13 Competency-Based Interview Questions and How To Prepare

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many employers use competency-based interviews to determine whether a potential employee has specific skills related to a position. Hiring managers usually perform these interviews by asking several competency-based questions. These prompts allow interviewers to determine how a candidate would handle a certain situation and the behaviours they would demonstrate in different scenarios. In this article, we explore what a competency-based interview is, why preparing for one is important, common competency-based questions and tips on how to answer them.

Related: What Are Core Competencies? (Including How To Develop)

What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview is an interview in which hiring managers ask questions to determine how you've handled tasks, challenges and other aspects of your previous or current job. Interviewers use competency-based questions to enquire about specific examples in which you showed various skills and behaviours in your career.

These types of interviews allow potential employers to identify the key competencies of a potential employee, or the specific qualities required to be successful in a position. A hiring manager may also call this type of interview a behavioural interview or a criterion-based interview. Common key competencies that employers may look for include:

  • Teamwork

  • Decision-making skills

  • Communication skills

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Leadership capabilities

  • Time-management skills

  • Flexibility

  • Creativity

  • Integrity

  • Trustworthiness

Why is it important to prepare for behavioural interviews?

Preparing for a behavioural interview can equip you with the confidence and knowledge to convey why you would make a suitable fit for the position. By becoming familiar with competency-based questions, you can practise the answers you would give to sound more confident in your interview if the hiring manager asks you these questions. Taking time to prepare for this type of interview can also help you better understand the specific key competencies that the employer may look for in potential employees.

Related: How To Prepare for a Behavioural Interview in 5 Steps

13 examples of competency-based questions

The following are 13 examples of questions a hiring manager may ask you in this type of interview:

  1. When have you completed a difficult task as part of a team?

  2. Describe how you have positively contributed to a team.

  3. Have you ever received negative feedback from a manager, employer or coworker? How did you handle it?

  4. Describe a difficult situation you resolved at work.

  5. Have you ever had to resolve a customer complaint? If so, how did you resolve it?

  6. Describe a time when a manager assigned you a responsibility you've never had before.

  7. How have you contributed to the improvement of a team's overall performance in the past?

  8. What is the most challenging decision you have ever made at work? Why did you find it challenging, and what was the outcome?

  9. Describe a significant change you've had to accommodate in the workplace and how you dealt with it.

  10. Have you ever had to work with someone you didn't get along with? If so, how did you make the situation better?

  11. Describe a time when you used creativity to solve a problem in the workplace.

  12. Provide an example of a time you successfully handled conflict within the workplace.

  13. What would you consider your biggest workplace achievement?

Related: 40 Top Behavioural Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

Behavioural interview tips

Taking the time to familiarise yourself with competency-based questions and interview tips can help you be as prepared as possible when it comes time for the interview. Here are tips you can use to prepare so that you can effectively answer competency-based questions and convey your qualifications for a position:

Determine key competencies related to the position

Knowing which key competencies the position requires can help you prepare for competency-based interview questions. First, review the job description and similar job listings and look for the skills employers list. By identifying competencies that appear in multiple listings, you can determine which skills are important in the position you want. You might also consider researching the position and reading articles that explain to potential candidates what the specific role or field requires.

Related: Important Soft Skills Employers in Hong Kong Look For

Make a list of specific situations in which you have demonstrated key competencies

Once you've found several key competencies that relate to the position you're applying for, you can think of instances in which you used those skills in the workplace. In fact, hiring managers may ask you in your interview to describe situations that show your proficiency in these competencies. For example, they may ask you to describe a time when you used problem-solving skills to keep a project on schedule. Practising specific answers to these questions can help you feel more confident about responding to them during your interview.

Use the STAR method

The STAR method is an interview response technique that can help you answer competency-based interview questions thoroughly. Using the STAR method, you answer an interviewer's question by explaining the situation you handled, the task you completed, the action you took and the result of your action. Here are details on how to format a STAR interview question response with example answers:

Situation

The situation portion of the STAR method allows you to establish a setting in which the instance you plan to discuss occurred. If you can, try to think of a situation in which you used a key competency at work. Otherwise, you can use a personal example to describe the situation. Give a brief description of the situation's context so the interviewer understands how and why it occurred. For instance, if your manager asks a question about teamwork, you might start your response by mentioning a time your team experienced an unexpected setback.

Example: "At my last job, we were managing a large-scale project for a high-priority client when two team members left the company unexpectedly. We felt unprepared to continue with the project."

Related: How To Use the STAR Interview Method (With Example)

Task

During the task portion of the STAR method, you explain what your responsibilities were in this situation and the tasks a manager assigned to you or those you volunteered for to resolve the issue. You can keep this section brief, but remember to explain your tasks clearly. This section provides further background on the situation before you describe the steps you took next.

Example: "We all felt confused about how to proceed, so my manager arranged an urgent meeting. She explained the importance of staying on schedule with the project and asked if anyone could offer feedback that may help the team function efficiently in the absence of the two who left. A coworker and I volunteered to split the duties of the two vacant roles in addition to completing our own tasks."

Action

In this section, you describe the actions you took to complete your task. Explain each step you took to help you resolve the issue and how your actions related directly to the task. This shows the hiring manager you understood your tasks and completed them effectively.

Example: "I had a private meeting with Betty, my coworker, to discuss the next steps in our plan. We asked management for copies of each of the job descriptions for the roles we would fill, and we made a list that included the distinct tasks for each role and their overlapping duties. We agreed to work on the overlapping duties together, and then we each decided on a set of specific job roles to manage.

We knew we would have to work overtime to accomplish these tasks, so we coordinated with management to determine a schedule that worked for everyone involved and confirm we would receive overtime pay. Management felt this solution would be more cost-effective than hiring and training two new employees, and we were happy to help the team and accept overtime pay."

Result

In the last portion of your response, you describe the result of your action. You might explain the effect your actions had on the situation, what you learned from it or goals you reached by completing your tasks. This tells the interviewer that the situation had a positive impact on your professional growth and that you know how to demonstrate key competencies that are important to the position.

Example: "Betty and I managed the tasks as planned by working 12-hour shifts Monday through Thursday for four weeks until our team completed the project. We communicated with each other regularly to ensure the other person was still on schedule and asked if they needed any help. A few times, we swapped tasks we felt were better suited to the other person's skills. By working together and relaying information to our team throughout the process, we completed the project on time, and our client expressed their satisfaction with the result."

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