World of Work Advice


Anne Scally, HR Consultant

In my previous post on Interview Tips I said that I would write a more in-depth article on competency based interviews as it is the area where I mostly see interviewees getting stuck time and time again.

So what are competency based interviews? competency based interviews are based on the premise that past performance is an indicator of future success, therefore it follows that the interview is used to establish accurate information about your past performance.

What are competencies? competencies can be described as the knowledge, skills and behaviours associated with success or failure in a particular role. Competency sets can be different depending on the role being interviewed for. Your competencies are what you need to know, what skills you need to have and how you need to behave to be successful in a role. To succeed in a competency based interview, you need to be able to give solid examples from your past experience as to how you have displayed these competencies previously.

Here is a typical competency set for a large organisation recruiting for a technical role:

Customer Service: Meet or exceed customer needs. Strive to understand customer viewpoint,always professional in dealing with customers

Team Work & working with others: Contribute to team goals. Always be a positive influence within the team. Support team decisions. Share information and respect the views of other team members. Always be respectful whendealing with others.

Delivering Results: Be goal oriented and focus on achieving both own and team goals. Able to prioritize work and seek out solutions when challenges arise. Work to a high standard and achieve quality outcomes/

Technical Knowledge: Has the relevant technical knowledge and is able to apply this to provide technical solutions, problem solve and ensure robust processes across the organisation.

In preparing for a competency based interview, you need firstly to understand the competency set that is being used. Some organisation advise in advance of the competency sets they are looking for and in this case it it critical that you think about your past experience and have answers ready to put forward to each competency based questions. Where competencies are not provided in advance, it is very useful to study the job description and key requirements of the job and deduce from that what the competency questions are likely to be and then prepare your answers accordingly. Preparation is the key to success for any interview and the more you prepare the better equipped you will be to answer all questions fully.

Laid out below is an example of competency based questions for each competency referred to above.

Customer Service:

Tell me about a time when you felt you delivered particularly good service to a customer

What did you do to make that happen?

Can you give me an example of a time when a customer wasn't happy and how did you resolve the situation?

Team Work & Working with Others:

Can you describe a team you worked on to achieve a common objective?

What did you contribute to that team?

What were the results of the team effort?

Looking back would you do anything differently?

Delivering Results:

Can you please tell me about a time when you delivered a particularly good result on a job, within budgets, timelines etc?

What worked well with this? What didn't work so well? Would you do anything differently?

Technical Knowledge:

Can you talk to us about your technical qualifications, technical knowledge and how you have put this to practical use in previous jobs?

How have you enhanced your skills/knowledge along the way?

A Model for answering Competency based questions?

The Star Model can be a very useful tool in preparing for and answering competency based questions. Use ‘I’ and ‘we’ statements as appropriate bearing in mind that a competency based interview sets out to establish your individual knowledge, skills and behaviours for the role.

STAR — Situation/Task/ Action/ Result

  • ‘S’ for Situation: Start your answer by providing the background toyour experience. Describe the circumstances of your involvement. Set the scene for the remainder of your answer.
  • ‘T’ for Task: Describe the challenge or task at hand and what you did to deal with it and what the outcome was.
  • ‘A’ for Action: Elaborate your specific action in response to the challenge. Specify skills/knowledge your drew on, team effort or project coordination. Use ‘I’ and ‘we’ statements as appropriate.
  • ‘R’ for Results: Explain the results of your efforts: what you accomplished, what you learned.

If you are preparing for an interview at present, do your research and preparing your answers in advance will serve you well. Good luck!

Two takes on the same theme. Joint motivational blog for success at work and home by author Geraldine O’Neill and HR Consultant Anne Scally.