How to Conduct a Competency Based Interview 


For support with setting up a competency-based interview process, including a suggested list of competencies and questions matched to any specific role please contact John Adams on 07881 623119 or 01227 656 555.


No longer purely the reserve of large corporate companies, a greater number of small companies are embracing competency based interviews to create more structure to the recruitment process. Also known as behavioural or structured interviews, competency based interviews assist in identifying soft skills such as decision making, teamwork and communication, give insights into how the candidates behaviour and mindsets are likely to impact upon their performance in the role. This is a significant change from the typical ‘get to know you’ interview where the focus is very much on cultural and personality fit.


Competency Based Interviews (CBI’s)

Competency Based Interviews help remove subjectivity from the recruitment process and pay particular attention to those functional and behavioural competencies that are deemed necessary to be successful in any given role. The basis of this form of interview is that past performance is the best indicator of future success. Candidates that are able to provide impressive examples of situations or tasks that they have undertaken that relate to the specific competency are likely to be more successful in the role. This helps prevent unconscious bias from interviewers, enabling them to remain more open-minded and not be overly influenced by first impressions or indeed interview performance, which may or may not have bearing on the candidate’s ability to perform well in the role.  

Competencies are set for specific roles and typically the more senior the position, the more there will be. Some competencies such as Teamwork and Trustworthiness or Ethic may be identified and required for all roles within the company however Leadership, Problem Solving and Commercial Awareness may be more role specific.


Some Examples

Below are a few example questions relating to specific competencies.


Enhancing the Recruitment Process

Implementing an interview question approach which is focused on competencies will have significant benefits for both candidate and employer. Whether or not the candidate is successful in getting the job, they are more likely to find the experience positive and fair, and come away from the  interview feeling as if they were given the opportunity to do themselves justice by highlighting their experience. The more objective recruitment process is also far more likely to lead to a successful outcome for the company through the identification of the candidate best suited to the role.

If the competencies are clearly defined and the process followed correctly then it can ensure that you make an informed decision based on objectively set criteria.


3 Key Steps to Setting Up a Competency Based Interview


Step 1. Decide on the Selection Criteria

Firstly, be very clear on the required competencies, skills, experience and attributes required for the role so you have a defined criterion with which to assess the candidates.

The job description often lists many of these requirements. However, it is worth making sure that they are still valid by checking them with a current member of the team, and challenging them to explain instances of where the competency is relevant. For additional input at this stage it can be worth searching online for similar job adverts to see what other companies list as requirements. Make sure you focus on the essential requirements and not desirable skills and attributes. You may also find that a candidate does not meet all the criteria. However, it is worth keeping in mind that with some training they could be quickly up to speed. As such, it is good practice to apply weighting to the competencies in order of their significance and potential impact upon the role, and not to automatically dismiss applicants that are not an exact fit. 


For additional support creating the Job Description please refer to our free Job Description Template section.


Step 2. Create List of Questions

Having defined the selection criteria, you then create a list of questions aligned to each competency area. Make sure the questions are worded in such a way that they ask for specific examples and are focused on actions they have taken. Eg ‘Tell me about a time when you have had to deal with a customer service issue’ is much better than ‘How would you deal with a customer service issue’. If candidates respond on the basis of the team actions, then you should explain to the candidate that you are interested in their actions specifically.


For a comprehensive list of questions covering the following Competencies please contact John on 07881 623119 or via our Contact page.


 List of Competencies


Step 3. Conduct the Interview


Sample job interview templates are available free from Careerz. To request an adapted Interview Template Form please contact John on 07881 623119 or via our Contact page.


Having identified the relevant questions it is important to have a structured approach as to what information you are looking for from each candidate to fully answer the question.


STAR Interview Tool

A popular Competency Based Interview tool you can use is STAR. This relates to Situationor Task, Actions and Results. For each competency the interviewer will ask for a specific question that requires the candidate to describe a Situation or Task that they were involved with. The candidate is then prompted to explain what Action/s they took and what was the end Result. It is important to make sure the interviewee focuses on the actions they have taken and not those of the team in general as mentioned above.


Be consistent: It is important to conduct each interview in a similar manner and following a set process to ensure that it is a level playing field for all candidates. This will require you to ask each candidate the exact same initial questions however you may decide to ask different questions around their response depending on what has been said to enable you to delve down further.


Take notes: Taking notes will be a key part of the process so it is always good to let the candidate know at the start of the interview. If you are able to have a second person with you to take notes then this would be preferable to allow you to focus on asking questions, watch their body language and maintaining engagement with the candidate.


Brief the interview panel & assign tasks: If you do have other team members involved in the process you can take turns asking questions and taking notes to mix things up. It is also important to brief the interview panel in advance as to the full process and how you intend to score each candidate.


Set expectations with the candidate: When you have asked the candidate a question it is always good practice to give them some time to think before they launch into their answer. It is good to let them know that you are not looking for the first answer that comes into their mind but the one that they feel best reflects their level of competency and that is not always the one that comes to mind first.


Listen carefully: After asking the question it is important to listen carefully. If their response has drifted away from answering the question, then ask a question that will bring them back to the question asked.


Post interview evaluation: taking the time to evaluate each candidate after the interview will enable you to get a team perspective and discuss each team member’s scoring and general thoughts. It is important that you solicit feedback from each team member and keep an open mind to their view paying particular focus on the examples given. The process is there to ensure structure however make sure to maintain a level of flexibility too as the candidate may wish to make you aware of something that does add value to their application.


Other questions: the above structure covers the general competencies for the role however you will also need to have additional general questions that will greatly impact the decision e.g. location & commute, notice period, culture and team fit etc 


For a comprehensive list of general interview questions please contact John on 07881 623119 or via our Contact page.


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