Competency Based Interview Techniques

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This article develops the key themes outlined in the earlier article How To Be More Than Competent In Competency Based Interviews by examining specific competency questions in more detail. It will help you prepare for follow-up questions and analyse your previous experience so that you can match your experience and skills more precisely to those employers are looking for. Employers use Competency Based Interviews (CBIs) to ensure that candidates are assessed against similar criteria which in turn makes it easier to make meaningful comparisons between applicants. Examples of opening questions are:

  • Tell me about an time when you have…managed change
  • Describe an example of….effective communication
  • Tell us about an occasion when you had to….solve a problem

These will generally be followed-up with more in-depth questions tailored to the candidate’s past performance and behaviours. In Higher Education, CBIs are primarily used for administrative rather than academic posts. However, preparing for an interview based on a CBI approach is good preparation whatever the style of questioning as it encourages you to focus on specific evidence as to how you would meet the job and person specifications. For a model of how to make this match, look at the STAR model in the article: How To Be More Than Competent In Competency Based Interviews

The following definitions of some common competencies, what they mean, examples of evidence and follow-up questions should help prepare you.

Team working

Working with others to achieve shared goals.

It’s as much about bringing out the best in people, understanding your own strengths as it is being a leader

  • Evidence: Dealing with the unexpected; starting a new project; bringing a team together
  • Questions : How might you motivate someone lacking in confidence? How have you developed your own role in a team? How do you build relationships?


To understand as well as convey ideas, suggestions, proposals and information to individuals and groups.

A thorough understanding of purpose, tone and audience are all important, this is true of presentation skill, writing reports, 1:1 discussions and committee. And listening skills are just as important.

  • Evidence: Building rapport and collaboration; adjusting tone and language to specific audiences and occasions; cultural awareness.
  • Questions: How do you gain people’s confidence? How do you influence/persuade others of your viewpoint?

Commercial and business awareness

Having an interest in and knowledge of organizational and business functions.

This includes how an organization is structured, an awareness of the needs of customers and clients and financial procedures and an understanding of the organizations’ general strategy.

  • Evidence: Responding to a new strategy; ensuring value for money and impact;
  • Questions: What makes a business successful? How does your work contribute to our 5 year plan? How could you make savings/increase income? How can you best publicise your area of work?

Problem solving

Discovering, evaluating, analysing and solving problems or challenges.

  • Evidence: Dealing with regular projects; trouble-shooting; responding to external challenges; staffing issues
  • Questions: How do you evaluate a problem? How do you go about arriving at a solution?

These are only a few examples of the range of competencies that you might be asked about. Often people miss the obvious when thinking of evidence to support their answers: too often we take our everyday work and our successes for granted. Use the examples above as prompts to really get thinking about the skills and experience that you have to offer.

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