Smiling businesswoman leading interview with a candidate listening to their response

Competency-based interviews

assessing whether you have the right behaviours for the role

Competency-based interviews rely on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

Competency-based interviews are also often referred to as:

    1. Situational interviews

    2. Behavioural interviews

    3. Structured interviews

    4. Evidence-based interviews

What are competency-based interviews?
    • They are therefore designed to predict your future behaviours based upon your past behaviours and experiences.

    • It’s best to prepare for these types of interview questions by demonstrating how your past experiences have allowed you to develop specific skills and attributes and how these skills and attributes could subsequently benefit the prospective employer.

What are competencies?
    • The word competency refers to the skills that are necessary to achieve an effective performance level in the job.

    • Every job will have a set of key competencies, some of which are essential and others desired, and all are required to perform the job properly.

    • Competencies vary from employer to employer, but most employers usually have a mix of job-specific competencies and general competencies that are common across the business.

    • If you are to be interviewed in this style, be sure to ask us to provide you with the specific competencies associated for that particular employer.

Types of competencies
    • Personal competencies​
      • Refer to the personal attributes required for a role and focus on key areas such as decisiveness, integrity, autonomy, flexibility, tenacity, risk-taking, etc.

    • Interpersonal competencies​
      • Refer to how a person deals with others; covering areas such as communication, sociability, persuasiveness, interpersonal sensitivity and the ability to work as part of a team.

    • Motivational competencies
      • Refer to the things that drive you and qualities that will be required to succeed in the role. Behaviours such as energy, self-motivation, resilience, initiative, commitment and service orientation are vital in this area.

    • Decision-making competencies
      • Refer to cognitive attributes such as analytical skills, numerical problem solving, judgment, vision, creativity and entrepreneurial skills.

    • People and Organisational competencies
      • Refer to a person's ability to manage others and focus on key areas such as leadership, empowerment, strategic planning, corporate sensitivity and management control.

How can I tell if I will have a competency-based interview or a general interview?
    • The job description may give you an insight.

    • Many employers use the competency-based approach from the beginning and will design the job description to include a list of competencies required for the job.

    • At the interview, the competencies listed may be probed in more detail and further examples sought of the behaviours and competencies in question.

    • Make sure you ask us to clarify the style of interview you will have.

    • If you are to have a competency-based interview, then be sure to ask for the list of competencies you will be assessed against to assist with your preparation.

The competency-based style of interview
    • This interview format may seem rigid, unnatural and unfriendly to many interviewees but, as well as providing evidence of competencies relevant to the job, it is also seen as a fair and equitable method of selection since all candidates are asked exactly the same questions.

    • The focus should be on you even if the situation involved a group; interviewers will want to know what your specific role entailed in achieving the desired result.

    • Once you have done this, select the examples which you feel are the best illustrations of the required competency.

Preparation builds confidence
    • Although you may not always be able to predict in advance what type of interview an employer will use, time spent preparing answers to competency-based questions will never be wasted.

    • Even if the interview follows a more general format, you will have thought about the competencies the employer needs and be able to back up your answers with concrete examples, which always creates a more favourable impression.

    • Reviewing the job description and advert will provide a basis on which to structure your answers and show examples of where you have been able to illustrate success in each competency.

Style of competency-based questions
    • Competency-based interview questions are slightly different in type from standard questions; see our general interview question examples section.

    • Questions will be structured to explore your past behaviours and experiences, e.g.

      • Describe a situation when you...

      • Give an example of a time when you...

    • The interviewer will assess your responses against each required or desired competency, asking questions about:

      • Past behaviours and performance

      • Learning from past behaviours

      • Future adaptability to the new job

      • Knowledge and understanding of issues in relation to the job

    • You will be measured against each competency and allocated a proficiency rating, e.g. ‘Building, Strong or Leading’ or ‘Does Not Meet Expectation, Meets Expectation, Exceeds Expectation’ or simply ‘Level 1, 2 or 3’.                      

Using the CBI model to answer competency-based interview questions
    • The CBI (Competency-Based Interview) model is a particularly good structure on which to build your responses and will provide an effective way to structure your thoughts:

      • C- Circumstances:  Describe the situation or circumstances surrounding the event. Keep this brief and relevant.

      • B - Behaviour: Describe the specific actions you undertook to overcome the issue or problem.

      • I  - Impact: Highlight the outcomes achieved and impact made as a result of your actions.

    • Take the time to consider your answers.

    • Ask yourself whether you are using the best example to illustrate the attribute the interviewer is interested in.

    • Your answer should focus on your behaviour and actions.

    • Apply the who (you) what, when, where, why and how model often used to answer all the relevant questions that will keep you focused and make your description more interesting.

    • Briefly inform the interviewer(s) of the impact of your actions, focusing on your areas of involvement.

    • Show reflective capacity by analysis of performance remembering to bring out your strengths as well as the areas for improvement.

    • What you are seeking to demonstrate is a strong attachment to learning and development and the principles of continuous improvement.

Things to avoid during a competency-based interview
    • Avoid talking about ‘we’, i.e. ‘we did this’ ‘we arranged that’ etc.

    • Remember that the interviewer wants to know about you.

    • Talk about what you did by clarifying the role that you played in the situation.

    • Avoid saying "I generally" or "I tend to".

    • Instead, talk affirmatively about what specifically happened in the situation you are describing.

If you would like to discuss these or any other points in relation to competency-based interviews, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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​Examples of competency-based questions can be accessed by clicking on the links below:
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