Preparing for Competency Interviews


Congratulations are in order, as you’ve been invited to an interview! The only issue is, that you’ve been told it's competency-based, and you’re not sure what to expect.

There is no need to be nervous, however, as the good thing about competency-based interviews is they offer a wonderful opportunity to describe some of your key achievements and experiences to a captive audience.


What is a competency interview?

What’s the difference between a competency interview and a traditional interview?

Traditional interviews, (sometimes called unstructured interviews) are free-flowing and more like a conversation. The interviewer won’t have a particular script, but will ask questions relevant to the job and will be trying to get an overall impression of what you are like as a person, including what your strengths and weaknesses are.

By contrast, competency Interviews are very much scripted and often written by professionals who know how to frame questions that will provide revealing answers and insights into your capabilities.


What competencies are sought after?

The list of skills and competencies that will be tested will change depending on the post you’re applying for.

A senior manager will be assessed on their ability to influence and negotiate, while a personal assistant may be assessed for communication and organisational competency instead.

Analytical competencies

These assess your decision-making abilities and try to unearth innovation, analytical skills, problem-solving, practical learning and attention to detail. A typical question would be:

“Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem”

  • Interpersonal competencies

These assess social competence. Many workplaces function on project teams, so the more collaborative a candidate is, the more likely they will thrive in the company. A typical question would be:

"Describe a situation where you got people to work together”

  • Motivational competencies

These assess the level of drive and examine your energy, motivation, result orientation, initiative and quality focus. A typical question might be:

“When did you work the hardest and feel the greatest sense of achievement?”


What competencies are common?

  • Adaptability
  • Compliance
  • Communication
  • Conflict management
  • Courage and Conviction
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Decisiveness      
  • Delegation
  • Developing Others
  • External awareness
  • Forward Thinking
  • Flexibility
  • Independence
  • Initiative
  • Influencing
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Leveraging diversity
  • Managing External Relationships
  • Organisational awareness
  • Resilience and tenacity
  • Results Orientation
  • Risk-taking
  • Cultural Sensitivity / Sensitivity to others
  • Teamwork


How do I prepare?

Now you know the format and what sort of questions you’ll be asked; the preparation is straightforward.

Competency interviews require you to put in the effort upfront.

  1. First, you need to research all the likely questions around the competencies related to the job you are applying for.
  2. Then you’ll need to sift through your employment and personal history to find examples that show you’ve got the relevant skills and abilities.
  3. And finally, you need to practise the STAR technique for answering the questions, using your personal material. For those of you who don’t know about it, STAR (situation, time, action and result) is the technique recommended by recruiters. Use a sentence to describe each of those components and remember the result or outcome is the most important part.


Why is this method useful?

An answer structured in these four component parts shows how you demonstrated a skill in working out a problem, so the potential employer can imagine how you might operate in their workplace. These skills are demonstrated in the workplace, in roles such as team leadership, project management and even at your desk working out how to go about dealing with day-to-day challenges.


How are they marked?

Before the interview, the employer will have determined which type of answers would score positive points and which types of answers would count against the candidates. Interview Skills Consulting, ISC provides the following examples for the question, "Describe a time when you had to deal with pressure":

  • Positive
  • Demonstrates a positive approach towards the problem
  • Considers the wider need of the situation
  • Negative
  • Perceives challenges as problems
  • Attempts unsuccessfully to deal with the situation alone
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