What is a competency-based interview question?
With a competency-based question, the interviewer will ask you to describe a situation that demonstrates abilities that will be integral to the role you’re interviewing for. Such questions fall into these five categories:
Your personal attributes such as decisiveness, tenacity, knowledge, independence, risk taking and personal integrity.
A typical question: Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was challenged.
Your leadership abilities such as empowerment, strategic thinking, corporate sensitivity, project management and managerial control.
A typical question: Tell me about a time when you led a group to achieve an objective.
Your decision-making abilities such as innovation, analytical skills, problem solving, practical learning and attention to detail.
A typical question: Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.
Your social competence. Many workplaces function with project teams and the more collaborative they are, the more likely they are to thrive.
A typical question: Describe a situation where you got people to work together.
The things that drive you, such as resilience, motivation, result orientation, initiative, and quality focus.
A typical question: When did you work the hardest and feel the greatest sense of achievement?
The trick to answering competency-based questions
You can structure your answers using the STAR technique, which describes:
- the Situation,
- the Task required as a result,
- the Action you took and
- the Result of that action.
Utilising this technique will help you to answer the question in a clear and succinct manner, ensuring that your answer covers all ground and remains on track. Structuring your answers in such a way will also help you gain a deeper understanding of what is required of you.
Always start with a brief introduction that outlines the situation you are about to explain, then shape your answers into concise stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
For instance, if the interviewer asks you to describe a time you dealt with a stressful situation at work, you might say:
“I was working as a part of a team of six, developing web platforms for the first of a series of company website launches. We were confident we would complete the project to schedule, but two team members, including our manager, fell ill and were unable to come into work.”
Now you should move onto the task section of your answer, which outline the task you took on, and explain the goals and the objectives for your team and the wider business.
“The team was suddenly under serious pressure to meet a deadline on which a substantial marketing budget had already been invested. We were required to meet the original deadline with depleted personnel and an obvious lack of leadership.”
The most detailed part of your answer should be the action, where you describe how you dealt with the task. Here, you will detail your use of available resources, the personal and relevant skills you brought to the table and your direct involvement. The action section of your answer should leave your interviewer in no doubt about your contribution and why you carried out the task in a particular way.
“I was up to speed with all aspects of the project, and I remained confident in my programming skills through my previous experience and recent training in this area. I put myself forward as the team leader for the remainder of the project. I was able to draw on my technical skills and leadership skills that I had acquired from captaining a rowing crew throughout university. We, as a team, effectively broadened our time frame on the projects and ran checks on the sites before presentation to the board.”
You will now need to wrap up your answer by outlining the result of your actions. This is where you demonstrate the benefits of those actions to the company, the team and your professional development.
“Under my leadership, the team was able to deliver the project on time. The launch was a resounding success. The team was congratulated on a job well done and I was promoted to the position of group head.”
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How STAR can engage the interviewer
As with all good storytelling, clarity and precision are key to answering interview questions. Try to deliver your STAR answers in well under three minutes, keeping them positive and jargon-free.
At all stages of the STAR technique, you should strive to answer the question in a way that highlights your relevant skills, work experience and suitability to the role on offer.
Preparing to use STAR in an interview
Prepare five STAR interview sample answers based on achievements relevant to the role applied for. Think of how you can present your answers and achievements to suit different questions. For example, the scenario used above could be used to prove teamwork or project management capabilities, and your ability to handle pressure or problem solve.
Most importantly, be yourself when answering these questions; use real life examples and relate them to your experience, how you reacted or how it made you feel. These are not trick questions – they’re designed to uncover the best match between an individual and an organisation. With a little bit of preparation, you’ll quickly realise that competency-based interviews represent an unprecedented opportunity to describe some of your finer moments to a captive audience.
This article is contributed by Michael Page.