Complete Guide to a Competency-Based Interview

Guide to Competency-Based Interviews |

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There are several different types of interview formats that employers may choose to use including the competency-based interview. Competency-based interviews are used to analyze a candidate’s competencies and skills as they relate to the job. Learn what a competency-based interview is, the industries that most frequently use this type of interview, common questions asked during a competency-based interview and tips for preparing for this interview type.

What is a competency-based interview?

A competency-based interview, also referred to as a behavioral or situational interview, is a type of interview method used to assess a candidate’s skills and competencies as they relate to the position. During a competency-based interview, candidates are asked questions that are designed to determine their ability to handle certain job-related situations and challenges.

For example, a candidate may be asked to describe a time in which they handled conflict within the workplace. Based on their answer, an interviewer will be able to better understand the candidate’s ability to face challenging situations at work as well as their interpersonal and conflict-resolution skills. The premise behind competency-based interviews is that a candidate’s past behavior in the workplace can give insight into how they will perform in a new position.

How are competency-based interviews different from normal interviews?

A typical interview is one in which a candidate and hiring manager partake in an unstructured conversation that often involves questions related to the candidate’s experience, skills and interest in the position. Normal interviews are often subjective and based on the candidate’s personality, experience and/or the interviewer’s impression of the candidate. Additionally, unstructured interviews often do not have a concrete rating system and candidates are therefore often rated based on the hiring manager’s opinion of the candidate.

On the other hand, competency-based interviews are structured and often have a systematic rating system in place. Most behavioral interviews will also include specific questions that each candidate is asked. These questions are often chosen based on the specific position and the skills required to be successful in the job.

When are competency-based interviews used?

Competency-based interviews are typically used when a position requires a specific set of skills or competencies. For example, technical jobs such as those in the IT field often require in-depth skills that many unstructured interviews cannot accurately assess.

Behavioral interviews are also frequently used when interviewing college students or recent graduates. These individuals often do not have adequate work experience to properly assess their abilities, so asking competency-based questions can give the interviewer a more accurate idea of their skills.

Some interviews may consist of both unstructured and competency-based questions. If you are unsure whether your interview will be behavioral-based or unstructured, it’s best to prepare for competency-based questions to ensure you are able to sufficiently answer these questions.

Skills and competencies tested in a competency-based interview

The following are common skills that are tested through competency-based interview questions:

Leadership and management

Examples of skills and competencies tested:

  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Decisiveness
  • Problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Goal setting


Examples of skills and competencies tested:

  • Teamwork
  • Conflict resolution
  • Adaptability


Examples of skills and competencies tested:

  • Listening skills
  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Collaboration
  • Integrity


Examples of skills and competencies tested:

  • Verbal communication
  • Written communication
  • Public speaking
  • Persuasion
  • Negotiation
  • Interviewing


Examples of skills and competencies tested:

  • Research
  • Problem-solving
  • Budgeting
  • Data

Examples of competency-based interview questions

While the specific questions will depend on the position being interviewed for, the following are examples of common competency-based interview questions that can apply to various job types:

  • Describe a time in which you had to adjust to a significant change within the workplace and how you handled it.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to handle an internal conflict within the workplace and how you resolved the situation.
  • How do you foster and maintain good relationships with peers in the workplace?
  • Give an example of a time in which you had to learn a new skill in order to perform your job effectively.
  • What would you consider your most successful project to date?
  • Describe a situation in which members on your team did not get along. How did you resolve the situation?
  • Provide an example of a time in which your communication skills were lacking and caused challenges in a project. What would you do differently?
  • Tell us about a time in which you were asked to follow a policy or procedure that you did not agree with. How did you go about handling the situation?
  • Describe a time when you had to help a team member improve their skills.
  • Provide an example of a time when you were given constructive criticism that was negative. How did you handle the situation and what changes did you make as a result of the feedback?

How do employers rate the responses to competency-based interview questions?

The following is an example of a rating system that may be used during a competency-based interview:

  • No experience/skill. This rating would be given when a candidate has no understanding or experience in a particular area and/or exhibits no skill level for a competency being tested.
  • Inadequate experience/skill. This rating may be given when a candidate displays very little experience or skill level.
  • Adequate experience/skill. This rating is often used when a candidate demonstrates competence in a particular area and has the skill the interviewer is looking for.
  • Exceeds experience/skill. The candidate demonstrates that they have ample experience using a certain skill.
  • Above skill level. The candidate has a skill level that is higher than what is required.

The interviewer may rate the candidate using a number system or may use wording similar to the above list. Employers typically determine how they will rate a candidate’s answers to competency-based interview questions before the interview is performed. A standardized rating system is often used to ensure objectivity in how a candidate is rated. Once all candidates have been interviewed, the hiring manager will then compare the ratings and determine which candidate most closely meets the criteria for the position.

Tips for competency-based interview preparation

Here are a few tips to consider when preparing for a competency-based interview:

Know what skills will be tested

Before you can prepare for this type of interview, you must first know what competencies the interviewee will be looking for. You can get a better understanding of this by reviewing the job listing as well as researching the position you are applying for and the skills required for this job.

Use the STAR method

A successful way to approach competency-based questions is by using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. For each question, be sure you incorporate each part of the STAR method into your answer for a well-rounded description. For example, if you are asked to describe a time in which you handled conflict at work, you would begin by describing the specific situation followed by the task in which the conflict arose. You would then provide the action you took to handle the conflict as well as the result that came about.

Brainstorm past work-related examples before the interview

Most competency-based questions require you to provide specific examples of when you demonstrated a particular skill. Take the time to brainstorm some examples you can use during the interview beforehand. This will help ensure you are prepared and prevent you from being taken off guard and have to spend several minutes thinking of an appropriate answer.

Practice with another person before the interview

A great way to prepare for a competency-based interview is to have a friend or family member asked you competency-based questions before the interview. Make sure they ask questions related to the skills that will likely be tested in the interview and take the time to thoroughly prepare each question.

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