Competency-based interviews – how to prepare
As with any type of interview, preparation is the key to success. Don't just have a quick re-read of the information in the application pack thinking that you can wing it in the interview – this won't work!
A competency-based interview is also referred to as a structured interview, so your answers should also be structured.
Follow one of the methods described below and you should feel well prepared!
- Read through the key competencies required, as listed in the application pack, job description or person specification.
- Write down the list and put them into everyday language if it helps.
- Think carefully about each competency. When have you used that competency or skill to achieve something? This could be, for example, when you worked well in a team or group, or used your initiative to solve a problem.
- Against each competency list one or two examples of times and situations when you used that skill or ability – this could be from a work placement, part time job or any activities or events you’ve taken part in.
- The examples should show how well you can use the skill, or how you improved a skill in a difficult situation. (So, maybe you failed to get a project in on time because of illness. But, you negotiated a new date with your teacher and got it in by the new deadline. This gives you the chance to mention how quickly you were able to react to unexpected events, your ability to communicate, negotiate and solve the problem).
- Try to use a different example or situation for each competency.
- Think about which example of your past experience will give you the best chance of highlighting your skills.
- Ask a friend to help you practise for the interview. Get them to ask you about times or situations when you’ve used the competencies and practise the answers that you've prepared.
Remember to keep your answers:
- structured – have a clear introduction (set the scene of the situation), middle (the description of how you used the particular skill or quality) and end (what the outcome of the situation was)
- relevant – always make sure that the examples you give are relevant to each competency
- objective – keep your answers matter-of-fact, for example, if you are describing how you dealt with a difficult situation, don't describe your emotional responses
- recent – try and use examples that are as recent as possible.
One good way to make sure your answers have a structure is to use the STAR technique.
STAR stands for:
- Situation – set the scene and describe the situation
- Task – describe what you had to do (the situation and task can usually be dealt with together)
- Action – describe how you set about completing the task successfully
- Result – describe or reflect on what you achieved.
Telling interviewers about a past event in this order helps you to give a clear description of what happened. You can also use STAR to help you remember what to say next if your mind goes blank.
There is a good example of an answer constructed using the STAR technique in the 'Downloads' section at the bottom of the page. You can use the blank table to practise.
Here are a few activities for you to try so that you can get the hang of answering competency-based questions.
Before you begin, download the two documents available at the bottom of the page.
Activity 1: Writing Responses
Using the examples of competency-based questions and the STAR technique example, have a go at preparing some answers. You can then ask a friend, classmate or family member to read what you've written and give you some feedback. For example:
- Did they think you chose a good example?
- Can they think of another example of using your skills and qualities that you could use?
Activity 2: Role Play
Get a friend, classmate or family member to help you practise speaking your answers.
- Get them to ask you some of the example questions for one or both jobs.
- Do they think the situation you used was a good example of you using your skills?
- Did you show that you have the skills and personal qualities the employer is looking for?
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