Competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviews (also know as scenario or behavioural based interviews ) are interviews where each question is designed to test one or more specific skills. The answer is then matched against pre-decided criteria and marked accordingly. For example, the interviewers may want to test the candidate’s ability to deal with stress by first asking how the candidate handles stress generally and then asking them to provide an example of a situation when they worked under pressure.

Situation Task Action Result

This is a universally-recognised communication technique designed to enable you to provide a meaningful and complete answer to questions asking for examples. At the same time, it has the advantage of being simple enough to be applied easily.

Many interviewers will have been trained in using the STAR structure. Even if they have not, they will recognise its value when they see it. Using this technique means that the information will be given to them in a structured manner and, as a result, they will be more receptive to the messages that you are trying to communicate.

Step 1 – Situation or Task

Describe the situation that you were confronted with or task that needed to be accomplished. To use the STAR approach, you need to set the context. Make it concise and informative, concentrating solely on what is useful to the story. For example, if the interviewer asks you to describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult person, explain how you came to meet that person and why they were being difficult. If the question is asking for an example of teamwork, explain the task that you had to undertake as a team.

Step 2 – Action

This is the most important component of STAR as it is where you will demonstrate and highlight the skills and personal attributes that the question is testing. Now that you have set the context of your story, you need to explain what you did in response. In doing so, you need to remember the following:

  • Be personal; talk about you, not the rest of the team.
  • Go into some detail. Do not assume that they will guess what you mean.
  • Steer clear of technical information unless it is crucial to your story.
  • Explain what you did, how you did it and why you did it.

What you did and how you did it

The interviewers want to know how you reacted to the situation. This is where you can start selling some important skills. For example, you may want to describe how you used the team to achieve a particular objective and how you used your communication skills to keep everyone updated on progress.

Why you did it

When discussing a situation where you had to deal with conflict, many candidates would simply say, ‘I told my colleague to calm down and explained to him what the problem was’. This would not, however, provide a good idea of what drove you to act in this manner. How did you ask him to calm down? Did you explain the nature of the problem? By highlighting the reasons behind your action, you make a greater impact. For example:

I could sense that my colleague was irritated and I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings and his anger, I gave him the opportunity to calm down. I then explained to him my own point of view on the matter, emphasising how important it was that we found a solution that suited us both.

This revised answer helps the interviewers to understand what drove you and reinforces the feeling that you calculate the consequences of your actions, retaining full control of the situation. It also provides much more information about you as an individual; another reason why STAR is so useful.

Step 3 – Result

Explain what happened eventually – how it all ended. Also, use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and learnt in that situation. This helps you to personalise the answer and enables you to highlight further skills.

This is probably the most crucial part of your answer. Interviewers want to know that you used a variety of generic skills in order to achieve your objectives. You must be able to demonstrate in your answer that you took specific actions because you were trying to achieve a defined objective and were not simply taking a chance.

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