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How to prepare for a competency based interview


Competency based interviews, first developed by business psychologists nearly forty years ago have become more and more popular both in the UK and around the world. So popular in fact, that the vast majority of companies will use either competency based interviews or questions at some point in their recruitment process. That means if you’re looking to land your dream job, you need to know how to deal with these types of questions.

Unlike many traditional interview questions, competency based questions are based specifically on past actions, behaviours and performance. For example:

  1. Can you describe a situation in one of your previous jobs where you have had to deal with conflict within your team? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
  2. Tell us about a time when you have been involved with a project where success was achieved against the odds. What were the problems you faced? How did you ensure that you didn’t fail? What did you learn from the experience?
  3. Can you give an example of a time when you have had to change your approach midway through a task or project? Why was this necessary? What was the outcome? What did you learn from the experience?


If you are a strong candidate for the role in question, competency based interviews and questions are your chance to shine. With other types of questions, it is possible for other, less able candidates to wax lyrical and provide answers that the interviewer wants to hear. However, with competency based questions, because they are based on real work experiences, you are expected to be able to back your answer up with evidence and statistics, and that is where you can differentiate yourself.

How to be a competence based interview S.T.A.R.

You can have all the evidence and statistics in the world to answer a competency based interview question, but if you don’t communicate this effectively, then it can prove useless. What you need is a structured way to answer these types of questions and this is where the S.T.A.R. technique comes in. This four stage process will enable you to answer in a clear, effective and meaningful manner:

Situation - The context of your story is key, so make sure the interviewer understands the general situation.

Task - What was the task or project required of you? Why was this so important?

Activity - What did you do? What were the actions you took? Highlight what personal attributes and skills you utilised, and always ensure you explain why you did things.

Result - What was the outcome? You should explain how the outcome benefitted your company and also explain what you personally accomplished and learnt from the task. It’s crucial that the interviewer understands how your specific actions and decisions affected the outcome of the situation.

By utilising the S.T.A.R. system, you’ll not only be able to tackle competency based interview questions effectively and efficiently, you’ll actually look forward to them.