How to Deal with Competency Interviews

Posted 19 June 2017

Interviews are progressing from the normal or ‘unstructured’ interviews where the panel conducts a conversation-style approach of asking questions to gather an overall impression of you rather than pinpoint specific qualities. Questions may range from “what can you offer our company” to “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. The employer will already have your cv or application form and will be using the interview to get to know your personality and reaffirm what you have told them previously.

Competency interviews or 'structured' interviews are more specific and the interview panel may not be privy to any previous information about you such as employment history and training. These interviews are a way of judging if you have the essential skills and experience to be competent in the role, and it will be up to you to prove that you have the proficiencies required.

At Cranmore, we understand that interviews can be nerve-racking, so it is important to prepare and practice beforehand. Here is our guide to tackling those competency-style interviews:

The Questions

Many interviews are now competency-based and the interviewer will be wanting you to answer questions about your abilities with reference to actual events and how you handled them. The list of skills and competencies that can be tested varies depending on the post that you are applying for but will generally involve areas such as communication, conflict management, decisiveness, leadership, delegation, and teamwork.

Most questions will ask for examples of situations where you have demonstrated these specific skills such as;

“Give an example of a time when you had to deal with conflict with a client and how you handled this” or “describe a time when you had to work as part of a team to reach a common goal”.

The key to answering these questions is to demonstrate how you have the right skills by using examples based on real-life experience, rather than talking about what you would do theoretically.

The panel will describe what competencies will be tested and give this a score from 0-4, for example, with 0 being no evidence to 4 being excellent evidence. For each answer you provide, they will judge how strong a candidate you are and if you have met the specific competency or not.

Your Answers

Make sure you have read the job description carefully to determine what competencies they will be looking for whether it is working under pressure, conflict resolution, working in a team etc. It is then important to think of examples from your employment experience of how you dealt with these areas. However, instead of just retelling the story, you need to make it clear how you dealt with the situation and reached a conclusion. Your examples do not need to be elaborate or have a dramatic ending, they will most likely be everyday situations, but they must meet the competency being tested.

Many people recommend using the STAR technique for answering competency-based questions. This stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result and this method is a great way to keep you on track during the interview.

Situation- describe the situation you were confronted with, like dealing with a difficult client etc.

Task- if you were asked to carry out a specific task, such as create a presentation, describe what it was for and why.

Action - Go into more detail here and explain clearly what you did, however, avoid over-technical language unless it is crucial or has been specifically asked for. Be personal and talk primarily about you and how you performed rather than discussing the rest of the team. Explain how you did it and why you did it in a manner that shows that you meet the competency. If the question is about teamwork, describe what role you took on and how you made a contribution and worked with others.

Result - Explain how it all ended and use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and what you learnt in that situation. This is probably the most crucial part of your answer as the interviewers will want to know that you are using a variety of generic skills to achieve your objectives.

The key to any interview is preparation. Whether you have an unstructured or structured interview it is essential to reflect upon the skills and experience you have gained that make you a strong candidate for the role. Remember that in most cases the panel will not have met you before and therefore you need to be clear and concise in your answers and not expect them to read between the lines or guess how you meet the criteria.

If you are hiring for a role or looking for the next step in your career path, contact Cranmore on 0333 0110 573  for our specialised recruitment and career advice today.


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