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    Unless you’re a serial interviewee a Competency based interview can appear a daunting prospect. However, be daunted no more, because answering competency questions is a skill that can be mastered and, with planning and a bit of practice, will help differentiate you in a competitive interview process.

    Competency based interview questions help a potential employer understand how often, and at what level, a potential new employee has demonstrated a specific attribute or skill. They are typically a form of open questioning devised to get you talking about real life examples and usually begin with phrases such as, ‘Tell me about when you….,’ or ‘Give me an example of how you….’.

    Before we embark on our nuggets of advice, the first thing we’d recommend is that you should always assume that any interview will involve competency questions. “They asked me competency questions. I wasn’t expecting that”, are some of the most commonly uttered words in post-interview debriefs, even in cases where significant attention has been given to interview preparation. If you’ve been explicitly advised by the Recruiter that it’s, ‘just a technical interview’, ‘a quick run through your experience’ or even ‘just an informal chat’ you should still be ready for the Interviewer to pull out their list of competency questions. Being unprepared for competency questioning can see you veer dangerously off course with your answers or, even worse, your mind going blank at a critical moment as you struggle to summon a relevant example. It’s much better to be prepared! Once you’ve mastered these basics you’ll feel that little bit more relaxed during any interview knowing that your relevant skills and experiences are ready to be showcased.

    1. Familiarise yourself with the Job Description.

    For any job interview you’re going to need to be familiar with the details on the JD. When preparing for Competency questions read it again and specifically look to pull out any references to Competencies and specific experiences listed within the document as these are highly likely to the Competencies that will be probed during the interview.

    2. Explore the Company website

    Further clues about which Competencies are most likely to be explored can be found on the Company website. Many businesses trade on their Corporate values and these can be recurring themes within a website or on company literature. Integrity, Accountability, Passion, Honesty are often cited, and you may even find a section of the website dedicated to them. If your potential employer stresses these values heavily on their Company website then there’s a solid chance they will be discussed at interview.

    3. Make a list!

    From your research create a list of competencies you may expect to be discussed during your interview. Ensure that you have specific examples that you’ve pulled from the JD, website and any further research you’ve done, but also include common competencies which any employer would value such as team work and conflict management.

    4. Create potential questions

    Once you have identified which competencies are likely to be explored then you can make an informed prediction about which Competency questions may be asked. There are many ways in which a Competency can be explored in a question, but there are several scenarios that are more common than others. ‘Describe a situation where you overcame ….’, ‘Tell me about a time you’ve had to….’, ‘Give me an example of when you successfully used…..’
    If you have identified effective Conflict Management as a competency likely to be explored at interview, then prepare yourself for questions such as:
    ‘Tell me about a time when you have overcome conflict with team mates to deliver an objective’
    ‘Describe a situation where you have faced conflict with a superior and how you responded’
    ‘Give an example of where conflict existed with a customer and how you overcame it’

    5. Be ready to discuss the right examples

    Read through your CV and see which relevant experiences/projects/challenges are listed there and can be used to demonstrate your competencies. Examples you discuss in your answers need to be relevant and recent and where you personally played a key role. Avoid discussing what ‘we’ did, this is about your competence so now is not the time to be modest. Talk about what ‘you’ did. Avoid discussing examples where you have anything less than bullet proof knowledge of your role, and the wider project, and be ready to field specific follow up questions that may relate to budgets, quantities and benefits. Be very cautious of bringing up examples of where you’ve demonstrated great competencies from much earlier in your career or from projects or programme that were ultimately unsuccessful.

    6. Apply structure to your answers

    Often the feedback from unsuccessful Competency based job interviews is that answers were rambling and lacked structure. Always keep in mind what Competency you are trying to articulate to your interviewers and be careful to stay on track. The most recognised structure for answering Competency questions is the STAR method.
    Situation: set the context.
    Task: what was required of you.
    Activity: what actually happened
    Result: what was the outcome
    There are endless resources online about utilising the STAR method and Indeed’s recent guidance is a good place to start.

    7. Practice

    Enlist a friend or family member to help. Provide them with a list of Competency Questions and keep practicing until you’re able to conjure up relevant examples at will and delivering your answers using the STAR method feels natural

    8. Be careful to listen

    A beautifully rehearsed and delivered answer to the wrong question may create doubts about your ability to listen effectively. Make sure you understand exactly which competency you have been asked about and seek clarification if in any doubt.

    9. Don’t bluff

    No matter how well prepared you are for any interview scenario there will always be a limit to your knowledge and preparation. Some interviewers will pro-actively take you beyond the extent of your knowledge to see how you react when you are outside of your comfort zone. If you’re asked about scenario that you have never faced, or if a follow up question takes you into areas in which you have no knowledge, then it’s better to openly admit this than to bluff your way into trouble, or worse, to appear dishonest.

    10. Try and relax

    Be yourself. Part of a successful interview is being able to talk with confidence, passion and charisma. If you’re relaxed you’ll avoid sounding too scripted or stilted and sound preparation will allow your knowledge to flow and your personality to shine through on the day.

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    Competency Interviews – 10 pieces of advice to help you outshine the competition

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