A Guide: Tackling Competency-Based Interviews

Competency / behavioural-based interviews are a good opportunity for the company to find out a lot about you, but it is also your chance to display the qualities and skills necessary for the job and the better prepared you are, the better the interview will be.

The key to a successful and satisfying interview for both our clients and candidates alike is the depth of preparation undertaken before the interview – I know from my years of recruitment experience that over half of employers (55%) are frustrated by candidates in interview who are better on paper than in person. So the following checklist can act as a reminder, which will help you conduct an expert interview, as well as highlight your own professional expertise.

Are you prepared?

Utilise the internet – 1 in 4 candidates (even at C-suite level) walk into an interview under-prepared. Make sure you have done as much research as possible, check out their website thoroughly, and see what news they have had in the press recently. If you are entering into a new sector, then a few notes on competitors and industry issues might also be useful to prepare.

Do some LinkedIn checks and Google searches – look up the name of the person who will be interviewing you, where they have worked before, where did they go to University, is there anything you have in common with them? Greeting them by name on arrival is essential. If you have any mutual contacts, bring it to light.

When answering competency-based questions thinking about how you structure the answers you give will make it easier to understand the point you are trying to make. Generally, you should break the answer down into four points. Firstly, start with the situation or issue you had to deal with. Secondly, talk about the objective or goal you had to reach, the third part is the action you took to achieve the goal and finally talk about the impact it had on the business. While it is important to give a full answer, you should also remember to be concise. Keep it relatively simple and they can always ask follow-up questions.

Typical questions – examples

Self-management, self-motivation and self-knowledge

Do you always strive to achieve a standard of excellence, use initiative at the appropriate time and show persistence in pursuing goals? Accurate self-assessment skills will allow you to be objective and critical in evaluating your strengths and weaknesses so go through these steps to prepare your answers.

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a time when you have acted over and above the expectations of the role?
  2. How would you describe yourself?

Conflict management and ethics

How do you behave in a crisis? What does it take to shake your poise or self-confidence? What approach do you take in problem-solving?

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a significant crisis you have faced?
  2. How do you resolve conflict in the groups or teams that you are part of?

Personal and career objectives

What are your short and long-term goals? When and why did you establish these goals and how are you preparing yourself to achieve them? Employers like to invest money in your training and development and will want to ensure your objectives do not conflict with theirs. It is important to show how your previous employers have benefited from the training you have had.

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about how a professional qualification you have obtained has helped you personally?
  2. Tell me about how a professional qualification you have obtained has helped your previous employer?


How quickly and how positively will you adapt to changes in work practices, work roles and work environments? How do you manage or avoid stress?

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a time when you have changed your priorities to meet others’ expectations?
  2. Tell me about a time when you have had to change your point of view or your plans to take into account new information or changing priorities?

Problem-solving and decision-making

What is your problem-solving style? Do you change your activities to minimise or avoid them? How do you behave in a crisis?

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a difficult decision you have had to make?
  2. What significant problems have you faced in the last year?


Are you an active listener? Do you really listen or do you hear what is actually said? Are you able to read the non-verbal messages that others communicate? Do you communicate in an engaging and convincing way?

Example questions:

  1. Describe a situation you were involved in that required a multi-dimensional communication strategy?
  2. Give an example of a difficult situation or sensitive situation that required extensive communication?

Ability, competence and achievement

What inspires you and motivates you to achieve? Are you a team person or do you excel in a stand-alone capacity?

Example questions:

  1. What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
  2. Describe a time when you led or motivated others?


Employers need people who are socially competent. Do you have the desire to build and maintain relationships in and beyond the workplace?

Example questions:

  1. Describe a situation where you were successful in getting people to work together effectively?
  2. Describe a situation which you were a member (not a leader) of a team and a conflict arose within the team. What did you do?

Influencing and persuading others

You may have strong verbal skills but can you influence another person to change their thinking or take some action? Perhaps a colleague follows your advice or a client decides to buy a service or product. At management level do you have the skills to persuade and involve rather than coerce and punish? Are you ethical in your dealings with people?

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a time when you were able to change someone’s view point significantly?
  2. Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you disagreed with?

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