Banner Default Blog Image

Competency Interviews

almost 7 years ago

competency interview guide, recruitment, recruiting, interview guide

A guide to competency based interviews

We have all been there and appreciate that the prospect of an interview can cause all sorts of worries and stresses, as you drive yourself mad thinking about it.

We are going to try to allay some of your fears through this guide by explaining a few features of competency based interviewing and giving some ‘hints and tips’ on how to prepare yourself. 

What is a Competency?

A competency is simply a description of the behaviours you display when performing a role well.  Different sets of behaviours are put together for different aspects of someone’s role and this is how an overall competency framework is made up.

Here are some examples to explain:

If your role involved being able to organise well, being a team player and requires customer focus then the competencies for these might look like:-

  • Communication and Relationships ​
  • Planning and Organising
  • Decision-making/Initiatives

What is a Competency-Based Interview?

The aim of a competency based interview is pretty much the same as any interview, that is, to give you the chance to tell the interviewer as much about your past work performance as possible. 

What will probably feel different about the competency based interview is its very structured approach. 

The interviewer (or interviewers, there will probably be two) will have a set of questions to ask you that have been prepared in advance.  They will read these questions to you from their page almost like a script – the reason for this is that they will be asking exactly the same questions of each candidate applying for the role, to ensure fairness and consistency.

So how do I prepare for the Questions?

In answering the questions, you need to provide the interviewers with examples or stories of situations you have faced in your previous role that demonstrate how you have performed.  So, for example, if you are asked:

Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you had to answer the phone to an angry customer/client”


  • You will need to tell them of a time when this happened. 
  • You could start by telling them the background to the situation.
  • What happened?
  • Why?
  • Then go on to explain exactly what you did, how you went about handling the situation (Please note that the interviewer will be particularly interested in your answer to this)

It’s a good idea to remember to tell the interviewer what the outcome was.  If the outcome wasn’t quite what you had hoped for this is still useful information for the interviewer but let them know what you feel you learned from the situation. 

What will the Competencies be?

The competency based interview will be based on the following depending on the role: - (This is not an exhaustive list)

  • Communication and Relationships
  • Planning and organising
  • Commercial Awareness and so on
  • Decision –Making/Initiative
  • Managing and Supervisory skills
  • Accountability
  • Meeting pressures of work and delivering results

Where do I get all my examples from?

There are many areas you should consider when gathering examples, including:

  • Projects you have been involved in
  • Problems you have faced
  • Relationships you have had with customers, colleagues, etc
  • Times you have influenced/negotiated a decision
  • Success you have had

Once you sit down and start to think about the above, you will find that you have many situations that you can use as examples.

What about my technical knowledge?

Some roles will require technical questions to be added to the competency based questions.  Interviewers, in this situation, will be asking questions designed to check what level of technical knowledge you have and how you have applied it in the past. 

They may equally introduce some form of testing following the interview, for example, case studies or technical questions.

Hints & Tips

Preparing beforehand:

To make yourself feel better in the lead up to your interview day you could:

  • Rehearse your examples in your mind
  • Find a friend or colleague to rehearse with (this one is handy because they can give some valuable constructive feedback)
  • The interviewers are there to help you give your best – they are not aiming to trip you up or trick you.
  • Remember, this is a meeting between adults
  • The day before, try to relax by keeping to your usual routines

During the interview:

  • Pace yourself with slow, even breathing
  • Answer in a clear, logical manner that the interviewers can easily follow
  • Pause for thought when you need to, the interviewers won’t think badly of you
  • Keep a clear focus on the competency being discussed
  • Keep your language specific, positive and sound interested
  • Take notes in with you if you need them but make them easy to refer back to and not too wordy

What will the interviewers be doing?

  • They will be trying to obtain as much information as possible.
  • They will be working from their ‘script’ of questions, so don’t be put off if they sound less spontaneous than most interviewers you may have met
  • If they feel they have gathered sufficient evidence against the competency they may say “thanks but we will move on now” or words to that effect.
  • They will start with open questions to help get you started and then probe for details to find out what you actually did.
  • Remember, they will want to help you as much as they can.