How to prepare for Competency Based Interviews?

1st Oct 2020
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Most interviews are now competency based. The competency based interview section the key area. You have to be prepared to nail each competency question that comes up.

Competency-based interviews look at your ability to do the job detailed in the job specification. They do this by examining whether you have the key skills needed.

Simply, they contain a series of questions that ask “Do you have this skill?”. The key for competency based questions is specific examples, with positive outcomes that you can relate back to the needs of your prospective employer.

The competencies they will be asking you about will be outlined in the job specification but some of the common ones would be;

  • Communication Skills

  • Team working Skills

  • Listening Skills

  • Organisational skills

  • Problem Solving Skills

  • Decision Making Skills &

  • Dealing with Conflict.

Basically, the interviewer needs to know a few things;

  • Do you experience in using this skill?

  • Do you have an example of using it to good effect?

  • Do you know why that example went well

  • Can you implement it for us in this role?

The questions can be posed in a variety of ways. Tell us about a time you showed effective communication skills? How do you solve problems? Would you consider yourself a strong decision maker? Tell us about a time you dealt with conflict in a team?

Regardless of how the question is phrased you need to make sure the interviewer knows you have loads of experience in showing the skills, that you have a good specific and memorable example of a time you used it to good effect, that you know why it went well and that you know how and where you will utilise that skills for your future employer.

The basic structure to follow is;

Opening Overview Statement

This is a few sentences which details your extensive experience in the areas

Specific Memorable Example

Examples and stories are the silver bullet in all communications, this includes interviews. They help the interviewer remember you as a candidate and they offer a proof of concept of your abilities. For each competency, you need two specific examples of times you successfully showed you have that skills set.

Structure your example so that it follows the following;

Detail the problem you faced; Detail the scale and importance of the task ahead of you, you need to ensure that it is as clear as possible how difficult the challenge ahead of you was.

Action: What did you do, step by step, to address the problem or challenge. Ensure that you use the word “I” as often as possible here.

Positive Outcome: Spend time talking about the eventual outcome. Give objective evidence of your success. It’s not enough to say it went well, you need evidence.

Key Learning from the example:

The interviewer needs to know that you have learned from the example. Detail what skills you showed that worked effectively. They need to know that you know why the above example went well. And they need you to spell out exactly what the above examples proves.

You should have two to three key learnings.

Relevance for the Role:

You need to prove to the interviewer that you know why they need this skill. Make them picture you in the role by spelling out why your skills are relevant.


The easiest way to show the above is to take an example. Say you are applying for a position in Audit with one of the Big Four accountancy firms. They may ask you “ Tell us about a time that you showed strong communication skills?”

I’d like to think that communication is one of my strongest skills. Whether it be during my internship last summer with a consultancy firm, in my role as secretary of my college society or during my part-time job, I’ve had to communicate with colleagues, clients, customers and fellow students, consistently.

I’ll take an example from final year in college.

“We had an upcoming presentation that was worth 20% of our final grade. Myself and one other student from our team were presenting for 20 minutes on a semester-long project. The morning of the presentation the other student called me to let me know that he was sick and unable to make it that morning. I got notice 90 minutes before the presentation kicked off.

As my other team members were uncomfortable presenting, I stepped up and took on the entire presentation. I quickly got up to speed on the second half of it, found time to do a dry run before the presentation itself and then delivered solo for 20 minutes. And dealt with questions.

Thankfully the presentation went well. The lecturer actually complimented my presentation style on the day, the only presenter who got praise while up on their feet and we eventually got an A in that project.

What I feel I showed there is an ability to communicate and adapt under pressure, an ability to present to a high standard and I learned the importance of practice.

So for a role as an auditor, you’ll need me to communicate with clients, with my colleagues, maybe eventually partake in client pitches. That’s a skillset I’m confident I have.”

You need a version of the above example. In your own words. For each and every competency listed on the job spec. You might even need two.