Maxwell Stephens

How to Tackle Competency Based Questions

How to tackle interviews

Most interviews have at least one competency based question. They seem to fill even the most confident candidates with dread. This need not be the case and I can tell you that the way to increase your confidence levels is to prepare, prepare, prepare.


What is a competency based question?


A competency based question asks the candidate to explain and explore a time when they exhibited a particular competency. For example; ‘Tell me about a time when you were put in a difficult situation by a colleague, how did you resolve the conflict?’ Another one could be ‘Can you think of an example at work where you did not deliver to the best of your ability? How did you feel and what did you learn from that experience?’


Why do they make candidates nervous?


The primary reason for candidate trepidation is that when put on the spot it can be challenging to think of a relevant example, particularly when feeling under pressure.


Top Tips


With a few tips in mind and some preparation, you will feel more confident to tackle these questions head on.


1 – Prepare

There are many different ways in which these questions are asked, but at their core they typically are seeking to test a limited set of competencies. Have a think about these competencies; influence, self-awareness, flexibility, dynamism, and so on. Once you have a list, try and think about a scenario where you exhibited that competency. Thinking of them beforehand will mean they are front of mind for the interview.


2 – Pause

After you are asked a question, it is ok to pause to think of a relevant example. An interview is not a race, and nobody will mark you down for taking a few moments to construct what you would like to say.   


3 – Beginning, middle, end

I always think of the answer as a mini story which has a beginning where you set the scene, the middle where you explain what you did, and the end where you wrap up and explain any key learning. Let us take an example:


Interviewer: Please tell me about a time when you influenced a colleague


Candidate: Beginning – This particular example happened whilst I was working at CompanyA, where I was managing a team of 4 catering managers.


Middle – We had operated a standard shift pattern for 5 years but cut backs meant that we were making one catering manager redundant and the remaining three would have slightly more unsociable shift patterns. My best performing catering manager felt very unhappy about the new shift rotation and he took me aside to express his discontent and his plans to look for a new role. I explained to the individual that his work was exceptional and I was personally committed to ensuring that as soon as possible we would make changes to improve the shift rotation. I also explained that whilst the new shift pattern was not ideal, the candidate still had a good position within the company with excellent opportunities.


End – The candidate decided to stay at the organisation and within a short time frame I was able to adjust the shift rotation by altering a third party supplier arrangement.


In Summary


If you feel nervous about competency based questions, be assured that you are not in the minority. Our advice is to prepare, pause when needed, and structure all answers. If you approach this methodically you will undoubtedly feel more confident and be more successful at interview.

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The Perfect CV - Questions, Answers and Tips

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