact on the business, what you learned from the experience and what you would do differently next time.  By telling a story, highlighting the salient points, you will hold the interviewers’ attention and are also demonstrating your ability to communicate well.  There’s nothing worse than someone rambling on without any idea of where they are going with it.

So what about the questions which hone in on areas where you have no previous track record? 

If you’re not sure how to answer the question, ask the interviewer to repeat the question and while they’re doing so, take a deep breath to give yourself time (and oxygen) to formulate your response.

One strategy is to say you’ve not encountered that situation before.  Then follow that up by talking about the core skills involved and how you have used them in other situations.  Another is to say what you would do in those circumstances.  This shows you’re not fazed by the question and are willing to tackle it.  After all that’s an experience you’re bound to meet in a new job (even in an old one!)

Remember to keep a copy of the CV and/or application form you submitted. You’ve probably already given numerous examples, so you’ve got a head start in terms of your preparation and rehearsal.  By getting through to the interview stage you’ve demonstrated you’ve got a lot of what they’re looking for. 

Take them with you to the interview. 

Remember that the interviewers will have that information in front of them during the interview, so you need to know what’s in them too.  You’d be surprised how often candidates trip themselves up by saying something different at interview to what’s in their application!  Remember those candidates in The Apprentice who did that?  A silly mistake that could cost you the job (not everyone is as forgiving as Lord Sugar!) and which can easily be avoided.

Getting the right support could make the difference between making your next career move and achieving the career success you've dreamed of.


Hilary Jeanes is a leadership coach and director of PurpleLine Consulting.  You can contact her on 01763 245323 or by emailing her at Hilary@PurpleLineConsulting.co.uk.


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