How to tackle a competency-based interview

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Man and woman shake hands while another man looks on during a competency-based interview.

Competency-based interviews are becoming increasingly popular in the job hunt, with companies opting to ask broad questions that demonstrate your skills and personality, over specific questions about your professional experience.

While talking about yourself may seem uncomfortable and unnatural, our time as a leading recruitment agency in London has taught us that these types of interviews are a fantastic way for a potential employer to garner a comprehensive understanding of how you work and how you’d fit into their team.

What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview will be focused on broader questions that aim to display your skills, personality and work ethic. You may be asked ‘describe a time where you have worked to a deadline under pressure’ or ‘explain when you have been required to prioritise your workload’. You are required to answer questions by giving give real life scenarios – keep them short and sweet and make sure you get to the point!

The reason employers ask such questions is for them to gather an understanding of how you work – and determine your future performance in the workplace. They are also a great way of benchmarking candidates against each other in the interview process.


Think about situations where you have really excelled and that you are proud of yourself for. This may be in your current role, or whilst you were at university (if you are going for your first job). Think about how you could use this situation and how you can use this as an example. Break down the question, think about the situation, then think about what you needed to do in order to resolve an issue or to manage the task in hand. After this, it is time to think about what you did and finally, how your actions affected the situation – did it resolve the problem?

When you are being questioned by your employer, ensure you focus on the action and result – this is where you will be able to demonstrate how you are the ideal member of staff for them to take on. Remember, your interviewer will be wanting to know how you did it, rather than what you did. Most competency-based questions will be asked to discover how you cope with problem solving, how you cope with a heavy workload and how you delegate to those around you, how well you work in a team and see how good your communication skills are.

As with any interview, take time to study the company website, and job description provided. This way you will be able to gather a better understanding of what the company does, and you will be able to prepare relevant answers. In the job description, you should be able to understand what is most important in the role, and what would be required of you. Do try to prepare answers which would be relevant to said areas. This may include leadership skills, time management, organisational skills, and decision making under pressure. Make sure you put across to your interviewer that you are adaptable and will be happy to take on any situation and that you can stay focused when handling a difficult situation.

How to structure your answer to a competency-based question

When answering a competency-based question, you will be asked to provide answers from your personal life, work life and even when you were studying. Break down your answers, you need to make sure you can answer succinctly and effectively.

Sometimes, the less elaborate the answer, the better the result. You may think that organising a trip to several countries across the globe is impressive, but organising an office trip out may actually be more relevant and impressive.

First of all, you will need to describe the situation to your interviewer, so they have a better understanding of the task in hand. After this, you will need to speak about the actual task and what was required of you. Then you will need to go into your action, what you did to help the situation, and the effect your input had on the situation (the end result).

The STAR method is a helpful tool for remembering this:

• Situation
• Task
• Action
• Result

Some interviewers may ask you if you would do anything differently to change a result, so do consider this when structuring your answers. Strong words like ‘developed’, ‘took control of’, and ‘initiated’ will help show that you are very able when tackling a task.

If you are asked about how you did something, avoid using the word ‘we’ – your interviewer wants to know about you, not about your team.

Some do not enjoy competency-based interviews, and some may see them as irrelevant. Although they can be nerve wracking, they can be extremely effective for the interviewer. With these tips, hopefully you feel confident walking into one!

For more expert advice on interviewing, check out our resources.

Author David Morel Tiger Recruitment Team

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