What to expect from a competency based interview

Robbie AshtonInterview Advice0 Comments

A competency based or behavioural interview is based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behaviour. If you’re unfamiliar with them they may strike you as unusual and even a little daunting, but research suggests that they can be one of the most reliable and accurate forms of assessment.

Competency based interviews are structured, with questions that relate directly to the essential criteria & competencies required for the post. Your interviewer will be seeking information on how you’ve previously handled certain situations, assessing you against the roles requirements. They’re likely to ask about:

  • Past behaviour and performance
  • What you’ve learnt from the past
  • Future adaptability
  • Knowledge and understanding of issues surround the role and sector
The interview format

Competencies are not a substitute for technical knowledge. They’re behavioural traits that have been identified as essential for success in specific jobs. Candidates are evaluated in a variety of elements in the selection process, for instance; competencies, technical expertise, work history and references.

There is often a repetitive pattern to each of the interview questions in a competency-based interview. The interviewer will ask the candidate about an event they’re likely to have experienced in a previous role or even your personal life. One you’ve answered, you’ll be asked a variation of these questions:

  1. How did you approach it? What were the steps you took?
  2. Why did you do it that way?
  3. What did you learn from the experience?
  4. How have you used what you’ve learned sine then?

Your answers will be used to gauge your competency, with the interviewer basing this evaluation only on the answers you provide, disregarding any previous knowledge.

How to answer 

When the interviewer asks you to tell them about a past situation, take a minute to organise your thoughts.  They won’t expect you to answer immediately, so take enough time to recall an ideal situation. It’s far better to take a moment longer to answer then to start giving a partially correct one.

Choose the experience you relay carefully, but remember that it doesn’t have to be an entirely successful situation. During a traditional interview, we’re used to “selling” ourselves by detailing our attributes and successes, but in a competency interview it doesn’t matter if the final result was positive or negative – what matters is how you approached it, what you learnt and how you’ve applied that knowledge since.

Star Answers

The interviewer will be looking for an answer that follows the S – T – A – R format. This stands for……

Situation or Task

“In my current role I needed to update our financial reporting around customer contracts to reflect the upcoming change in reporting standards under IFRS 15 ”


“I found a series of online webinars that I could listen on my way to work and questioned my peers and mentors on sections I struggled with”


“I quickly gained a solid understanding of the changes without it requiring me to adjust my workload or cause my day job to suffer.  I managed to successfully manage the transition to become compliant with IFRS 15 six months ahead of schedule”

Example Questions
  1. How have you managed potential payment problems with your customers?
  2. Describe a time that you had to present financial data to non-financial staff
  3. Tell me about a time you handled a complex financial project with a tight deadline that required precise data collection and analysis.
  4. Tell me about a recent problem you discovered. What steps did you take to sort it out?
  5. Give me an example of time when you have had to work as a team and achieved success.

Do you have any questions about competency based interviews? Get in contact with our consultants here.

Author: Robbie Ashton

I run the brand social channels and curate content for the Talent Group. If you’re interested in partnering with the Talent Group to share your insight & produce content please email me on social@talentarc.com.

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