Competency-based Interview Questions

Published: 22nd August 2008
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Introduction
Competency-based interviews (also called structured interviews) are interviews where each question is designed to test one or more specific skills. The answer is then matched against pre-decided criteria and marked accordingly. For example, the interviewers may want to test the candidate's ability to deal with stress by asking first how the candidate generally handles stress and then asking the candidate to provide an example of a situation where he worked under pressure.

How do competency-based interviews differ from normal interviews?
Normal interviews (also called unstructured interviews) are essentially a conversation where the interviewers ask a few questions that are relevant to what they are looking for but without any specific aim in mind other than getting an overall impression of you as an individual. Questions are fairly random and can sometimes be quite open. For example, a question such as "What can you offer our company?" is meant to gather general information about you but does not test any specific skill or competency. In an unstructured interview, the candidate is judged on the general impression that he/she leaves and are therefore likely to be more subjective.

Competency-based interviews (also called structured or behavioural interviews) are more systematic, with each question targetting a specific skill or competency. Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they then need to back up with concrete examples. The interviewers will then dig further into the examples by asking for specific explanations about the candidate's behaviour or skills.

Which skills and competencies do competency-based interviews test?
The list of skills and competencies that can be tested varies depending on the post that you are applying for. For example, for a Personal Assistant post, skills and competencies would include communication skills; ability to organise and prioritise; and ability to work under pressure. For a senior manager, skills and competencies may include an ability to influence and negotiate; an ability to cope with stress and pressure; an ability to lead; and the capacity to take calculated risks.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the more common skills and competencies that you may be asked to demonstrate:

Skills and competencies for competency-based interviews

• Adaptability

• Compliance

• Communication

• Conflict management

• Creativity and Innovation

• Decisiveness

• Delegation

• External awareness

• Flexibility

• Independence

• Influencing

• Integrity

• Leadership

• Leveraging diversity

• Organisational awareness

• Resilience and tenacity

• Risk taking

• Sensitivity to others

• Team work


How competency-based interview questions are marked
Before the interview, the interviewers will have determined which type of answers would score positive points and which types of answers would count against the candidates. For example, for questions such as "Describe a time when you had to deal with pressure", the positive and negative indicators may be as follows:

Positive indicators
• Demonstrates a positive approach towards the problem.

• Considers the wider need of the situation situation

• Recognises his own limitations

• Is able to compromise

• Is willing to seek help when necessary

• Uses effective strategies to deal with pressure/stress

Negative indicators
• Perceives challenges as problems

• Attempts unsuccessfully to deal with the situation alone

• Used inappropriate strategies to deal with pressure/stress

In some cases, negative indicators are divided into two further sections: minor negative indicators, i.e. those which are negative but which don't matter so much; and decisive negative indicators i.e. those for which they won't forgive you e.g. not asking for help when needed.

Marks are then allocated depending on the extent to which the candidate's answer matches those negative and positive indicators. Here is an example of a marking schedule for the table above:

0 No evidence No evidence reported

1 Poor Little evidence of positive indicators.

Mostly negative indicators, many decisive

2 Areas for concern Limited number of positive indicators.

Many negative indicators, one or more decisive.

3 Satisfactory Satisfactory display of positive indicators.

Some negative indicators but none decisive.

4 Good to excellent

Strong display of positive indicators
If the interviewers feel that there are areas that you have failed to address, they may help you along by probing appropriately. For example, in answering the question above "Describe an example of a time when you had to deal with pressure", if you focussed on how you dealt with the practical angle of the problem but you forgot to discuss how you managed your stress during and after the event, the interviewers may prompt you with a further question such as "How did you handle the stress at the time?". This would give you an opportunity to present a full picture of your behaviour.

This is where the marking can become subjective. Indeed, if an interviewer likes you, he may be more tempted to prompt you and push you along than if he has bad vibes about you.

Examples of competency-based interview questions
For a comprehensive list of competency-based interview questions commonly asked at competency-based interviews, please see our special competency-based interview questions page.

www.interview-skills.co.uk



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