Competency Based Interviews: How to Prepare & What to Expect

By Issy Goode - 14:44

Now that you've graduated there's a chance you're going to have to prepare for a competency based interview during your job hunt. This style of interview is seen as a good way to assess graduates; many of us don't have direct experience of what we may be going into, so a competency based interview tests whether or not you actually have the ability to do the tasks expected of you. They're not just used for graduate interviews though as they're a good way of getting to know a person!

So, what can you expect from this type of interview?
You'll be asked questions that require a response based on past experiences. This can be previous jobs, university experience or simply examples from your personal life. The important thing here is to really wrack your brains, initially you may not think you have examples for every little competency under the sun, but you'll be surprised. 

The questions may well be broken down into what is called the CAR or STAR approach where the interviewer will separately ask you to provide the context of a situation, then how you responded to this and then the outcome of it. Other interviewers may just simply ask you the question, and the breaking down of this into the CAR or STAR approach is all down to you. 

What are these approaches I'm rambling on about?

S - situation               C - context
T - task                      A - action
A - action taken         R - result
R - result

It's basically like mini essay prep, the whole PEE on your work shabang that school taught us...but don't pee on the interviewer. Instead, follow these to tighten up your answer and stop yourself from rambling. 

My advice is, in case you don't know what approach they'll take - whether they'll break it down into separate questions or simply ask you the one (the latter I believe is less likely and it's a lot easier to make notes if they ask it separately) - kick off your first answer by using either of the above techniques (they're basically the same) to demonstrate that you understand what is being asked of you, unless of course they say otherwise. 

In my case only 6 questions - that were broken down - were asked and therefore six competencies were tested, alongside a seventh one which focused on my ability to communicate well in writing. Though, it's really down to what's in the job description and person spec when it comes to how many you can expect.

Which leads me on to, preparation. 
Keep your person spec (if one is provided) and job description close at hand, don't lose it because this will help give you a pretty good idea of what kind of competency questions will be asked. I outlined mine and figured out what would be focused on within my interview, and therefore had answers ready and prepared. Don't rely on this alone though, because focusing solely on it may leave you unprepared for other possible questions.

What competencies should you expect?

Teamwork     Responsibility     Commitment     Commercial/brand awareness     Motivation
     Decision making     Communication     Leadership     Trustworthiness/Ethics     Results orientation
Problem solving     Organisation

So these were the ones I came across consistently when researching what to expect, though there are many many others. The person spec and job description is unlikely to just slap these in, so you'll have to go through with a fine tooth comb to pull out what's expected of you.

I decided, despite the fact that there was little chance all would be asked, to consider how my experiences demonstrated all of these competencies, and came up with examples - not full blown ones, just the basic answer that I could elaborate on if asked the relevant competency based question during the interview. Doing this really helped me get into the swing of things, and I was able to roll examples off pretty quickly.

This page was incredibly helpful because it linked to each competency and broke down possible questions. Never expect the exact same wording, but be prepared to hear something similar. 

My advice for a competency based interview is to go in prepared with good TRUE examples from your experiences. Cover a wide range of examples, utilising your personal life experiences, events that occurred at university and if you have previous work experience, think of examples from that too. Whatever you do, DON'T LIE. You may think you're a good actor but the stress of the day will start to shake the foundations of your made up example, and many interviewers will be able to tell. 

For interviews in general, smile, keep eye contact, dress appropriately, have a strong handshake and go prepared. Research the company, show that you know who you're interviewing to work for and what they stand for as a company. Dropping little tip bits of info that may seem pointless to research will actually earn you extra consideration when it comes to who gets the job.

Good luck to all my fellow graduates on the job hunt!

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  1. Thank you for sharing these tips. I'm in the job hunting process at the moment and interviews are always one of the most terrifying things!

    Erin | Being Erin

    1. It's my pleasure! After all the prep I went through desperately searching the internet for advice, I felt the need to condense it down. It was really nerve racking but a lot of it depends on first impressions, that's what I try to remember! Luckily I was interviewed by a really lovely chatty person who made me relax a little quite quickly.

      Good luck with the job hunt!

  2. James here from WikiJob. Thanks very much for mentioning our page as a useful resource for competency based interviews. If you or your readers ever need any other advice or tips relating to the application process just let us know - we figure the more help you can get, the better!

    1. Hi James, thanks for stopping by. That's no worries! Thanks for having the advice up there, I really found it so useful!


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