Competency Based Interview

The competency based interview is an interview style that has been, and still is, the latest flavour of the month decade with respect to interview techniques in a large number of organisations. It is a style that demands a story for every question you are asked and subsequent scoring of that story against a framework, kind of like a game of buzzword bingo. Is it that simple? Well no, not really…

I have recently been successful at one of these interviews and have another one coming up shortly, so I want to take the time to share my knowledge on this subject.

The first key thing you must do is acquire the competency framework that the organisation uses. This is the scoring board and will include descriptions for every competency at several levels. Identify the level at which the role you have applied for is advertised at, commonly described as a ‘role profile’ and study the specific descriptions.

Now the second step is to being to dump in one place all of the experience that you have (or think that you may have) under the headings of the competency framework. Just get it all down at this stage. The best way to structure this experience is in the following format:

Situation – what was the context of your experience?

Task – what was your individual duty within this context?

Action – what did you have to do, which demonstrates this competency?

Result – what was the outcome of your action? what would you do differently?

The third step can be the most time consuming. You now need to be fine tune the description of your experience to match the wording in the description of the competency. Re-phrasing sentences so that the content outcome is the same, but the style matches the language of the competency. This may be a pain, but it will pay dividends in your interview as the interviewers will hear your evidence, but they will also hear the familiar words and language that you will be scored on.

Once you have refined examples for each competency, prepare small prompt cards to use within the interview itself. These should be brief so that you are not tempted to recite your experience, but to remind you of conversation points in the interview.

Be prepared that the interviewer will be at liberty to ask you a question from the perspective of any of the descriptive elements of the competency, therefore you will need to be able to quickly adapt your answer to suit.

Don’t use any ‘We’s anywhere. These are a cardinal sin. You will be continuously challenged on individual contribution in all of your examples, so only use ‘I’. I did this, I did that. Get selfish.

Practice makes perfect. Practice by yourself and others before your interview. Make use of someone to bounce your examples off. Set up a mock interview of trusted friends or colleagues and try and get a good blend of perspectives.

Don’t mention anything in the interview that will drive you into a hole, or invite interviewers to tear your example apart. Use the preparation time with others and the mock interview to identify any of these and either omit these hooks of doom or make sure they are suitably defensible.

As I have said before, try not to recite and, if you have more than one interviewer, ensure that you engage all in conversational form. You need to make the interview feel as natural as possible to make a good impression.

If you can, do some background research on your interviewers, what their interests are or their professional knowledge such that you are likely prepared for any obvious challenge.

Finally, I have seen competency based interviews evolve recently away from solely question and answer sessions. Be prepared that you may have to give a presentation or respond to some blue sky thinking type questions, however if the interview is definitely competency based, those same methods will have to be marked on the competency based framework scoring system. Bear this in mind when you are preparing your presentation.

See a good description and a bit more background on competency based interviews here: Competency Based Interviews.

If you have any further questions on this, then drop us a line in the comments below.

Best of luck!


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