10 Competency-Based Interview Questions And Answers

By Chris Kolmar - Oct. 12, 2021

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Congratulations! You’re getting ready for a job interview. Even better, you’re doing a little pre-interview research, so you know what to expect, and so you do better. Extra effort in this stage will help you nail the interview and help you find the job of your dreams.

During your job interview, you’re going to encounter different types of questions. You might even have several interviews that are each focused on a certain area of your abilities or personality. It depends on the job you’re applying for, but one of the most common types of interview questions is competency questions.

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What Are Competency Interview Questions?

Whether you’re in for a full competency-based interview or there are just a few competency questions in your interview, what they’re looking to learn by asking these questions is what you know about the tasks required for the job.

Some of the questions will be extraordinarily simple and basic, but this helps them weed out people who have lied on their resumes or are trying to get a job they’re not qualified for.

Then, when you get into the thick of it, the questions will be more specific and open-ended. During these questions, they’re looking to see how you handled certain situations and what skills you have within your given field of expertise.

In the end, the interviewer is looking to determine your key competencies or what skills you have. Then they will compare that to the position they have open and what skills are most important to them.

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What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

What is the interviewer really looking to discover, and how can you prepare for the interview? This is tricky because it depends on the position, the company, and it also depends on you.

There isn’t a lot of preparation you can do, but if you work in a field that requires a certain set of skills and you know you’re rusty in one or two of them, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to refresh yourself.

Beyond looking at your key competencies in your field, a recruiter or hiring agent will also be looking at a few other areas and how they relate to your job and your professional maturity. Expect to have questions that touch on the following:

  • Communication. The interviewer will be gauging how you communicate with them, but they’ll be asking questions to determine how you might communicate with your future team.

  • Decision making. Are you competent enough in your profession to make good decisions?

  • Leadership skills. Not all positions require leadership skills. They might also be looking to see how well you follow directions. Both are important.

  • Teamwork. Most jobs (but not all) require some sort of team interaction, and the interviewer will want to understand how you fit into a team.

  • Technical aptitude. This is the job-specific sort of competency that will test your level of expertise.

Competency-Based Interview Questions and Answers

Let’s take a look at some of the more common competency-based interview questions you may encounter. Keep in mind that your individual industry will have specific questions about what you do and how you do it. We can’t possibly replicate all of those questions here, but we can give you a general idea of what to expect.

  1. Describe a situation in your last job where you faced change, and how did you respond?

    Well, as you know, during COVID-19, many people had to work from home. This was a new experience for me, so it was a big change. I’m not ashamed to admit that this took a lot of getting used to because my family was home as well.

    I researched and discovered that setting office hours and explaining to my family that I could not be bothered then helped a lot. I also turned an unused room into an office and shut my door. That worked.

  2. Describe how you dealt with a conflict at work?

    There was one time when we were tasked with creating a service chain for customer complaints. While I understood what management was looking for and trying to do with the chain, I realized there were a couple of redundancies and steps that would only slow down the process and frustrate the customers.

    I brought this up to my manager, who didn’t want to listen to my explanation. I then began to catalog customer complaints and noted that they occurred right at the steps that I suspected were most frustrating. Eventually, I was able to back up my initial suggestion with facts so we could streamline the process.

  3. How do you deal with deadlines?

    I like to pride myself on never missing deadlines, but of course, that’s almost impossible with an entire team involved. But we prioritize deadlines, and everyone is accountable for their tasks, so if there is a slowdown, we know exactly where it happened and where to focus on fixing the issue.

  4. Give me an example of a goal you set for yourself and how you achieved it or why you didn’t.

    Honestly, I decided four years ago that I wanted to be in management at my current job within five years. I have moved up to assistant manager, but that’s not good enough for me, and I see that they’re not going to give me that opportunity because there aren’t any openings and too many people have seniority.

    So, I’m applying for the management position with your company. I hope to tell you how I achieved that goal next week when you call and offer me the job.

  5. You mentioned angry customers; tell us how you handle those situations.

    I am usually the one to whom all of the angry customers are funneled. It’s my job to manage their complaints. First of all, I have to remember not to take it personally. When people are mad, they can say mean things. I also try to talk to them as individuals and let them know that I’m listening.

    The most maddening thing to someone upset is listening to someone obviously reading from a script. It’s not always about what they’re saying, but it’s about hearing the underlying problem and then using my knowledge of our company and product to find a solution or, if I can’t, offer a refund.

  6. What skills do you have that you think make you management material?

    I have a bachelor’s degree in communication, and I think I excel at building rapport. My secret power comes from my years of community theatre. It helps me understand people with issues outside of my real-life experiences.

    I believe it’s all about the individual, and I think it’s that personal touch that makes me management material. I’ve also taken a few classes on management and want to keep taking more.

  7. Do you think you’re a “big picture” person, or are you more detail-oriented?

    That’s a tricky question. The details are important, but I don’t get lost in them like some people I know tend to. I guess that makes me a big-picture person. I can see how the details matter to the end result. Maybe I’m a bit of both?

  8. What do you consider effective communication?

    Having my bachelor’s degree in communication, I really like this question because it’s not what most people think. Effective communication can be a one-sentence email. It can also be a long, involved conversation amongst a group of individuals.

    The real key is that what is being communicated is heard and understood by the other party or parties. That’s it. Now that’s not to say that one person gives orders, and everyone understands. Communication often turns into a dialogue, but it’s still all about one person expressing themselves in a way that others fully understand.

  9. What steps have you taken to improve yourself on the job?

    I’ve taken a few outside courses, and I’ve done my best to learn all that I can about my current job and all the steps around it. It’s not just about what I do but what happens before and after. I still would love to take more management classes. I feel this is an evolving profession – that’s part of what interests me.

  10. How do you prioritize when scheduling your time?

    That’s changed recently. Working from home made me reassess what I was doing. At first, it was all about work all the time. I felt I could do so much when I could do it all day and night. Of course, that hurt my family life. Now I allocate time more effectively, giving myself hour time limits for things.

    I also prioritize the projects I’m on, try to determine how much time needs to be invested, and then map that out, so it gets spread out effectively. That way, I still hit deadlines and goals, but I also remember to prioritize myself and my family.

Competency-Based Interview Tips

The above competency-based interview questions and answers should give you a little glimpse into what to expect at your interview.

There will be situational interview questions, teamwork-based questions, and communication questions. You should expect a lot of questions that focus on the specific job you want and the industry in which you work. These tips can help you with your competency interview:

  • Use the STAR method. Think about the situation, the task, action(s), and the results. It’s perfect for organizing your competency answer.

  • Research. As we mentioned above, if you’re not as familiar with an area of your field, it never hurts to research or refresh.

  • Be honest. Dishonesty is often painfully evident in these situations. Honesty and not knowing the answer can win you points.

  • Be willing to learn. Never walk in thinking you know all the answers and are the only one who does. That’s not going to fly in most situations.

  • Consider your past. Your professional experiences are what matter. Spend some time reflecting on the good and the bad situations you’ve been in and how they might be used to respond to a question with real-life examples. The more you can relate to things you’ve experienced, the better.

  • Assume the interviewer has some knowledge of your field, but they’re not an expert. It’s important to not insult the interviewer and talk down to them, but they’re probably not experts in your field, so don’t slip into jargon and assume they understand.

With these tips and sample competency interview questions and answers, you’re ready to spend some time preparing. Don’t just dive into that interview. Give yourself ample time to think about what questions might be asked and how you would answer.

Plan an hour or two to brainstorm and daydream about the interview. Visualize yourself sitting in the interview room (wherever it is) and talking to someone. It’s fantastic preparation and can help you nail this job.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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