Competency job interview questions are used to assess your skills, work behavior, and knowledge. Most of the time, these questions require you to answer with an example situation that you experienced during your work.
These questions are also called behavioral job interview questions and are used to test specific skills. An example of such a question regarding a competency such as teamwork can be ‘Tell me about a time you led or worked with a team.’ Competency interviews are usually conducted with a list of set questions that every candidate gets asked. The answers you give will be compared against pre-determined criteria.
Competency-based job interview questions focus on work situations that you experienced in the past and how you responded to them. The way you respond to these questions tells the interviewer more about your competencies, skills, abilities, work methods, and ethics.
The reason why interviewers use these questions is that analyzing your past behavior is the best indicator to predict your future job performance. Also, it’s the most pragmatic way to uncover previous work experiences.
Interview questions about past work experiences might sound challenging, but you can use them to your advantage. For you, this is a great opportunity to demonstrate your competencies by providing strong answers that relate to the requirements for the job that you’re applying for.
The answers you give the interviewer should convince him or her that you are the right candidate for the job. With the right preparation, you can use your answers to your advantage by demonstrating your suitability for the job.
In this article, we discuss why the interviewer is asking you competency-based interview questions and how you should answer them. Also, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
Why the interviewer is asking competency interview questions
In short, competency-based interview questions help interviewers understand how you’ve dealt with situations, tasks, and other people in the past. Competency-based interview questions are designed to let you do the talking.
These questions require you to explain why you made certain decisions, how you implemented your decisions, and what results were achieved. Your answers to competency-based interview questions reveal a lot about your personality, skills, and work behavior. By assessing your past performance, the interviewers are trying to gauge your potential future performance.
There are multiple reasons why employers use behavioral questions, such as competency-based questions. For interviewers, hiring the right candidate is the number one objective.
Instead of hiring someone they like, they need more in-depth information to find out which candidate is the right one for the job. They try to do just that by analyzing your behavior in past work situations that are similar to the ones you will encounter during the job that you’re applying for.
Advantages of competency interview questions
- An important advantage of competency-based interview questions is that they give all candidates an equal opportunity. These questions are often part of a set interview script and scoring system used by interviewers. All candidates will get asked the same questions and are scored on the same points.
- The information you give an interviewer is based on your own personal experience. You’re required to recall situations from the past that should be relatively easy for you to answer. This information gives the interviewer insight into who you really are and how you go about your work.
- Interviewers look for candidates that can perform to the standards required for the job and someone who will fit well into the existing teams. Competency-based interview questions give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate that they have all the required work experience and abilities needed to perform the job well.
Disadvantages of competency interview questions
- There is a chance that an interviewer asks you a question, and you are not able to come up with a related situation from the past. This is, of course, a situation that you should avoid. Always prepare answers to interview questions you’re expecting based on your research of the position and company. However, make sure that you’re able to answer the question in a natural way and avoid reciting.
- Competency-based interview questions are challenging and can feel like you’re being put on the spot. It’s essential that you’re able to provide coherent and structured answers.
Why interviewers use competency-based job interview questions
There are multiple reasons for interviewers to use behavioral competency-based questions. Interviewers are continuously looking for employees who fit into the company culture and are up to the task. Below we discuss important elements that play a part in the use of competency-based interview questions.
The costs of making a bad hiring decision
Bad hiring decisions do not only cost money, but it can also impact productivity in a negative way. If a person is not the right fit for a position, he or she can fail to live up to the job requirements. In a negative scenario, this can, in turn, lead to making a bad impression on clients, but also decreased team performance.
The highest costs are made when a company needs to search for another candidate after making a bad hiring decision. This costs the company time and money. This is the reason that human resources teams will do everything to avoid such situations.
Behavioral questions such as competency-based questions are considered as a preventative way to ensure that the right candidate gets hired for the position.
Analysis of your work behavior
Behavioral questions that regard your competencies give the interviewer the ability to get more in-depth information about who you are, and in what work environment you thrive.
Your resume, motivational letter, or letter of recommendation will only provide information about your hard skills and educational levels. Also, interviewers want to know more about your soft skills by asking you questions that require you to discuss past work situations.
It’s, therefore important that you include example situations in your answers that show how you handle day-to-day tasks and how you approach challenges in the workplace. Also, when you discuss work situations, always include learning moments and what you have learned from mistakes.
Your past work behavior is an accurate predictor of your future performance
By analyzing your behavior in past work situations, interviewers can pretty accurately determine if you’re a potential fit for the job that you’re applying for.
For instance, when you get asked ‘give me an example of a time when you identified a new approach to a workplace challenge,’ you’re required to provide information about your abilities and how you approach challenging situations.
It’s likely that you will approach similar situations in the future the same way. This is why you should carefully think about and prepare your answers to questions you can expect during your interview.
Prepare answers about the situations that you have experienced in the past. If needed, write them down to practice. By doing so, you can more easily provide a concrete and concise answer during the interview without missing the important details.
Making the right hiring decision
By trying to gauge your future job performance through the use of behavioral questions, employers can make better hiring decisions. Interviewers are interested in your previous work patterns in professional environments.
The answers you give should give them more insight into your approach to challenging situations. Interviewers will assess whether or not your approaches align with the ones requires for the position you’re applying for.
In your interview preparation, you can already think of answers that include aspects of the important job requirements. Of course, the interviewer is looking for candidates that fit the job description, so make sure to make your answers relate to the job requirements.
Behavioral job interview questions
Behavioral interview questions, such as competency-based interview questions, usually start with:
- Give me an example of
- Have you ever
- What do you do when
- Tell me about a time when you
- Describe situations where
During job interviews, you will likely be asked one or more behavioral job interview questions. For instance, about your level of adaptability, communication skills, teamwork, conflict resolution skills, or leadership skills.
Behavioral questions usually focus on the important requirements needed to successfully perform the job. The interviewer wants you to answer the question by including a situation you experienced in the past and how you handled it.
The most important reason for discussing this is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is your past performance in similar situations.
When you get asked a behavioral interview question, the interviewer wants you to discuss previous work situations and wants you to elaborate on why you took certain actions.
Ensure that you provide the interviewer the situation you were in, your task in that situation, the action you took, and the specific results that can come out of those actions. This is called the STAR interview technique. The STAR method is discussed in more detail later on in this article.
Frequently asked competency job interview questions
Below you can find examples of commonly asked competency interview questions per competency category.
Competency-based interview questions about Adaptability
- Tell me about a time you have to do something you had never done before. How did you handle that situation, and what did you learn?
- Describe a situation where you had to adjust to the working style of a colleague in order to complete a project or achieve an objective.
- Tell me about the biggest change that you had to deal with. How did you adapt to those changes?
Competency-based interview questions about Communication
- How would you explain a complex idea or problem to a client who was already frustrated?
- Tell me about a time you had to persuade someone to see things your way at work.
- Tell me about a time when there was a miscommunication at work. Also, how did you handle it?
Competency-based interview questions about Creative Thinking
- Tell me about a time you had to think outside of the box to solve a problem.
- Describe a time when you took an existing process and used your own creativity to make it better.
- What is the most creative or innovative project that you have worked on?
Competency-based interview questions about Decision Making
- Tell me about a time you had to make an unpopular decision. How did you handle the feedback? How would you have handled the situation differently?
- Do you make better decisions alone or with a group/team? Why? When do you ask for help from others?
- Tell me about the process you typically follow to make a decision about a plan of action.
Competency-based interview questions about Flexibility
- Tell me about a time you had to quickly change the priorities of a project. What did you do and what was the result?
- Describe a situation in which you failed to sell an idea or process. How did you react to this, and what other approaches did you try?
- Tell me about a time when you had to adjust quickly to changes over which you had no control. What happened, and what actions did you take?
Competency-based interview questions about Handling Stress
- Describe a stressful situation and how you handled it.
- Have you ever missed a project deadline? If so, tell me which actions you took.
- Tell me about a time you had to take on an additional workload for a colleague. What did you do?
Competency-based interview questions about Leadership
- Tell me about a time something went wrong at work, and you took control of the situation.
- How do you deal with people who disagree with you?
- Tell me about your personal experiences that helped you become a good leader.
Competency-based interview questions about Problem-Solving
- Tell me about a time when you had to solve a complex problem. What was the problem, and what did you do to solve it?
- Describe a situation at work when you faced a problem or challenge that you could not solve. What was the situation, and how did you solve it?
- What do you do in a situation when you cannot find the right solution to a problem? Tell me about the actions you would take.
Competency-based interview questions about Planning and Organising
- Tell me about a situation in which you had to work with a tight deadline.
- When you’re assigned to a project, what steps do you take to get the project on track and moving?
- What’s your plan for your career? How would you define success for your career?
Competency-based interview questions about Taking Initiative
- Tell me about a time you initiated a project. What did you do? Why? What was the result, and were you happy with the outcome?
- Describe a project or idea that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your specific role, and what was the outcome?
- Tell me about a time when your initiative caused a change to occur.
Competency-based interview questions about Teamwork
- Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team.
- How do you feel about working in a team environment?
- Tell me about a challenging team project you have worked on.
Competency-based interview questions about Time Management
- How do you make sure that task completion estimates are accurate?
- Tell me about a time your project was late? What happened, and how did you solve it? What did you learn from that situation?
- Would you describe yourself as an organized person? Tell me about a situation that highlights your time management skills.
The goal of a competency job interview and scoring indicators
Competency-based interview questions allow interviewers to easily compare multiple candidates. As stated earlier, these interviews take your existing work experience as an indicator of your potential future performance. It’s therefore important that you are able to demonstrate your skills in your answers. The right preparation will allow you to do so.
Interviewers want you to show that you can take on the day-to-day tasks required for the job. Furthermore, your answers should show that you have the potential to grow.
Competency interview questions are used to get insights into key competencies that you need to perform the job successfully. Think of key competencies such as:
- Conflict resolution
- Creative thinking
- Customer service
- Decision making
- Commercial awareness
- Professional development
There are several points that you will get scored on during a competency-based job interview. The most important are:
- Did you demonstrate your experience of the required skill or competency?
- Did you provide relevant example experiences in your answers?
- Are you able to clearly and concisely articulate your specific role and actions? Furthermore, did you discuss your contribution to results?
Positive scoring indicators
The interviewer will look for the following positive scoring indicators in your answers:
- If you’re able to approach and deal with challenges in a positive way.
- Demonstrating a willingness to learn and develop yourself.
- You’re able to compromise in situations.
- You can perform under pressure.
- If you’re aware of your limitations.
- If you have learned from experiences in the past and how you apply this now.
Negative scoring indicators
Just like there are positive scoring indicators, there are negative indicators as well. Make sure to avoid these in your job interview and focus on the positive indicators. Examples of negative scoring indicators:
- If you see challenges or obstacles as problems.
- Not being able to perform under pressure.
- Being negative about co-workers or clients.
- Trying to solve challenges or obstacles alone and failing.
- Not taking responsibility.
- If you fail to respond effectively to follow-up questions.
How do you prepare answers to competency interview questions?
For starters, there are a couple of steps you should take in your preparation. These are the basics to gain knowledge about the company and the position that you’re applying for.
Review the job description and company
By studying the job description thoroughly, you will get a better feeling of what an interviewer might be looking for. Go through the job requirements to identify the needed competencies, skills, and abilities. Research the company as well to make sure that you know their products, services, clients, and markets that they’re active in.
Create a list of required competencies, skills, and abilities
Competency-based interview questions are great to demonstrate your talent and competencies. Based on the research you have done on the required competencies, skills, and abilities, you can start your interview question preparation.
Create a list of your past experiences that relate to required competencies for the job
Think of experiences you had in the past that can demonstrate the competencies, skills, and abilities that you have identified. Furthermore, make sure to go for successful work situations in which you have demonstrated behavior needed for the job that you’re applying for.
Practice these answers enough to make sure that you can provide a concise and to-the-point answer during your job interview.
Focus your answers on successful and challenging situations
Of course, you should highlight successful situations you have been in, in your interview answers. However, also be prepared to discuss challenging situations that you have encountered. Interviewers want to know how you act when you face a challenge. Make sure that you’re able to provide an answer about a challenging situation that you came out successfully.
Walk the interviewer through situations and tell exactly what you did, why you did it, and what the results of those actions were. Furthermore, tell the interviewer what you’ve learned from the situation. Demonstrate your problem-solving skills, adaptability, and creative thinking skills.
Remember that there is a large chance that the interviewer will ask you follow-up questions to test your self-awareness. For instance, they might ask you how you would handle a similar situation differently today.
Use the STAR interview technique to structure your answer
Using the STAR (situation, task, actions, and result) interview technique to structure your answers is a perfect way to make sure you communicate all important details in a logical way. It allows you to provide clear and concise answers.
Elements to consider when structuring your answer:
- Structure your answer in the form of a story using the STAR interview technique. Describe the situation (S) you were in, the task (T) that needed to be completed, the actions (A) to you to address the situation, and what results (R) you got based on your actions.
- Make sure that you demonstrate the needed competencies for the job that you’re applying for. You can be sure that the interviewer is looking for those skills and abilities. Therefore, match your qualifications to the job and skills as mentioned in the job description.
- Provide an honest answer about your work experience because seasoned interviewers will notice you’re making up a story. Also, they will ask you follow-up questions to get more in-depth information about the situation you’re discussing. Prepare several example situations of the competencies that you think you will discuss based on your research.
The STAR Interview Technique
The most effective way of answering competency-based interview questions is through the use of the STAR interview technique. By doing so, you can give the interviewer exactly what he or she is looking for. Furthermore, it allows you to provide a t0-the-point answer about how you acted in certain previous work situations. Below we break the STAR method down in more detail.
Start your answer by describing the situation you were in. Provide the context around the situation or challenge you faced and don’t forget to include the relevant details.
Next, talk about the task that needs to be completed. Describe to the interviewer what your specific responsibilities were and what your role was in that situation.
Then, walk the interviewer through the actions you took in order to resolve the situation or challenge. Provide the interviewer with a step by step description of the actions you took.
Finally, describe the results of your actions. Ensure that you take credit for your behavior that led to the outcome. Talk about what happened and what you have achieved by taking action. After you discuss the results, talk about what you learned from the situation. Focus on providing positive answers that include demonstrable results and positive learning experiences.
Tips for answering competency interview questions
Below some tips are listed that you can use to your advantage in your interview preparation and during the interview.
- Do your homework for the interview. Analyze the job specification and investigate the company website.
- Identify the requires competencies, skills, and abilities. Based on your research, create a list of potential questions that you expect.
- Use the STAR interview technique to your advantage. Prepare short answer stories to the questions you identified and write them down. Structure them according to the STAR method, provide the situation, your task, the actions took, and the results.
- Practice. When you have done your research, you can really start your preparation. Use the list of potential questions and practice a mock interview.
- Listen carefully to what the interviewer asks. Your answers should be short and concise, so make sure that you understand what the interviewer asks you.
- When the interviewer asks you a question, and you don’t immediately know the answer; don’t panic. Take a deep breath and take a moment to think about your answer.
- Describe the results that you accomplished. If possible, quantify these to give your answer more weight.
- Avoid sounding like a robot that recites answers. Be yourself and try to come across as natural as possible.
Sample answers to competency-based job interview questions
Below a couple of examples of answers are written-out. However, these are general examples. Therefore, when you’re writing out your own answers always focus on your situation and the requirements for the job that you’re applying for.
Also, structure your answers with enough detail to convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the position.
STAR-Method Example 1:
‘Describe a situation where you had to overcome a challenge to solve a problem.’
Situation: ‘In my previous position I discovered that a lot of customer complaints were taking to long to answer. I introduced and implemented a customer management system that reduced the time it takes to handle complaints from 5 days to within 24 hours.’
Task: ‘We did not have a structured method or system in place to handle and track complaints. On average, it took our customer service team 5 days to answer questions or resolve complaints. This was a serious issue because as a result, I found that this impacted our customer retention rates. Besides it impacting our turnover it could also lead to reputation damage or getting to be known as untrustworthy since questions and complaints remained unanswered.’
Action: ‘After I discovered this, I took the initiative to document existing processes on how to deal with customer service. I developed a workflow process map and identified where the delays started. Then I presented my case to my manager and outlined how a new customer service process could benefit the company.’
Result: ‘My manager was willing to try this new system which was implemented within a month after my pitch. The customer service team can now handle questions and complaints within 24 hours after receiving them. This way, our interaction and feedback from customers increased and customer retention levels increased.’
Why is this a good answer?
- The provided example is related and relevant to the workplace. Also, it shows that you’re able to work independently.
- This answer shows important skills, such as being pro-active, adaptability, communication skills, and problem-solving skills.
- The new situation led to increased productivity, which gives more weight to the scenario in which you had to come up with a solution to a challenge.
STAR-Method Example 2:
‘Tell me about a time when you used effective time management to your advantage to achieve success.’
Situation: ‘In my previous position, I worked with a team of five people, of which two left the company mid-project.’
Task: ‘My team was responsible for developing a sales and marketing strategy for one of our major clients on a very tight deadline. Because of this unexpected turn of events, My manager asked me if I could lead the team to finish the assignment and see if we could get it done within the deadline.’
Action: ‘Even though it would be a challenge to keep the deadline I accepted. I reviewed our work schedules, and I gathered the team. I told them about the situation we were in. Also, I asked them to cooperate as well as possible and that we had to get through this period together. Furthermore, I asked a manager to coach me during the process to make sure the project would stay on track, and we could reach the deadline.’
Result: ‘We were able to present the client their new sales and marketing strategy and delivered all of our obligations within the delivery deadline. My manager commended me for taking on the team lead position and for handling the responsibilities efficiently. My performance led to me being promoted to team manager myself at the end of that year.‘
Why is this a good answer?
- This example shows that you take the initiative and that your not hesitant when uncertain events occur.
- The answer directly relates to the question. It’s an example situation where effective time management was essential.
- The provided example is relevant to the workplace. It show’s that you’re able to adapt when a situation asks for it.
- This answer shows important skills such as communication skills, proactiveness, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and adaptability.
- You taking on the team leader position turned out successful, which gives more weight to your answer.
STAR-Method Example 3:
‘Tell me about a situation where you took the initiative to solve a problem.’
Situation: ‘In my previous job as a business manager for a restaurant chain, I developed and implemented a new sales and marketing plan that resulted in a 30% reservation increase.’
Task: ‘When I started in my position, I noticed that reservations were decreasing for some time. I created a business case and reviewed the existing activities on how we attracted customers to see where we could increase our reservations and customer retention.’
Action: ‘I started with an assessment of the state of our operations in which I involved several departments responsible for attracting and retaining customers. I also conducted research among our clients and asked for their feedback to analyze it for trends. Furthermore, I analyzed our competition and market trends in general to get a stronger idea of the direction in which it was moving. I presented the business case to senior management and showed what the risks were if our sales would keep decreasing. I outlined a new strategy on how we could battle this situation through a new sales and marketing strategy. This strategy would require investing in new customer management software to improve performance.’
Result: ‘Even though the senior managers were hesitant at first to switch systems, they decided to start a trial at one of our locations, and within 2 months we were able to increase reservations by 20%. In the months after, the new strategy was further finetuned for every location and rolled out. Within six months after my presentation, all locations were using the new software systems, and overall reservations were up by 30%. For me, it was a perfect opportunity to put my knowledge to use in my new position and was very happy to take on this challenge.’
Why is this a good answer?
- This example shows that you take the initiative and are creative when looking for solutions to complex challenges.
- The answer directly relates to the question you’re asked. Also, it provides a situation in which creativeness and proactiveness were needed to make progress.
- The provided example is relevant to the workplace. Furthermore, it show’s that you’re able to adapt when a situation asks for it.
- This answer shows important skills such as creativity, problem-solving, communication skills, and proactiveness.
- The answer quantifies the results of actions that were taken, which gives more weight to it.