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Competency Based Interviewing is often seen as a dark-art from the mystical world of HR. Or just BullS**t. Truth is, it’s neither. Many of my clients scoff at HR functions that use highly scripted CBI questions, decreeing them as far too fluffy. And they can be right at that.

I’m vocal about interview style. My style is laissez-faire and conversational. As discussed here, I don’t play the interview game. I choose a relaxed approach and relaxed questioning AND discussions to understand the interviewee (having got the harder-nosed investigation out of the way before the interview). And yet I incorporate Competency Based Interviewing as part of my approach. It fits.

Competency Based Interviewing is a more conversational means of getting real world examples out of candidates, and crucially, it gets them talking about their own experiences. For good, relevant and high-performing candidates, this works really well. It puts them well within their comfort-zone and relaxes them. Only for candidates seeking to over-sell or embellish experience does it become more stress-inducing. Great way to separate wheat from chaff.

Little wonder then that they are becoming increasingly popular as a way to predict a candidate’s future performance….and fit within the interviewers business. Not only is proving a workable solution to CBI questions a key, highlighting a solution that fits with the businesses style and culture is a fantastic tool and provides invaluable (and unparalleled) understanding. It also provides great topic to verify at referencing.

What are they?

So what are Competency Based Interviews?

Essentially, they are “Give me an example of…..” questions. More structurally, a series of behavioural questions where the interviewer will ask you to describe a situation which demonstrates your abilities that will be integral to the role you’re interviewing for. An easier way to describe is to give examples.

There are five prime areas/competencies that are typically explored (or any number of). Individual Competencies, Managerial, Analytical, Interpersonal and Motivational. They break-down as below:

Individual competencies
These refer to:

Your personal attributes; your decisiveness, tenacity, knowledge, independence, risk taking and personal integrity.

A typical question may include:

  • Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was challenged.

Managerial competencies
These refer to:

Your ability to take charge of other people; leadership, empowerment, strategic thinking, corporate sensitivity, project management and managerial control.

A typical question may include:

  • Tell me about a time you led a group to achieve an objective.

Analytical competencies
These refer to:

Your decision making abilities; innovation, analytical skills, problem solving, practical learning and attention to detail

A typical question may include:

  • Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.

Interpersonal competencies
These refer to:

Social competence. Many workplaces function on the basis of project teams and the more collaborative they are, the more likely they are to thrive.

A typical question may include:

  • Describe a situation where you got people to work together.

Motivational competencies
These refer to:

The things that drive you; resilience, motivation, result orientation, initiative and quality focus.

A typical question may include:

  • When did you work the hardest and feel the greatest sense of achievement?

Further examples of Competency Based Questions:

  • Give an example of your sales skills.
  • Give an example of a project in which you were involved that required your teamwork skills.
  • How do you deal with stressful situations?
  • How would you assess your ability to bring about change?
  • Give an example of a significant decision you made in your last position.
  • Give an example of a change you initiated in your organization.
  • As a manager, do you direct the project or the people?
  • Describe a success of yours as a manager.

In competency based interviews, the interviewers could also be interested in hearing how you contend with failure or conflict. For instance, a question may take one of the following forms:

  • Give an example of a conflict you had with a customer and how you responded.
  • Give an example of a conflict you had with your superior and how you responded.
  • How would you resolve a state of competition with a team colleague?
  • Describe a failure of yours as a manager.

The trick to answering competency based questions

Answers to competency based questions are very structured, so we recommend the STAR technique, describing:

  • Situation – Think of a situation where you applied the competency in question.
  • Tasks – Explain what the tasks (and/or issues)
  • Actions – Describe the actions you took to fulfill those tasks.
  • Results – Highlight the results that were achieved.

In more detail:

Situation

Describe the situation that you were confronted with. To adopt the STAR approach, you have to set the context and make the example obviously real. The more personal (and connected) the example, the more relevant…and the more it will be personal to you, giving you the chance to tell the story and get emotional connection.

EG – The situation may be where you had to deal with a difficult person. You need to provide context. How you came across that person, why they were being difficult, how that difficulty manifested, developed, causes behind it, etc.

Task

Tasks follow on from the Situation. Once you have set the context, the tasks will give detail of the example; but from that, make your answers concise and informative. More importantly, concentrate solely on what is useful to the story and the example being sought. Too much of a story and you will lose relevance…and interest.

EG – If the questioner is asking for an example of teamwork, once you have explained the situation, detail and explain the task that you had to undertake as a team.

Action

Action is without question the most important section of the STAR approach. This is where you will need to demonstrate and highlight the skills and personal attributes that the question is testing and marry it into the example behaviour you need to demonstrate.

Once you have set the context through describing the situation, then detailed the tasks in hand, your story becomes set. Next you need to explain what you did. Make sure you:

  • Be personal, i.e. talk about you and your actions, not the rest of the team or team outputs.
  • Go into detail and describe everything and all actions steps and milestones. Don’t assume that they will guess what you mean.
  • Steer clear of technical information and jargon, unless it is crucial or adds value/essential credibility to your story.
  • Explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it:

What you did and how you did it
The interviewers will want to know how you reacted to the situation. This is where you can start selling your capabilities by including and promoting some important skills. EG – you may want to describe how you used the team to achieve a particular objective and how you used your communication skills to keep everyone updated on progress etc.

Why you did it
The why is as important as the ‘what’ and ‘how’, and often as important as the outcome. EG – when discussing a situation where you had to deal with conflict, many candidates would simply say: “I told my colleague to calm down and explained to him what the problem was”. Nothing wrong with the answer but it would not provide a insight into what drove you to act in such a manner. How did you ask him to calm down? How did you explain the nature of the problem? By highlighting the reasons behind your action, you would make a greater impact. A better response would be:

“I could sense that my colleague was irritated and I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings and his anger, I gave him the opportunity to calm down. I then explained to him my own point of view on the matter, emphasising how important it was that we found a solution that suited us both.”

A fuller, more emotive answer helps the interviewers understand what drove your actions and reinforces the feeling that you are calculating the consequences of your actions (and alternative actions), thus retaining full control of the situation. It provides much more information about you as an individual and is another reason why the STAR approach is so useful.

Result

Explain what happened eventually – how it all ended. Why it worked, why the potential outcomes were maximized. Be humble, highlight where the outcome could have been better, or beneficially different and discuss the learning process that came from that – learning from actions is vital, the ability and willingness to do so is very attractive to an employer.

Regardless, use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished, how you developed yourself as well as those around you, and what you learnt in and from that situation. This helps you make the answer personal and enables you to highlight further skills.

The result is probably the most crucial and decision-enabling part of your answer. Interviewers will want to have demonstrable insight that you are using a variety of generic skills in order to achieve your and others objectives. Therefore you must be able to demonstrate in your answer that you are taking specific actions because you are trying to achieve a specific objective, not simply by chance.

Finally

Remember, be yourself when answering competency-based questions. These are designed to give you a platform to use real-life examples from your background and relate them to your skillset and future capabilities, highlighting the relevant aspects of your past experience, how you reacted or how it made you feel.

CBI questions are not trick questions. They are designed to provide a platform where truly relevantly experienced candidates can draw upon their own experiences to create the best match between an individual and an organisation. That said, whilst much of the ability to answer (and the experiences you draw upon) should be second nature, a little bit of preparation and you’ll quickly realise that competency based interviews represent an unprecedented opportunity to describe some of your finer moments to a captive audience.

The best preparation you can do is to cast your mind back to your career and non-career achievements and ensure you have numerous examples for each of the five main competencies as listed above. The most-self critical feedback I get from even high-achieving, senior execs, coming out of Competency Based Interviews is that their ‘mind went blank’ when seeking an example of XXXXXX.

Be prepared. With preparation, the competency based question is a candidate-biased medium. Use the STAR technique to shine.

More on Interviewing Here:

Interviewing. 20 Questions That Could Make All The Difference

Think Different. Think Chemistry Fit.

An Interview on Interviews

 

121 Example Competency Based Interview Questions:


Communication skills interview
questions

  1. When you have had a boss, in the past, who fails to adequately communicate with you, how have you handled this?
  2. Give me an example when you had to present complex information in a simplified manner in order to explain it to someone?
  3. Give me an example when you had to present complex information in a simplified manner in order to explain it to someone?
  4. Tell me about a time when you had to be very careful in communicating delicate information. What was the possible risk involved and how did you go about it?
  5. What steps do you take to establish a rapport with others?
  6. Describe five things about the communication within an organization that must be present for you to work most effectively?
  7. Describe a time when you took extra effort to make sure the person with whom you were communicating with had really understood your point. How did you do this?

Cooperation skills interview questions

  1. Give me an example of a situation where you helped your colleague perform a particular task in which you had better knowledge on the subject?
  2. Can you tell me about a time when you backed off in a meeting because you felt someone else should speak or have an opportunity?
  3. Tell me about a time when you acted as a mediator to help colleagues resolve their differences
  4. How would you show co-workers the importance of co-operation?
  5. Give me an example of a time when you tried your best to work with someone, but the problems still remained
  6. What did you learn from that situation?
  7. Give an example of a time when you assisted a co-worker to enhance their work skills?
  8. Tell me about a time when you had to help a co- worker who had made a bad mistake. What did you do?

Creativity based interview questions

  1. How often do you discuss and work with colleagues to think up new systems and styles of working?
  2. Have you ever tried a new way of doing things? Did you succeed?
  3. Tell me about one case when you tried to solve a problem with a totally different approach than is normally used. What was the result?
  4. Can you tell me about a situation, which you tried to solve a problem with ideas and methods that had not been tried before?
  5. Tell me about the most interesting idea that you’ve learned outside of education?
  6. What well-established professional practice are you skeptical about?
  7. How do you express creativity in your life? What is your art? What has this expression brought to your life?

Customer focus interview questions

  1. Describe a time when you made meeting and exceeding customer requirements a driving force behind your activities and decisions
  2. Share a time when you actively gathered information to measure stakeholder satisfaction. How did you gather the information? How did you use it improve service?
  3. Describe specific methods you’ve used to build relationships and gain the trust and respect of key stakeholders
  4. When have you had to deal with an irate customer? What did you do? How did the situation end up?
  5. Tell me about a time you have “inherited” a customer. What steps did you take to establish rapport with them? What did you do to gain their trust?
  6. How have you handled a situation in the past where your client has changed the brief or “changed the goalposts”?
  7. When have you ever gone out on a limb to defend a customer? What happened?

Cooperation skills interview questions

  1. Tell me about a time when you acted as a mediator to help colleagues resolve their differences
  2. How would you show co-workers the importance of co-operation?
    Give me an example of a time when you tried your best to work with someone, but the problems still remained. What did you learn from that situation?
  3. Give an example of a time when you assisted a co- worker to enhance their work skills?
  4. Tell me about a time when you had to help a co- worker who had made a bad mistake. What did you do?
  5. Give me an example of a situation where you helped your colleague perform a particular task in which you had better knowledge on the subject?
  6. Can you tell me about a time when you backed off in a meeting because you felt someone else should speak or have an opportunity

Conflict management interview questions

  1. Describe a time when you had a disagreement with a colleague at work
    How did you manage to work it out?
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to work through some negativity to get some work done
  3. Describe a time when everyone in the meeting was opposing your ideas
    How did you manage to work it out?
  4. How would you handle a conflict between you and higher management?
  5. Tell me about a situation when you were given job instructions and you were unable to comprehend the instructions. How did you go about completing the task?
  6. How do you manage to work with people whom you are not comfortable with? What do you do in such situations?
  7. Tell me about a time when you helped to successfully mediate in a conflict? How did you feel?

Critical thinking interview questions

  1. What did you play with as a child?
  2. If you could describe Gin, Beer and Wine as people, how would you describe them?
  3. What is the chance that at least two people were born on the same day of the week if there are three people in the room?
  4. If you walk into a liquor store to count the bottles unsold, but the clerk is screaming at you to leave, what do you do?
  5. Are you a good decision maker?
  6. Do you always take the process on your own? On what occasions do you recognize that you need other’s help?

Decision making interview questions

  1. Are you firm on your decision? How many times do you regret a decision or you reconsider or change decisions?
  2. Describe the most difficult decision that you had taken till date. What made it so difficult?
  3. Can you elaborate about the decisions you reach quickly and the ones you take more time?
  4. If you come across a situation where you have to choose between a highly experienced candidate and a highly qualified but not so experienced contender for promotion, what would you decide?
  5. What do you believe is the best way to take decisions, independently or by seeking guidance?
  6. If you come across a situation where you have two or more options to accomplish a goal, and each one as good as the other, which option will you choose?
  7. How do you react when you have to make important decisions but have to make them quickly?

Delegation skills interview questions

  1. What tactics do you use to motivate others to complete delegated tasks? Provide examples?
  2. Have you ever delegated a project to someone that you probably shouldn’t have? Why did this happen? Were there any repercussions? What was the resolution?
  3. Describe for us your biggest delegation mistake. Why did you make it?
  4. What do you think are the most common excuses team leaders use to not delegate?
  5. Discuss with us the last time your supervisor delegated a project to you
    How did you handle it? Were you able to complete the project on time and accurately?
  6. Do you feel there are situations where one should never delegate? Why or why not?
  7. Has there ever been an instance in your career where you had to delegate something but there was no one else to take on the work? What did you do? What was the outcome?

Interpersonal skills interview questions

  1. What personal characteristics are necessary for success? Give me an example of when those characteristics have lead to success
  2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be?
  3. Who had the most influence on your career? On your life? Why?
  4. Tell me about your closest friends – their personalities, interests, occupations
  5. Describe your overall relationship with most bosses you have worked with
  6. Describe your personal style, work style, management style
  7. Who was the best colleague you have worked with and why? Who was the worst?

Leadership competency based interview questions

  1. Explain a situation where you served as a leader during: a competency based project, an organized work project or activity, or a community service project
  2. Explain in detail your role and how individuals responded to your leadership
  3. Explain a situation where you had an opinion that differed from a manager. Were you able to persuade the manager to change his or her opinion?
  4. Explain a time when subordinates you supervised disagreed with your directives. How did you handle it?
  5. How do you resolve conflict? What specific strategies have you used to be successful?
  6. If your managers were asked to rate your leadership skills, how would they reply? What would subordinates say? You decided to reorganize the department or work unit that you lead. Tell me how you proceeded with the reorganisation?
  7. Have you ever been a member of a successful team?

Listening skills interview questions

  1. Are you capable of getting to the bottom of a situation, when some one is incapable of communicating what they really mean? If so how do you achieve this?
  2. Relate an occasion when you withheld your own opinion, and tried to obtain the opinion of others, and why was this action important?
  3. Describe an incident when you had to listen attentively in order to act quickly enough to meet a deadline
  4. Give an example of a time when you had to ask direct questions to bring out diverse opinions on a central issue
  5. Give an example of when you have had to deal with situations when others are finding it hard to communicate effectively with you?
  6. What do you do when someone is deliberately giving you vague, dissembling, or even obstructive information, which hinders your ability to complete a task? How have you dealt with that?
    Describe an incident when you had to listen attentively in order to act quickly enough to meet a deadline?

Management skills interview questions

  1. Examples of strategic thinking in past situations
  2. Have you ever challenged, shaken old work methods
  3. What methods have you used to evaluate employee’s job performance?
  4. What experience do you have in setting budgets?
  5. What systems have you developed and implemented to improve operating efficiency in your department?
  6. Tell me about a tough decision you had to make recently at work , how did you go about making the decision?
  7. How do you make your decisions in general? Give examples

Motivation skills interview questions

  1. Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy
  2. Describe a work situation in which you can demonstrate that you encouraged the motivation of another person
  3. Observing your own team, in your current or a past job, describe what motivated their best performance
  4. You are assigned to participate on a team that has several members who are not motivated to work hard and contribute How have you in the past approached this motivation situation?

Negotiation Skills interview questions

  1. When was the last occasion that you were given an assignment to develop your mediating skills, and what was the conclusion?
  2. What skills have you used when you have needed to influence the way other people think?
  3. When your credibility is compromised, what steps do you take to rectify the situation?
  4. Do you need to make your attitude more positive when marketing yourself and your ideas to others?
  5. When was the last occasion that you had to use your negotiating skills to bring about a resolution that was in everyone’s best interest?
  6. Do you need to make your attitude more positive when marketing yourself and your ideas to others?
  7. When your credibility is compromised, what steps do you take to rectify the situation?

 Organisational skills interview questions

  1. Illustrate how you prioritize each day’s tasks?
  2. What do you do when a project is not coming to fruition as expected, because of inefficient planning?
  3. What steps do you take when the work of a colleague threatens the completion of a project?
  4. Tell me about a time when you managed a complicated project
  5. Tell me about a time when you worked under a tight deadline
  6. Tell me about a time when you had to multitask
  7. Tell me about a time when you took on more than you could handle

Problem solving interview questions

  1. What are the frequent problems you have been facing in your current job which you would like to get rid of, but have not solved it yet?
  2. Illustrate an experience when you had to put your fact finding ability to solve a problem. How did you scrutinize them and reached a resolution?
  3. What types of problems are you called upon to solve in your current position?
  4. Describe a situation where you had to adapt and manage change but were having problems. What did you do?
  5. How did you handle your most challenging experience in your current job?
  6. Describe the problem and the way you collect info and establish a problem solving model. How did you build that troubleshooting process?

Teamwork competency based interview questions

  1. What are the characteristics of a successful team? Give an example of how you have fostered those characteristics
  2. Have you ever had a role in a team project where your role was not clearly defined? How do you handle this?
  3. When your team encounters a problem, such as irritation with another co-worker, how do you reach a good resolution?
  4. Give an example of a successful project you were part of. What was your role? Why was the project successful?
  5. Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or help others to compromise
  6. What was your role? What steps did you take? What was the end result?
  7. Describe a team experience you found disappointing. What would you have done to prevent this?
  8. Tell us about an unsuccessful team of which you were a member. What, if anything, could you have done differently?