Answering Competency-Based Questions

With Aimee Bateman

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Answering Competency-Based Questions


"Tell me about a time you showed great problem solving abilities". Chances are, you've been asked this type of question. It's a great example of a question used by interviewers that can give you the opportunity to showcase your skills, especially if you don't have relevant experience. Let Aimee show you how to answer this type of question and feel more confident in the interview. 

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Answering Competency-Based Questions

Hi, I’m Aimee Bateman, career coach and founder of Careercake.

In this short video we’re going to look at tackling competency-based questions.

Preparing to tackle these types of questions will be a huge part of your application process. You’ll see them in the actual application form that you are filing in but you’re also going to see them in the interview process itself and interviews, no matter which form they take, can make even the most confident person feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Now, when it comes to interviewing, employers and recruiters are getting really creative, so it could be, I don’t know, a panel interview, it could be a meal somewhere, it could be telephone interview, it could be a really casual conversation in a coffee shop. Whatever the structure is, the same rules apply.

When it comes to competency-based questions, let’s understand why they’re asking them and what they’re all about and what is a competency-based question?

Well, it’s really simple - it’s basically you giving examples of successes and achievements in your past that will help the interviewer determine whether or not you are going to be able to do the job that you are interviewing for in the future. So - what has your past told us about your ability to be successful in the future? That’s all they’re about.

That’s really simple, I suppose, if you are going for a job that is like-for-like, so very similar roles but you might be thinking “I’m going for a job where it’s completely different to what I’ve done, so it’ll be really hard for me to find examples.”  

But don’t worry because you have tonnes of transferrable skills and with this framework that I’m going to show you, which is a 5 themed framework, and then within a structure that no matter what example of these themes you are giving them, you’ll be able to communicate it and give them exactly the information that they want.

How does that sound? Good? Let’s go.

So, the 5 themes - no matter what competency-based questions you are asked, the answer is going to fall in one of these 5 themes:

So, the first theme is Leadership - so think of a time when you showed leadership behaviours.

The second theme - Creativity – a time when you showed initiative/creative problem solving

Organisational skills – so when you organised your time or when you organised the team or people around you.

Motivation - a time when you motivated yourself and you kept going or again when you motivated those around you - maybe teamworking or something like that.

Problem solving – this is a time when you actually, analytically worked your way through a problem and then you had a positive outcome.

If you can think of two examples for every one of those themes, I promise you, whatever competency-based question they throw at you, you will be able to have one example that will be relevant.

The reason that I say two is because I know interviewers that will say “Oh that’s a really good example, can you provide another one?” And then people are like, “Oh no! I only practiced one!”  So, always think of two, just in case.

And also - keep them relevant. If you’re going to be giving them an achievement or an example, make sure that it’s within the last two years.

So now you’ve got your examples, hopefully 10 - 2 for every one of the 5 themes. You’ve got your examples, now you need to make sure that you structure that information in a way that the interviewer goes “Oh! Ok I get it. I see the value to me”.

Let’s look at The STAR model:

S is for Situation – this is where you open briefly and explain the situation.

T is for Task - this is where you introduce some context, and explain the role you were expected to take within this situation. 

A is for Action- this is where you need to describe the specific action that you took, not necessarily the team, but YOU. This is 50 - 70% of this answer. This is where you need to hang out for the longest period of time.

R is for Result – so, close with the result. Quantify it if possible. Add a number to it; a timeline. Show the real impact that it had, not just on you/the team, but the company as a whole.

Take the time now to mentally walk through the pieces of work you have worked on in the past. It might take some time. Really go through your examples. Think about days and months and weeks that you’ve been really busy and actually write down - get creative with it. Take some real time to sit there and work it all out so that you’re not then in an interview and think “Oh! Why didn’t I say that example, I was so proud of that! Why didn’t I think of that?”

If you can, confidentially ask colleagues and people around you to help you come up with those examples. Sit down with Mike or your pal Khalid at work and just say “Can you give me two examples of where I might have shown leadership skills. We’ve worked together for two years now, can you think of anything?” Get them to help you with it.

Then, once you’ve got all of that done and you’ve got that down - you’ve got your examples; you’ve structured your answers using STAR - I want you to say them out loud as many times as you can before your interview. That can be when you’re driving the car. That could be while you’re hoovering. It could be while you’re washing the dishes. I want you to drive the people around you absolutely crazy so that they think that you’re mad just saying them out loud.

But the reason being is that when we’re in an interview situation we might feel nervous and when we’re nervous, our mind goes blank. So, what I want you to do is just help yourself; make this easier for yourself so that if you are nervous, those words will just roll off your tongue. So just say it out loud as much as you can and practice them. It’s not just good enough thinking it and writing it down, you’ve got to say it out loud.

So, there you go. Competency-based questions – not scary at all. An amazing opportunity for you to show-off, showcase all your transferable skills and show them exactly how much value you are going to add.

Good luck!



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    Graham Chukwumaobi – 05 April 2020