How to Ace your Competency Based Interviews

by guest author, Ed Mellett, an entrepreneur, careers professional and founder of

Do you know what competency based interviews are?

Gone are the days when an interview was held between a business manager and the applicant with a set of relatively straightforward questions. Recruiters are now using many advanced techniques and strategies including psychometric tests, assessment days and more insightful questions to elicit a certain response from the applicant. All of these activities will build up a picture of the applicant’s suitability and whether they will bring the right skills to the business.

Today’s jobs market is more competitive than ever before, and companies are looking for the best of the best. One of the ways recruiters do this is to use various interview strategies such as competency based interviews to identify whether a candidate is really what they are looking for.

There are so many different types of interview and knowing how to prepare can be daunting. Competency based interviews are just one of the interview types that you may face. But what exactly are they how do you give strong answers that will help you succeed? This type of interview is one that aims to assess three main areas; your skills, your knowledge and your attitude.

Employers will use a specific set of questions to identify whether you will excel in these areas before deciding whether you are suitable for their organization. Acing a competency based interview requires understanding what elements the recruiter is looking for and how to give strong answers to demonstrate your skills and experience.

Core Competencies

With the right planning and preparation, success is possible with a competency based interview and it can be used as a platform to showcase the best of your skills, knowledge and experience.

Although the list of competencies will vary depending on the industry and the post you are applying for, the most common ones include:

Analysis – The ability to make decisions, innovate and deploy problem solving to find innovative solutions to issues faced by the company.

Interpersonal – Many businesses now work on a project basis and the better you are at collaboration and communication, the more you will thrive in any organization.

Motivation – There is nothing worse than a demotivated and uninspired employee. These types of questions will aim to evaluate your motivation, enthusiasm and how focused you will be on using your initiative and delivering excellence.

Succeeding at the competency interview is not as difficult as it may seem if you follow these useful steps:

#1 Use the Job Description

The advertisement and job description should be a good starting point. These documents should give you some really helpful pieces of information about the types of questions that you will be asked during the interview. As an example, if the job description frequently mentions problem solving and analytical skills, there is a good chance one of the competency questions will be based around this skill. Look for skills that are repeated multiple times both within the person specification and the job description. These are the ones that you should focus on.

#2 Research Common Questions competency based interviews

In a competency interview, it is highly likely that you will be asked questions about your people skills. Almost every job will involve some kind of communication with customers, stakeholders or partners. Typical questions that relate to people skills include:

  • How do you maintain effective working relationships?
  • How would you handle conflict or a challenging situation?
  • How would you persuade colleagues to follow your agenda?

It is always a good idea to research the company using forums and job search websites. Sometimes candidates will post their experiences of the competency interview for the company you are being interviewed by and it can give you an insight into the types of questions that they ask. When answering any of these questions, it is important that your responses are specific and relate to actual situations.

#3 Remember Positivity competency based interviews

During a competency based interview you will always be assessed on your attitude. Make a great first impression, be confident but not overly so and above all, convey your enthusiasm and interest in the company. Although employers may not ask questions about your attitude directly, they will be looking for certain clues through the answers you provide to other questions to determine what outlook you have. In particular, they will be looking to assess your attitude in relation to your work, your seniors and colleagues.  Always convey your answers with positivity and enthusiasm, even when talking about a conflict or a challenging situation with a customer. Focus on how you took control of the situation and what the outcome was rather than criticizing the customer or a colleague. Convey through your answers that you have a positive attitude and always try to see the best in every situation.

#4 Apply the STAR Method

When providing your answers to the recruiter, learn to tell a story using the STAR method. This involves setting the scene, describing the situation and then explaining the result.

The acronym STAR can be broken down to the following components:





This technique is universally recognized as a way to communicate a full and meaningful answer to competency based questions. Many interviewers will immediately recognize when a candidate is using the strategy because answers are more structured. As a result, employers are eager to learn what you have to say. Let’s explain the STAR method in a little more detail.

Situation or Task

The first step in the process is to recognize a situation when you were confronted with a task relevant to what you have been asked. With this initial section of your response you will need to set the scene. Deliver with poise and be informative and engaging, focusing on the important points. As an example, if you were asked to describe how you handled a difficult customer you would provide a brief introduction to explain how the situation arose.

ActionCompetency Based Interviews

As you begin to build your answer, this is the most important section and where you will need to demonstrate the skills that the recruiter is asking about. Now you have provided the background, you need to explain what you did. As you provide your answer, talk about how you dealt the situation, mentioning what you did, how and why.

Recruiters will always want to know how you reacted to a situation. This is where you can bring in some of your important skills such as communication, negotiation or teamwork. When discussing a challenging situation for example, don’t just say something like you managed to calm the customer down. You need to elaborate and explain how you did this. Perhaps you looked at the situation from the customers point of view and used this to turn a negative situation into a positive one. Highlight the reasons behind what you did as this will always make a greater impact.


The final part of your answer should explain the outcome, focusing on your achievements and what you learned, drawing on your skills. Interviewers will want to know that you can take a series of generic skills to achieve specific objectives such as improved customer satisfaction or conflict resolution.

Wrapping Up

Competency interviews are growing in popularity and the tips and advice in this guide should help you to adequately prepare and take the next step in your career.

Need more job search advice?

Join Our DiscussionDoes your linkedin profile need a makeover

For more insights and a community of like-minded professionals join our LinkedIn group Resume Help and Advice for Professionals and Executives

Ed Mellett is an entrepreneur, careers professional and founder of He is known for co-founding and launching the leading student and graduate careers website Now in its 11th year, wikijob attracts over 400,000 unique users per month and is a must-visit resource for students considering their careers post-university. Ed’s other interests include AI, neuroscience and psychology.

Leave a Comment