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Competency based interviews

Competency based interviews

A competency based interview? What's that? Why do employers use them?"

Anton Morozov of Interview Bull offers tips on how to prepare for these types of interviews...

Competency based interviews are becoming increasingly common, they are becoming the standard interview method used to judge an applicants suitability to a role and company. Competency based interview questions are therefore most likely to be used in your graduate interviews as part of the recruitment process.

This style of questioning is designed to make the job application process as objective as possible, removing any conscious or subconscious bias on the interviewer's behalf by asking each candidate the same questions. The candidates can then be judged against the same standard, having all been subjected to the same probing questions. Since they are now so common, especially in large organisations and the public sector, it is definitely worth refining your technique.  

Competency based questions depend on the idea that past actions give a good and accurate indication of future behaviour. The interviewers goal is to obtain specific examples of when and how you demonstrated particular behaviours. Interview questions are carefully designed to probe specific skills and characteristics that are relevant to job success in the position you are applying for. Your responses can then be rated against those of other interviewees.

How on earth do I prepare for that then?"

To be properly prepared, you need to make sure that you understand the types of competencies that are likely to be explored in your interview.


  • Consult the job description or person specification if you have access to it/if it is detailed enough to list desired skills and qualities. 
  • Think about the requirements of the specific job you are interviewing for and the key competencies that a successful candidate would be expected to demonstrate.
  • Company websites often include a section on the values of their organisation and this can be a useful resource to guide you on what competencies may be explored at your interview.

If these competencies are provide
d then you have no excuses, make sure you clearly understand each one! (A definition usually accompanies each competency; it is imperative that you clearly base your answers and examples around the definition provided.)

There are often several elements to a particular competency, such as Leadership.  This competency is not just about taking charge and making decisions; it is also about how you handle the ideas of others, how you take other views into account; you would need to ensure that you include elements or quotes that demonstrate this. 

Make sure you research the company thoroughly and that you understand the products and services they provide, but don't leave it there. Look at their competitors as well, any insight could be used if you're asked about your commercial awareness. Keep abreast of what is happening in the industry and be prepared to be asked about business issues.


: You should download or write down some sample questions for each of the relevant competencies. Have a go at working out each and every angle that the competency can be tested from. Analyse your CV for past experiences in university, societies or sports clubs and think of times when youve demonstrated each of the competencies necessary for the position.


SECOND: It's best to prepare 3/4 examples for each competency, make sure you cover every aspect of it. Not only will this thorough preparation benefit you if you are asked any of the questions you are expecting, it will also give you a wide selection to draw upon if you are asked about anything you had not anticipated.  Competencies aren't mutually exclusive, in any one example you will usually demonstrate two or three competencies.


THIRD: MOST IMPORTANTLY make sure your examples are diverse and taken from various environments. Even if you secured the ultimate internship and really impressed in it, don't base all of your examples on your time there! You want to stand out, not blend in! Don't depend on the standard responses, such as working on a group project at University.


This is important enough to be worth repeating. Its a very competitive world out there and unfortunately for you there is an abundance of candidates with equally good academics and work experience on paper. As a result, employers can be really choosy about whom they want to work for them. This is why you need to stand out from everybody else and your interview is the golden opportunity for you to do this, so dont let it slip by!


How to structure your answers: S.T.A.R.

One of the challenges in an interview is making sure that your answers arent too short or too long. Two-word answers should be avoided, you don't want to sound dismissive or like you're not really interested, but you don't want to waffle on, repeat yourself and bore the interviewer senseless.

The secret is to practice the S.T.A.R. technique. Its a simple method that ensures your answers contain all of the necessary information, (as illustrated below) it provides structure and clearly outlines your role within a situation. 


The following are some example answers to give you a good idea of how you should be structuring your answers. Pay close attention!



Describe a situation where you were successful in getting people to work together.” 



During my third year in University we were assigned a group project as a part of our Economics course work. We met as a group after our lecture to discuss the workload, however two weeks before the deadline we still hadn’t managed to meet up to decide on the subject we would cover for this project. This is where I decided to take the initiative, taking charge of the group to make sure the project was completed on time."


I obtained contact details of each student through the economics office and got in touch with each member to arrange to a group meeting. I booked a group study room in the library and asked each person to prepare some thoughts for the project and to outline their timetables for the following two weeks. After a schedule was in place, I allocated different sections of the project to group members and coordinated further group meetings." 


As a result, our group submitted the assignment 2 days early and we later received an A grade.”   



Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.”

(To get the hang of it, try to split the example below into the S.T.A.R. format. What are your observations on this answer?)


When I was 15, I was News Editor on my weekly school newspaper. The overall Editor of the paper wanted to run a front page story about a student who had been caught cheating and was expelled. I thought that it was too personal to the student, and would expose him more than was necessary; he had already been punished. My editor believed that in the interests of freedom of journalism, it was important to name the student given the seriousness of the situation and that our readers would want to know about it.”

“I explained to my Editor that whilst I understood his concerns, it was better to lead with a positive story about how our school hockey team had won a county championship. I reminded him that the teachers may also not want negative publicity about the cheating and in the end he came around to my way of thinking and we lead with the story about hockey. It was really hard to actively challenge his leadership, but I was convinced I did the right thing, and by acting calmly, providing an alternative and giving rational reasons I gained his support.”

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