Last month my colleagues Rob and Marc wrote a blog offering advice around Ways to Improve your Interview Style. There’s some great advice for interviewing and the article is well worth the read. They picked up on one of the biggest challenges that a lot of candidates face in securing their dream job during the interview process; answering competency based questions. In this blog I’ll be elaborating on what competency based interviewing is and how you can best prepare.
What are competency questions?
Competency questions are (usually pre-prepared) behavioural questions that an interviewer will ask in order to assess whether you can demonstrate your ability to perform in specific technical / behavioural areas that are integral to both the role you are applying for and the values of the company.
What are they designed to do / why do companies use them?
More and more companies are using competency questions as a reliable method for establishing aspects of eligibility and suitability. In the relatively short time that you will interview for a role the interviewer is assessing whether you are a good fit for both the position and the organisation; from both a technical and behavioural perspective. The best way to assess this (and then compare to other candidates interviewing) is to ascertain whether you can demonstrate the behavioural and technical skills that they have deemed integral to succeeding in the job and fitting the company culture and values. The best way to do this is to ask tailored questions which give you the opportunity to demonstrate those skills, and measure those answers using a formulaic set of criteria when marking your answers.
How can you spot a competency question?
Competency questions call for demonstrable behaviours or technical experience that you have exhibited in the past. Therefore they will start with phrases like ‘Tell me about a time when…’ or ‘give me an example of when you have…’ or even ‘what were the circumstances surrounding…’
Competency question examples
Here are a couple of examples detailing particular competencies that you might be asked around.
- Working under pressure (behavioural); ‘Tell me about a time that you have been under particular pressure to deliver against a specific timeline. How did you deal with this?’
- Experience strategically driving a change management programme (technical); ‘Can you give me an example of when you have had to plan a large scale change management programme? What were the challenges involved?
How do you know what competencies to prepare for?
There is a long list of competencies that an interviewer might weave into your conversation, and it’s going to be impossible to prepare for all of them! Most employers will have gone to considerable effort in establishing what to ask – so how do you know which ones are important to the company?
- Technical / behavioural competencies required for the job can be unearthed in two easy ways;
1. Read through the job / person specification and identify what the employer has specifically requested from both a technical and behavioural perspective. They are letting you know what they are looking for well ahead of the interview!
2. If you’re applying through a recruitment agency, take advantage of the relationships that we have with our clients. When we brief you for an interview take heed of the advice and remember that we have great relationships with our clients and know what they are looking for.
- Company values – These are often on the website of the organisation and with a small amount of research you can be well informed of what values they want the company (and of course their employees) to exhibit. Understand the company values and think of examples of when you have embraced and demonstrated these qualities in the past.
What’s the best way to answer competency questions (STAR)?
Competency questions are best answered using the well-known STAR analogy. That is to say you should describe the Situation, Task, Action and Result of the time you demonstrated the behavioural or technical competency they are quizzing you on.
- Situation – Describe the situation / circumstances of the example you are about to give
- Task – Describe the task that you needed to accomplish (e.g. ‘I needed to cut headcount by 10%’)
- Action – Describe the actions that you took; what specific steps did you take to complete the task at hand?
- Result – What was the result of your actions? (E.g. By completing the organisational restructure we cut 10% of headcount – saving the company £xxx – whilst also improving the collaboration of different functions following a review of the reporting structure).
My top three tips for answering competency questions with confidence:
1. Be concise – When answering competency questions try not to waffle! While it is important to give context around the situation and task you are outlining, it is the action and result that the interviewer is interested in
2. Be prepared – Make sure you research the company values, read through the job / person specification thoroughly and take on-board advice from your consultant (if applicable). Be armed with solid competency based examples and figures that you can use to support your answers
3. Don’t sound scripted – like all situations that call for preparation there is often the ever-present desire to over prepare, often to the point that it sounds like you are reading from your notebook. Have examples and figures revised, but be natural!