Competency Based Interviews

An interview is something even the most assured dread and, for many, the announcement that the interview is “competency-based” is enough to bring on palpitations and sweaty palms.  

That carefree amble down CV memory lane is much, much simpler! I think it’s time to ignore negative mental images of the interviewer as a snarling wolf with a list of tricky questions designed to gobble you up.  

Firstly, what is a competency-based interview (CBI)? A competency is generally a specific skill or behaviour that a person should have to be successful in a position. A CBI is an interview technique designed to get candidates to talk about real life situations that help them demonstrate these skills.  

This technique can be daunting, but hopefully my advice will help you prepare for, and calm your nerves for, the interview.  

Hurdle One – Pre-Interview Nerves  

Take a deep breath and think. Try to reposition the experience in your mind. Imagine the competency-based interview (CBI) as a process where you could be selected based on your experience, and the questions themselves as a prompt or means by which you can demonstrate a few key skills. This is your opportunity to make your CV come to life and elaborate on real world situations that don’t come across on paper. Don’t forget that being invited for interview is a sign the employer thinks you already have some of the skills – they just want to talk to you about them. Simple.  


Hurdle Two – Understanding the Question  

In advance of the interview, you can anticipate the skills and questions based on the required skills for the role, and tailor your answers with relevant scenarios of situations in your work history that suit the competency. Don’t forget the interviewer knows how to conduct an interview. Think of their purpose as to help you get full answers across, rather than to trip you up and confuse you. This might help control your nerves in the interview, but it also might help you stay calm enough to understand and answer the question being asked, not the question you “think” is being asked.

Don’t forget, if you’re not sure: ask. There is nothing worse than talking at length about something, then realising 90% of the way through that you missed the question and you are talking way off course. If this does happen, attempt to bring the answer back on track.  

Hurdle Three – Preparation  

Have a think about examples and work-based scenarios where you have performed well. If you don’t have work experience yet, you may have other examples of part-time work, university activities, or anything else that’s relevant. Google “competency-based questions” – there are many resources out there dedicated to lists of questions you could be asked. There is a great resource on WikiJob, and many, many more. Don’t forget, the answers need to be your own, and refer to your own situations. Don’t try to lift or copy others answers, as a good interviewer will be able to see through that. And don’t provide the answer you think they want to hear. If you don’t possess a respective skill, why claim you do if it’s necessary for the role? You could end up with a job you wouldn’t like or suit.  

Hurdle Four – The Teamwork Trap  

It’s easy to think you are demonstrating good teamwork skills by talking about “we” and “us.” The interviewer wants to know about “you,” and this doesn’t demonstrate you can work in teams. It demonstrates you were part of a team that did something, but that you didn’t do it personally. Your answers need to demonstrate that you can fulfill the role, not that your old team could.  

Finally, don’t forget the famous Benjamin Franklin quote:

“by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”

Take good, considered time to prepare for the interview and you will be giving it your absolute best shot. Good luck!

 Lynn Fairservice is Associate Director of Business Services

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