Competency Based Interviews: example interview questions and how to answer
Below are a few example questions (and guidelines for how to answer) that could be used in competency based interviews. Of course, the competencies and indicators will be highly specific to any job role, business and business development goals – these examples simply demonstrate the sorts ways interviewers may ask for evidence in competency based interviews (also sometimes called behavioural or structured).
For further information see our previous blogs: An introductory guide to competency based interviews and How to structure and conduct a competency based interview. If you have further questions about how to put together competencies and train interviewers don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For an administrative assistant role competencies could include telephone skills and organisational skills. For a senior management role competencies could include ability to work under stress or strategic thinking. Most job interviews will assess six or seven key competencies essential to that role, which the candidate should be aware of prior to the interview.
Competency interview questions will look for specific examples from the past where you have demonstrated a certain skills.
These could occur in many guises e.g. how do you maintain good relationships within your team OR when have you had to deal with conflict OR how do you influence others who may have conflicting agendas?
The interviewee should respond with a honest, clear and modest example. A well-trained interviewer will probe for details and encourage them to elaborate without guiding their response.
General questions such as ‘how do you maintain good relationships within your team’ will often be developed to collect ‘evidence’ i.e. specific examples. For example ‘give me an example of when you have resolved a disagreement within your team’. Interviewees are expected to demonstrate how they personally have acted in the past rather than describe what others have done or express in retrospect what they should, could or would have done.
Below we deal with the competency ‘teamwork’ to give you an idea of strong questions and answers
The interviewer will have a list of positive and negative indicators in order for them to accurately and fairly measure the competency on a scale (e.g. from exceptional to below standard). The scale will be based on analysis of existing strong and weaker performers of a particular competency, with interviewers often given examples of different levels under each indicator in order to guide them in assessing evidence.
Positive indicators for teamwork could include: contributes fully to team projects, plays a key role in the team, is able to take the lead as well as let others lead, considers the broad needs of a situation, is open minded and reponds well to conflict
Negative indicators should be directly related, so could include: fails to contribute to team projects, avoids playing a key role in the team, is unable to let others lead, tries to deal with a situation alone, perceives conflict as a problem
- Tell us about a situation where you were part of a team. How did you contribute?
- Describe a situation where you contributed significantly to a team project.
- Describe a time where you’ve been part of a team which has worked successfully together.
- What role do you usually play in a team?
- Give us an example of where conflict has arisen in a team and how you responded.
- Tell us about a time when you’ve had to offer constructive criticism to a team member.
- Give an example of how someone in your team has annoyed you and how you responded.
- What do you do to make sure all parts of a team are involved? Give us an example where roles have been imbalanced and how you have responded.
- How do you respond to a difficult team member when needing to ensure a task is done?
The interviewer’s job is to push for examples and plenty of details. It’s also their role to make you feel comfortable and to create all possible opportunities for you to provide relevant ‘evidence’ – so interviewees fearful of their first ‘competency based interview’ can really relax!
When being put under the spot it can be tempting to create an example or make up details. It’s best to avoid this as the interviewer will often see through it and it can make the interview more stressful. Be honest and say ‘I can’t remember that detail’ or ‘That’s interesting, give me a moment to think about that’. If the interviewer is pushing for an example of teamwork and you have little workplace experience, they should make clear whether you can give examples from your personal life (e.g. organising a holiday with friends) – if this isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask.
Also see this webpage for possible answers to teamwork competency questions. Of course, the best way to prepare yourself for a competency based interview is not to look at others’ responses but to study the job specification and how you match it, and to think of some past scenarios that demonstrate the ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ skills.