The Secret to Successful Competency Interviews!

By Andrew Pickersgill

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The competency based interview is now one of the favoured selection methods of clients throughout the UK and the World in general. This technique has come to the fore as it provides an excellent way of interviewing fairly. However for those who are not used to this type of examination they find it daunting and frightening. There is nothing to be frightened of. A competency based interview in fact offers you the chance to shine as long as you follow some simple rules.

So what is a competency based interview?

A competency based interview can be described as ‘demonstrating the skill or knowledge to do something well in a formal discussion between a job seeker and an employer’. As we said, there is nothing to be frightened of. Assuming you are interviewing for a job that is relevant to your experience then a Competency Based Interview is something to be welcomed.

Why a competency based interview?

A client can determine criteria which to measure a candidate with. By scoring these criteria or competencies via a strict and rigid question set the client can score candidates directly against each other. This then ensures that the client can demonstrate why they have chosen a particular candidate for a particular role. Whilst in practice this works for the client often candidates can be daunted and confused as to the reason for the often obscure nature of the questioning. Without an understanding of competency based interviewing or an intuitive interview style for this type of interview then most candidates will score poorly without some serious preparation.

Why are competency-based interviews so useful?

From a client perspective they are more scientific in their approach and as a result they are more likely to be accurate and structured giving a better result for both client and candidate. If the structure is followed and applied evenly to all applicants and focuses on evidence supporting a candidate’s answer to a particular competency question then suitability for a particular role can be ascertained fairly. The emotional aspect that can be found in an interview process can be minimised.

How do you prepare for a competency based interview?

You never know what questions will be thrown at you in an interview situation. However the framework of a competency based interview is very structured and as a result you find that they tend to follow the same pattern with similar lines of questioning. You therefore have some idea already of what questions are likely to be asked.

Read the specification!

Before the interview read the specification. This may seem an obvious piece of advice. However many people don’t do it. From the job specification you can often pick up on the competencies that the client will test in the interview so you have another head start on organising your preparation and constructing your answers for your interview.

Know your CV!

Whilst you may think you know your CV inside out, make sure that you actually do. If you are unsure of detail on your CV and are questioning this in the interview this will not bode well for you getting the job. However knowing the tasks and situations that you can describe from your CV will give you more ammunition in your interview to answer the competency questions when they arise.

Put the two together!

So having read the specification you need to practically apply it to your CV and your experience. Tease out the behaviours the specification is looking for. For example if the specification is looking for someone who can demonstrate team work then you might want to be thinking about team situations from your current or previous jobs. If you can’t think of a relevant answer from your professional life then choose something from a more social setting. For example if you are a committee member for a sports club or something similar. Remember that each question is scored. Just like an exam if you leave the question blank you will score no points.


To be successful in the competency based interview scenario you need to maximise your ability to score points at every part of the interview. Structuring your answers is the best way to do this. In practice for each of the areas below you will be scored. As previously mentioned if you do not answer or explain a particular element of your answer then you will not score points for that element of the question.

What is STAR?

The STAR technique provides a framework for your answers and maximises your ability to score highly in the interview. Your language is important, use I instead of We. This is a situation where you brag about your involvement. You are the STAR of this story!

S Situation give a description of background, situation or problem you faced

T Task describe the task that the situation required of you

A Action describe the action that you took to overcome the situation

R Result describe positive and negative results, what you would do differently

Real examples

If you are in a competency based interview it is important to use real life examples, you will need to give as much detail as is relevant to bring them to life. This means using factual information using real dates, timescales and names. The more colour you provide the better your answer will appear to be.

The five W’s

Once you have got a few practice answers in your mind test them with the five W’s and if you have answered them all then you have got a good scenario to describe in interview. What are the five W’s?

Who? Why? What? Where? When? How?

Ensuring your answers cover the above will allow you to answer any style of question from the interviewer. Whilst the line of questioning can’t be fully anticipated you can adapt an answer if you have prepared well.


The biggest trap for the competency based interview is that you will give your best example to question one and then want to revisit this example for questions later in the interview. Ideally you want to ensure you have a good variety of examples for each question. If you rely on one example in the interview then you are unlikely to be successful in the interview. Examples do not need to be from your current position; they need to be relevant to the question asked so broaden your answers to give the best detail.


Competency based interviews are sometimes daunting and nerve racking. However as we have seen above there is nothing to be frightened of. Competency based interviews will offer you a familiar structure allowing you to offer your best examples of your work experience to demonstrate competencies that you can find in the job specification. If you use the STAR technique you will be able to maximise your ability to score points against the framework using a good variety of examples. Preparation and structure is the key to a good competency based interview.

For more details on this or any other interview guidance please see


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