How to Prepare for Competency Questions

Competency questions are a key part of job interviews. Here are our ideas on how you can best prepare for them.

As scientific recruiters we understand the importance of competencies and the part they play in job interviews. We wanted to give you some information on Competencies, what they are and some examples of questions.

What are Competencies?

Competencies are a mixture of knowledge, skills, motivation and personal characteristics. By indicating your competence, you will be demonstrating the skills and the background knowledge you have to perform certain tasks effectively. This will also show that you have the motivation or drive to make things happen. It is very common for interviewers to ask candidates about their competencies to see how they match up with the job requirement.

Our individual skills and behaviours are what make us unique, they also influence the way we react and respond in different situations. There is a definite connection between performance at work and skills, attributes and behaviours.

During competency-based interviews all candidates for the position are asked the same broad questions. These questions are designed to work out how well the candidate’s competencies match the job requirements. This enables the interviewer to draw from each candidate his or her ability to demonstrate successful performance in the job.

Competency Based Questions

Competency based interviewing is based on gathering objective evidence. The questions ask for examples to prove you have handled a given situation in a positive way. The competencies tested tend to be standard, with higher or lower scores required for different roles.

Answers should always be given using the S.T.A.R Format:

Situation: Describe the situation you were in.

Task: Tell them what you decided to do.

Action: Describe what you actually did.

Result: Present the benefit of your actions.

Examples of typical competency based questions:

  • Give an example of when you had a serious problem - how did you deal with it, and who was involved? 
  • Tell me about a project that you were given complete responsibility for.
    • How did you manage it?
    • What was the result?
    • Describe a time when you instigated an improvement to a process.
    • What prompted you to take that action?
    • How did your colleagues react to your suggestions?
    • What was the outcome?
    • Describe a time when you have had to encourage other people to achieve goals.                           
    • What was your approach?
    • What was the result?
    • What are your personal goals?
    • Can you describe a time when you failed to reach a goal?
    • Tell me about a problem that you have needed to solve where it was important to give careful thought to the outcome.
    • Why was this so?
    • How did you approach this issue?
    • What was the outcome?

Some essential tips:

  • Examples need to be specific, recent, work- related, and relate evidence of achievements. 
  • AVOID using phrases such as ‘WE’ and use ‘I’ when answering.  Just talk about your involvement.
  • In order to be successful, you need to understand what skills the interviewer is looking for.
  • Do not repeat questions back - this can be considered as 'buying time' to think of an answer!

If you aren’t sure, ask “Is that enough information for you?”.  The interviewer may stop you when they have enough, this doesn’t necessarily mean you said the wrong thing, it could mean that you hit the nail on the head!

For more information regarding competency-based questions, please contact us. One of our experienced consultants would be happy to help you.

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