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How to Answer Competency Based Interview Questions

Black mic on the wooden table

Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision – and your answer has to be better than choosing between cereal and toast this morning.

Competency-based interview questions are in vogue at the moment. Interviewers probe your skills and experience with a series of ‘tell me about’ prompts. The idea is to gain a better understanding of your behaviour as an individual and how you might react in future situations, but the thought of a competency-based interview often brings people out in a cold sweat.

Feared for being vague, open-ended and tricky to answer, you shouldn’t be scared of competency-based questions. With these handy tips, you can turn them into a golden opportunity to tell a captive audience just how great you are.

Tips For Answering Competency Based Interview Questions

  • Prepare yourself – These are highly structured interviews which follow a script. The same questions come up time and time again, whatever the job and whoever the interviewer. Get to know the sort of prompts they use and have a few ready answers. Just try not to sound like a robot if you’re asked to recite them.
  • Have a structure in mind – All good stories have a beginning, middle and end, and all they’re asking you to do is tell them a story. In response to a ‘tell me about a time’ prompt, tell them –  in order – about the scenario, what you had to do about it, the action you took and the result of that action. Easy.
  • Never resort to fiction – There’s no point lying. Going all Pinocchio to try and impress them won’t work, and you’ll eventually get caught out. If you have no answer to hand, tell them you can’t think of a specific incident at this particular moment, and would it be alright by them if they returned to that point in a couple of minutes. Buy yourself some breathing space and rack your brains.
  • Turn things into a positive – They quite often want you to tell them about failures, but you can spin these into positives. If you failed to deliver a project on time, don’t get defensive in justifying your actions but explain clearly the other pressures which meant the deadline slipped and the steps you took to overcome any consequences.

Remember, these are not trick questions. They want to get to know you and hear about your experience and skills, not trip you up.  Simply try to relax, be yourself, be prepared and tell them a few good stories – there’s really nothing to fear.

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