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Tips for Success in Competency Based Interviews

​One particular type of interview that has increased in popularity recently is the competency-based interview (CBI). This type of interview is used to help get a feel for a candidate’s suitability and ability to meet the requirements of a role. Sometimes called structured or behavioral interviews, competency based interviews are about understanding how a candidate would behave in certain scenarios to ascertain if they have the skills and qualities necessary to be successful in the role.1

Lead by Example

Competency-based interviews focus on how you have used specific skills in the past. The aim is to better understand the method you use to approach tasks, in order to get a clearer picture of how you might fulfill an assignment.2

The questions might present themselves in varying formats. For example, ‘Give an example of how you worked well in a team’, ‘How do you work in a team?’ or ‘Tell us about an example where good teamwork helped achieve results’. Often, a question will begin with a more general situation, honing in on the detail once you’ve given a general overview in your answer.3

Competency-based interviews are often used when industry experience is not required, perhaps in entry-level positions or if a more experienced candidate is making a career change to a new kind of role. Rather than focusing on specific achievements in previous positions, the emphasis is on understanding how a candidate would behave in a particular situation. The situations could cover ‘broad stroke’ skill sets such as planning, organization, problem solving, or leadership.

Common Examples

Often, employers use similar questions to evaluate these types of competencies, and it is common to hear the same questions again and again. These are questions such as ‘Tell us about a time you have dealt with conflict’, or ‘Give examples of when you have worked effectively in a team’.

These questions are designed to help you demonstrate the different skills required for the job. A role that focuses on client relationships, for example, is likely to ask lots of question about how you’ve built and managed relationships in the past. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what you are asked, the key is about showing off your suitability for the position. It is about picking out the threads from your personal experiences that best match the fabric of the job role you are pursuing.

It is important to understand that the examples you give will relate just to you and are a chance to demonstrate the value you can add to their team. Interviewers want to find out about your motives, instincts, and experiences when it comes to situations such as managing projects, handling conflicts, and working as part of a team.4

Be sure to study the company beforehand so you understand their goals and culture. For example, if the organization is a start-up known for its innovation, the interviewers might be looking for different answers than a long-standing global organization. Based on their priorities, you can tailor your answers to provide relevant examples, demonstrating how you could fit within their organizational culture.

Using the STAR Approach

It is not only what you say that matters, but also how you say it. How you answer the questions in a competency-based interview is vital. The best tactic is to think about the STAR approach. This addresses the Situation, Task, Action and Results. This goal-orientated tactic can help give you a structure that will really help cement your responses.

If there is a detailed job description, it is likely you will be able to pick out key competencies and identify the essential qualities needed for the role in advance of your interview.5 Ahead of the interview, you can think about some examples that address the key competencies in the job description, and practice how you will respond using the STAR approach. Using the STAR approach, here are three ways to put your best foot forward:

  • Step 1

Set the scene by outlining the task and the desired outcomes. For example, if the situation is about finding a way to reach the sales goals in a team that was underperforming, then the important thing would be to convey what your role was and how it contributed towards the task. Context is vital, make sure you clearly describe the situation, using details that are relevant to the story.

  • Step 2

Here, the questions you need to be answering are ‘what’ you did and ‘how’ you did it. You need to give relevant details so that the interviewer can fully understand the scenario.

When describing the journey, you can convey the use of additional skills. You might not have been asked about team-building skills, for example, but this could be a good opportunity to bring these into the conversation while discussing what you did to meet the desired outcomes.

It is essential to make sure your example is personal to your own experiences, talking about your individual contribution, rather than that of the wider team. Try to keep things simple and avoid technical jargon, especially if there is a risk your interviewers will not understand. It is important to find the right balance between giving enough detail and keeping the focus on you and your own contributions.

  • Step 3

Finally, explain how the situation concluded. This is the ideal time to outline what you learned from the situation. This use of retrospection could help further accentuate your suitability for the role.

The Value of CBI

Competency-based interviews can be an effective way to demonstrate your suitability for a role. When you give examples in your interview relating to previous roles, convey that you acted a specific way in order to procure a specific outcome, rather than a positive conclusion happening by chance.6 This type of interview is a great way to show off your skills and achievements, using concrete examples of past situations that demonstrate your suitability for the role.

For advice on how you can make a strong impression in your next CBI or learn more about the opportunities, we are currently working on, get in touch today.