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June 20, 2023

Competency Interviews Demystified: A Step-by-Step Guide to Excelling

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Employers continuously refine their interview processes to improve their ability to identify competent candidates using competency-based interview questions. These competency-based questions no doubt can be challenging, however, the questions are also opportunities for candidates to emphasise their key strengths and expertise during interviews.

However, the first to excel in a competency interview is to understand first what a competency interview is.

Understanding What is a Competency Interview

A competency interview, sometimes known as a structured, behavioural, or situational interview is designed to test a candidate’s one or more skills competency. 

A competency interview typically involves an interviewer asking a series of questions, each question will focus on a specific skill or behaviour. The interviewer will then evaluate a candidate’s answer and response by comparing it against pre-determined criteria. 

A candidate’s answers and responses will allow interviewers to accurately and quickly determine how a candidate will handle a situation and the behaviours they will demonstrate in certain situations. 

Below are the competencies that are most commonly evaluated and looked at by employers:

  • Adaptability
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Decisiveness
  • Independence
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Organisation
  • Resilience
  • Teamwork

In short, employers use competency interviews to determine whether candidates have the skills that are required for the position they are applying for and if their behaviours fit the company’s culture and are beneficial in certain circumstances. 

Preparing for Competency-Based Interviews

Preparing for competency-based interviews involves several important steps. Firstly, it is crucial to thoroughly research the company and the specific role you are applying for. This includes understanding the company's values, mission, and culture, as well as familiarising yourself with the responsibilities and qualifications of the role. Additionally, identifying the key competencies required for the position is essential. This can be done by carefully analysing the job description and requirements provided by the company, paying attention to keywords and phrases that indicate the desired skills and attributes. 

Once you have identified the relevant competencies, it is important to reflect on your own experiences and achievements. Take the time to consider situations where you have demonstrated the desired skills and achieved noteworthy results. These could be from your professional or personal life and should align with the identified competencies. By preparing specific examples that highlight your abilities and achievements, you will be better equipped to articulate them during the interview. 

Overall, a well-rounded approach to preparing for competency-based interviews involves a combination of researching the company and role, identifying key competencies, analysing job descriptions, and reflecting on personal experiences. This preparation will enable you to answer interview questions effectively and demonstrate your suitability for the position. Remember to provide specific examples, outline the situation, actions, and outcomes, and showcase your competency and skills throughout the interview process.

Common Competency Interview Questions

Once you have a better understanding of the company and the job role, you can easily tackle any competency questions by anticipating the questions that are commonly asked. Below are some sample questions that are most commonly asked and why are they important:

Leadership role

  1. Can you describe a time when you had to lead a team through a significant change or transformation? How did you ensure the team remained motivated and committed during the process? 
  2. Tell me about a situation where you successfully resolved a conflict within your team. How did you approach the situation, and what steps did you take to reach a positive outcome? 
  3. Can you provide an example of a time when you had to make a tough decision that impacted your team or organisation? How did you gather information, weigh the options, and communicate your decision effectively? 
  4. Describe a situation where you had to delegate tasks to team members. How did you determine the appropriate responsibilities for each individual, and how did you ensure accountability and successful completion of the tasks? 
  5. Tell me about a time when you identified a performance issue within your team. How did you address it, provide feedback, and support the individual's development? 
  6. Can you share an example of a time when you had to inspire and motivate your team to achieve a challenging goal or target? How did you create a sense of shared purpose and drive performance? 
  7. Describe a situation where you had to lead a diverse team with members from different backgrounds and skill sets. How did you promote collaboration, leverage the strengths of each team member, and ensure effective communication? 
  8. Tell me about a time when you had to provide constructive feedback or coaching to a team member. How did you approach the conversation and help them improve their performance? 
  9. Can you give an example of a time when you demonstrated strategic thinking in a leadership role? How did you analyse the situation, identify opportunities, and develop a plan to achieve long-term objectives? 
  10. Describe a situation where you had to manage a high-pressure project with tight deadlines. How did you prioritise tasks, allocate resources, and ensure the successful completion of the project?

Individual contributor

  1. Can you describe a strategic initiative or major project you led that resulted in significant organisational growth or improvement? How did you develop the strategy, engage stakeholders, and achieve the desired outcomes? 
  2. Tell me about a time when you successfully managed a crisis or challenging situation at an executive level. How did you assess the situation, make critical decisions, and lead the organisation through the crisis? 
  3. Can you provide an example of a time when you effectively implemented change or transformation within a complex organisation? How did you overcome resistance, ensure alignment with strategic goals, and drive adoption of the change? 
  4. Describe a situation where you had to build and develop high-performing teams at an executive level. How did you identify and attract top talent, foster collaboration, and drive performance? 
  5. Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision that had significant financial implications for the organisation. How did you analyse the financial data, weigh the risks, and communicate your decision to stakeholders? 
  6. Can you share an example of a time when you successfully negotiated and secured a major partnership or acquisition for the organisation? How did you identify and evaluate opportunities, navigate complex negotiations, and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes? 
  7. Describe a situation where you had to lead the organisation through a period of significant change in the industry or market. How did you anticipate and adapt to emerging trends, develop innovative strategies, and position the organisation for long-term success? 
  8. Tell me about a time when you effectively managed stakeholder relationships at an executive level. How did you engage with diverse stakeholders, build trust, and align interests to achieve common objectives? 
  9. Can you provide an example of a time when you successfully led a cultural or organisational transformation? How did you foster a culture of innovation, improve employee engagement, and drive positive change? 
  10. Describe a situation where you had to make a strategic decision with limited information or in an uncertain environment. How did you assess the risks, gather relevant insights, and make a well-informed decision?

During an interview, candidates should pay close attention to the interviewer’s body language when responding to the questions that were asked as this will provide clues. For example, as candidates answer and provide examples to the questions being asked, take note of whether the interviewer’s body language generates a positive or negative response. If it's the latter, candidates would need to adjust their response accordingly and make a quick mental fact check for the answer they have provided.

In short, candidates that can adapt and improvise their answers on the go during their interview — adjusting their answers to what the interviewer wants to hear and present in a way that can influence the interviewer’s opinion of them will have better chances of passing their interview.  

Tips for Answering Competency-Based Interview Questions

Remember, when responding to competency-based questions, it's essential to structure your answers using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). This format provides a clear framework for sharing your experiences and highlights the positive outcomes of your actions.

  • Situation: Start by providing the interviewer with the necessary context by describing the situation or scenario you encountered. This includes explaining the background, challenges, and relevant details that are crucial for them to understand the context of your example. By setting the stage effectively, you enable the interviewer to grasp the circumstances you faced and the specific challenges you had to overcome.
  • Task: Clearly communicate the specific objective or goal that you needed to achieve within the given situation. Provide the interviewer with a clear understanding of the particular problem or objective you were addressing. This allows them to assess your ability to identify and focus on the essential aspects of the situation at hand.
  • Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation and achieve the task or objective. Focus on your individual contributions and the steps you took to overcome challenges. Highlight your skills, decision-making process, and the strategies you implemented. Be specific and provide enough detail to showcase your abilities and the thought process behind your actions. 
  • Result: Share the outcome or results of your actions. Explain the impact of your efforts and highlight any quantifiable achievements or positive outcomes. Emphasise how your actions contributed to the overall success of the situation, team, or organisation. Use data, metrics, or feedback to support your claims whenever possible. 

The STAR method offers a structured framework for your responses, guaranteeing comprehensive coverage of all essential components and effective showcasing of your skills. This approach enables interviewers to gain insight into your thought process, problem-solving capabilities, and the potential value you can contribute to the organisation. By adhering to the STAR method, you enhance the clarity and impact of your interview responses.

Additional Strategies for Interview Success

In addition to the STAR method, there are other strategies that can contribute to your success in a competency-based interview.

  • Active Listening: Active listening is crucial during an interview as it demonstrates your attentiveness and engagement. By actively listening, you show respect for the interviewer, gain a better understanding of the questions being asked, and can provide more thoughtful and relevant responses. To practice active listening, maintain eye contact, nod to show understanding, and avoid interrupting the interviewer. Take a moment to gather your thoughts before responding, ensuring that your answers directly address the question asked. 
  • Demonstrating Excellent Communication Skills: Communication skills are highly valued in any role. To showcase your communication abilities during the interview, focus on clarity, conciseness, and relevance in your responses. Speak confidently and articulate your thoughts effectively. Use examples and specific details to support your statements and provide a clear understanding of your experiences and achievements. Pay attention to your body language, maintaining an open and engaged posture, and using appropriate gestures to enhance your message. 
  • Asking Thoughtful Questions: Towards the end of the interview, you will likely have an opportunity to ask questions. Prepare a list of thoughtful questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in the company, role, and the organisation's culture. Avoid asking questions that could easily be answered through basic research. Instead, inquire about specific projects, team dynamics, or growth opportunities within the organisation. Asking insightful questions showcases your curiosity, engagement, and the effort you've put into preparing for the interview.

Conclusion

Competency interviews can be challenging but provide candidates with an opportunity to showcase their skills and expertise. By understanding the nature of competency interviews and preparing thoroughly, candidates can greatly improve their chances of success.

Candidates are encouraged to apply the strategies and techniques discussed in this article to their own interview preparations. Conduct research on the company, update resume’ to highlight relevant skills and achievements, and stay informed about current market trends. Additionally, practice answering common competency interview questions using the STAR method to structure your responses effectively.

Remember to pay attention to the interviewer's body language during the interview and adapt your answers accordingly. Active listening and maintaining a strong and positive interaction with the interviewers will leave a lasting impression.

Approach the next competency interview with confidence. Remember that every question presents an opportunity to showcase skills and demonstrate how candidates would handle specific situations. Also, be honest, avoid embellishing or inventing answers, and provide genuine responses.

We wish candidates the best of luck in their future interviews. Embrace the challenge, and be well-prepared. With the right preparation and a positive mindset, candidates can ace their next competency interview and land the job they desire.

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