What Are Competency-Based Interview Questions?

Competency-based interviews rely on the assumption that past successful or unsuccessful job scenarios provide evidence of compatibility with the position's requisites. You are required to answer questions that call upon on your work experience to explain the outcome of your past decisions. Interviewers use these answers to get a better understanding of your personality, your thought process, and how you may act in the future.

Competencies are a wide range of behavioural, cognitive, and knowledge-based skills which characterise people in their working environment, and which are compared with specific, employer-dependent standards.

Most employers, especially those who operate in large scales, are interested in evaluating applicants' competencies prior to their qualification, to make sure they will not only fulfill the specific skills required for the job, but also cope with the company's vision and with future promotions and position replacements.

Competencies are often divided into three main categories:

  • Behavioural competencies include a person's values, morals, desires, and motivations, or, alternatively, they may span around social skills, such as communication, leadership, teamwork, and coping with stress.
  • Cognitive competencies are usually measured by one's learning skills, aptitudes, and abilities.
  • Technical competencies include field-related knowledge and performance, such as the ability to operate certain technologies or systems, apply computer skills, etc.

How to Approach Competency-Based Interview Questions

The best way to prepare for this style of questions is to reflect on your past experience. Interviewers are looking to get as much information out of you as possible, so make sure your responses provide all of the necessary information for the interviewer to understand the scope of your answer.

Oftentimes, interviewers will focus on instances of past failures or successes. Admitting your failures will not reflect negatively during your interview as long as you relate how you remedied the situation, what you learned, and how you plan to avoid making the same mistake again.

Competency-Based Interview Questions and Answers

Here are several examples of recommended questions and answers for a competency-based interview. Some questions can be asked for almost any position, while some questions vary from job to job. 

Popular Competency Questions

  • Give an example of your sales skills.
  • Give an example of a project in which you were involved that required your teamwork skills.
  • How do you deal with stressful situations?
  • How would you assess your ability to bring about change?
  • Give an example of a significant decision you made in your last position.
  • Give an example of a change you initiated in your organisation.
  • As a manager, do you direct the project or the people?
  • Describe a success of yours as a manager.

In competency-based interviews, the interviewers can be very interested in hearing how you contend with failure. For instance, a question may take one of the following forms:

  • Give an example of a conflict you had with a customer and how you responded.
  • Give an example of a conflict you had with your superior and how you responded.
  • How would you resolve a state of competition with a team colleague?
  • Describe a failure of yours as a manager.

Q & A for a Sales Position

Interviewer asks: 'How do you assess your sales ability as compared with other salespeople?'

Candidate answers: 'I'm considered a leading salesperson in our company. I received a bonus several times as the leading salesperson in the company.'

Comment: This response adequately answers the question asked.

Question: 'Give an example of your sales ability'.

Answer: A candidate who responds with a lack of confidence, and answers, 'I have a hard time recalling a specific instance', will leave a bad impression. A candidate who responds with confidence will answer, 'Last month I closed a big deal with a leading computer firm. The deal significantly decreased the company's turnover for the last quarter'.

In a competency-based interview, the candidate must prove competency by giving specific examples.

Q & A for a Team Member Position

Examples of team member positions are programming, customer service, project engineers, a team of accountants in an accounting firm, and the like. Questions for a team member position usually test for the ability to conform to a team, to form good relations, to accept authority, and to work under pressure.

Question: 'How would you describe yourself as a team member? What do you enjoy better, working as a team or working alone?'

Answer: 'I'm a good team worker. I enjoy the company of people, I like working in a team, and I am always willing to help and do my share'.

Question: 'Give me an example of a contribution you made to your work team'.

Answer: 'I recently worked with five programmers on a project for a large food company. I made a significant contribution to the success of the team in carrying out the project. At the end of the project, I got a letter of commendation for my contribution to the success of the team'.

Question: 'How do you deal with working under pressure?'

Answer: 'I work well under pressure. For example, recently, the number of workers in our department was cut, while the amount of work I was given nearly doubled. I was asked by the managers to work overtime, and I managed to work efficiently and in a professional manner during a busy and stressful time. I showed efficiency and professionalism in spite of the stress'.

Comment: Adding the example reinforced the competency that the candidate described.

Q & A for a Management Position

Question: 'Give an example of a significant decision you made in your last job'.

Answer: 'Recently, I had to make a decision involving promoting a worker to a managerial level. One of the candidates for the job was close to me, but, despite the closeness, I decided to choose another person. This was an important decision that strengthened the department'.

Comment: Hesitation is not a trait that interviewers appreciate. On the other hand, rash decisions give the impression of a candidate under pressure. It is wise to demonstrate a mature decision-making ability.

Question: 'How do people view you as a manager?'

Answer: 'I am looked up to as a manager who leads and is authoritative; people trust my judgement. I know how to listen to other views with open-mindedness, and I know how to make decisions when need be. I make a significant contribution to achieving the goals of the organisation'.

Comment: A good candidate believes in himself and is not overly-modest.

How to Prepare for Competency Interview Questions

The questions above test competency in various positions as well as your attitude towards customers. You need to show competency in dealing with conflict, as well as demonstrate a positive attitude towards superiors, colleagues, and customers. In addition, you must demonstrate that you function calmly and purposefully even in stressful situations. Finally, you must demonstrate confidence in yourself and in your achievements on the job.

Therefore, in order to prepare yourself for a competency-based interview, take the following steps:

  • Have your CV with you and some scratch paper on which you can write down your responses to questions about your experience.
  • Start reviewing the list of competency-based questions to see if you have suitable answers for them.
  • Write down the key points you want to discuss. Try to say these key points out loud to see if you sound coherent and convincing.

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