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Competency-based interview questions

Use competency-based interview questions to better gauge your candidates’ strengths and abilities.

Why you should ask candidates competency-based questions

Competency-based interview questions encourage candidates to show off their expertise for the job in question using examples from their career to date. This technique makes it easier for interviewers to assess candidates’ proficiency.

A competency-based interview will look for specific skills in a candidate, such as:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Adaptability
  • Willingness to take risks

Competency-based interview questions allow you to look beyond a candidate’s qualifications. Recruiters get an insight into candidates’ thought processes and how they tackle tasks and problems. Depending on the scenario being discussed, candidates with creative approaches to finding solutions could stand out from the crowd. With entry-level positions, these questions can help you spot candidates who enjoy learning new things, even if they don’t yet have much experience.

In addition to helping you to meet criteria in order to minimize distortions, competency-based interview techniques also lend themselves well to identifying every single candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, prioritizing the key criteria, and making an objective decision. Here is a list of competency-based interview questions.

Use these questions in combination with those about communication skills and presentation skills.

Sample competency-based interview questions

  • Tell me about a time when you gave 120 percent for your job. What was your approach?
  • What was the last training course you went on? How did you apply your newly acquired knowledge to your work?
  • Tell me about the most important project you’ve ever worked on. What was your approach from start to finish?
  • How did you influence revenue at your previous company?
  • Give me an example of a time when you successfully tried to change something for the better. What was your approach?
  • Tell about a time when a supervisor came to you with a problem that they couldn’t solve. How did you respond?

Tips for assessing candidates’ competency-based skills

  • Interviewers should be well prepared. You should start by noting down the key competencies for the position that fit with your company. Armed with this list of competencies, you can make sure you’re asking the right questions.
  • Ideally, you will bring in a hiring manager for more technical questions, such as “Describe a successful project that you managed from start to finish.” Recruiters can ask questions that are more representative in nature, such as “Tell me about a time you went against your company’s guidelines.”
  • You can use competency-based interview questions at more than one stage of the recruiting process. Prioritize skills that are essential for the job being advertised and use your priority list to evaluate your candidates right from the start. You can also make competency-based skills part of your application process.
  • Tell your candidates that you will be structuring the interview using competency-based questions. This gives them time before the interview to think of examples, thus enabling them to hold an informative conversation.
  • Ask follow-up questions to get a sense of whether you are being given honest answers. If, for instance, candidates are describing a successful project, ask for more specific details (e.g. “Who else was in your team?” or “How long did the project last?”).

Warning signs

  • Applicants answer quickly and superficially. The purpose of a competency-based interview is to discuss real-life examples from candidates’ day-to-day work in order to identify their skills. If a candidate answers quickly and superficially rather than describing specific situations in detail, it is likely that they want to avoid the question.
  • Applicants give contradictory answers. If a candidate starts by mentioning their good organizational skills and then recounts situations in which timing proved their undoing, this could indicate dishonesty. Look for candidates who provide consistent answers.
  • Applicants give self-centered answers. It is normal for candidates to show off their strengths in an interview. If an applicant fails to acknowledge any external factors, however, this could suggest that they have problems working with other people.

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