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4 Competency-based Interview Questions to Make a Skills Assessment

Your employees are your competitive advantage, so it’s important to hire people who have the right skills to help your company succeed. Competency-based interview questions can help you suss out which candidates have the right skills, based on their past behaviors and performance. Below are four types of questions to ask, with sample questions for specific roles you may be hiring for.

Tell me about a time you [demonstrated critical skill].

Before you begin your recruitment process, determine what your must-have skills are and use those to fill in the blank for this question. A more broad question may give your candidate the opportunity to touch on several of your must-have skills. If they don’t mention a critical skill, however, feel free to ask a more pointed follow-up question.

Sample questions:

  • Sales: Tell me about your experience building a customer base.
  • Customer Success: Tell me about a time you’ve gone above and beyond to help a customer.
  • Recruiting: Tell me about a time you had a large number of job requisitions to fill at the same time? How did you handle all of them?

Tell me about a time you [solved this real business challenge].

Consider some of the business challenges this candidate would face in their role, if hired. Then, learn how they would handle them by asking how they’ve handled similar situations in the past. If the information isn’t offered up freely, ask what the final outcome was, and find out the candidate’s specific role was in solving the challenge.

Sample questions:

  • Accounting: Tell me about a time you had to work with a customer who was late paying a large invoice. How did you go about collecting on the invoice?
  • Management: Tell me about a time one of your direct reports wasn't meeting their goals. What steps did you take?
  • Customer success: Tell me about a time you had to deal with an irate customer. How did you calm them down, and what was the final result?

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

Learn what the candidate could accomplish at your company, based on their results in a previous role. Again, learn about the candidate’s specific role in the achievement so you can be sure they’re not simply taking credit for their colleague’s accomplishment.

Sample questions:

  • Marketing: Tell me about the most successful lead generation campaign you have ever run.
  • Sales: Tell me about the deal you are most proud of closing.
  • Product management: Tell me about a product release you’re most proud of.

Tell me about a time you made a mistake in your work.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s important that they catch them, fix them, and learn from them. Find out what mistakes your candidate has made in previous roles. If needed, ask follow up questions to learn what happened after the mistake was made, and what they’d do differently in hindsight.

Sample questions:

  • Engineering: Tell me about a time you accidently released imperfect code. How did you find out about it, and what steps did you take to rectify the situation?
  • Management: Tell me about your greatest failure as a leader.
  • Marketing: Tell me about a time a campaign completely failed.


Competency-based interview questions should be used for each candidate you interview, so they’re all evaluated on the same criteria. Before making a final decision, confirm the candidate’s skills through reference checks. Do managers, colleagues, and direct reports remember your candidate’s skills in the same way they do? If it all checks out, you’ve found a great skill-fit candidate.

For more interview questions and best practices, download our eBook, Top Interview Tips: The Employer’s Essential Handbook

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