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What are competency based interviews?

01 Jan 10:00 by Anette Fink

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What are competency-based interviews?

Competency-based interviews are becoming more popular and they’re now the go-to structure of interviews for many consumer and retail companies.


They’re becoming increasingly popular as a way to predict a candidate’s future performance, as opposed to the traditional method of understanding prior performance with little relation or link to future potential.


What are they?

Competency-based interviews (or behavioural interviews) are systematic interviews with each question targeting a specific competency relating to the job role and the type of person the company believes would be successful in that type of role.


Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances which they then need to back up with previous experience and examples of that experience.  


Most employers will have a set level of competencies for every role in their organisation. Every role and role type will have a different competency and behaviour requirement. For example, the need to be risk averse might be high in an engineering role but lower in a sales & marketing role.   


The key thing to remember is the interviews are about how you get results, not about the results themselves. The interview is about what you did, why you did it, how you did it and what were the behaviours that enabled you to do it.


Competencies represent the value of performance.


What are some typical questions?

Essentially, competency-based interviews are a series of behavioural questions, or how you behave under certain circumstances, the interviewer will ask you to describe a situation which demonstrates your abilities that will are integral to the role you're interviewing for.


They can be either business or technical competencies.


Business competencies can be further split into threshold and performance. 


Threshold competencies are key company-wide behaviours that everyone must demonstrate, regardless of function or seniority. These are the competencies that underpin company, departmental and employee culture.


A typical question: Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was challenged.


Performance competencies are those that distinguish excellent from average performance and focus on such things like customer focus or developing winning teams.


A typical question: Tell me about a time you led a group to achieve an objective.


Technical competencies are unique to a function and can vary in their structure. They cover decision-making abilities, analytical skills, problem-solving, learning style and attention to detail and to what different levels you will use them in your job.


A typical question: Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.


How should I answer them?

Remember that competencies focus on how a job is done rather than the result or outcome. The answers would also be different for an Operations Manager vs a Marketing Manager, even though the outcomes might be very similar.


The trick is to develop a bank of your previous experiences that can demonstrate your knowledge, abilities and skills that can be mirrored against the job requirements.


Developing this Bank of Evidence and thinking about how you achieved an outcome, not just the outcome itself, is the trick to successfully preparing for competency-based interviews.


The purpose of the competency-based interview is not to talk about your achievement but how you got to the achievement, and a good way to prepare is to use the STAR technique for answering questions.


STAR stands for the Situation, the Task required as a result, the Action you took and the Result of that action.


A great way to prepare with the STAR structure is to deconstruct your career project by project, task by task and think about the STAR structure for each of those projects.


Remember the questions are likely to centre around projects, eg “Tell me about a time you led a group to achieve an objective.”


So for each success line you have in your CV, you should develop the information in relation to STAR behind it. These STAR examples can then be interchangeable and cover the types of things that you are going to be asked in an interview.


Your STAR bank may have 30 or 40 examples of successes.


In conclusion

Competency-based interviews are not trick questions, they’re designed to create the best match between an individual and the hiring company.


The key is preparation and developing a bank of STAR answers to back up your CV. Spend some time thinking about how you develop your bank of STAR answers and it will help you, not only for this interview, but also for all your future career interviews.



References

Pitch Yourself by Faust, B and Faust M (2006)