Competency Based Interviews

There are many types of interviews, from the free flowing to the formal, but one that you are likely to come up against at some point is the competency based interview.

The are designed to make the job application process as objective as possible, by asking each candidate the same questions. Some people feel that this type of interview is more formal. There can be less opportunity to build rapport. However, they are very common, especially in large organizations, so its worth refining your technique.

The questions will be driven by a competency framework that’s required for the job. For instance a job in customer services may require conflict management skills or a marketing executive may need problem-solving skills.

The interview questions usually start with a variation of ” Tell me about a time when…” This may sound simple but , in the heat of the interview, its easy to give an unstructured answer and miss out on the key details.

Competency Based Interviews

One way of preventing this is to use the star acronym to structure your answer.Here is one example of how to implement the technique: An applicant for a marketing executive role might be asked: “Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight timescale.” Here is how you could structure your response;

  • Situation – Set the context for your story. For example, ” We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 40 interested industry players on our new product in Lilongwe, and Phiri , the guy due to deliver , got stuck on a bus from blantyre where he had gone to market some of our products”.
  • Task – What was required of you. For example, “It was my duty to find an alternative so it didn’t reflect badly on the organization and we didn’t waste the opportunity.”
  • Activity – What you actually did. For example, “I spoke to the event organizers to find out if they could change the schedule a bit. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted David, another member of the team, who at a push could step in. She agreed to stop watever she was doing and head to the event.”
  • Result – how well the situation played out. For example, “Phiri didn’t make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and David’s presentation went well, a bit rough around the edges but it was warmly received. Phiri managed to get there for the last 15 minutes to answer questions. As a result we gained some good contacts, at-least two of which two of which we converted into paying clients.”

There are a few things to note with this response:

It’s important to speak in specific rather than in general terms and quantify your success. In this example, we mentioned 30 delegates, the names of the people involved quantified two contacts converted to clients. From a listener’s perspective, this makes the story more interesting and they are more able to gauge your success. Nameless figures and undefined successes can make the answer feel less convincing. Secondly, as they are likely to be many questions and interviewers have short attention spans, its important to keep your answer concise; convey the maximum achievement in the minimum time.

Finally, it’s important to finish on a positive note so that the overall impression is strong. That’s all about competency based interviews.


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