Top tips on how to…

Be competent in a competency based interview.


Interviews have evolved and many companies, particularly the public sector and large organisations are switching to competency based interviews. These work on the premise that how you performed in the past is a good indication of how you will perform in the future. Questions are specific, based on competencies such as communication skills, leadership qualities, resolution techniques, management style.

While this type of interview can be challenging, it gives the interviewee a great opportunity to demonstration their suitability for a role by demonstrating successes in relevant areas in the past.

You can also prepare for these types of interviews by reading the job description carefully, anticipating the types of competencies that will be required for the role and having pre-prepared answers to demonstrate your past successes in this area.


Preparation is key

The good news is that you can prepare for these interviews. Employers want to know what skills you possess, how you’ve used them in the past and how you will transfer them to the role being advertised. Read the job description line by line and identify the competencies or skills that are required. Look at your current or previous roles and identify areas where you excelled at those competencies and highlight specific examples to demonstrate this.


Rehearse your answers

Many organisations ask that you use the STAR method to answer the questions. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. You should be very specific in your answer and deliver it articulately. Identify the situation that suits the competency or skill being discussed. Outline the task that was at hand, the action you took and the result you achieved. Remember this is all about you. While there is no ‘I’ in Team, interviews are a time to focus on yourself and your personal achievements and successes or how you contributed to a team success. Another similar approach is to generally respond that you can and have done many times previously. Give a singular specific example – who, what, where, why, how, challenges encountered while identifying the scale of the situation. Outline the outcome, the key learnings and insights gained and relate the situation to the role that you’re interviewing for.


Pay attention to body language

The interviewer is human and will display signs of interest, boredom, or excitement at your answers. If you are well prepared and rehearsed you will be in a good position to adapt your answers if you feel you haven’t the interviewer’s full attention. If you feel their body language is conveying to you that you are slightly off the mark, then modify or adapt your answer to pique their interest. The best interviewees are ones who are confident in their ability to perform the job and can articulately demonstrate why by drawing on past experiences. If you have practiced and are confident you will be able to adapt your answers during the interview.


Anticipate the questions in advance

By closely scrutinising the job description you should have a clear understanding of the types of skills and competencies required for the role. This will help you to pre-prepare answers. Some typical questions could be:

  • Problem solving

Tell me about a time you encountered a problem at work, had to solve it and turn it into a successful outcome for the organisation

How did you identify the problem

How did you identify the best solution

What was the successful outcome for your organisation


  • Resilience

Tell me about a time you were working under a lot of pressure

How did you handle it

What was the reason

How did you resolve it

What would you do differently next time


  • Communication skills

Give me an example of a time you had to communicate problems/issues/or suggestions about improvements to a wider team

How did you approach this

What type of communication tools did you use

What was the outcome


  • Achieving a goal

Tell me about a time you achieved a particular goal at work

How did you approach it

What were the barriers you encountered

What was the successful outcome


  • Leadership/team work

Tell me about a time you had to adapt your approach to work with a team

What difficulties did you encounter

What did you do to ensure buy in from the team

What was the outcome


  • Customer focus

Tell me about a time you had to ensure you met the needs of a customer while also ensuring your company’s objectives were met

How did you balance the two

What compromises did you have to make

What was the success of the interaction


  • Innovation

Provide us with an example of an exciting new strategy/idea you came up with

How did you pitch it to others

What was the outcome


  • Using initiative

Describe something you have done to improve the performance of your team/work unit

How did you implement it and get team buy in

What was the outcome


  • Strategic thinking

Tell us about a time you had to secure input from other departments in order to meet the organisation’s strategy

How did you ensure buy in from the appropriate managers/leaders


  • Stakeholder management

Tell us about a time you had to work with multiple stakeholders

How did you manage all of their expectations to achieve the required outcome

What were the successes and areas for improvement


  • Commercial awareness

Tell us about a time you had to achieve a commercial target and the steps you took to ensure success

What obstacles did you meet

What was the outcome


  • Decision making

Tell us about a time you had to make an unpopular decision

Who’s feathers were ruffled

In hindsight was it the right decision


  • Planning and organising

Describe a time you had to plan and execute a project from start to finish.

How did you organise it

What contingencies has you in place

What aspects were successful/unsuccessful

What would you do differently next time


Be yourself

Interviewers don’t want to be met with a fake version of you. They want to get an insight into the real you and how you would react in particular situations. How you present yourself at the interview, dress, address the interview panel, shake hands, eye contact, and posture, are all key to how you will be perceived in the eyes of the interviewer.

They don’t want a text book answer. They want an honest example with real outcomes which demonstrate real world situations. Make sure your answers are relevant, honest, structured and well delivered and you are sure to impress.