Competency based interviews

8 December 2020

So you've been invited to interview?

So what is your next step? The 3 Ps – Preparation, preparation, and more preparation. It is essential now more than ever in today’s highly turbulent job market to be fully prepared for any interview. In other words, you want to be in the ‘driver’s seat’ and be in the position to give fully prepared, well researched and impressive answers.

How can you prepare for a competency-based interview?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that competency style questions are easily identified – typically you are always asked to provide real-life examples or scenarios of the different skills, behaviours and knowledge; that you have gained through prior experience. For example, this experience could be gained through a part-time job, short-term internship, your studies, extra-curricular activities, life experiences, hobbies or volunteering. These are all vital fundamentals and deserve to be showcased (remember - these are your hard-earned accomplishments), therefore they need to be woven into in your answers through describing a situation and task. Typical competency-style questions you can start to think about are:

  • “Tell me a time when you had to work efficiently as part of a team”
  • “Describe a time when you demonstrated resilience”
  • “Give an example of when you multi-tasked”
  • “Detail a time when you applied digital skills effectively”
  • “Give an example when you showed empathy to a colleague”

Preparation is key - The great news is, during your preparation, you too can effectively prepare your own competency-based (anticipated) questions and answers. How: Simply, re-visit the job description, scrutinise the job role, highlight key competencies, make a list of criteria required by the employer, and start creating your authentic answers in a short ‘story’ format, applying the STAR technique.

STAR Technique represents: Situation, Task, Action, Result. In your ‘short story’ answers, remember that it is necessary to set the scene (situation), describe what you wanted to achieve (task), communicate what you did (action), and finally discuss the result – basically how was the situation resolved? The STAR format needs to be applied to all the key competencies highlighted from the job role. Typical competencies to look out for include leadership, communication, problem solving, business awareness and negotiation skills. Using STAR will allow you to stay on point, give focussed ‘short story’ type responses and importantly, answer the question at hand.

Sample competency question and response – The following sample will help to support and guide your interview preparation more seamlessly. A recent graduate was asked the following question at an interview: Give an example of when you multi-tasked in the workplace?

Applying the STAR technique, their prepared response or ‘short story’ included:

"I enjoy multi-tasking. I’m used to working well under pressure. For example, during Covid-19 the number of staff in our department was cut, while the amount of work I was given practically doubled (Situation). I was asked by the manager to work extra shifts (Task), and I managed to work efficiently and in a professional manner during a busy and stressful period (Action). I showed efficiency and professionalism regardless of being in a stressful environment (Result)."

By adding an example in their response, the graduate clearly reinforced and demonstrated the skill of multi-tasking effectively.

Rehearsal - As part of your competency-based interview preparation, it’s essential to rehearse your anticipated questions/answers (ie. short stories) well in advance - (I’m sure a family member or friend will only be too happy to listen and provide ‘friendly’ yet valuable feedback). The more practice using the STAR technique, the more confident you’ll become. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as trying to ‘wing’ an interview. Preparation and rehearsing are essential ingredients to your success.

At interview – It’s important to listen carefully to the question, and the detailed competency you are being asked to discuss. Then you can easily recall, the ‘short story’ answer you carefully prepared beforehand relating to the specific competency. Take your time responding, using the STAR technique. This is your time ‘on stage’ to sell yourself and shine. No-one knows your story better than you. Smile and be authentic (avoid being robotic), display passion for the job, use suitable tone and diction, dress to impress, and remember it’s not a race! Enjoy the experience! Be mindful of course, an interview, at the end of the day is a competition! There isn’t a rehearsal.

Finally, be proud to share your ‘short story’ answers, they are unique to you and are in part of your ‘brand’ and future success.

Donna Caldwell, Employability Advisor

If you need help with upcoming interviews please get in touch by emailing careers@ulster.ac.uk