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How to Answer Competency Interview Questions


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We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in an interview, acing all the questions about your background and experience. You think you’re killing it. Then the interviewer drops a bomb and asks you to give a real-life example of how you handled a certain situation. Suddenly your mouth goes dry, your hands begin to sweat and you feel like bolting from the room.


Competency-based questions can be intimidating. These are questions that interviewers ask to help them gauge a candidate’s knowledge, skills and attitude – three things that cannot be found by looking at a resume. The answers to these questions help the interviewer better determine whether you’d be a good fit for the role and company to which you are applying.


The good news is, while it’s unlikely that you’ll know exactly what the questions will be, there are certain things you can do to prepare in advance so you’ll be ready to respond with confidence and poise.


Plan Ahead

Before you head to your interview, sit down and make a list of all the competencies you believe are important for the job to which you are applying. Take a look at the job description to see what required or desired skills are mentioned. Then, for each item on the list, think about real-life situations in which you have demonstrated those competencies. Write down what the problem was, what actions you took and what the outcome was. Then review these answers before your interview.


Stay on Topic

Because competency-based questions are open-ended, it can be easy to lose focus and start to wander with your thoughts and responses. To make a good impression on your interviewer, you want to answer as concisely as possible. If you’re asked a question about a situation that you haven’t gone over in your pre-interview preparation, don’t panic. Take a few seconds to think about a scenario that best answers the question and remember to stick to the three most important factors: problem, solution, results.


Keep the Focus on You

When you’re describing certain problems or challenging situations, such as a time when you had to work with a difficult boss or colleague, it can be easy to shift your focus on what the other person did to create or exacerbate the situation. But remember – the interviewer wants to learn about you, not the other people you’ve worked with in the past. Rather than placing blame, focus on what you did to manage the situation.


Common Competency-Based Questions

  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  • What is your biggest achievement?
  • Give an example of when you had to manage conflict.
  • What is the biggest challenge you faced in your last job?
  • Tell me about a time when you solved a particular problem. What unconventional approach did you take?
  • Share a decision you made that wasn’t popular. How did you handle the response?
  • Provide an example of change in the workplace and how you responded.
  • How do you deal with stressful or adverse situations?
  • Describe a situation in which you had to perform a task that you were unfamiliar with. How did you handle it?
  • Give an example of when you’ve worked as part of a team. What was your role and how did you positively contribute?
  • Share an example of a project or initiative you spearheaded.


These are just a few examples – or some variation – of common competency questions that interviewers might ask. Again, your best approach is to sit down and determine which skills your interviewer will likely be assessing and prepare accordingly. By planning ahead, you’ll be ready to respond to any question that comes your way.


Thinking about expanding your job search? Why not get in touch? We can help you plan ahead for that interview, and find a position that you’ll truly enjoy.

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