Interview skills: answering competency-based questions
Career counsellor at CV Writers, Michelle Hiseman, advises on how to answer competency-based questions at interview
18 June 2020
Competency-based interviews are used to demonstrate that you have the right skills for the role by using examples based on prior experience.
They often start with:
- Give me an example of a time when…
- Tell us about a situation when…
- Describe a time when…
Using examples that you have identified in your interview preparation process, combined with the Context, Behaviour, Impact (CBI) technique, gives structure to your answers.
You should focus not just on ‘what’ you did but also ‘how’ you did it
Briefly describe the situation, task, goals, main challenges and the reason for undertaking the task. For example: “Due to a merger, I was made area manager. The branches were used to working under two different systems and cultures, and due to poor communication, morale was low. Several teams consistently under performed on the targets to upsell products and services.”
Explain what you did to achieve the outcome. This is where the most detail should be. You should focus not just on ‘what’ you did but also ‘how’ you did it, including:
- Your decision-making process
- Reasons for choosing your course of action
- How you interacted with people
- How you overcame the challenges.
When answering a question related to conflict, you could say: “I told him to calm down and explained what the problem was.” However, there is not enough detail in this answer. Alternatively, you should highlight the reasons behind your action, how you spoke to him and your course of action. For example: “I could sense my colleague was irritated so I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings, he quickly calmed down. I then explained my own point of view, emphasising the importance of finding a solution that suited us both. We scheduled a meeting to…”
Avoid over-rehearsing your answers. You need to come across naturally in the interview
Briefly explain the outcome, what you accomplished, the contribution it made to the organisation and what you learnt. Use quantifiable statistics if possible, plus reflections or interesting insights. For example: “The impact of the restructure resulted in a 20% increase of sales in the first four months and we are already on target to exceed this in the next three months. Plus, there has been a noticeable difference in morale. As a result of our success, the new team structure is being rolled out across the entire organisation and I am acting as an adviser to other area managers. I am particularly proud of this project because it was my first management role and I have gained a lot of confidence in my leadership abilities.”
The Glassdoor website is always worth a look. It has examples of actual questions asked at interviews for specific companies, particularly larger chains. Current and former employees also give insights and ratings about their experience of working for those companies.
Practise your answers out loud. This is more effective than thinking about them. Ask a trusted friend or hire an interview coach to perform a mock interview and give you honest feedback about your performance. A note of caution, though: avoid over-rehearsing your answers. You need to come across naturally in the interview, plus have the flexibility to adapt your answers to the actual questions being asked.
CV Writers offers career counselling and interview coaching, as well as support with CVs, LinkedIn profiles and cover letters. They also provide a free CV review service via their website.