START: Competency-based interviews


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By Mary O’Brien-Killeen, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers

CLAREMORRIS – Mary O’Brien-Killeen, T: 094 95 42965.

Often in competency-based interviews, candidates questions are about specific situations where they have examples of competencies that match the job-description. In many instances, it is better for candidates to take the broader perspective by using proven answering methodologies that give more comprehensive answers to both the opening and follow-up, or probing, questions, writes Mary O’Brean-Killeen, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

Let us take a look at a typical competency-based interview scenario. ‘Decision making and problem solving’ are often grouped together as the same competency and frequently stipulated in a wide range of job descriptions.

Opening question

An opening question related to this competency could be: ‘Can you tell me about a time when you had to make a decision to solve a particular problem at work’? A typical follow-up, or probing, question might be: ‘What did you learn from this experience’?

The answer to the opening question should begin with the START method, which is our one of choice. This method of answering competency-based questions can be accessed by following this link


The START method offers a good structure to an answer. It prevents repetition and diverts the candidate from heading down the dreaded cul-de-sac. In this case, it will steer you onto a logical sequence (Situation Task Action Result Them) of indicating how an effective decision was reached when faced with an onerous problem.

In short, you tell the story of what you did in a coherent manner.

It is in the follow-up, or probing, question ‘What did you learn from this experience’?

that candidates can score valuable points by proving that they follow a framework, or process, when assessing problems and coming to decisions. In this regard, it may be helpful to tell the employer that what you learned most from the story you’ve just told was that using a tried-and-tested decision-making process works best for you.


Such an approach could include you stating that you first like to analyse a problem. You then prioritise options and solutions that include all consequences and risks. Once you execute the decision, you find it helpful to periodically conduct a review of the procedure. You adjust accordingly to ensure consistent and long-term success.

Follow-up questions

There is method in the madness of employers asking follow-up questions pertaining to this competency. They want to ascertain how the candidate’s mind works when confronted with a problem. They want to know what processes the candidate uses to grind out workable and effective solutions.


Employers may want to know if you are someone who undertakes appropriate research and investigation. Draw on your own experiences and of others through consultation, and are able to identify key issues to solve problems. Be aware that people who view problems as challenges, rather than difficulties or obstacles, tend to be preferred by employers.


Giving the employer a comprehensive step-by-step example of how you dealt successfully with a once-off problem will beneficial to you. Proving to the employer that you consistently adopt a coherent and well thought-out methodology for all decision-making and problem-solving situations. This will serve you even better at interview.

The video below highlights tips for competency-based interviews:



If you would like to make a booking with any of our career coaches, see HERE for CV Preparation, Application Form writing, LinkedIn Profile writing, Interview Training and other career services.

Mary O’Brien-Killeen is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers. We have offices nationwide, plus a full online service. Our services include CV preparation, interview training, mock interviews, personal statements, career planning / direction, LinkedIn profiles and application forms.


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