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Competency based interview tips

Posted on 1/07/2020 by

Interview applications

Competency-based (or behavioural) interviews are based on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Interviewers seek to obtain information about a candidate’s past behaviour in certain situations and structure interviews using questions that relate directly to the essential criteria and competencies required for the post.

Competency-based interview questions are often used for selection, but are not always labelled as such.  

A good recruitment and selection interview should assess candidates against each essential criteria or competency,
asking questions about:

  • Past behaviours and performance

  • Learning from past behaviours

  • Future adaptability to new post

  • Knowledge and understanding of issues in relation to the post

What does the interview focus on?

Most interviews will focus on six key areas. These will mostly be competencies, but may also include other knowledge-based essential criteria, such as leadership, teamwork, conflict, motivation, creativity, and technical skills related to the job specification. They will be focused on those competencies which are most important for the particular job. You may also be required to meet other essential criteria, for example an in-depth knowledge of a particular area or previous experience of working in a similar role.

What should I expect in the interview?

Competency-based interview questions are common and more formal than just talking about your career history so may be different to the style you may be used to. They will tend to focus on past situations and your behaviour in those situations. They are also often based on the requirements outlined in the person specification for that role.  The interviewer may use phrases such as ‘give me an example’ or ‘tell me about a time’, but they may also ask ‘when’ and ‘how’ questions.

Example questions include:


  • Why are you a good leader?

  • What type of leadership style do you adopt?

  • How would those you have led describe you?

  • What was a challenging project you have managed and how did you handle it?


  • Explain a mistake you have made in delegating- what were the consequences?

  • In what instance would you delegate a task?

  • What are the advantages of delegating?

Conflict & pressure

  • Give an example of an instance when you have had an argument with someone at work?

  • What was the outcome?

  • How do you react if your boss asks you to do something which conflicts with your own deadlines?


  • Do you prefer to work alone or in a group?

  • When you joined your last organisation, how did you get on with your co-workers?

Staff motivation and development

  • What makes a good manager?

  • How do you motivate staff?

Personal motivation

  • What are the three most important events in your career to date?

  • What are your standards of success in your job?

Decision making

  • What is the toughest decision you have had to make while at your present organisation?

  • Tell me about it - what alternatives did you consider?

What will the interviewers be looking for?

The interviewers will be looking for specific examples describing exactly what you did in certain situations, not what the team's role as a whole was, or what you would do in a hypothetical situation.

You can choose to use relevant examples from your current job, a previous role or a situation outside of work altogether. You will be asked to discuss the example in some detail. It is likely that the interviewers will then follow with some probing questions, possibly to clarify a particular point. 

They don’t just want to know what you did, but they want to know the outcome of the situation too, what you achieved or learnt. For example, if you generated income, state how much. If you set up a new programme, what was the engagement figures, use numbers as much as possible to give context.

How to respond to competency based questions

Interview response strategy

Competency-based interviewing, also known as behavioural interviewing, requires you to draw on past experience and describe specific examples of incidents that demonstrate your competence in a particular area. The most effective way of answering these questions is to use the "STAR" technique:

Situation - briefly describe the background to the situation
Task - specifically describe your responsibility
Action - describe what you did
Result - describe the outcome of your actions.

Here is an excellent answer to a competency-based question that is testing teamwork as a competence:

Question: "Team work is very important in our organisation. What evidence do you have to prove that you are a good team player?"
Answer: "I have a number of examples I could share with you. In one instance, when I was working as a business analyst at ABC Organisation, the sales team were pulling together a bid for a large piece of work and the analyst that normally helps them out with their IT information was on leave. I offered to help them and worked late every night for two weeks to ensure they had all the information they needed. They took on my suggestions regarding technology. As it turned out we won the bid and I was promoted as a result."

You may be required to provide between one and three real-life examples to validate one particular competence.

PEE technique

You may find it useful to prepare some answers using the ‘PEE’ method, which stands for ‘Point, Evidence, Explain.’ State your point, give evidence, so an example of something you have done and explain the outcome (benefits/ problems.)

Be prepared with answers and supporting examples to standard HR questions such as:

What are your career aspirations?
Why do you want to work for our organisation?
What interests you about our product/service?
Of your previous jobs, which did you enjoy most and why?
How have you managed conflict in the past?
Describe what you have done in your career that shows your initiative.
What are your weaknesses? Your strengths?
What does teamwork mean to you?
What style of management gets the best results from you?
What have been your major achievements to date?

Remember that you are being interviewed because the interviewer wants to hire somebody – not because they want to trip you up or embarrass you. They will be searching out your strong and weak points, evaluating you on your qualifications, skills and intellectual qualities and probe deeply to determine your attitudes, aptitudes, stability and motivation.

It is good to have questions prepared to ask them, some may be answered during the interview, so go with a few about different areas, for example, two about the organisation, two about the team and two about the specifics of the role.

Here are examples of questions you might ask:

What would a normal day in this role look like?
Why is the position available?
What induction and training programs does the organisation offer?
What sort of people have done well in this team/organisation?
How is the organisation positioned against its competitors?
What is your vision for the future? What are the plans, if any, for growth or expansion?
What are the three things that would make someone an outstanding success in this role?
How well do you think I match the requirements of the role?
What is the next step in the process?
Why do you personally like working here?
Is there anything I have missed you want me to clarify?

Good luck and remember your TPP Consultant is here to assist you and answer any questions you may have.