Competently preparing for competency based interviews…

No matter what stage of your career, the prospect of interviewing for a new job is bound to cause you some anxiety. If you are relatively new to the jobs market, your experience of interviews could be predominantly for part-time jobs during study, but even if you’ve sat through hours of interviews over the years, there’s always the chance that you may have picked up some bad habits. 

Although each organisation has its own interviewing process, throughout the process you can expect to answer some form of the following questions…

•    How much do you know about the role?   
•    What interests you about the position? 
•    What skills or experience do you have that make you right for the position? 
•    What qualities do you have that make you right for this position? 
•    What are your strengths and weaknesses?
•    What has been your biggest achievement in your career to date?
•    What are your strengths and weaknesses?
•    How do you motivate yourself?    
•    What are your long-term goals? 
•    Why do you wish to leave your current job/last job?     

These questions qualify your CV and your experience and give the interviewer an understanding about you, your career and your way of working, however, these types of question don’t reveal the whole story. As an organisation prepares to invest hugely in an unknown quantity, they want a few guarantees. 

Competancy based questions are an increasingly popular way to predict the future performance of a potential employee. These questions will set up certain ‘scenarios’ and require you to describe ways in which you’ve dealt with this type of situation in the past. Questions such as; “tell me about when you have led a team to successfully complete a project” or “give an example of when you have exceeded expectations at work” are an opportunity for you to demonstrate your abilities in a real life situation. 

Preparation is everything…
It is essential that you understand the job specification in order to prepare for this type of interview. Consider your experience and start to prepare a bank of examples for you to use against each required skill. Ensure that these include examples of times you overcame a problem or managed a difficult personality deftly, as well as providing tangible examples of times that you improved performance or provided a company with value for money, it’s important to give even the most challenging of situations a positive spin! 

Answer like a STAR!

The STAR method is a tried and tested way to ensure that you are able to answer any question like a pro. Structure your answers as follows…

S = Situation
T/O = Task/objective
A = Action
R = Result 

When you remember this simple structure, you can ensure that you are demonstrating your competency in each situation. 

Examples of typical competency based questions:
•    Give me an example when you have found a role particularly stressful, why? How did you overcome the stress in this situation? What did you learn and what would you do differently? 
•    Give an example of how you have ensured that individuals have been kept informed of key issues and developments. 
•    Give me an example of how you have encouraged other team members to contribute to the discussion or tasks in hand.
•    Tell me about a time when you have identified an opportunity and driven it forward to the benefit of the organisation or team. What specifically did you do?
•    Describe your management style, and how would you adapt this to different personalities? How would you handle/have handled difficult team members?

Your parting shot….
ALWAYS ASK QUESTIONS AT THE END OF AN INTERVIEW – it shows you are genuinely interested in the role. Ask about the team, ask about the interview process from here on, ask about promotion prospects, ask if they think you’re a good fit for the role, but never ask about salary or holidays! And as the interview closes, if you’re interested in the role, tell them, there is no harm in being direct.

Good luck!

Hannah Cottam is a group recruitment director of legal/financial recruitment consultancy Sellick Partnership.  With over 15 years’ recruitment experience, and direct management experience managing a team of 18 staff, Hannah has specific interviewing experience, both personally, and on behalf of her clients and candidates.  

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