competency based interview

The Essentials of Competency-Based Interviews

Understanding how competency-based interviews work and knowing what interviewers are looking for in this type of interview, can significantly improve your performance and your chances of success.

Competency interviewing is one of the most common types of interview. Competencies are behaviours that have been identified as essential for success in specific jobs or positions. They are based on the actual behaviours needed to do a particular job well.

Basic Assumptions of Competency Interviews:
  • Past behaviour is an indication of future behaviour.
  • Some behaviours will indicate good job performance.
  • We can gain insight into previous performance and future potential from looking at competencies.
  • Competencies are derived from detailed job analysis. Essentially, identifying the positive behaviours that are relevant for a particular role.
  • Competencies are often scored positive or negative by interviewers. So it is good to think about what the positive indicators are for the competencies associated with the role you are applying for.
  • A competency-based interview is one type of behavioural interview (i.e. it focuses on actual behaviour). Other types of behavioural interview can also focus on values.
Competency Frameworks

Some organisations have created their own competency frameworks. They have analysed and listed all the behaviours that are necessary to do a job well. This is done for all the jobs in their organisation. It is always good practice to find out if the organisation you are interviewing for has a competency framework, and if it will be used in your interview. Organisations such as the NHS, local councils, the civil service etc. make their competency frameworks freely available on the internet. If this is the case, you need to be very familiar with the framework before you go to the interview.

Scoring Competency-Based Interviews

Competency frameworks usually have positive and negative indicators. Interviewers judge how well you measure up to these positive indicators and give you a score accordingly.

Question Format

A typical format for a competency-based interview goes like this:

  1. Main Question:

“Give me an example of when you have…”

  1. Probe Questions:

“How did you approach this? What steps did you take?”

“Why did you do it that way?

What did you learn from the experience?

Answering with S-T-A-R

The STAR approach allows you to cover some of the probe questions most likely to be asked.

  • S – the Situation that demonstrates the competency. Set the scene, keep it concise and informative by sticking to what is useful for the story.
  • T – the Task – what had to be done?
  • A – your Action – what you did, how you did it and why. This is your opportunity to sell your key skills. Talk about you, not the rest of the team. Go into some detail, but don’t get bogged down in too much technical information.
  • R – the Results – what the outcome was, and what you learned from the experience.

Sometimes people add a second R: Reflection. Say what you have learned from the experience, and what you would do differently now.

How to approach a competency-based interview
  • Go through the job specification very carefully to identify the competencies you are likely to be asked about.
  • Find out if there is a framework available. If there is, make sure you have examples that cover the positive indicators.
  • Prepare some examples that cover the competencies. Examples that you feel proud of are the best, so that you can show some enthusiasm.
  • Think about what ‘good’ looks like in that competency. For example, under planning and organising (see below) your answer should include the keywords prioritising, meeting deadlines, preplanning, delegating, reviewing progress and so on.
  • Use the STAR
  • Above all, answer the question.

The most commonly asked competency-based questions are about leadership, team working, delivering results, planning and organising, problem-solving and communicating.

You may or may not be told before the interview which competencies will be the basis for the questioning. It is, however, good practice to be prepared with some examples from your own experience.

To find out more about other types of interviews, overcome your interview nerves or master your interview skills, check out our Interview Skills Coaching or contact Diana at