Understanding competency-based interview questions
Interviewers ask competency-based interview questions during a job interview to help the hiring manager get a concrete idea of how you would perform as an employee. Although most interviews include a variety of types of questions, competency-based questions are particularly important when you are entering a new field and may have little experience and when hiring managers need to understand how you will fit into the company culture. Let's look at how to answer competency-based interview questions with some sample questions and example answers to help you plan answers to this kind of interview questions.
What are competency-based interview questions?
Interviewers ask competency-based interview questions to help gauge a prospective employee’s key competencies. They are usually open-ended questions with situational examples that interviewers ask to help understand your skills, abilities and knowledge related to your work and how you would behave in possible future situations. Your response to these questions will indicate how well you fit into the culture of the company and reveal your values as an employee.
How to prepare an answer to competency-based questions
A competency interview will help hiring managers see your problem-solving skills and understand how you might behave in a difficult or otherwise typical work situations. These behavioral questions often reveal your soft and interpersonal skills. Because these questions require you to provide real examples when formulating your response, they are key indicators of your skill set, leadership style, and ability to multitask or work under pressure.
When preparing an answer to a competency-based question you will likely have to recount an experience in story-form. This format allows you to elaborate on your unique skills and abilities for the job you seek. When framing your answer, consider using the STAR technique. STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action and result. Using this method to help format your response will help you create a more complete and valuable answer and help the hiring manager understand your abilities and the value you can contribute to their company.
Use the following steps to help you naturally provide a real-life example during your competency-based interview.
- State the situation. Provide the general background information and explain any crucial details about the setting and situation you experienced. This step provides the framework for your response so be sure to include important details about the scenario.
- Explain the task. This step affords you the opportunity to explain the specific challenges you faced or the obstacles you needed to overcome.
- Detail your actions. Next, clearly define the steps you took and the role you played in overcoming the obstacles. This explanation should be in-depth so you can highlight your particular skills and abilities the best.
- Quantify the results. Whenever possible, present the outcomes of your actions in the most concrete terms using data and percentages. Discuss the benefits of your actions and how they led to success. Any sort of quantifiable data will help substantiate your abilities.
How to answer competency-based questions
When answering your competency questions, try to focus on the most important details to help the hiring manager understand your value as an employee. Be specific, and even when asked about a challenging or difficult situation, frame it in a positive light. Consider the following steps as you formulate your own responses:
- Re-read the job description when planning your answer. Take another look at the roles and responsibilities of the official job description for the position you are interviewing for. Identify the keywords and skills that are required to succeed in that role.
- Identify your skills. Consider your specific skill set and select the traits you have that are in-line with the needs of the company and the responsibilities of the role you seek. Determine which skills set you aside from others and focus on highlighting those.
- Select appropriate examples. Choose examples and experiences that you feel show your greatest successes and can pertain to many different situations. Practice defining the situation and task clearly so that your details flow easily and naturally.
- Be specific. Choose your language with purpose and be sure to stay on topic. Make sure to be as concise in your description and response as possible.
- Stay positive. Although you may be detailing some challenging experiences or communicating some scenarios that caused you difficulty, be sure to frame those incidents and the people in them positively. Detail what you learned or how you grew professionally.
Examples of competency based interview questions
Below are some typical competency-based interview questions arranged by type:
Questions about challenges
- Can you tell me a time you overcame a challenge?
- Detail a moment when you had to stand up for your beliefs.
- Tell about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker.
- Can you tell me about a goal you have failed to reach?
- Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision?
Questions about success
- Tell about a time you set a goal and the steps you took to reach it.
- Describe an experience when you were given a new responsibility and you succeeded.
- Describe a time you successfully led a team to achieve a goal.
- Can you recount a time you were under pressure but successfully met a deadline?
- Can you explain a moment when your flexibility and adaptability helped you?
Questions about process
- Describe a time you were a team member and what you did to be an active and contributing member of the team.
- What is the process you use to prioritize tasks when you have to multitask?
- As a leader, what methods do you use to assess your team’s workflows and look for possible areas of improvement?
- What steps do you take to ensure you complete your work to a high standard?
- Share a time when you motivated a coworker or team member and how you did it.
Example competency questions and answers
Below are some example answers and explanations to competency-based questions.
Can you describe how you work under pressure?
During our last campaign, we had a deadline to meet but half of our team had caught a stomach virus. I helped lead the remaining team members by delegating specific responsibilities to each which capitalized on our unique skills. By working together and focusing on our strengths we were able to meet the deadline despite being shorthanded and missing some valuable members. Our work helped us retain the client and led to a 15% increase in revenue.
This STAR- framed response is strong because it clearly indicates the type of stress the candidate was under and the steps they took to help the team succeed. They are a leader who took initiative and showed an understanding and value of teamwork. The results are stated in quantifiable terms and indicate the value they added to the company.
Can you explain a time when you had a conflict with a team member and the steps you took?
There was a time when I joined a marketing campaign later than everyone else because I was stepping in to replace a team member on medical leave. My style initially clashed with the marketing manager because I was focused largely on social media. We had many discussions and worked diligently to create a campaign that would include everyone’s ideas in a manner that added depth to the campaign. When we presented to the client they were very impressed and decided to hire our team exclusively. We helped increase online sales by 10% and were able to increase overall customer satisfaction by 25%.
This response successfully communicates the core issues and details the steps taken to resolve them. The candidate’s communication skills are highlighted and the quantifiable percentages offered at the end validate their contribution to the campaign.
Give an example of a time you successfully reached a goal and the steps you took.
During my first job as a sales associate, I was tasked with convincing customers to add-on items. The goal set by the store was one add-on per day. I challenged myself to one add-on per hour. In an 8 hour shift, I was able to accomplish 7 add-ons on my sales. That month I was awarded sales associate of the month and my method was so successful that I trained others and we increased sales for our store by 8% the entire quarter.
This response is successful in establishing the candidate as very driven and goal-oriented. Furthermore, they exhibit leadership skills in the ability to share and train others while adding value to the success of the company by providing quantifiable results.