Tackling Competency Based Questions

by Andrew Atkins

The dreaded competency based category of interview questions can leave any confident job candidate a little nervous yet just like all other forms of interview questions the answer is simple, it’s all about preparation. Provided you adequately prepare for them by understanding why they are asked and which ones are most likely to come up, you can easily provide answers that will impress any interviewer. I will start by outlining exactly what competency based interview questions are and why you are being asked them.

What are Competency Questions?

Competency questions are as the name suggests questions that test your competency for specific aspects of the job that you are applying for. They essentially test whether you tick the correct boxes personality wise for example do you have the required leadership, decision making, problem solving skills to handle the specific role, well do you?

Competency Based Questions Tackling Competency Based Questions

Why are Competency Based Questions Asked?

Competency based questions are used as they are the fastest means of establishing the suitability of a particular candidate for a given position. Supposing there are ten candidates for a position and all are being given interviews that will not last longer than an hour. All candidates are equal on paper and all claim that they are perfect for the job.

Establishing which candidate to choose based upon a one hour conversation where all candidates are attempting to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear is obviously a pretty difficult task. Competency based questions are a fair way of comparing the abilities of each candidate and they are also pretty difficult to fake compared to many more traditional interview questions. They are therefore a favorite for resolving this situation.

How should you go about answering Competency Based Questions?

Competency based questions require the same thing as all interview questions and that is simply adequate preparation. These questions are designed to assess your competency in key areas so the first thing that you need to do is make a list of the key areas that apply within the role you are hoping to get. You just need to ask what are the key competencies that they will want to find present in the successful candidate.

Once you have your list, list possible questions that could come up that would test these competencies and then practice answering them. Aside from just staring blankly at the interviewer, one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to competency based questions is been overly general and not illustrating specific events. One of the most suitable techniques for avoiding this is the STAR technique, which I will now outline.

The STAR technique

Competency based questions have a tendency to make people rant and generalize and talk a lot without really saying a whole lot of anything, let alone what the interviewer actually wants to hear. Interviewers do not want to hear that you are a great leader; they want to know of specific instances in which you unquestionably demonstrated that attribute. One good means of ensuring that you provide exactly that is to stick to the STAR technique. It is very simple and essentially just involves you structuring your answer in the form of a situation, a task, an action and a subsequent result.

Competency Based Questions 1 Tackling Competency Based Questions

The situation is the background to the task. For example, you were appointed to project X and it was a challenging project for specific reasons, again be specific, do not generalize. The task will then involve a specific responsibility that you were given within the project, the result of which should be verifiable. For example, you had to keep the project within a specific budget. You then outline the actions that you took to fulfill this task, keeping in mind that the actions taken need to demonstrate your competency within a key area. You then finish your answer by outlining the result. Obviously if you intend on getting the job that you are applying for, the result was a positive one.

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