Competency-based interviews (also called skills-based interviews) have been found to be significantly more effective than general interviews, for two reasons: they are objective, and predictive. Rather than asking you about general abilities, they are aimed at discovering whether or not you have been able to demonstrate key competencies or skills in your previous job.
For instance, instead of asking “Tell me what makes you good at resolving conflicts,” your interviewer may ask, “Tell me about a specific time in which you resolved an important conflict at work.” It is easy to see how this type of question can take you aback if you are unprepared.
Competency-based interviews are an excellent way to truly show what you can bring to a new organization but they need considerably more preparation than generic interviews.
Before the Interview: Drafting Your Resume
When taken by surprise, you can become blocked and fail to think of an exact instance that matches the skill you are being questioned on. Thus, drafting an excellent resume is vital.
The skills you include in your CV will steer your interviewer towards questions you have prepared for. It is important to be as specific as possible and to provide numbers where possible. For instance, mentioning that you are ‘goal oriented’ or that you ‘consistently meet sales targets’ is way too generic.
Think about the specific contribution you made. For instance, “I beat the sales record at my previous company” or “Boosted sales by 20% in my first year at my previous company.” Chances are, your interviewers will be intrigued by this information and ask you to expand on it.
Identifying Core Competencies
In order to prepare for a competency-based interview, you need to look well at the specific skills or competencies listed in the job description. For each of these, you need to think of three specific instances in which you displayed them.
For instance, if you are applying for a job in Sales, a core competency might be ‘Self-Motivation’. Think of three situations in which you motivated yourself to land a big sale or meet a target. Once you have listed them down, start practicing your answers.
Using the STAR Method
Think of questions your interviewer could ask and practise answering in role plays, using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation (Tell the interviewers about the challenging situation you faced); Task (What was your aim in this situation?); Action (What actions did you take to fix the problem?); and Results (What results did you achieve? More importantly, how did you grow and evolve from the challenge?).
Start off with a nice lead such as “I know that being self-motivated is very important for the position I am applying for and I have had to motivate myself many times. Let me share this one instance with you.”
Practise Makes Perfect
Enlist the support of a mentor or trusted colleague and run your answers by them. Also, ask them to formulate questions; they may ask you a question that stumps you, which is good. It will test your ability to ‘think on your feet’. In a typical competency-based interview, it is hard to predict all the questions you will be asked to on the spot thinking is key. Your mentor will also help identify statements that should be phrased in another way.
The input of a trusted mentor is key because competency-based interviews are challenging by nature. Most questions ask you to admit a past challenge, but also expect you to have surmounted each obstacle with a growth mindset.
The key to acing this type of interview is preparation. Think of possible questions, answer them in a role play, and record these sessions if possible to look at your body language, tone, and other cues that are vital when it comes to effective communication.
Jane Francis is a freelance writer and editor. She spent over a decade working as a career advisor and coach, helping thousands of people create career plans and follow them through. Now she’s taken a step back to spend more time with her growing family and to write about her favorite topics.