Competency based interview tips

8 minutes
Tracey George

By Tracey George

Competency-based Interviews

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
Focus of the Interview

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.

Expectations in the Interview

Competency-based interview questions are common and more formal than just talking about your career history, so they may be different from 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 that conflicts with your own deadlines?
  • Do you prefer to work alone or in a group?
  • When you joined your last organization, 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 organization?
  • Tell me about it - what alternatives did you consider?

During the interview, 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. It is important to provide detailed information about the outcomes and achievements of the situations you describe.

To respond effectively to competency-based questions, it is recommended 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

For example:

Question: "Teamwork is very important in our organization. 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 Organization, 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."

Prepare answers using the 'PEE' method (Point, Evidence, Explain) to provide a clear structure to your responses.

Remember to also prepare answers to common HR questions and have questions to ask the interviewer.

Good luck with your interview! Feel free to reach out to TPP on 020 7198 6000 or for further assistance.

  • 020 7198 6000
  • TPP Recruitment, Northern & Shell Building, 4th Floor, 10 Lower Thames Street, London, EC3R 6AF