Competency Interview Answers And How To Structure Them

Competency Based Interviewing is an increasing popular tool used in large organisations such as Banks and Government departments with interviewers now being trained to analyse competency answers as standard.This format is used in an effort to make the interview process as fair as possible. It is being adopted increasingly where many managers are interviewing for the same type of position at the same time.Studies have shown this format to be about 5 times more accurate than traditional interviewing in assessing and choosing the right applicant.

Competency Interview Questions Summary

This article deals with how to answer competency questions asked in Interviews. These are commonly Behavioural Based in nature and are used to assess how a candidates past actions can be used as a predictor of future performance.

These questions require you to provide specific examples and usually take the form of:

- Tell me about a time when you….
- Give an example of a situation where….
- Describe a scenario….

Read more about Comptency Interview Questions in this article

How to Structure Competency Interview Answers

When preparing your Competency Interview Answers, I suggest choosing examples based on real experiences you have had. Avoid the temptation to invent or embellish.

Your response needs to be relevant and sufficiently detailed to show that you understand what is required, that you possess the relevant core competency and can use it effectively.

Your answers will be scored and the quality will depend on the extent of your preparation. Use the job description or advertisement to get an idea of the essential
competencies required and prepare example of situations where you used these skills to achieve a successful outcome.

Most Competency Based and Behavioural Questions require you to give an example of a situation you have been involved in. This sounds straightforward however it is very easy to give a long rambling answer resulting in a low score. The key to an effective and top scoring competency answer lies in it’s structure and there are two standard formulas we recommend:

1. The STAR technique = This technique is often referred to as the SAR and PAR technique and gives a logical process to create and deliver your answer as follows:

S or T = Situation or Task
Start by describing the SITUATION you were involved in or the TASK that you were asked to complete.This situation can be from a previous job, from a personal experience or from any relevant event.Give enough detail for the interviewer to understand what was involved.
A = Action Describe the action you took, the process you followed and the steps you completed. Even if you are discussing a group project or task, describe what you did rather than the achievements of the team.
R = Result This is the most important part of the answer and you will
need to show that your actions resulted in a successful outcome. Talk about what you accomplished, what you delivered in terms of benefit and what you learned.

2. The iPAR technique = Similar to the STAR technique and is favoured by us:

i = Always use I and give an Introduction Always answer in the first person using ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ even if your example refers to a team effort. The interviewers want to hear about what you didand if you constantly use ‘we’ it could weaken your answer. Give an INTRODUCTION consisting a single sentence summarising your achievement for example: “I recently introduced a new system which reduced the time it takes to deal with customer complaints from 4 days to 4 hours.“This has the effect of informing the interviewer and heightening their interest as well as being a powerful sales statement for yourself.
P = Problem Detail the PROBLEM (situation or task) in no more than 2 sentences but giving sufficient details so that the interviewer can get a full grasp of the challenge involved. If you can also show that you identified the problem and initiated the action this will stand in your favour however it is not essential.
A = Action As with the STAR technique, describe the ACTION you took, the process you followed and the steps you completed being clear about the part you played.
R = Result As mentioned above the RESULT is the most important part of your answer as a successful outcome proves that your actions were effective. If possible, detail statistics or figures which highlight the magnitude of your success, mention positive feedback you received and talk about what you learned and how this learning will help you in the job being recruited.

While we favour the iPAR technique, feel free to use whichever you are most familiar and comfortable with.

Sample Competency Interview Answers

Remember to tell it like a story as this will better engage the interviewer. Here is a sample competency answer using the iPAR technique above.

Question: Tell me about a difficult project you managed and describe the obstacles you encountered and how you overcame them.

Sample Competency Answer:

i = I have just introduced a system of monitoring and assessing electronic customer feedback which has reduced the time it takes to deal with customer service complaints from 9 days to 48 hours.

P = I saw that we were getting a lot of customer communications, feedback and complaints via email, but we had not developed any structured method to handle these. In addition we were not using them as an opportunity to learn about our customer or to drive process improvement initiatives. I realised very quickly that not only was this an issue for us which I knew I could solve quickly but also I saw the
potential to enhance our relationship with our customers.

A = I completed a business case clearly outlining the benefits of this action. I then set up a project group with the goal to deliver a system of processing and managing these emails. I recruited internally as I wanted to give my team exposure to working on such a project. I put regular reporting in place, ensured that all stakeholders were involved and communicated with. Three weeks after starting the project I lost
two team members due to sickness – we were on a very tight deadline and I knew that the success of this project lay in my ability to motivate and manage the team I had. I identified key replacements and revised the plan accordingly so that work would not fall behind. I ensured the team knew what had to be delivered and by when and I got staff buy-in from very early on. During the course of the project I managed the team, rescheduled tasks as required, communicated regularly with all interested parties and ultimately delivered the project successfully.

R= I overcame the challenges as presented and I delivered the new system on time and within budget. As a result of this system my team can address 100% of customer service emails within 48 hours, we have reduced the volume of complaints received by 35% and we have a suite of reports that can help us deliver further improved customer service. It’s a great achievement and one which I am very proud of.

Note the use of “I” throughout and note too the use of a powerful lead sentence which summarises the achievement and sets up the rest of the answer to come. This is a great selling tool and designed to get the attention of the interviewer.

How to Prepare Your Answers

A word of caution: While you may be tempted to use a sample competency answer such as that above, we caution against this. It is much better to use the structures and guides to create your own answer in your own words. In that way you will avoid being caught out in the interview.

We advise preparing competency answers in advance relating to all the achievements on your resume/cv. By doing so, you will find that you have a sufficient stock of information which will help you answer any
competency question irrespective of the style used.

Even if you simply jot down bullet points rather than a full answer you will keep this content fresh in your mind and on the tip of your tongue when you go to the interview.

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