Unfortunately, interview training isn’t something that schools or colleges often teach. This is unfortunate because competency-based interview questions particularly can frighten the life out of interviewees who have never come across them before. However, if you anticipate them in advance, you should be able to spot them and answer them with aplomb once you know what they are.

Historically, competency questions were a common tactic used in assessment centres for graduate placements. This is because they are an extremely effective way of assessing the level of a candidates skills and work experience. So much so in fact, that they are now commonplace in job interviews at all levels.

What are Competency-Based Interview Questions?

Competency-based questions are commonly used in job interviews to test an applicant’s skills, knowledge and attitude. They invite candidates to give a response which tells a story about how they react to real-life scenarios.

Also known as behavioural interviews, situational interviews, structured interviews and STAR interviews. The thinking behind them is that if a person behaves in a particular way in a given situation, they will likely revert to the same behaviour if they are faced with a similar scenario again. Therefore, the answers you give, allow employers to gauge how you might behave as a team member in the workplace.

Extreme close up lady looking scared by competency based interview questions
Extreme close up lady looking scared by competency based interview questions
Competency-based interview questions… What are they?!

Common competencies employers look to assess in a behavioural interview include:

  • Change management
  • Commercial awareness
  • Customer service
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem-solving
  • Independence
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Resilience
  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Organisation
  • Commitment
  • Willingness to learn
  • Decision making
  • Motivation
  • Trust
  • Safety consciousness
  • Work ethic

How to Spot Competency Questions

In an ideal world, companies would forewarn candidates that they conduct competency interviews. However, this would defeat the object. Any job applicant can craft the perfect response to competency interview questions if they anticipate them. Therefore, companies won’t often disclose their interview format because they want interviewees to give the most honest answers to their questions.

Although, this is an entirely unreasonable expectation on the interviewers part because the most common reason for rejection is that “the candidate wasn’t prepared enough”. So how do you prepare for a situational interview if you’re unlikely to be given the heads up?

Always assuming you will be asked a few competency-based interview questions will prepare you better for every interview.

Always Prepare For Competency Questions

It’s always better to prepare for competency questions and not have to answer them than arrive at an interview unprepared and struggle for an answer. In fact, if you prepare answers for a few competency questions, you will be exceptionally well prepared for most questions an interviewer may ask.

Fortunately, competency interview questions are easy to spot because they usually start with phrases such as:

  • Tell me about a time when you…
  • Describe a situation where you had to…
  • Can you give an example of…
  • What was the most challenging…
  • Tell us about a project where you…

How to Identify Core Competencies From a Job Description

It is easy to anticipate which specific skills or core competencies interviewers are likely to cover if you take time to read and understand the job description. For example, let’s just say the job description mentions working as part of a team. In this case, it’s a pretty safe bet that interviewers are likely to cover the core competency ‘teamwork’ in the interview. In this case, you may anticipate questions like:

  • Tell us about a time when you had to work within a team to achieve a common goal.
  • Can you give an example of when lack of motivation within a team has threatened to delay a project?
  • Describe a situation you have been in where you felt frustrated with other team members.

Teamwork often trips interviewees up in interviews because the focus of the question seems to be about the team. However, what interviewers are looking for in your answer, is what role you played within the group. So when answering questions about teamwork, your answer must explain ‘what I did’ specifically, rather than ‘what we did’. Interviewers are not interested in the rest of your team, remember, they are only interviewing you.

Lady confident she has identified the core competencies from a job advert, prepares for her interview
Lady confident she has identified the core competencies from a job advert, prepares for her interview
It is possible to anticipate which core competencies interviewers are likely to assess if you read and understand the job advert.

How to Answer Competency Based Interview Questions Using the STAR Technique

Because competency-based interview questions ask you to tell a story, you often get lost in your answer and don’t give the information the interviewers are looking for. The STAR method helps you break down these questions into manageable chunks so that you don’t forget anything.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result and below, we explain how to break your answer down under those headings.

We will use the first question above as an example and imagine you currently work as a 1st Line Support Technician.


Tell us about a time when you had to work within a team to achieve a common goal

Good Answer

In my current position, the company wants their support tickets resolved before they finish for Christmas. The Tech Support teamwork over Christmas anyway so the way we manage this is by working a few overtime shifts on the run-up to Christmas. This then makes bigger jobs easier to complete while the office is empty.

Last Christmas, I made sure that the less experienced members of the team didn’t get stuck with loads of open jobs over the festive season. We all work independently on our own jobs so I can’t physically help them out. But by sharing my experience of completing similar jobs, I helped them prioritise and manage their time so that all jobs were completed in time for the staff returning in the New Year.

Man confidently explains the role he contributed in the success of his team.
Man confidently explains the role he contributed in the success of his team.
When answering questions around teamwork, remember that the interviewers are only interested in the part you played within the team.


The situation, in this case, is that the company wants their open tickets closed before they go home for the festive season.


The goal of the team is to complete as many of the open support tickets as possible.


The action you took to help the team meet their target was sharing your knowledge and experience with newer members of the team. This helped them prioritise their open tickets and manage their time more effectively.


The team were able to clear the queue of support tickets in time for the staff returning to work in the New Year.

A Few Final Words On Competency Based Interview Questions

Competency-based interviews needn’t be a scary experience. In fact, you can breeze through them with ease as long as you understand how to tackle such questions. Moreover, you should also now be able to spot core competencies as you’re reading job adverts. We hope that after following the steps above, your next competency-based interview will result in a positive outcome.

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Adria Solutions | IT Digital Marketing Recruitment

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