5 Top Tips for Mastering Competency-Based Interviews

Posted on Wednesday, November 2, 2022 by Graham Quinn

On the whole, interview techniques have changed very little over the years. Traditional methods of basing assessment on candidates’ skills and experience remain in the majority. However, recent research has shown this approach has flaws when it comes to identifying a candidates strengths and weaknesses. It is also not the best way to evaluate soft skills such as communication and team-work.

Competency-based interviewing is an approach which is becoming more popular. It requires candidates to demonstrate how they approach problems, tasks and challenges, making it easier for interviewers to assess their ability to fulfil the requirements of the role more accurately.

What do Employers learn from using Competency-Based Questions?

Although the competencies tested for different industries and roles will vary, there are some common aptitudes that most employers are looking for. These include soft skills, such as communication, empathy, active listening and an ability to reflect on your own performance. Abilities such as multitasking, handling stress, critical thinking and problem-solving also apply to a wide variety of roles. 

How do I know if the Interviewer will use Competency-Based Questions?

Competency-based interview questions are often used for first interviews. As they require candidates to give examples from their work experience, these type of questions provide a useful initial screening as they allow interviewers to better assess whether skills listed in a candidates’ CV are genuine. Competency questions also reveal a candidates’ attitudes and way of approaching problems. This can help narrow down a pool of candidates with a similar skill set, enabling interviewers to assess who’d make the best fit for the team.


If you are not sure whether you are being given competency-based question, an easy way to tell is by how the question begins. Openings such as, ‘tell me about a time when’ or ‘describe’ are common. Basically, competency-based questions always require you to provide an example of when you demonstrated a particular skill.

Here are 10 of the most common competency-based interview questions which apply across many industries:

  1. Describe your biggest achievement at work to date
  2. Describe how you dealt with a stressful situation
  3. Describe a time when you have had to manage multiple projects or responsibilities
  4. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake or failed and what you learned
  5. Tell me about a time when you resolved a complex problem
  6. Give an example of when you demonstrated team-work skills
  7. Tell me about a positive impact that you have made in your current role
  8. What do you think are your greatest strengths / weaknesses?
  9. Describe a time when you were successful as a result of your communication skills
  10. Describe a time when you faced change at work and how you handled it


5 Tips for Mastering Competency-Based Questions


  1. Know the competencies required for the specific role

    Begin by analysing the job specification. Highlight the skills, experience and aptitudes required and use them to create a list. Next, study the company website to get an idea of what the organisation’s values and the attributes demonstrated by employee examples in their careers pages.

    After identifying the skills the interviewer is likely to be seeking, go deeper and investigate the role in more general terms. Look at the websites of related professional organisations. Careers pages summarising the traits required for the role may also offer some useful insights. This extra detail will help ensure that you are prepared to demonstrate competencies important to the role which the job specification may not have included.


  2. Start identifying examples of how you meet requirements

    Go through your CV and start pulling out evidence that shows you have the required competencies. If your resume is overdue for an update or lacks detail, create a mind-map starting with the list of requirements and adding notes of examples from your work experience.

    In addition, think about what makes you unique, what your talents and abilities are and where you’ve excelled in previous roles. These will help you identify where you can shine in the interview, but make sure they relate to the requirements of the role. If you aren’t sure where your strengths lie, ask trusted colleagues for their input.


  3. Select the best experiences to talk about

    When preparing your answers choosing the right examples is key. Identify the best by picking out which are most relevant to the competency required and which provide some evidence of your success. Backing your story up with statistics, accomplishments, recognition or awards will make your own opinions more persuasive. 

  4. Be prepared to reflect upon your performance

    Traditional interviews usually test your ability to ‘sell yourself.’ However, competency interviews often include questions on times when things didn’t go so well, so be prepared to reflect on your performance.

    In addition to preparing stories to relate about what you achieved, make a note of a weakness or a time you failed. Take care, however, that the examples you choose are not something critical to your ability to perform the role. You don’t want these to result  in  you being dropped from the selection process. The object isn’t to discredit yourself or undermine your confidence. Focus your story on what you learned as a result and be ready to provide an example of what you would do differently if faced with this situation again.


  5. Develop your storytelling skills by using the STAR format


Common mistakes candidates fall into while answering competency questions can be avoided by structuring and practising your answers using the STAR format.


STAR stands for situation, task, action taken and result achieved. Using this method will help you organise your thoughts clearly and demonstrate effective communication skills. They will also help you to be concise – use 2 to 3 minutes per story as a guide.

The STAR method will also remind you to clearly state your contribution and the results you achieved. This is particularly important if you tend to be modest. Remember, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about conveying this information to the interviewer. It actually makes their selection process easier.

Situation refers to when and when the example action took place, and helps the interviewer by put your achievement into context. Task refers to the role you were taking in the situation. Action taken is the step where you can describe the contribution you made. Finally, make sure you add the result you achieved. Back this up with statistics or recognition where possible.

Having made STAR bullet points for the all the competencies required, take time to practise your answers. Saying your answers out loud will help you feel more confident when it comes to the interview. However, don’t practise to the point where your answers sound too rehearsed. Competency-based interviews are designed to make candidates think on their feet. Practise enough so that, in the interview, your examples will quickly come to mind. The objective is to help you relax in the interview, so that your strengths and personality come across.

What should you do if presented with a question that you haven’t got an example for? It is fine to admit if you haven’t experience of a particular situation. Suggest how you would approach that particular problem if it presents itself to you in the future.


You’re now Ready to Shine in your Interview

Answering competency- based interview questions may seem challenging at first but following the tips will help you feel prepared and show your best self in the interview.


In the interview, try to relax, take your time and be positive. Don’t be afraid to use ‘I’ to relate your contributions and to take pride in your achievements!


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