How to nail a competency-based interview

We all still struggle to answer those difficult interview questions, especially when we are under pressure. After putting in the hard work to job search, you have received the email inviting you to an interview. But how do you prepare before the interview and how should you behave during the interview to make sure you nail that job? I have set out what I believe is the most important things you need to do to succeed.

1. What is a competency based interview?

The science behind interviewing techniques has developed significantly and a structured and consistent set of questions are now seen as pivotal to gain an insight into your specific skills and provide the evidence to demonstrate your suitability for the role. The key here is in fact that you need “evidence” to persuade the interviewer.

2. Know the competencies expected of the role

The job advert should have detailed the primary competencies which will give you the areas to focus on. However, if there is insufficient detail in the job description research into the company to look for competency clues and think about what typical attributes are required based on your experience, or speaking to friends/colleagues. Examples of common competencies are team working, communication, good customer service, problem solving, persuading someone to your way of thinking or managing change.

3. Have detailed examples ready to match those competencies

Now think about the evidence you have that illustrates those competencies. Remember you need to have a specific example ready so it is worth jotting down some bullet points for each competency to assist you with rehearsing your answers. It is best to rehearse out loud with a friend or partner. Don’t worry what the actual question will be as long as you have an example prepared for the competency you will be able to fit it around the question. This avoids the risk of you waiting for a specifically worded question and instead lets you identify the competency and relevant example you have prepared in advance.

4. Use the STAR approach to structure your answers

A lot of applicants in interviews tend to give too much information or too little. Use the STAR approach to structure your answers to make sure you hit every point. So a real example would be something like:

Question: “How would you deal with a difficult customer?

Situation give a short background regarding the circumstance

“Interesting question, let me give you an example to express how I would deal with this. In my current role I work alongside customers on a regular basis and you normally have an already established relationship. However, on this one occasion I took on some new customers from a colleague. One of their customers was extremely difficult and had a very serious complaint about how their order was handled.”

Task – describe to the interviewer what was required by you.

“This customer was actually a very important customer and had great potential for new orders. It was my job to try keep this customer and potentially explore new sales opportunities with them.”

Action – tell the interviewer the action you took

“I took time to understand the customer’s complaint and worked through what had gone wrong and where. In order to try and address their concerns I walked through what their expectation was and why and discussed with them solutions we could use to try and sole their problems. I set up a range of options to meet their needs such as …….example 1, example 2 etc.”

Result – What was the end result? How did the customer/colleague feel and how did this business objectives

“Within 3 months we had secured several new orders and the customer is extremely happy with the service he is being provided.

5. Have good ‘thinking time’ techniques

You do not need to answer the question straight away as you may be at risk launching into your answer that may be not be suitable. Take a sip of water or tell the interview ‘that is a good question, let me have a think about an example which will give you a moment to think.

Hopefully these tips help set you on the right track to succeed in competency-based interviews.

Good luck!

*Emma Alkirwi is Managing Director of the CV Guru which is a leading service provider of professionally written CVs, LinkedIn Profiles, cover letters and they also provide specialist consultancy services.  Emma has over 10 years experience in recruitment and employment related services covering a wealth of industries. Having been a professional employment consultant for several years, she has provided professional advice covering everything from professional CV/LinkedIn writing, effective job searching, interview skills and preparation, presentation techniques and general professional coaching.

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