How to Answer the Interview Questions about Competencies

These questions look at when you have demonstrated the required Competencies in the past. A Competency – such as ‘Planning and organising’ – is a clearly defined grouping of qualities which is required to perform a job effectively. When assessing your Competencies, interviewers are still working on the premise that the best gauge of future performance is past performance. However, the focus here is very much on ‘how’ people have done things (the Competencies they used and clearly demonstrated) rather than ‘what’ they necessarily achieved. Competency questions will vary, but they often follow a particular pattern that you can use to good effect to help your preparation. Have a look at the example question below for the Competency of Planning and organising:


Opening question

‘Talk us through an example of when you planned a particular project…’


Follow-up question 1

‘What was the situation?’


Follow-up question 2

‘What tasks had to be done?”


Follow-up question 3

‘What actions did you take to plan the project?’


Follow-up question 4

‘What was the result?’


Top tips

As you can see, a Competency-based interview question asks you to describe a particular example or event. You are then often asked a series of follow-up questions to expand on the situation, what you did and what the outcome was. Candidates who have not had the opportunity to prepare can often find these questions very demanding. This is because you are having to talk through real events and in some detail. Preparation really pays dividends in this area. The preparation you will need to do for any Competency interview is to consider firstly what likely Competencies are required for the role. If possible, try to get the Competencies, or at least information indicating what they are likely to be, from the employer (such as the Person/Job Specification). Not all the competencies will be relevant for every role. Look to identify the ones which you feel would be the most important. Work on around a maximum of nine for any one role.


Having identified the Competencies, plan your preparation using the acronym STAR:

- S is the Situation that sets the scene for the particular Competency – this needs to be a real life example that you experienced personally

- T is the Tasks that needed to be undertaken to resolve the situation or problem represented above

- A is the Action or activity clearly taken, by you, in response to the situation

- R is the Result – think of it as the happy ending arising from the Actions you demonstrated above!


Ideally, draw upon a mix of recent examples (preferably from approximately the last 2-3 years, because these are easier to recall in detail) that cover different situations from your career to date. Also, feel free to include noteworthy examples from outside of work. In the interview itself, listen carefully to the phrasing of the exact question that you are given. Clarify the question if you are unsure, and take your time before answering. Be concise and focused – try to use no more than a couple of sentences on each STAR element. Remember to describe what you did rather than what the team did – do not fall into the trap of being too modest!


A good way to practice this is either to talk through your evidence with a friend, record it on tape or talk to yourself in a mirror. We suggest you do the latter in a private rather than public place! The key is to become comfortable when articulating your examples.

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