Competency Based Interview

Competency based interviews are a structured style of interview used to assess a candidate's level of competence in key areas.

Free competency based interview questions and guidance booklets

Business psychologists have kindly designed for us a competency based interview script based on a typical competency framework. They have also produced a recommendations document which you can download below. Feel free to download the documents, print them out and conduct a mock interview with friends or colleagues. Or read them and practice responding on your own. Please respect our copyright though; if you want to use this for anything other than personal use you will need our permission.

Download Free Competency-Based Questions (PDF)

Use the instructions document for taking part in the exercise. Use the candidate guidance document to get an insight into what assessors typically look for and for help with reflecting on your own performance.

Competency based interviews are among the most commonly used style of interview. Employers use competency based interviewing to evaluate a candidate's level of competence across the key competencies of the role.

Competency based interviews and how they work

Competency based interviews (sometimes referred to as situational or behavioural interviews) are increasingly superseding other interview formats within the selection and assessment scene. Competency based interviews differ from semi structured/informal interviews by being highly structured, often with a static and inflexible list of questions which candidates shall be asked. However, competency based interviews also differ from other structured interviews by being tailored specifically to the competency framework of the role applied for. Generally speaking, candidates will be asked a list of questions regarding their previous experience and possibly asked questions regarding how they would act in hypothetical situations. Interviewers may also have a set list of probing questions, which will help explore the candidates experience in more depth. Competency based questions will be standardised, to ensure that all candidates receive similar or identical questions, ensuring reliability. Research has shown that structured, competency based interviewing is the most effective method of selection interview, outperforming less structured interviewing in their predictive power. Furthermore, competency based interviewing has been shown to compliment assessment centre exercises and psychometric tests, increasing the overall validity of the selection process when used in combination. Competency based interviews will usually last for one hour, and telephone interviews may also be conducted as competency based interviews.

What does a competency based interview assess?

Competency based interviews provide the candidate with an opportunity to provide evidence for their level of competence. Employing organisations will conduct a job design for a particular role, developing what's known as a competency framework. This competency framework will usually consist of 4-6 key competencies, which are the essential to performance in that particular role. For example, in an investment banking role, analytical thinking is likely to be considered a key competency by many organisations. Similarly, in a human resources role, interpersonal sensitivity may be considered a key competency in many organisations. Competency frameworks are custom made by the employing organisations, and will vary depending on the organisations culture, sector, industry etc. The competency based questions during the interview will search for evidence of competencies within the framework, helping employers gage a candidates understanding/experience with a particular skill set. Competency frameworks are designed to be appropriate to both the duties of the role, and the immediate level of the role, therefore non-management roles are unlikely to incorporate leadership ability into the competency framework of the role. As with other interview styles, competency based interviews provide interviewers with insights into candidates such as politeness, professionalism, enthusiastic etc. Although competency based interviews are designed to limit bias through standardisation, often interviewers will still be influenced by first impressions, good or bad "vibes" and other subjective influences unrelated to the competency framework, so bare this in mind.

What should you know before a competency based interview?

Before a competency based interview, researching the role and what it entails is essential. Although competency frameworks are tailor made by each organisation, candidates are advised to try and predict the key competences of the role applied for. For example, highly specialised roles, such as sales roles, will usually call for a similar set of key competencies across multiple organisational contexts, as the skill set will largely remain the same. However, competency frameworks for more general positions, such as general management roles, may vary significantly across different organisations. Occasionally, organisations may explicitly state the competency framework for the role, providing candidates with the competency framework before the interview, or even during application to the position. Similarly, the entry requirements/essential experience section of a job advertisement may provide insights into the roles competency framework. Skills/experience deemed essential is often synonymous with key competencies, and therefore candidates can expect to receive competency based questions regarding that subject.

Competency based interview strategy

The two most popular competency based interview strategies recommended to candidates are the CAR (context, action, result) method and the STAR method (Situation, task, action, result). Both methods provide a useful basis for answering and structuring competency based responses, and allow you to provide evidence for competencies in a structured, coherent fashion. The CAR method is outlined below:

1. Context: In this section, candidates must state the context of the situation and challenges they faced. What goals were you trying to achieve? What problems or obstacles were preventing the achievement of these goals? In general, you must set the scene in order to explain what happened as a result of your actions.

2. Action: In this section, you must state what you did within the context previously stated. You must make it clear what your actions were, how you went about implementing your actions and why you decided upon that particular course of action. This section allows you to provide evidence for a particular competency, highlighting to the interviewer your understanding of the issues, and how to act within that given context.

3. Result: In this section you must state the outcome of your actions within the given context. Naturally, positive outcomes are to be shared with the interviewer, but negative outcomes may also be shared if you feel that stating this highlights situational awareness, or other competencies. Candidates are advised to be as thorough as possible when describing the result, as this stage allows the candidate to provide evidence for the effectiveness of their actions, which may translate well to job performance.

As you can see, the CAR method is an easy to remember acronym, providing a useful structure to competency based responses. The STAR method provides slightly more information to interviewers through the addition of the "task" stage; however either method can be used successfully in an interview setting. The STAR method is outlined below:

1. Situation: Similar to the context stage in the CAR method, the situation stage calls for the candidate to set the scene. The candidate will need to state what the problem/challenge was in a specific, detailed fashion.

2. Task: This stage requires the candidate to highlight what they needed to do within the given situation. Candidates must state what they needed to achieve, what their goals were and what the desired outcome was.

3. Action: As seen in the CAR method, the action of the candidate must be clearly and coherently stated, highlighting what course of action was taken and why. Again, this selection is the primary source of evidence for level of competence, and candidates must be thorough when explaining what action was taken, along with the reasoning behind it.

4. Result: The result section again, states the outcome of the candidate's actions. Candidates are advised to focus on positive outcomes, highlighting the success of their actions to the interviewer. Candidates must provide as many outcomes as possible, highlighting a good level of awareness to the interviewer.

Competency based interview advice

The following tips and advice can be useful when preparing for, or performing well in, a competency based interview:

1. Research the role: Gauging an idea of what the competency framework looks like, requires research into the role itself. Similarly, finding out about the employing organisation, their culture, their mission and their overall strategy may also provide insights into the kind of skills and experiences they are looking for in employees. Understanding of the role, although perhaps not a competency in the framework, is still likely to be assessed during any interview, and candidates are well advised to find out as much as possible.

2. Think about evidence: Prior to the interview, candidates must think of examples which highlight evidence for particular competencies. Think of a time when you had to utilise leadership skills, or had to utilise strong numerical ability, or a time when interpersonal skills were the key to success etc. These historical situations are the lifeblood of a competency based response, and interviewers will frown upon candidates which take 10 minutes during the interview just to think of a situation which they expressed a competency. Have a list of previous experiences at hand ready to provide the interviewer upon request.

3. Interview experience: Interview experience is a highly valuable commodity, and gaining as much as you can will only serve you well. Students often have career services which may include mock interviews. Candidates are advised to gain as much interview experience as possible, as this will help familiarise you with interview format, layout and structure, making the experience feel more natural in future. The more job savvy candidates may even consider applying to jobs which they have limited or no interest in, simply to gain interview experience.

4. Stay clam: Although a moderate amount of anxiety or nervousness is a natural reaction to interviews, excess anxiety can only serve to hamper your interview performance. Therefore, candidates are advised to avoid getting too nervous before hand. Showing up to the interview with time to spare, getting adequate sleep the night before and engaging in in-depth preparation/research beforehand can serve to limit feelings of anxiety before an interview.

5. Ask for feedback: Most interviewers will provide constructive feedback after making decisions based on the interview. Even if candidates are successful at the interview stage, it is advised to get feedback on interview performance. This feedback can be used to improve future performance on competency based interviews, and can provide invaluable information into avoiding previous interview mistakes. Although candidates may feel bitter about not getting selected after an interview, feedback can only serve to help you in the long run, and therefore gain the most from your interview experience.

How AssessmentDay can help

AssessmentDay offer a free sample competency framework, with example competency based questions and probing questions. Similarly, our competency based interview guide provides example answers, along with useful advice for answering competency based questions related to the sample competency framework. This useful resource provides candidates with valuable insights into how competency frameworks are structured, the kinds of questions that assess these competencies and how best to attempt these questions when forming responses.

And Finally...

Interviews, as a whole, are notorious for provoking anxiety, particularly in less experienced job candidates. The prospect of doing an interview can be stressful at the best of times, but inadequate preparation can only serve to make the experience more stressful. Candidates are well advised to take the matter of preparation seriously, as this will maximise your chances of success, and minimise the fear of failure. At any rate, interview experience can only serve you well, and help prepare you for the next interview that you will face. Following the provided advice will help you to achieve your best during the interview, and gain as much as possible afterwards. We wish you the best of luck with your upcoming competency based interview!