Competency Based Interviews

It goes without saying that thorough preparation for an upcoming job interview is critical; an engaged candidate will prepare responses to typical questions, know their CV inside out and have researched the employer, the role on offer and the interviewing panel. Practical considerations like courtesy, presentation and ensuring a punctual arrival are also prerequisite.

Put simply, the well prepared candidate will feel more confident and possibly less nervous, thereby increasing their prospects of being hired.

In recent years there has been a move away from the traditional chronological interview, whereby the candidate basically expands upon their CV or application form. The current trend is for employers to conduct competency based interviews which work on the belief that the best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour. This type of interview allows employers to test the suitability of candidates by requiring them to refer to real-life experiences (usually in previous workplaces) from which they can demonstrate the skills or attributes identified as being key to the role on offer.

Candidates are typically assessed against as many as eight key competencies. Here are three examples of competency based questions:

  1. Describe a time when you had to analyse a problem and generate a solution
  2. Tell me about a time when you worked successfully as a member of a team
  3. Describe a situation in which you convinced an individual or a group to do something

 You will notice that each question demands reference to one specific occasion, so good responses will refer to one real-life example. None of the questions explicitly demand a response related to a workplace event, although responses which refer to past career experiences arguably carry more weight.

Good answers to competency based questions are specific, concise, to the point and acknowledge all parts of the question. Good answers demand structure and the Situation, Behaviour, Outcome (SBO) model provides just that:

Situation: This is the introduction to the response where candidates describe the event or issue and put it into context for the recruiter.

Behaviour: This part describes a candidate’s real-life actions in the situation and serves as the body of the response. It is here that a candidate demonstrates their possession of the skill or attribute identified within the question. It is important to avoid sweeping statements and to concentrate on concise evidential detail.

Outcome: This is the conclusion where the candidate states the outcome of the situation. Positive outcomes are preferable, although not all situations will have ended positively; in which case it is perfectly acceptable to highlight learning points and the processes subsequently put in place to prevent a reoccurrence.

Items to note:

  • Be as concise as possible, avoid unnecessary detail and know when to finish your response. Even if you feel your response could have been more effective, rambling on will only lead to an information overload, diluting your answer further.
  • Only refer to more than one situation per answer if the question explicitly demands as such.
  • Key competencies are often listed in job specifications. Reading the job specification closely will inevitably provide a clearer understanding of the competency based questions likely to be asked during interview.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat a question, even if it is only to buy yourself more time.
  • When talking about real-life events at a current or former employer avoid imparting sensitive information like the names of colleagues or clients.

Best of luck!