Competency-Based Interviewing: Key Concepts for Managers

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It can be challenging to evaluate a candidate’s true abilities and skills during an interview. Competency-based interviewing is designed to assess relevant skills in order to make more informed decisions during the hiring process. By learning about and implementing competency-based interviewing, you can thoroughly evaluate a candidate’s ability to effectively handle the necessary job responsibilities.


Related: Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Candidates


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What is competency-based interviewing?

Competency-based interviewing, sometimes referred to as situational, behavioral or structured interviewing, is a systematic way to approach an interview that focuses on whether a candidate has the specific skills or competencies needed for the role. This style of interviewing is based on the idea that past behavior is the best way to predict future performance, and it is used by employers from all fields and industries.


Unlike normal interviews that typically have a more informal approach, competency-based interviews methodically pose situational questions that target a candidate’s soft skills in order to evaluate how they approach different situations that are relevant to the position they have applied for. For example, competency-based interview questions often attempt to assess a candidate’s communication or interpersonal skills. These types of questions typically require candidates to explain past experiences in order to predict how they will perform in the future.


Competencies to look for in an interview

Here are some common competencies to look for during a competency-based interview and examples of questions designed to evaluate them:


  • Teamwork: Describe a time when you worked within a team. What was your role and what did you accomplish?
  • Resilience: Tell me about a time when you were given negative feedback from a client, coworker or employer. How did you handle it?
  • Leadership: Describe a time when you were tasked with improving the overall performance of a team. What were some of the challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?
  • Flexibility: Describe a time when you decided to change your strategy in the middle of a task or project. Why did you make that decision? What steps did you take to ensure a smooth transition?
  • Decisiveness: Describe a time when you had to make a difficult and unpopular choice. How did you approach the process? What did you do to mitigate negative responses?
  • Communication skills: Tell me about a time when you had to teach a peer about something complicated. What were some of your obstacles and how did you overcome them?
  • Adaptability: Tell me about a time when your employer implemented a significant change. How did you handle it?

Related: Interview Questions and Answers


Common competency-based interview questions with examples

Here are some examples of commonly asked competency-based interview questions with effective example answers:


Tell me about a time when members of your team weren’t getting along. How did you handle it?

The ability to manage and diffuse tense situations is beneficial in almost any position. By asking the candidate about a time when they were faced with this type of dilemma, it will tell you a lot about how they handle stress and how they approach interpersonal conflicts in the workplace.

What to look for in an answer:


  • The ability to mediate conflict
  • Active listening skills
  • Effective communication skills

Example: "A few years ago, I served on a hiring committee where we narrowed down the applicants for a job to two ideal candidates. When we discussed who to choose, the members were divided because of age, with the senior members favoring the older candidate and the younger members being drawn to the energy of the younger candidate. I suggested that we work together to make a list of the competencies we were looking for in a new hire based on our current team and the company’s culture. We ended up choosing the older candidate because they had experience that would benefit the department, and the committee was ultimately okay with the decision because everyone felt like their opinion had been heard and because we adopted an approach based on our needs."


Can you describe a time when you supported change within an organization?

Change is necessary for growth as a company, so it’s important that you seek out candidates who will embrace opportunities for improvement. The ability to do so can also signify an innovative mind that is able to develop creative solutions to difficult problems.


What to look for in an answer:

  • The ability to adapt
  • A flexible attitude
  • Effective problem-solving skills

Example: "In my previous job, we experienced a change in management after many years with the same supervisor. The new manager instituted new, creative ideas to increase productivity and spur growth. Many of the staff members were opposed to the changes and even expressed their feelings to the new manager. I started approaching my peers to discuss the changes and the possibility that they could create a more effective and efficient workplace and even developed some systems and strategies to support the changes, which the manager implemented. In the end, the changes yielded impressive results. Even the doubters had to admit that it was a major improvement and ended up fully supporting the alterations."


Competency-based interviewing FAQs

Below are answers to frequently asked questions regarding competency-based interviews:


Why should you ask competency-based interview questions?

Competency-based interview questions allow interviewers to evaluate how a candidate has performed in different situations in the past. Their answers give insight into their personality traits and how they might act if hired, allowing the employer to make a more informed decision during the hiring process.


How are competency-based interview questions marked?

When conducting a competency-based interview, you can look for indicators in the candidate’s answers that you can grade on a numbered scale. Typically, each indicator is marked based on how well the answer aligns with it, ranging from 0 for no evidence to 4 for a good or excellent answer. Here are the common positive indicators that interviewers look for:


  • Possesses effective strategies for dealing with pressure or stress
  • Seeks help from others when necessary
  • Able to compromise
  • Aware of own limitations
  • Considers the overall needs of a situation
  • Approaches problems with a positive attitude
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