What is a Competency-Based Interview and How to Prepare?

John Krautzel
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Many times, hiring procedures are ineffective at bringing in top talent simply because interviewers are too subjective and can validate the wrong candidates for superficial reasons. In a competency-based interview, on the other hand, hiring managers use uniform standards to compare your relevant skills and experience to those of other candidates. Although competency-based interviews can be intimidating, they also give you more opportunities to shine.

How Do Competency-Based Interviews Work?

Interviewers have limited means of figuring out who you really are. They realize most job seekers come prepared to answer common questions, and doing well in an interview doesn't automatically mean a candidate is qualified for the job. To overcome these obstacles, hiring managers can ask behavioral questions that challenge you to prove your strengths using past examples. Employers who use this method believe past performance is a strong indicator of how well you can accomplish the same tasks in the future.

Competency-based interviewing is designed to evaluate how a candidate thinks, behaves and communicates. It usually includes questions with psychological components to gauge the candidate's competency in areas like emotional intelligence and analytical reasoning. Unlike in a traditional interview, employers typically have a fixed scoring system to weigh your qualifications in measurable terms. This system also reduces bias from interviewers because they have to justify their scores with fact-based observations.

What Qualities Do Employers Look For?

Employers use competency-based interviews to determine how well your experience fits the position. Many job titles and duties are company-specific, so two candidates competing for a tech support position, for example, might have significant differences in knowledge and ability. Because behavioral questions push you to discuss your actions, employers get a glimpse of how you deal with obstacles and interact with others. They want employees who are good at communicating, absorbing new information, working with a team, staying calm under pressure and solving problems.

When considering cultural fit, hiring managers pay attention to how you talk about yourself, your work and your colleagues to evaluate your personality. They want to preserve team unity by hiring people who are likable, positive and easily assimilated into the company culture.

How Should You Prepare for Competency-Based Interviews?

Many competency-based interviews are conducted in front of a panel of interviewers, which can be intimidating. To prepare, familiarize yourself with open-ended questions that require you to draw from past experiences. Here are a few common examples.

- Describe a time when you were part of a successful team?
- What was your role?
- How did you work through problems?
- Why did you apply for this position?
- What appealed to you about the job or company?

Practice delivering answers in a story format that describes the context, the task or problem, the actions you took and the outcome. Show how your behavior contributed to positive results, and choose examples that highlight skills from the original job posting. Always emphasize what you learned from a situation. Interviewers may ask about weaknesses or failures, and you don't want to come across as arrogant or dishonest by trying to pretend you never make mistakes.

Competency-based interviews require more practice, but they are more effective at demonstrating what makes you different from other candidates. Learning to master these tough questions can help you excel in any type of interview.

Photo courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • Jeffrey F.
    Jeffrey F.

    This is very practical advice that provided me with a different way of how I should conduct my job search, and also prepare myself for the interview processes.

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