How to Answer Competency-Based Interview Questions

Competency-based interview questions

The best way to answer competency-based interview questions is to structure your answers using the S.T.A.R. technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result). As you go through, you will discover what competency-based questions are and why recruiters ask them. You will also find out more about the S.T.A.R technique and how to use it properly. The overall goal of this blog post is for you to become familiar with this type of question and learn how to give structured answers. Let’s begin!

What are competency-based interview questions?

Competency-based interview questions are questions that ask for real-life examples of a candidate’s skill. Even though they might seem challenging, these questions give you a great opportunity to showcase your experience and way of thinking. Recruiters ask these questions to identify skills, such as:

  • Communication
  • Management
  • Leadership 
  • Problem-solving
  • Risk-taking
  • Adaptability

The S.T.A.R technique

The S.T.A.R technique is the most recommended to go with when you respond to such questions. This technique is easy to understand and implement naturally, just with practice. Breaking down the acronym we have:

  • Situation – What happened?
  • Task – What did you have to do?
  • Action – How did you do it?
  • Results – What was the outcome?

Competency-based interview questions examples

We’ve covered the basics. Now, let’s see some examples of competency-based interview questions. For each question, we will give you the skill that’s been evaluated and guidelines on how to answer. If you feel like it, read the question, try to identify that skill, and think of an answer before looking at our suggestion. Here are eight examples of competency-based interview questions:

1. Tell me about a time when you led a challenging project. What was that and how did you manage it?

Yes, this question asks directly about your management skills, but how would you showcase them? Think of a time when you successfully led a team – it could either be from your professional, or personal experience. Following the S.T.A.R. method, state the project/case, the goal you had to achieve, how you managed the team, and the results of your actions.

Example: “I was the leader of the localization project for the company’s product. For this project, we were a team of five that had to do everything within two months and had a low budget. At first, I came up with a structured plan, asked for the team’s contribution, and then distributed tasks amongst members. For every turnaround, we quickly found solutions and delivered the project on time and within budget. I enjoyed that project!”

2. Describe one time when you helped your manager solve a problem. What did you do?

This question seeks your problem-solving skills. This is a great opportunity to showcase the way you thought and solved a problem where your manager couldn’t solve. Describe the problem, the solution(s) you proposed, and what the outcome was. Don’t forget to point out how you combined your experience and knowledge with the situation to overcome this problem.

Example: “We were using a software that didn’t meet our needs and my manager wanted a solution as soon as possible. Within a week I managed to do comprehensive research, talk with multiple software providers, and found three alternatives that covered all of our needs and were cost-effective. We ended up switching to one of my proposals.”

3. Tell me about something you learned that you applied to your work.

With this question, you can highlight your transferable and adaptability skills. You can use a previous working experience, a course, or even a blog post you read that inspired you to apply a practice at work. Describe the primary source of knowledge, how you acquired it and how you successfully implemented it to a situation.

Example: “At college, I took a lesson about Corporate Philosophy that had to do with Company Social Responsibility. When I heard that our HR department sought ways of giving back to society, I wrote a brief paper with suggestions of what they could do. Three out of five suggestions are still among the company’s practices.”

4. Can you give me an example of a difficult situation with a colleague/customer? How did you manage it?

Stress management, communication skills, and problem-solving are the primary objectives of this question. Same as before, state the situation, how you felt about it, what was your thought process before taking action, and the final steps you took. However, be careful of how you present the opposite side (colleague/customer). Speaking poorly of someone can lead to negative feedback for you.

Example: “Once I had to deal with a very frustrated customer at the retail shop I was working. I had been working there only for a week and that stressed me out. After carefully listening to the customer, I figured out that the frustration was not about the company I was working for but had to do with personal issues. I offered some water and asked if I could do something to help. We sat together for a while and the customer ended up hugging me and apologized for the burst.“

5. How did you increase revenue in the companies you’ve worked with?

Time to talk about performance. Companies seek people who have problem-solving, creativity, and can bring results at the end of the day. Pick a company you have worked with, describe your role, and how it is connected with the company’s revenue. After that, describe a process, strategy, or practice you implemented that led to increasing the company’s profit. Make sure you don’t provide details in terms of numbers, as this could lead to confidentiality issues.

Example: “I was hired to recruit 60 people for a company within three months. I was the only recruiter in the HR team and I had to deal with a ton of work. Thankfully, I managed to design a process that we used to hire 67 people and most of which are in the company for two years now. Some of these people were top talent that led the company to a 10% growth. I guess I could take some credit for suggesting these people.”

6. Do you have an example of when your manager wasn’t happy with your performance? How did you discuss it and what did you do differently?

If this hasn’t happened to you, you can skip this, but if you have such experience, read on and find out how to handle such a question. This question, of course, examines communication, flexibility, adaptability skills, and motivation. It’s OK not to bring the expected results. The key is how you handle the case beyond results to get better. State what the issue was, how you communicated it with your manager, and how you overcame it.

Example: “I was a junior developer in my first year and I couldn’t work as fast as the rest of the team. At the time, this stressed me out and I ended up making many coding errors. I ended up discussing it with my manager and seeking ways to solve the problem. For one month, I was just checking the code of my teammates and at the same time took some online courses. This helped me a lot because I studied the logic behind the code. Two years later, I became the team leader.”

7. Tell me about a time when you worked successfully in a team environment.

Teamwork makes the dream work. Describe a time when you had to do something with a group of people, how you distributed tasks, how you overcame difficulties, and of course, the result. Remember, this is not the time to brag about your leadership skills.

Example: “I used to work at a digital marketing agency. As you might have heard, agencies have a fast-paced environment and you have to be flexible and fast to succeed. Once, we had an e-commerce website project for a client, which included design and data entry of the products’ pricing. We had delivered the project on time, but when they published it on their website they realized that they had given us the wrong pricing. Although I was the account manager, we worked all together and restored the damage within an hour.”

8. Can you tell me of a time when you had to make a difficult decision?

That’s a tough one. Difficult decisions can be stressful and require communication, analytical, and risk-taking skills. The important thing here is to define the thought process and all you had to take into account before taking action. Once you present all these and the outcome, you can also say one or two words, about what would you do better.

Example: “As a manager, I had to choose to promote only one of my team members. Even though I tried to explain that both of them deserved a promotion, the restriction was still there. I ended up selecting the more mature one who had been longer with the business since I couldn’t find another way to choose. In the end, the person that didn’t get the promotion joined a high-tech company and later on thanked me for not promoting. This might have ended up well, but next time, I will push more for my team to get what they deserve.”

Got the point? When you are asked a question, think of the skills that underlie it. To prepare better, you can think of some real-life examples of the skills described in the job description. And if you want to master not only your answers but also negotiation and body posture, just drop us a line.

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