Focus on the past will bring future competency-based success

Q: I have been called for a competency-based interview – and I haven’t a clue what that is. How might I prepare for this? (DH, email).

A: I suspect from your email that the employers haven’t sent you an outline of how they will run the interview – sometimes such a spec sheet accompanies the notice about a competency-based interview. In the absence of such a document, I will outline here some of the key elements of a competency-based interview.

Competency based interviews comprise competency-based questions – questions in which you should give real life examples as the central part of your answer.

The questions provide you with opportunities to illustrate demonstrate your skills in each of the areas they are seeking to explore. Typical competencies might be problem-solving ability, people skills, staff management, and the like.

The interviewers will frame the questions so that you can show what you have done in each of these areas in the past, and what you have learned in each case. One of the most reliable predictors of future behaviour is past behaviour, which is why they are seeking to delve so much into your past.

Competency-based questions are generally ‘open’ questions crafted in such a way as to give you the

chance to elaborate on your past experiences. Some examples of ‘open’ questions that might be asked in a competency-based interview include:

“Can you talk about a time when you had to show decisiveness in the workplace?”

“Was there ever a situation where you had to show creativity and problem-solving ability in your studies?”

You take it from there. A good model to follow is the STAR one:

SITUATION – tell them what the exact situation was, an overview of the scenario – where you were working, what your exact role was, and the like;

TASK – tell them the specific task that you were faced with – “to find a way of producing a better roster so that productivity would be maintained”;

ACTION – the very action you took – “I met with the staff and we talked about the company’s needs, and the staff’s own needs, and we worked out a rolling lunch-break and coffee-break approach that could get production up to the desired levels without alienating the staff”;

RESULT – what flowed from your intervention – “We fixed the problem – production no longer sagged at those times of the day, and staff were still happy that they were getting their breaks, albeit not all at the same time. We got through a potential logjam quite sweetly.”

That’s it in a nutshell. Tell them what you did, why you did it, how you did it, and how it worked: Situation, Task, Action, Result. The beauty of a competency-based interview is that you can think through your examples beforehand. Your next step now, prior to doing the interview, is to start scribbling down what competencies they might be looking for, so that you can prepare some examples to fit the bill.

The video below highlights some tips for competency-based interviews:


Good luck. Give them plenty of examples that show you as the person they need for this role.

Sli Nua Careers offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services at their offices in Galway, Dublin and Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. You can also obtain their free eBook providing Job Searching Tips by emailing with Job Searching eBook in the subject line. More:


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