Everything you need to know about asking competency-based interview questions

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What are competency-based interview questions and how can I utilise them? Find out more here.

Are you struggling to make the right hire? Find yourself subject to high staff turnover and wondering how you can improve your interview process to spot any red flags? You're not alone. In fact, its an area most hiring managers struggle with.

As you are aware, finding the perfect person for the job isn’t always about checking CV’s and getting to know the individual. It may seem like you’ve got the perfect candidate on paper, but how do you know for sure they’ve got the skills and abilities you’re really looking for? To really understand the suitability of a candidate you have to dig a little deeper. That’s where competency-based interview questions come in.

By adopting a competency-based approach, you can assess just how much a candidate has to offer your company and even measure the value they can add to your company – all before your go for the hire!

So, What are competency-based interview questions?

In a competency-based interview, you’ll be asking questions tailored to the specific skills you’re looking for in candidate including:

  • A candidate’s learning aptitude and ability.
  • Behavioural competencies such as morals and motivations, along with communication and leadership skills.
  • Technical abilities and operational skills within their field.

The answers will rely on the idea that the applicant’s previous experiences, successful or otherwise, provide the interviewer with enough information to assess the suitability of the candidate to the role.

Examples of competency-based questions:

  • “Give me an example of a time you helped a member of your team when they were facing a problem.”
  • “Tell me about a time you had to use your initiative at work.”
  • “Describe a situation where you had to change your communication method to suit a particular audience.”

How do competency-based interview questions give me an advantage?

A competency-based interview can reveal a new side of your candidate.

Whilst a normal interview is usually appears as a form of conversation, the main aim being to gather an overall impression of the individual sat in front of you, the questions can be quite open ended. Meaning, you can only really gather general information. Certainly, this technique is useful for the beginning of the interview, it fails to test any specific skills or competencies, needed for your role.

Competency-based interview questions take on a more systematic form. Each question is chosen to hone in on and assess a specific skill or behaviour in certain situations. To answer these questions properly, the interviewer will often ask the interviewee for an example or experience to confirm the explanation.

These are the most common skills tested in a competency-based interview:

  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict management
  • Leadership
  • Integrity
  • Teamwork

How are competency-based interview answers marked?

The answer to a competency-based interview question is usually subject to positive and negative indicators. These indicators, along with the examples or ‘evidence’ provided by the interviewee will be assessed and reviewed to ascertain the result of the interview. Often, it is up to the interviewer to establish which answers are deemed positive or negative prior to the interview taking place.

To get a positive indicator, the candidate should…

  • Exhibit a positive approach to solving problems
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the limits of their skills
  • Show a willingness to help others when appropriate
  • Have the ability to compromise
  • Be able to implement strategies to alleviate pressure

To get a negative indicator, the candidate may…

  • Perceive a challenge to be an issue or problem
  • Be unable to address a problem on their own
  • Use bad or unsuccessful strategies to tackle the situation

After you’ve identified your negative and positive indicators, you can grade the candidates overall performance by assessing the evidence they supplied, along with all the indicators they presented.

If you feel like your candidate has not provided enough information on a topic, it’s always worth probing them further to ensure you get the best possible answer from them. By asking “how did you handle this?”, or “can you provide an example of how you tackled this situation?” you can get a fuller picture of your candidate’s attitude and behaviour.

What competency based interview questions should I ask?

When it comes down to the questions it’s all about the role you’re hiring for.

If you’re looking for a manager, ask about conflict resolution and leadership situations.

For a sales rep, ask them about a situation where they have had to use problem solving skills, work under pressure or practice effective communication.

Each role is different and requires specific skills, so by asking competency questions in these areas you will soon identify the relevant assets.

You should begin by identifying attributes you need in your new member of staff – both fundamentally and in relation to the team as a whole.

From entry-level candidates to potential managers, assessing the suitability of a new member of staff can be difficult at the interview stage. However, by arming yourself with a variety of competency-based interview questions, finding the most promising individuals can be considerably easier. 

If you're facing hiring challenges why not look toward your current workforce? Read our insight on realising the potential of emerging talent and discover that emerging talent is the alternative solution to help you overcome your hiring pain points and enhance your business. 

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