Competency interview (also referred to as situational, behavioural or competency based interview) questions are a style of interviewing often used to evaluate a candidate's key competencies, particularly when it is hard to select on the basis of technical merit; for example, for a particular graduate scheme, or a graduate job where relevant experience is less important or not required.
Increasingly, companies are using competency based interviews as part of the selection process for experienced recruitment, as it can give valuable insights into an individual's preferred style of working and helps to predict behaviours in future situations.
Conventional job interviews may focus on questions relating to an applicant's past or previous industry experience, but this is an ineffective tool for graduate-level candidates who are not expected to have any former experience in the industry they wish to work in.
Questions about industry experience will not be part of a competency interview. Instead interviewers will ask questions that require candidates to demonstrate that they have a particular skill or a key competency the firm is looking for. Candidates will be asked to do this using situational examples from their life experiences, to illustrate their personality, skill set and individual competencies to the interviewer.
Competency interviews may also feature questions that probe candidates on their knowledge of the company and industry they have applied to. This type of interview question tests candidates on their career motivation and commitment to career.
A typical competency based interview will last for one hour. At most major firms competency interviews will also be standardised. Consequently all applicants can expect to be asked identical questions.
What Are Competencies?
A competency is a particular quality that a company's recruiters have decided is desirable for employees to possess. During interviews and assessment processes, competencies are used as benchmarks that assessors use to rate and evaluate candidates.
In interviews, recruiters look for evidence of competencies by asking candidates competency based questions. This style of question forces candidates to give situational examples of times in the past when they have performed particular tasks or achieved particular outcomes using certain skills.
Read more here about key competencies.
Why are Competency Based Questions Used at Interview?
In the case of applications for graduate jobs, candidates typically have no experience in the industry to which they have applied. Consequently it is not possible to assess their suitability for a job role based upon their CV alone. This has led to the development of competency based interviews becoming the prime way to interview inexperienced graduate applicants.
The best way to prepare is by reading as much about competency based interviews as possible. JobTestPrep has a range of material that can help - to learn more about and practice actual competency-based questions, click here.
Typical Competency Based Interview Structure
Questions in competency based interviews will usually refer to activities a candidate has participated in at school, college or university, or any other activities that can be used to effectively display evidence of particular competencies or a particular competency.
A typical competency question could be: "Describe two situations where you have had to work as part of a team." When asked a question like this, you should be able to talk for several minutes about your participation to a particularly strong team you have been part of in the past and how your sense of teamwork helped lead a task or project to successful completion.
You should have an idea before the interview of the experiences from your life that you could use as examples to demonstrate the key competencies of the firm to which you are applying. You are likely to have to provide at least two examples for each competency during your interview.
It is quite acceptable to ask for and to use a few moments of thinking time before answering competency questions. If necessary, simply notify your interviewer by explaining you "may need to think about this for a few moments". Once you have thought of a good example to use, continue with your answer.
Who Uses Competency Interviews?
Estimates indicate that a third to a half of all employers are using competency interviews as part of their recruitment process. Large graduate employers are especially likely to use competency interviews as part of their graduate recruitment procedure, in particular as part of an assessment centre.
Will I Be Given a Competency Interview?
It is hard to tell if a competency interview will feature as part of your assessment process before making your application to a firm, although the application form itself may help to give you a clue. Many employers who do use competency interviews design their application forms to include a number of competency based questions. Take note if you find any questions on your application that ask you to give situational examples. These may be a strong indicator of what is in store at interview.
Key Competency: Motivation & Commitment to Career
It is likely you will be asked why you wish to work for this company in particular, and what distinguishes this company, for you, from its competitors. This question requires you to discuss your knowledge of the firm in detail and prove to your interviewer your desire for a job.
To answer this question you should describe:
- The key strengths this firm has over its competitors in the industry (e.g. more specialised in certain niche areas, more international scope, more respected).
- What appeals to you personally about the firm (e.g. your interests in the firm's niche areas, your relevant study at university).
- Other relevant factors you find interesting (e.g. the impression you have of the working style at the firm, the social side of the company, the type of corporate social responsibility the firm is involved in).
You may also be asked what you believe you will be doing during your first year on the graduate scheme. You should be particularly clear about exactly what it is you will be doing. If you cannot answer this question, you are unlikely to be successful. If you are currently unsure, it is perfectly acceptable to contact firm's graduate recruitment departments before applying to discuss anything you do not already know about the job.
If you’re soon to have a competency based interview, this free ebook is well worth downloading. It covers how to recognise competency-based questions and relate them to an organisation; how to use the STAR and SOARA methods; and how to use narratives that work well as model answers.
Competency Based Interview: The first 60 seconds
Although competency based interviews are standardised, a typical interviewer will decide within minutes whether they like you or not, and this is likely to affect the outcome of the interview. It is very important to give a good impression to your interviewer from the very first moment you meet.
Shake hands confidently, smile, introduce yourself, and be generally convivial to the occasion. Sitting quietly and communicating poorly will not help you, and neither will boisterous or arrogant behaviour. You should be polite but outgoing, assertive but not aggressive and aim to be every bit as professional as the interviewer who is assessing you.