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How to: The Competency Based Interview

Posted on 16 June 2021 by Wallace Myers Team


1. What is it?

It's a style of interviewing used so that a candidate can best show how they would demonstrate certain behaviours/skills in the work place; by answering questions about how you have reacted to and dealt with previous work place situations. By using past experience a potential employer can predict future behaviour by:

  • Eliminating misunderstandings
  • Preventing personal impressions
  • Reducing the candidate's ability to “fake”

You will be asked to give an example of a situation or task that led you to take a certain course of action. Probing questions will then be used to determine the course of action you took and what changes were created by those actions and the effects of those actions on others.

Traditional job descriptions are now quite outdated. Most organisations will analyse a role by breaking it down into key competencies. For example the competencies of a lawyer may be planning and organising, innovation, personal drive, problem analysis and decision-making. If an organisation uses this type of interviewing, it is very likely that your job will be defined on this basis and your performance in it will be managed through competencies. For example your appraisal may well be linked to evidence and real-life examples of having demonstrated these competencies.

2. How can I prepare for this type of interview?

The simple answer is you can't. You can prepare for the interview in the normal way by researching the company, making sure you are able to talk through the work and skills that you have described on your CV. You will be given the opportunity to market yourself for the role in the normal way, however, most candidates will find this type of interviewing much more interactive and enjoyable and it is likely that the interviewer will be able to encourage you to be much more open than in a traditional interview.

3. How will I be measured?

Usually the interviewer will have a number of pre-planned questions to ask you. For each of these questions they will ask for real-life evidence where you have demonstrated the behaviour or skills. They will know what the desired behaviours are and will look for positive and negative indicators. Examples of competencies and related questions are as follows:

Example one - Planning and Organising

Competency & Definition
Planning & Organising: prioritises; sets stretching but realistic targets and deadlines; plans ahead and has a structured approach to the work

Suggested Questions

  • Describe a project you have managed/been responsible for;
  • ∙ How did you plan your time? (& others time?) How did you deal with obstacles
  • Have you ever managed a project that you knew would run over the timescale? ∙ What did you do?
  • What could you do differently next time?
  • In your current job, how do you schedule your time and set priorities?
  • ∙ How did you prepare for this interview?

Desired Behaviours

  • Prioritising;
  • Working in a structured and methodical way;
  • Maintaining candidate details;
  • Planning ahead to ensure timely delivery of results;
  • Managing time effectively. Maintaining accurate management information, administrative records etc.

Negative Indicators

  • Works late but unproductively most of the time
  • Seldom completes a task unless they do all of the work themselves
  • Reactive approach
  • Inflexible in modifying plan/priorities
  • Is easily fazed by obstacles/interruptions


Example two - Team Skills


Competency & Definition
Team Skills: the ability to work with other people constructively to improve the effectiveness of the team

Suggested Questions

  • Tell me about a time when you have started a new job;
  • How did you go about building an effective working relationship with your colleagues/team?
  • What effect did that action have on your success in that position? What effect did that action have on the success of the team;
  • How do you galvanise your team into action?
  • When has your own self-motivation rubbed off on others from whom you work?
  • Describe an occasion when you chose not to work as part of a team;
  • Have you ever had to work in a team where you felt other members of the team were lacking in commitment/ability?
  • When has a colleague let you down and how did you react?

Desired Behaviours

  • Selecting staff who will complement others in the team;
  • Co-operating with others; helping people out when necessary;
  • Building effective teams;
  • Consulting others for advice when necessary;
  • Ensuring that important information is communicated accurately and quickly; ∙ Resolving conflict or disagreements quickly and without holding grudges.

Negative Indicators

  • Afraid to confront issues
  • Insensitive to people, their feelings and needs
  • Indiscreet and gets involved in gossip
  • Plays people off against each other
  • Holds grudges


Example three - Professional knowledge and judgement


Competency & Definition
Professional Knowledge &Judgement: has an extensive knowledge of his/her own field or department; understands the business and uses this to provide credible advice.

Suggested Questions

  • What examples are there during the past 3-6 months where you have made an important decision that turned out to be correct?
  • Have you made any poor decisions in the past 6 months? Tell me about it/them?
  • How do you gather information on clients?
  • How have you used that information to influence a client or candidate?
  • When did a client last ask you for advice (other than re a live assignment)?

Desired Behaviours

  • Sound understanding of current law; ∙ Sound understanding of clients;
  • Managing the flow of information to clients effectively;
  • Providing commercial and practical advice to clients;
  • Providing the client with credible advice.

Negative Indicators

  • Inaccurate understanding of client's situation
  • Assumes professional responsibility beyond level of competence/experience
  • Abdicated decision-making to others.
  • Ignores side issues as irrelevant.


Example four – Leadership


Competency & Definition
Leadership: Takes control of situations and events; recognises and rewards others performance; motivates; coaches and develops others.

Suggested Questions

  • When was the last time you disciplined a member of staff?
  • How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you have set goals for an individual or for your team ∙ How did you go about it? Were they achieved?
  • Tell me about a sensitive or difficult staffing issues you have dealt with.
  • What did you find most difficult about it? What was this so? What was the outcome?
  • How have you introduced change to your team?
  • How do you ensure your team gets feedback on its performance?
  • Describe a situation in which you coached a team member.

Desired Behaviours

  • Giving feedback;
  • Conducting performance appraisals;
  • Developing people on the job;
  • Coaching and training staff;
  • Setting development objectives;
  • Delegating effectively;
  • Confronting difficult management/staff issues promptly;
  • Motivating teams to give their best; 
  • Handling disciplinary procedures;
  • Recognising good performance;
  • Reviewing performance of staff on a regular basis;
  • Conducting effective meetings with team

Negative Indicators

  • Believes in an autocratic style of leadership
  • Is insensitive
  • Demonstrates an inconsistent style of leadership
  • Tries to change how things are done without any consideration to proven methods and working practices

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