How to ace competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviews can feel a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time – but there are lots of benefits to you as a candidate when it comes to this interviewing approach.

Because the process is designed to draw out real-life examples to demonstrate your competency in key areas you have the opportunity to let your experience shine, plus you have an ace card up your sleeve in the form of the job specification to act as your guide.

This means that if you’re willing to put in a little ground work, you can ensure you’re fully prepared and have polished many of your responses ahead of time.

The power of preparation

Preparation is key to any successful interview, but perhaps even more so with competency-based ones.

The first stage of preparation is to go through the job specification and list all of the requirements it includes. Also note down the common key competencies that employers look for, such as:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision making

Once you’ve got your list, think of two examples for each one – these should be evidence-based from your own firsthand experiences. Note down the key points for each and how they demonstrate the competency using the STAR method:

Situation – set the scene

Task – describe the tasks involved

Action – explain what steps you took to complete the tasks required

Result – explain the outcome/positive benefits

It can be useful to write some flashcards out – you can even use a colour-coding system using small coloured filing cards, so you know what category each belongs to. Use these as prompts to practice verbalising your answers (ask a friend for help if you can), and take them to the interview with you just in case you need to quickly refer to one to refresh your memory.

In competency based interviews, questions are usually structured in the following ways:

‘Can you tell us about a situation where...’

‘Can you please provide an example of...’

Bear this in mind when formulating your responses.


You should also do some research on the company and the industry they operate in. Check out recent industry news magazines or online articles, and even the blog section of the company website to see if there’s anything current or relevant that you could include in your responses to show that you can relate your skills to the position and organisation you’re interviewing for.

Be ready to adapt

While you’ve already done the hard work by collating examples that relate to the competencies you’ll be asked to demonstrate, you also need to ensure that you can modify responses to suit the exact question you’ve been asked. The more you practice the easier this will become, so if you have someone helping you with your interview prep, ask them to phrase questions in different ways.

Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all examples need to be centred on work. Of course you should do this if it all possible, but say the job you’re applying for is a step-up in terms of management responsibilities, you can also demonstrate leadership through other activities e.g. if you’re captain of a local sports team or something similar.

Final thoughts

In addition to the above guidance, you also need to prepare in the usual ways too, such as being punctual by practising your travel route, looking smart and thinking of some killer questions to ask at the end.

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