How to master the competency-based interview

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

Competency-based interviews (also known as structured, situational or behavioural interviews) are designed to test your skills and competencies. Interviewers may prefer this style of interview as they show fairness in the process by asking all interviewees the same questions. This style of interview also enables them to make easier comparisons between interviewees helping them to be more objective by removing conscious and subconscious bias.


Questions will be based around a competency framework that’s required for the job. For example, a job in customer services will require complaint handling skills or an Engineer will require problem-solving skills. Interview questions tend to start with “tell be about a time when….” or “can you give me an example of…..”.


Be warned, many interviewees miss fabulous opportunities to showcase their experience by launching straight into their answers, often assuming that the interviewer will know more than they do about the example they provide. So, if you spot that you are being asked a competency-based question, firstly, you must always provide a ‘specific’ example (not a generalised one) and use the S.T.A.R Technique to help you craft your best response.


Question: Can you tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer situation?


Situation – Firstly, set the context for your story. For example, “One of my regular customers called me as he was concerned that an order he was expecting from us hadn’t arrived. He was understandably quite stressed about it as the order contained vital parts for a machine that they were manufacturing that had a strict deadline for completion. There were consequences to missing this deadline, so I appreciated how important our delivery was to them”


Task – what was required of you. For example, “It was my responsibility to find out where this order was, so I reassured him that I would personally deal with the problem and would keep them informed every step of the way”.


Activity – what you actually did. For example, “Once I retrieved the order details, I went down into the warehouse to speak to our Despatch Department. I found out that the order was still in the Warehouse and hadn’t been despatched due to one of our drivers being taken ill. Clearly, there was a communication issue that we had to learn from. However, the most important thing we needed to do was get this order to the customer. Appreciating the urgency, my colleague and I were able to arrange for another driver to deliver the parts straight to the customer and they could leave immediately”.


Result – how well the situation played out. For example, “I called my customer straight back and explained what had happened apologising that they had to call to chase the parts and that we hadn’t proactively resolved the problem for them. It certainly wasn’t indicative of our normal standards of service. I then went on to explain what we were doing to get the part to them. My customer was relieved and thanked me for appreciating the urgency of the matter and quickly resolving the situation too. Following the event, I followed up with him to ensure the order had arrived and that he was happy. He really appreciated me taking the time and care to do this. I was also able to let him know how we had revised our processes to avoid such a situation happening again”.


So, let’s dissect my response. As I used a specific example, my answer flowed well, like a story, making it more interesting for the interviewer to listen to. By following this technique, I didn’t leave anything for my interviewer to assume. I was able to demonstrate competencies and skills such as empathy, listening skills, initiative, passion, accountability, communication skills, problem solving, issue resolution skills all within that one answer. The cherry on the top was the ‘result’, where my interviewer was able to capture feedback from my customer on my service levels reassuring them that I genuinely care and have a keen desire to deliver great customer service. No doubt skills that are highly valuable to them too.


The beauty of competency-based questions is that you can create a bank of answers in advance of your interview, so that you don’t become flummoxed on the day. If you practise this technique well, the S.T.A.R technique will be invisible to the interviewer, enabling you to provide concise and well-articulated responses to their questions.


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