Competency based interviews

Competency based interviews are very popular so it’s critical that you have scenarios and answers prepared. The following are some of the most popular competencies looked at in interviews:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Developing others
  • Resilience
  • Achieving excellence
  • Building trust & understanding Influencing others
  • Adherence to processes & procedures
  • Attention to detail
  •  Planning & organising
  • Managing change
  • Managing performance
  • Negotiation
  • Strategic thinking
  • Leadership and ability to manage a team
  • Strategic & operational management

Examples of competency based questions can be:

1. Tell me about a time when you have had to work as part of a team to achieve a result?
2. Describe a time when you have had to demonstrate a high level of resilience?
3. Tell me about a time when you have had difficulties with your team accepting new ideas or objectives? How did you overcomes these difficulties?
4. Describe a time when you have managed or been involved in a complex financial project? What where your deadlines and what was the outcome?
5. Talk me through your last budget setting exercise and how you monitored performance throughout the year?
6. Describe a time when you have had to build a collaborative relationship inside or outside your department in order to achieve a particular goal? What steps did you take to ensure this was a success?

Recently we have discovered that some negative or conflict related competency based questions have been creeping into interview processes. Examples of these can be:

1. Tell me about a time when you have been involved in something that didn’t work? Why didn’t it work and what did you learn from it?
2. Tell me about a time when you and a colleague didn’t agree? Why did you disagree? How did you resolve the situation and ensure that their opinion was still valued?

How to answer interview questions

A very successful method to adopt when answering competency based questions is STAR (situation – task – action – result). STAR is effective as it breaks down your answer in a structured manner and helps you to cover the main aspects of the question.

When answering competency based questions you must pick a particular day, project or situation to answer the question – do not fall into the trap of answering by giving an example of how you apply this competency every day.

S - Situation

This is about painting the picture of the example you are about to provide, for example:

“Our business was using Sage, however a decision to implement an ERP was made by the senior management team based on my recommendation to increase efficiency, visibility and extract data from different departments. As a result I offered to champion and manage the project implementation.”

T - Task

This is about highlighting the key tasks that had to be carried out to ensure success, for example:

  • How did you get your colleagues on-board?
  • Did your colleagues understand the benefit to them?
  • Did the senior management understand the long term benefits to the business?
  • What were the timescales that were decided?
  • How would you monitor progression to ensure that the project was on target for delivery date?
  • How did you ensure adherence to compliance, processes, procedures and controls?
  • How did you ensure customer service was not affected or sacrificed?

A - Action

This is about explaining your role and what you did to make this happen or ensure success. Don’t fall into the trap of saying “my team did” or “my line manager did” the actions are all about what you did, for example:

  • I offered to champion the project / implementation
  • I became the super user of the ERP system and provided support and training to other users
  • I ran Q&A sessions with the staff before and after the implementation
  • I worked late a few nights of the week to allow me to fit in the implementation work


The result is without a doubt the most important part of the STAR structure as it demonstrates what you achieved. The result should be provided from four different points of view to ensure a commercial and 360˚ style:

The first point of view should be your point of view.

  • It made my job easier
  • It saved me time
  • It upskilled me by ____
  • It improved my relationship with my colleagues
  • It gave me exposure to external stakeholders
  • It gave me direct exposure to senior management
  • It allowed me to supervise staff and provide training

The second point of view should be your colleagues e.g. it benefited my colleagues by:

  • Making their job easier
  • Saving them time
  • Upskilling them
  •  Improved their relationship with other departments

The third point view is the business /organisation you worked for e.g. the business benefited by:

  • Reducing costs which increased profit
  • Reducing risk
  • Increasing brand exposure
  • Increasing visibility, allowing decisions to be made quicker
  • Saving money
  • Improving adherence to processes, procedures and controls
  • Allowing a more natural interaction with our customers resulting in a better level of service

The fourth and last point of view is that of the customer / clients. Although your example might not have a direct impact on the customer / client there is still a likelihood that it will affect them indirectly:

  • Better level of service
  • Easier to interact with the business
  • Saved time as everything became automated