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Competency Questions

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Competency questions, or competency-based questions, are simply questions about an individual’s competency in specific areas; they will be based around specific skills and qualities that a company deems important for their job role. These competencies could be dealing in Leadership, Teamwork, Communication, or Problem-Solving, amongst many others that may be specific to the job you are applying for. They are useful for graduate jobs where no experience is necessary, as they rely on the applicant giving situational examples of life experiences in which they have shown the competency required, such as at school, university, or socially. Competency questions will usually be asked in the interview, they are however, often included in the application form filled out before the recruitment process and are, therefore, predictive that you will be given a competency based interview.

Some examples of Competency questions:

  • “Tell me about a time you have took the lead on a project”
  • “Describe a situation in which you have found a new solution to a project”
  • “When do you feel your part in a team helped to finish a task”

These three examples look at the competencies Leadership, Problem-Solving and Teamwork; in a real life interview they may be phrased differently, but are variations on the same topic. It is important to think of times you have shown certain competencies as it will not knock you off guard if you are given a question like this and have to spend some time trying to think of one, or worse yet, are not able to think of anything at all. As with any type of job, you will usually be asked in the interview why you want to work for that particular company, this can throw a lot of people off, but the key to this question is research of the company. You must have knowledge of the company, its key areas of success, and its competitors; this way you can tailor your answer so as to include your own experience and personality, whilst showing you have taken an interest in that organisation over many others. This is also essential as it may be a deal breaker in the way you answer a particular company’s questions; for example, if you are applying to work at a company that relies heavily on teamwork, you don’t want to give accounts of preferring to work alone. Also, for many graduates, they will be entering onto a graduate scheme, in this case you must be aware of what is required of you on this scheme, as failure to provide an answer to this in the interview will not look good.

There is an acronym universally known for dealing with competency questions, known as STAR, it goes as follows:

  • SITUATION – Set the scene of the situation so that the interviewer will understand the context in which you are speaking; although keep it brief and to the details needed, as they do not want to hear you talk for 15 minutes about a completely irrelevant story.
  • TASK – As above, but with particular emphasis on a task or project you were undertaking, rather than a situational experience.
  • ACTION – Tell the interviewer what you did to resolve the problem, or complete a task; how you did it, keeping your answer brief but fully descriptive; and finally why you did this. The interviewer will want to know your logical reasoning behind decisions made.
  • RESULT – Explain what the outcome of the situation or task was, paying particular attention to anything you exceled at, and also what you learnt from the experience for future use.

It is very important to put your own personality into your answer; although you may have practiced responses to example questions you must remember to be yourself as you do not want to sound like a robot simply saying what you think they want to hear.

The interviewer will mark you on each question, giving a score of 0 to 4; 0, means you showed no evidence for the situation they were asking about, and therefore, probably would not deal very well in that work role. A score of 4 is given for an excellent answer, meaning you would be highly suited to that particular competency which the company requires. The scores are dependent on your ability to demonstrate the positive indicators that have been predetermined for the interview.  It is important to remember that interviewers are human, and although they are marking you on a standardised basis, their first impressions of you will play a part in their decision. Being polite when entering, shaking hands, and being positive in the way you talk about yourself without being arrogant, will help in the final outcome.


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