Tackling Competency Based Questions

The dreaded competency based category of interview questions can leave any confident job candidate a little nervous yet just like all other forms of interview questions the answer is simple, it’s all about preparation. Provided you adequately prepare for them by understanding why they are asked and which ones are most likely to come up, you can easily provide answers that will impress any interviewer. I will start by outlining exactly what competency based interview questions are and why you are being asked them.

What are Competency Questions?

Competency questions are as the name suggests questions that test your competency for specific aspects of the job that you are applying for. They essentially test whether you tick the correct boxes personality wise for example do you have the required leadership, decision making, problem solving skills to handle the specific role, well do you?

Why are Competency Based Questions Asked?

Competency based questions are used as they are the fastest means of establishing the suitability of a particular candidate for a given position. Supposing there are ten candidates for a position and all are being given interviews that will not last longer than an hour. All candidates are equal on paper and all claim that they are perfect for the job.

Establishing which candidate to choose based upon a one hour conversation where all candidates are attempting to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear is obviously a pretty difficult task. Competency based questions are a fair way of comparing the abilities of each candidate and they are also pretty difficult to fake compared to many more traditional interview questions. They are therefore a favorite for resolving this situation.

How should you go about answering Competency Based Questions?

Competency based questions require the same thing as all interview questions and that is simply adequate preparation. These questions are designed to assess your competency in key areas so the first thing that you need to do is make a list of the key areas that apply within the role you are hoping to get. You just need to ask what are the key competencies that they will want to find present in the successful candidate.

Once you have your list, list possible questions that could come up that would test these competencies and then practice answering them. Aside from just staring blankly at the interviewer, one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to competency based questions is been overly general and not illustrating specific events. One of the most suitable techniques for avoiding this is the STAR technique, which I will now outline.

The STAR technique

Competency based questions have a tendency to make people rant and generalize and talk a lot without really saying a whole lot of anything, let alone what the interviewer actually wants to hear. Interviewers do not want to hear that you are a great leader; they want to know of specific instances in which you unquestionably demonstrated that attribute. One good means of ensuring that you provide exactly that is to stick to the STAR technique. It is very simple and essentially just involves you structuring your answer in the form of a situation, a task, an action and a subsequent result.

The situation is the background to the task. For example, you were appointed to project X and it was a challenging project for specific reasons, again be specific, do not generalize. The task will then involve a specific responsibility that you were given within the project, the result of which should be verifiable. For example, you had to keep the project within a specific budget. You then outline the actions that you took to fulfill this task, keeping in mind that the actions taken need to demonstrate your competency within a key area. You then finish your answer by outlining the result. Obviously if you intend on getting the job that you are applying for, the result was a positive one.

6 Sample Interview Questions and Answers

One of the most important things to remember about these questions is they are rarely asking what they appear to be. They are all designed to allow you to demonstrate specific qualities. Establishing what those qualities are and then preparing answers that demonstrate those qualities is the key to successfully answering them.

Tell me about yourself?

This is asked in almost all interviews and yet due to the ridiculously open ended nature and ambiguous meaning of the question, it can be very difficult to answer. While you should not necessarily be afraid to mention aspects of your personal life, keep them very brief. They are interested in your professional life and you need to illustrate that you are the sort of person that holds that aspect of his life in high regard and that you have a definite interest in the field that you are applying to work in. Keep your answer to a maximum of three minutes and finish with “would you like hear more?”

Why should I hire you?

Because I am the best candidate for the job. This is one of the few common interview questions that has no hidden meaning. Nobody wants to hire somebody that believes they are smarter than everyone else. This attitude is the opposite of being a team player. Therefore while arrogance is not a quality that you want to portray, the confidence to state that you are the best person for the job is one that you definitely do want to portray. Remember however, the statement requires evidence and you should not wait to be asked for it. State exactly why you believe you are the best person for the job.

Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or co-worker?

The answer to this question is yes. Whether it is true or not, saying no not only seems unlikely, it also removes the opportunity for you to explain how you dealt with it. They are looking to know how you will handle a conflict when it arises if you are hired. Therefore provide an example that demonstrates your ability to handle conflict effectively, speedily and without ill feeling. Good examples are that you tried to see the other person’s point of view, that you ensured that they could witness this attempt and that you were willing to compromise without completely backing down.

What is your biggest weakness?

Many people think that this is a no-brainer. They simply cloak an obvious strength in the disguise of a weakness. Fact is unless you are indeed some form of alien, you have got a weakness and all employers are perfectly aware of this. Of course that does not mean that you tell them a glaring weakness that makes them not want to hire you. You simply need to state a relatively minor weakness and then elaborate on how you are overcoming it. An example would be that you are unorganized but you have recently started listing almost everything. The key is to show that you accept your faults and that you are actively trying to better yourself.

What is your long term objective?

This question is very simple but many people get it wrong as they do not adequately research either the position that they are applying for or the company that is offering it. Your long term objective is to achieve exactly what they want the successful candidate to achieve. To answer this you need to simply ask why they have advertised the position. If you can figure this out and answer accordingly being careful to include organization specific elements, you have found the perfect answer. The right answer is not that you want to make X grand per year.

Why are you leaving your old job?

This question has an endless number of wrong answers. Remember that talking negatively about any aspect of your old job is in fact talking negatively about yourself. You need to look at it from the employer’s perspective and how they would be happy to let an employee go. Don’t mention money as this can appear ungrateful. Perfectly reasonable answer however include that you do not feel sufficiently challenged, that you would like the opportunity to have more responsibility, that you feel limited in terms of upward mobility at your current employer. One thing to remember though, if you say that you are leaving to achieve or experience something, make sure that that thing will be present at the position that you are applying for.