What is a Competency-Based Interview?


What is the purpose of the interview?

From the point of view of the organisation, the purpose of the interview is not to catch you out; but rather gather relevant information about you, so that they can best match the requirement of the role with the candidates applying for the position.

From your perspective, the purpose of the interview is to demonstrate to the interview panel your suitability for the role/promotion, and to enable them to make their decision in your favour.

What are competencies and why are they important?

Most interviews today are competency-based interviews. Sometimes you will see the requirements referred to as ‘Behavioural Competencies’ or ‘Structured Interviews’.

A competency/behavioural competency is simply an important attribute, knowledge, skill, ability, or other characteristic that contributes to successful job performance.

For every role there are specific skills, attributes, and knowledge that a person would need to have in order to be successful in delivering the requirements of the job. For example if the job is in Sales, then the person who is hired to work on the sales team needs to have excellent communication and organisational skills.

Competencies can apply to all jobs in an organisation; or be specific to a position or career level.

Individual organisations will know the competencies they are seeking in a candidate so that they can best deliver the aims of that role; and in order to best assess if the candidate has the necessary skills, knowledge, judgement and experience to be successful in the role. Organisations are seeking to identify the candidate’s personal experience and personal contribution. They wish to establish what the candidate has learned from the experience and the strengths they would bring to this new role.

Most of the time the five or six competencies the organisation has identified for this particular role will be listed in the job description.

There are many Competencies but among the most frequently used are:

  • Performance Through People

  • Analysis and Decision Making

  • Strategic Management and Change

  • Interpersonal and Communication Skills

  • Effective Team-Working Skills

In most cases the job description in the advertisement will clearly set out the competencies required.

What is the Interviewer looking for?

The Interviewer, or team of interviewers, is seeking examples from the candidate of Past Behaviours - what the candidate has done in response to a particular situation or set of circumstances; and how they approached the issues. The key objective is to gain as rounded a picture of the candidate as possible by exploring key achievements that will demonstrate their ability to meet the challenges of this role.

This approach is based on the thinking that the best indication of future success is past behaviour.

Questions will usually be framed as:

‘Give me an example of…” “Tell me about a time when….”

In some limited circumstances the candidate may be asked about a ‘Hypothetical Scenario’. This is where the Interviewer presents you with a hypothetical situation and asks you how you would deal with it.

An example of this could be:

‘What would you do if you have two very important customers who both require a large piece of work by the morning?’

How you answer this could demonstrate to the interviewer your ‘Analysis and Decision making’; or they may be testing ‘Interpersonal and Communication skills’.