I’ve got a good reputation as an interview coach. I’ve taught inhouse managers to interview and assess and continue working on quality control on a major government recruitment scheme. I’ve also designed literally hundreds of assessment centres and love to coach my clients to answer questions in competency based interviews.

There are many different types of interview and my favourite from an interviewer and interviewee perspective is to work on competency based interviews.

This is where the company has identified the competences needed to be successful in a job and the interviewer will ask questions that relate to these competences.

Why are competency based interviews good for the interviewer?

The questions are relevant as they link into competences, they can be planned and it’s easy to see if a candidate is giving you a specific answer.

Why are competency based interviews good for the interviewee?

Companies will let you know the competences in advance so you can think of specific examples. You aren’t going to be at the whim of an interviewers’ questions. you’ll know that if there is a competence on vision that you need to think of specific examples where you have demonstrated vision, if it is working with others that you think of examples of where you have worked with others. But of course, you need to go deeper than this – think of many examples – where you have worked well with others, how you built up a relationship, a difficult situation you had to overcome and more.

Would an interview practice session help?

Sometimes it can be useful to have a trial go with an experienced interviewer so you both can see how you respond under pressure to questions for competency based interviews,but you also get specific and helpful feedback.

When I do my interview coaching sessions I act as interviewer to begin with, then after each question I put on my coaching hat and we dissect the response and how the person could have improved, and to congratulate them on what they did well.

Martin rang me and sounded very nervous. He had applied for a job and hadn’t expected to get short listed. Now he had an interview in a weeks’ time and was very nervous.

I don’t know why he hadn’t expected to get an interview, we had done a really good job on his CV, ensuring we addressed all the key points in the ad, carefully reading and ensuring we covered the essential and desirable requirements and pulling together a strong covering letter, emphasising how well he matched up.

Martin hadn’t been for an interview for several years so we needed to quickly get him focused on performing well. He couldn’t come and see me for a practice session so the interview coaching was done by phone, (this was 10 years ago, now it would be by Skype!)

The letter came with some additional information including a list of the company competences. This was great as it made preparation straightforward.   I undertake a lot of interviewing for competency based interviews.  As an interviewer, I probe well to get the detail, so it is best to prepare.

Competency based interviews  

If you are going to competency based interviews you should have a list of the competencies sent to you in advance. When you look at the list you need to think of examples that demonstrate your abilities in this area and I always encourage clients to look for at least 2 examples of each competence which is quite a lot of work.

When you get questions for competency based interviews, you need to be prepared and structured.  You will be asked questions which relate to scenarios and for each scenario you should:

  • Briefly outline the situation
  • Describe what you did
  • Say what the outcome was and give your estimate of the proportion of credit you can claim for that outcome
  • Say what you gained from the experience

For example:

Describe an effective team of which you are a member. What is your contribution to the team? In what way is the team effective? 

I have been a member of a local cricket club in Cheshire for the last two years, which not only is fun but also provides an escape from studying Engineering. I am an important member of the team as I am the main strike bowler and sound middle order batsman with an average of over 20 last season; and I was therefore, partially responsible for one of the clubs most successful seasons in its history. In addition, to good performances on the field, the club also performed well off the field, as we organised various fundraising events that have benefited both the club and the community. For example, this year we held a fete where I was responsible for running a food stall, which improved my organisational and interpersonal skills.


This is a suggestion for another client.

Many companies will ask questions for competency based interviews and for these you need to be able to have a specific example.   So, you could be asked can you give me an example of when you have had to deal with a difficult customer or perhaps this one:

Please describe a project or challenging task when you needed to work effectively to deliver a timely outcome.

This is a written response one of my clients used in their job application, but it gives you some details of what to include – you really must have some specific examples.

As part of my undergraduate degree I presented a 15,000-word dissertation on U.S. policy in Vietnam in the 1950s.  At first I faced considerable opposition from my academic advisors.  I was able to overcome this only through persuasion and thorough preparation of the project, clearly delineating achievable objectives.  Considerable self-motivation was required to research the work in Britain, Washington and Dallas and then to analyse the great quantity of archival material collected, remaining focused on the overall objectives of the study. 

At the same time it was necessary to regularly evaluate the project redefining the parameters in the light of the emerging results of my research.  I had to carry out the work whilst completing short-term assignments in parallel, providing good experience in prioritising tasks.  The final text had to be presented in accordance with specific rules and to a tight deadline, with strict penalties for incomplete, over-length or delayed submissions.  I was pleased to gain 1st-class marks for this component of my degree.

Hopefully this will be helpful as you prepare for your next competency based interviews.

Published On: July 28th, 2007 / Categories: Interviews /


  1. Possibly. A competency question is when the question relates to a specific competence such as decision making, customer focus.
    Where these followed up with further questions? I’ll ask candidates to be specific – what was the situation, what did you have to do, what was achieved, any problems you had to overcome etc.

  2. How To Prepare For A Job Interview January 11, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Hi there This week on Friday I was looking all over the web to find some interesting information about how to prepare for a job interview. Somehow it got me here to your Competency based interviews post, which is very nice written! I like it. Keep posting. Till soon!

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