Competencies Based Interview: A Recruiters Key Points to Success

The word interview originates from French and the meaning of it is to “see between” or to “see each other”. Generally speaking, an interview is a meeting between two people, an interviewer who leads the interview and asks questions and the interviewee who answers them.

According to Gary Dessler “An interview is a procedure designed to obtain information from a person’s oral response to oral inquiries.” While Thill and Bovee stated “An interview is any planed conversation with a specific purpose involving two or more people”.

So, an interview is a process – meeting between two or more people in order to obtain information about personal qualities, attitude towards work, professional knowledge, and even skills to check if an individual is sufficiently qualified for a position.

According to various research, there are at least 13 types of different interviews. The competencies based interview is one of those types, whereby usually, the interviewers combine various types of interview, depending on what information they are trying to find out about the candidate.

“Competency” is a concept linking three parameters – Knowledge, Skills and Attitude. Nowadays a lot of recruiters use competency based interviews to examine candidate’s aptitudes and behavioral patterns. The list of skills and competencies that can be tested varies depending on the position candidate is applying for. For example, for an Administrator position, the ability to prioritise, working under pressure and multitasking are vital to cope with the job successfully; the ability to organise and prioritise; and the ability to work under pressure. For a Senior Manager, skills and competencies may include an ability to influence and negotiate; an ability to cope with stress and pressure; an ability to lead; and the capacity to take calculated risks.

Before an interview, the recruiter needs to determine what factors should be positive and which can be used against the candidate. For example, for the question “Describe when you had to deal with multitasking”, the positive indicators might be ability to prioritise, demonstrating consciousness while dealing with several problems and is willing to take advise from Colleagues or Managers when it’s required. Negative indicators can to perceive challenges as the problems, failure to create a list of priorities, failure to cope and ask for help when it’s needed for example.

If the interviewers feel that there are areas that you have failed to address, they may help you along by probing appropriately. For example, in answering the question “Describe an example of a time when you had to deal with pressure”, if you focused on how you dealt with the practical angle of the problem but you forgot to discuss how you managed your stress during and after the event, the interviewers may prompt you with a further question such as “How did you handle the stress at the time?”

 Preparation is key if you want to be able to answer all questions thrown at you without having to think too much, so you can be successful with the interview:

1. Make sure that you understand which skills and competencies will be tested. It sounds obvious, but some person specifications can be a little vague and you will need to do some thinking in order to ensure that the examples that you will be using hit the spot. For example, your person specification may say that you need to have “good communication skills in dealing with third parties”. For someone who works in customer service and is expected to handle complaints all day long, this will most likely involve a mix of empathy/understanding as well as an ability to be assertive in a nice way whenever required; however for someone applying for a commercial law post, this will most likely involve an ability to explain complex matters in a simple way, and not so much empathy. Understanding the requirements for the post, whether they are stated explicitly or not in the person specification is therefore crucial.

2. Identify examples from your past experience which you can use to demonstrate that you possess the skills and competencies that you are being asked to demonstrate. You do not have to find hyper-complicated examples; in particular the outcome of the story does not have to be extraordinary; what matters most is that the role you played in reaching the outcome was substantial.

3. Learn to tell the story using the STAR method. This means setting the scene, explaining how you handled the situation by placing the emphasis on your role, and detailing the outcome/result.

The STAR technique is:

  • Situation.
  • Task.
  • Action.
  • Result.

It is a universal technique, mostly an easily learned one, which is why a lot of recruiters are trained on how to use it during various interview especially for senior positions; a combination of competencies and other types of interviews tend to be an effective one.

Many interviewers will have been trained in using the STAR structure. Even if they have not, they will recognise its value when they see it. The information will be given to them in a structured manner and, as a result, they will become more receptive to the messages you are trying to communicate.

Competency-based interview questions vary widely between sectors and depending on the level of responsibility to which candidate are applying. The type of competencies can vary in different companies. For example, some companies prefer to split the leadership between 4-5 competencies, while others can put it in one.

Here are some tips which can be useful to prepare for such type of an interview:

1. Preparation is key

As with any interview, preparation is key. Prior to the interview you need to come up with the list of you strengths and weaknesses and to show the examples at work where you demonstrated both. It can be useful to think how you are working to overcome the weaknesses.

“Employers want you to provide specific examples of past work and relate it to how you will transfer those skills and your experience into the new role. Take the time to consider times you have excelled in previous roles and identify where you have demonstrated the skills the employer is looking for.”

2. Consider your answers carefully

Candidates must be very logical while providing their answer and present a clear story to the recruiter.

“Many professional roles require excellent organisational and time management skills, along with the ability to handle multiple tasks efficiently and effectively,” adds James Franklin.

“Think through how your examples highlight these three things to the interviewer before the interview, if your examples don’t highlight this that you may need for the job, try and pick a different example that will.”

3. Pay attention to the interviewer

The strongest candidates are those who can adapt their answers and behaviours to what they know the interviewer is looking for and present them in ways that influence the interviewer. Use the body language, be aware and sure of what you are telling. The self-assuredness is a must to succeed by gaining the job of your dreams.

4. Try to anticipate questions before they are asked

Having a good idea of what the interviewer will ask you is a key part of the preparation process. If you have considered the likely competency-based questions beforehand, you are less likely to be caught off guard and more prepared to give a great answer.

The key element is to remember even if you failed the interview, there is always a chance of another job, and your “dream job” can be a step close to you.