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  • Writer's pictureMaryna Khomich

Competency-Based Interviews: How to Nail Them

Ready to rock your next competency-based interview? First things first, you've gotta figure out which competencies are key for the specific company, team, and even the role itself. How? There are two main ways – chatting with the boss and picking the brains of the top-performing employees.

Master competency-based interviews by understanding key competencies, using the STAR model for insightful questions, and learning from both success and failures.
Competency-Based Interviews

Option one is interviewing the boss. They're the ones who know who's nailing their job and can give real-deal examples of task-crushing success. The second option is talking to the star employees themselves. They can share their tricks of the trade and give you some solid advice.

But, before diving into these interviews, it's crucial to get what 'competence' really means.

First up, competence isn't just a skill or knowledge. It's a mix of those things, blended with a person's motives and values. Think of it as a personality foundation.

Like Lyle Spencer and Signe Spencer said in their book “Competence at Work,” competence is also about how people behave in various situations over a long period. A one-off success at work doesn’t automatically mean competence. It’s about making those reactions and actions instinctual, which takes practice.

So, what kinds of competencies are we talking about? Researchers break them down into clusters based on behavioural indicators:

  • Achieving and Action (like being result-oriented, taking initiative, seeking info)

  • Helping and Serving Others (customer focus, empathy)

  • Influence (strategic influence, relationship building)

  • Managerial Skills (developing others, being directive, teamwork)

  • Cognitive Competencies (analytical thinking)

  • Personal Effectiveness (self-control, confidence, adaptability)

To accurately assess these competencies during an interview, questions usually revolve around the candidate's past experiences. For instance, to check if someone's result-oriented, ask them to describe a project where they faced and overcame hurdles to reach a goal. Or, to gauge creativity, ask about their role in brainstorming sessions and their best idea.

For a robust assessment, ask 2-3 questions per competency. Candidates should provide multiple examples, confirming their consistent experience.

Competency-based interview questions often follow the STAR model:

  • Situation – Describe a situation from the candidate's experience.

  • Task – Outline tasks and the candidate's role.

  • Action – What actions they took to tackle the task.

  • Results – The outcomes they achieved.

The beauty of this model is that it gives real-life examples. Detailed questions make it hard to fabricate answers on the fly, reducing the chance of fooling the interviewer. For instance, to assess time-management skills, ask for examples that illustrate their ability to develop and implement new project plans, and how they adjusted when plans didn't pan out. Such questions need thoughtful responses.

Questions that probe not just successes but also failures give a fuller picture of a candidate's competencies. The PARLA method is handy here:

  • Problem – Discuss a problem they encountered.

  • Action – Steps they took to solve it.

  • Results – The outcomes.

  • Learned – Lessons learned.

  • Applied – How they applied this learning.

The key here is to see if the candidate can turn their failures into learning opportunities for future application. Did they ever skip details due to time constraints? What mistakes did they make, and how did they fix them?

Another perk of competency-based interviews is getting straight facts about candidates. No need for interpretations or assumptions. It shields interviewers from their own biases and personal likes or dislikes towards a candidate. Plus, you get insights into the candidate's motivation and values. How they tackled past tasks reveals a lot about them.

A huge plus of these interviews is they can predict a candidate's success in your company. Say a candidate shares how they handled a difficult colleague in the past. Their approach tells a lot about their team fit. Whether they befriended the colleague, sought help, or maintained strictly professional relations shows if they align with the employer's preferred conflict resolution style.

So, to prep for a competency-based interview, you need to:

  • Know the success models in the specific company, team, or role.

  • Pin down the competencies for the job.

  • Craft several questions for each competency, including a negative one.

A full-blown competency interview can take about an hour and doesn't replace other types of questions. For interviewers, practice makes perfect to lead the conversation effectively and thoroughly explore each scenario.


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