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Competency Based Interviews (Candidate Blog)

Competency based interviews can be very off putting but they are not something to be scared of and can be mastered with a bit of preparation and practise. It is rare that a whole interview will be based on competency based questions, however you should always be prepared for at least one or two as they often crop up at the end of an interview and may catch you off guard if your not ready for them.


What are competency based questions?

Competency questions allow an interviewer to ask for a specific example of something you have experienced in the workplace that may be relevant to the role they are recruiting for. It allows an interviewer to ask the same questions to all applicants in order for them to be objective when making a final decision. Employers typically like to see demonstrations of problem solving, teamwork, accuracy or working under pressure. They are very structured and require a structured and well thought out answer.

How to prepare

Although you will never be able to predict every competency based question, you can be prepared with a variety of examples that could be relevant to a number of different questions.

It is always worth revisiting the job description when preparing your answers. There will often be a personal specification included here that could give you some essential clues as to what the employer is looking for e.g. Must have good attention to detail, Have the ability to work on own initiative, Be a strong communicator. The chances are that these questions will appear in the interview so make sure you have a bank of answers memorised so you won’t feel daunted when they come up.


There are many ways of preparing your competency based answers so do some research into which method your prefer and respond too best. We find that the STAR principle works particularly well and ensures that your response remains relevant and structured and also provides a good foundation that will help you remember the key points of your answer.

The STAR principle is:

Situation – This is the opportunity for you to provide some context to your example – was it at Work, University or during a specific project you were tasked to do? Try to ensure that you provide a significant amount of background without giving too much unnecessary information that is not relevant to the question. This is also where you should set up the obstacle you were faced with – was a customer order unable to be fulfilled, or was a member of your team not communicating effectively? Using first names in your examples will also give a more personalised feel to your answer.

Task – What was your task or responsibility within the situation? What were your initial areas of responsibility – perhaps a colleague was on holiday and you were dealing with a customer you had not communicated with before, or you were due to give a team presentation.  

Action – What did you do to overcome the situation? How did you recover the situation, try to be specific and where appropriate ensure you use “I” rather than “we” which may suggest that you weren’t solely responsible for the result.

Result – What was the final outcome of the situation and what did you learn from it? Was the situation resolved or did it allow you to implement a new strategy for future projects which were more successful?



Ask a partner or friend to help you prepare for your interview. It can feel a bit odd to start with but it is vital in allowing you to practise your answers out loud; reading from written prose will help you remember your answer, however it will not reflect how you naturally converse and may result in you hesitating or tripping over your words. Give your friend a list of example questions and ask them to pick any 3 at random. This will not only allow you to practise your answers but will help you to react quickly when you do not know which questions you will be asked.

Additional tips to consider

We would always advise that on arriving to an interview, if you are offered a drink, ask for a glass of water. This is a great way of buying yourself a little bit of time during the interview if you need some space to prepare your answer in your head before speaking. When the question has been asked, take a small sip of water and compose yourself so when you speak you have a formulated answer that is relevant and to the point. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask to return to a question later or ask for a brief pause in order for you to think of an answer. Both of these things should ideally only be asked once within an interview otherwise you risk appearing unprepared.

Example Competency Based Questions

Below are just a few examples of questions you may face;

  • Tell me about a time you led a team

  • Demonstrate how you vary your communication approach according to the audience you’re addressing.
  • Give an example of a time where you made a difficult decision.

  • Tell me about a time you supported a member of your team who was struggling

  • Tell us about a situation when you failed to communicate appropriately.
  • Give an example of a time you’ve had to improvise to achieve your goal
  • Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult person


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