How do I handle competency based interview questions?

Many of us have heard of competency-based interview questions and know-how commonly used they are. However, not everyone is familiar with what they are or how to prepare for a competency-based interview. Don’t fret – we’re here to help!


An easy way to explain: a competency-based interview is designed to work out if you have certain competencies. In other words, do you possess certain skills and abilities that are relevant to a specific role? Say, I’m recruiting for a Finance Analyst and I determine that I need the following – 1) strong analytical thinking, 2) decision-making skills, and 3) excellent teamwork. 1, 2 and 3 are all competencies I’m assessing in my candidates and so I’ll derive competency-based questions to work out if they have all three!

Great! So when they ask me if I have strong decision-making skills, I’ll just say yes!

It won’t be that easy I’m afraid. To prove that you have the competencies I’m looking for, I want evidence. Give me real-life examples or instances/situations that provide evidence you have that competency. In other words, don’t just tell me you have strong decision-making skills, prove to me you do by giving me an example of when you used them!

So, back to that Finance Analyst, I’m looking for. After working out the key competencies, I’ll derive the following questions:

  1. Can you give me an example of a time you’ve had to analyse a set of data and provide meaningful insight from it?
  2. Think about a time you had several different choices to choose from to resolve an issue.  How and why did you choose the resolution you did and what was the outcome?
  3. Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team; including what role you played and what the outcome of that team assignment was.

As you can see, each question is looking for real-life evidence to show that you have the specific competencies I’ve deemed necessary for my role. Ta-dah, that’s the proof!

Now the next time you find out you’ve got a competency-based interview, the first step is to work out ‘what competencies they’ll likely need for this role’. Take a look at the JD to see if they’re listed under candidate requirements. Alternatively, ask the Recruiter to see if they’ve been specified by the client in the brief. Sometimes, you may just need to work it out for yourself. If the role deals with customers regularly, then it’s likely to need good customer service skills. Credit Control? then perhaps conflict resolution and resilience. If it’s a high volume data-driven role, then accuracy. If it’s a rapidly evolving growing company, then they’ll want adaptability, someone motivated, etc.

Frequently assessed competencies:
  • Customer Service
  • Problem-Solving
  • Team Working
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Creative Thinking
  • Resilience
  • Organisation / Prioritisation
  • Management
  • Adaptability
  • Attention to Detail
  • Using Own Initiative
  • Highly Motivated
  • Fast Learner

Another thing to note is that these competencies and examples can overlap. It’s good to go in armed with plenty of examples because if, on the day, you’re asked about using your initiative rather than problem-solving, you might be able to use the same example. Same if they ask you about conflict resolution rather than customer service. Think about cross-over when preparing as it’s unlikely you’ll remember an example for every competency out there.

If you’d like more guidance on preparing for competency-based questions then take a look at our STAR Technique blog or contact Georgina.

Georgina Trudgill is an Associate Director in the Accountancy Division at Harvey John.

Search our latest accountancy and finance jobs here.

If you would like to see our company updates and industry insights, follow our LinkedIn page here.

Share this article: