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# Competency-Based Questions

Updated May 31, 2022

Fact Checked by Bianca Praino MA pgDip

Competency-based questions are interview questions that require candidates to provide real-life examples as the basis of their answers.

Candidates should explain why they made certain decisions, how they implemented these decisions and why certain outcomes took place.

## What Is a Competency Based Interview?

Competency-based interview questions (also referred to as situational, behavioural or competency 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.

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.

Competency interviews can give valuable insights into an individual's preferred style of working and help to predict behaviours in future situations.

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 core 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. Candidates will need to give examples of times in the past when they have performed particular tasks or achieved particular outcomes using certain skills.

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.

## 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.

## Why Are Competency Questions Used in Interviews?

Recruitment professionals believe that the best way to assess a candidate's potential future performance is to question candidates about their past performance.

However, graduate candidates don't usually have any experience of the industry to which they are applying.

Consequently, it is impossible for interviewers to discuss previous job roles.

Instead, interviewers use competency questions to have candidates show how they have performed in various situations in the past, revealing individual personality traits.

These are a great help for interviewers interested in finding out exactly who a candidate is and how they may act if employed.

Question format can vary.

Sometimes the interviewer will be looking to gather non-specific information, rather than evaluating any particular competency or skill.

More normally, interviewers will isolate key competencies that they believe suitable employees should possess, and tailor questions to focus on those skills.

When considering how to answer competency questions, candidates should not talk in broad terms, be too general or use their imagination when replying to interviewers.

Instead, candidates should use specific situations from real life scenarios.

## What Competencies Do Recruiters Look For?

These are 10 of the key competencies which interviewers often focus on:

### 1. Communication

Regardless of the position or industry, the way we interact with others is crucial and you need to be able to build and maintain excellent relationships with clients and colleagues.

### 2. Decision Making

Good decision making will help you solve problems, devise solutions and make efficiencies.

Example question: "Give an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision."

Valuable for many reasons such as showing that you can coordinate, motivate and lead a successful team.

Example question: "Describe a situation when you assumed the role of leader. Were there any challenges, and how did you address them?"

### 4. Results Orientation

Being focused on results is a skill that will help you excel in your career. It can be anything from improving a system or process through to hitting targets.

Example question: "Give me an example of a time when you believe you were successful."

### 5. Teamwork

Businesses don’t work properly without good teamwork. Collaborative working can achieve results, improve productivity and boost performance.

Example question: "Describe a situation in which you were working as part of a team. How did you make a contribution?"

### 6. Trustworthiness

Good employees can be trusted to get things done.

Example question: "Would you report on a colleague who you knew was taking money from the company illegally?"

### 7. Responsibility

Employees who take responsibility for and pride in their work are highly valued.

Example question: "Describe a situation when you were responsible for the completion of a task."

### 8. Commercial Awareness

A skill that illustrates intelligence, professionalism and commitment to the firm.

Example question: "Describe a situation when you have had to use commercial awareness."

### 9. Professional Development

Example question: "Describe a period where you enhanced your skills effectively."

### 10. Technical Skills

Ever more important, technical (and particularly digital) skills are highly sought after because so many businesses are using them to grow.

Example question: "Describe a situation where you have used technical skills in your work."

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## Techniques for Answering Competency Questions

Each of the following techniques will stand you in good stead during the interview.

### The STAR Technique

This is also sometimes known as SOAR, where 'Task' is replaced by 'Objective'.

• Situation: Describe the situation
• Action: Tell the interviewer what action you took
• Result: Conclude by describing the result of that action

Be positive about your actions throughout your response and do not make up an example, as you will not come across as believable.

If you cannot think of good examples instantly, ask the interviewer for a moment or two to think about the question and then give your answer.

### The CAR Technique

One way of dealing with this type of question is to use the CAR approach.

'CAR' stands for Context, Action, Result. It helps you to structure your answer like a mini-essay.

Context is your introduction, where you describe the scenario you faced, the date and the place.

The Action forms the main body and should be the longest part of your answer.

The Result is the conclusion and, like the introduction, should be quite short.

• Context: Describe the situation and the task you were faced with. When, where, with whom?
• Action: How? What action did you take? Sometimes people focus on what the group did without mentioning their individual contribution.
• Result: What results did you achieve/conclusions did you reach/what did you learn from the experience?

## Four Example Competency Questions

These four questions are all ones you can expect to come across in a competency-based interview.

### 1. "Describe a Situation When You Had to Complete a Piece of Work to a High Standard While Meeting a Strict Deadline."

Situation:

As part of the final project for my degree, I completed a quantitative research project to explore whether customer loyalty increased or decreased with businesses who use social media as opposed to those who don’t.

I worked with a creative agency who sponsored my project to allow me to gather the information I needed.

To provide useful information for the agency, I needed to carry out thorough research and draft the report within a three-month period.

Action:

To ensure the project was delivered on time, I had to become fully conversant with quantitative research techniques. I therefore studied this extensively, which improved the way I gathered data for the project.

I also managed to complete this project while fulfilling my other volunteering commitments and assignments for other courses.

Result:

Even though the workload was significant and I was under a great deal of pressure, I achieved a pass of 80% for my final project and my work was published in a respected journal.

The agency who sponsored the research also published the findings of their project, and I secured an internship with them over the summer.

### 2. "Provide an Example of When You Used Effective Time Management and Achieved Success."

Situation:

While working in an internship programme with a team of four other interns, two of them decided not to continue with the internship.

As a group we had been asked to assist with a major client project, helping to formulate a digital strategy before the end of our first month on the internship.

Action:

Although the company were going to reduce the workload that had been allocated to the group, I spoke with the manager and the remaining intern and we agreed to take on all of what had been originally agreed for the four of us.

I reviewed the work schedules, allocated new responsibilities and worked two hours longer each day unpaid.

Result:

We managed to make a significant contribution to the client’s strategy and delivered all of our obligations as agreed. I was commended for taking on additional responsibilities efficiently and professionally.

### 3. "Describe a Situation When the Cause of a Problem Was Not Immediately Apparent."

Situation:

While working as an intern for a digital agency, data analysis showed that there had been a 15% drop in traffic over a period of 12 weeks.

Analytics also showed that a lot of customers were abandoning the shopping cart before completing the purchase, and the bounce rate on the landing page was increasing.

I was asked to conduct some research to find out the possible reasons for this drop in traffic and growing bounce rate, and provide recommendations for addressing the issue.

Action:

Using a variety of tools such as Ahrefs and Google Analytics, I conducted an analysis of competitor performance and the effectiveness of our content strategy.

Result:

Using these programmes, I identified that a group of blog and website owners had stopped linking to our content. Once the problem was identified, I worked closely with the SEO and marketing teams to win many of those links back, which helped to restore traffic and engagement to previous levels.

### 4. "Describe a Situation Which Required the Use of Your Creativity."

Situation:

In the HR business where I interned, a client was experiencing high employee turnover without an obvious cause.

I was asked by a manager to carry out some data analysis, to identify any trends or patterns that would reveal the likely causes.

Action:

I decided to develop an anonymous staff questionnaire which all employees could complete online.

Result:

A significant proportion of staff completed the questionnaire.

A key finding was that many felt that their training and development wasn’t taken seriously. Furthermore, staff felt that it was difficult to speak to management about change.

These suggestions were passed onto the management team, who made improvements to training and development, established more effective channels of communication and began an open-door policy. Turnover in the next six months showed a marked decrease.