Preparing For A Competency Based Interview

Competency based interviews are a different type of interview sometimes used by employers. Its when each question is specifically aimed at testing one or more of your skills.

These interviews require you to answer questions with very specific examples and details.

For example, an employer will get you to explain how you would handle conflict in the workplace and then get you to give a specific example of a time that you did.

In these situations you will be expected to support every statement you make with a concrete, experience based example.  Preparing your examples beforehand will help you stand out from the other candidates.

How do these interviews differ from normal ones?

During a regular interview an employer will ask you questions relevant to what they are looking in an employee. They want to see if you, personally, are a good fit for the company.

Questions during normal interviews can be fairly random and dictated on pace. The questions asked are general and the format of the interview is usually less structured and less formal-.

The process of a competency based interview is much more systematic. Questions are oriented around finding out how you would behave in specific situations that are related to the position.

In these interviews your answers have to be extremely specific. The employers are likely to dig deep by asking questions about the examples that you give.

What skills are important for competency based interview answers?

The important skills to be prepared for will of course be decided by the position you are applying for.

Do some research on what employers are looking for in the positions that you want. Look at the skills in demand in your industry. Write these down as well as your own skills.

Once you have done this come up with 2 or 3 examples for each skill. Be prepared to thoroughly explain the process of your examples from start to finish.

The goal of your preparation is to be able to go into the interview and give full yet concise answers. It is very easy to ramble when trying to explain or justify something. Keep your answers as short as possible and on topic.

Remember to treat everything as a process. Everything has a start and finish.  Start with describing the situation, from here explain how you handled it and then describe the results.

free competency based interview questions and answers

Process of these types of interviews

Key things to be aware of

Probing is when an employer will try and get more out of you on a question. Consider yourself lucky if this occurs during the interview. If they feel your answer is lacking sometimes they try and help you along by trying to get you to explain more. However your answers should be full from the start.   Keep your ears open for these probing phrases:

“How did you…”

“What happened when…”

“After this….”

These phrases are indicative of an employer that wants more information. Focus on what they are asking and fill in the gaps. Be careful not to let them have to probe you too often.

Attributes you need to show off:

When you go into these kinds of situations, employers are looking for a strong skilled person but not a lone wolf.  Always be willing to seek help. Your examples should include examples of team work by default.

When asked about stress make sure you show them that you handle it well. Talk about strategies that you use to help you manage the pressure and stress in your life. These strategies can be sports, art, yoga or whatever it is that you do to relax.

Employers are also looking for someone who is level headed but recognizes their own limitations.

You should be confident in your skills but even more confident in your ability to learn.

In a competency based interview you need to be able to consider the needs of multiple people at once. Employers always welcome someone who goes out of their way to learn.

Use the STAR method to prepare your examples


Give a setting to your example.  Let the employer know which company you were with, your title, a brief overview of your responsibilities & identify the problem that you had to figure out a solution to.


After having the problem clearly stated, discuss what you had to do to solve it.  Go over the process of how you came to decide what action to take.  Talk about if you used teamwork and talk about your thinking process.


Describe what you did here.  Talk about the effect your actions had.  Acknowledge your team mates if you had help with the execution of this action.


End by showing how your actions influenced how the situations ended.  If the effect of your actions were positive, highlight the skills you used in order to influence that outcome.

You can read more examples of using the STAR method here

Things you need to stay away from:

Stay away from bringing a negative outlook into the interview. You should view problems as challenges that are waiting to be overcome. Do not approach issues with a glass half empty mindset.

As said above, always show that you are willing to seek help. If you are a truly competent employee you will seek help to get the job done as best as possible.

Always remember to be unique in how you prepare and make sure your have solid examples to fall back on.

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