How to succeed at competency based interviews

Competency Based Interview 800 Wide

Rhian Burge for-candidates

How to succeed at competency based interviews

What are competency based interviews?

Used by employers to assess the suitability of candidates for specific roles, competency based interviews target key skills and competencies through systematic questioning. Answers are matched against pre-determined criteria and marked accordingly.

Unstructured interviews, which are more commonly used, are open conversations designed to glean an overall impression of a candidate. Questions can be quite general and often fairly random, and very rarely test specific skills.

Although we know that competency based interviews can be daunting, they are also a great way to demonstrate your suitability for the role. By preparing and structuring responses to some of the most commonly-asked questions, you will be able to make the most of the opportunity and show the interviewer why you are the best person for the job.

We’re often asked by candidates how to prepare for competency based interviews. Here are some of our top tips.


Before you start planning your responses, take some time to research the role, pinpointing the skills and competencies required. These will normally be found in the job description. It’s also a good idea to find out as much as you can about the company, its values and mission statement, as it’s likely that there will be questions on these areas too. Check out the company’s website, read any information you have been sent and download brochures and reports. If you can’t find them, don’t be afraid to ask; they’ll be impressed by your initiative.

STAR quality

The STAR technique is widely considered as the best way to approach competency based questions as it enables candidates to structure their responses. 

Get to the point

Be clear and concise and don’t waffle. Try to stick to a timeframe of under 3 minutes per question.

Avoid generalisations.Keep answers simple, specific and personal.

Don’t hold back. Use active verbs and strong words to describe yourself and don’t be afraid of selling yourself. Some of our favourites include managed, achieved, played a key role, built on, confident, proficient and successful.

Key skills and competencies frequently tested include:-

  • Communication

  • Conflict resolution

  • Decision making

  • Flexibility

  • Independence

  • Leadership

  • Organisational awareness

  • Problem solving

  • Team work

Typical questions

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.

  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.

  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion. 

  • Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and had to prioritise your tasks. 

  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.

  • Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.

  • Give me an example of a time when you tried to accomplish something and failed.

  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead. 

  • Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.


For help and advice on competency based interviews, get in touch today.