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Competency Based Interview Questions

When interviewing candidates, you’ll come across several different interview styles and questions to take into consideration. Your goal should always be to find the candidates who meet the requirements of the role and who will also enhance your culture.

One of the best ways to find these highly qualified candidates is to use competency based interview questions.

What are competency based interview questions?

Competency based interview questions (also known as behavior based interview questions) are popular in recruiting because they demonstrate how candidates handled different work situations in the past.

The idea is to identify different skills, abilities, personality traits, creative thinking indicators, and problem-solving abilities, based on past behavior.

Competency Based Interview Training

Conducting competency based interviews requires your interviewers to ask questions that focus on a combination of knowledge, skills, judgement, and personal attributes.

They are very different from a personality test, which focus more on the candidate's personality, than their actual skills. This is to assess them having the skills and competence needed for the job.

To train your team on using competency based interview formats, you’ll need to take these steps.

1. Develop clear selection criteria: Prior to developing your competency based interview questions, make sure you have clear selection criteria (what information do you want to gather from your candidates?). Decide what skills and behavioral traits are most important for the role, and list them out in a spreadsheet. You’ll use this as a framework for your questions.

Pro Tip: Develop a job scorecard to review with hiring managers. Ask them to fill our the mission of the role, list 3-5 main outcomes this role should have and 3-5 competencies required for success.

2. Prepare your interview questions: Once you’ve decided on your selection criteria, you’ll need to create questions that reveal the key skills/behaviors you’ve outlined. The typical strategy you’ll use for preparing these interview questions is STAR. STAR means asking for a situation or experience in the past, what the task was, what the action was the interviewee took, and what the results were from their actions.

3. Conduct a structured interview process: Finally, create a set and structured interview process to compliment your questions. Set and structured means asking your candidates the same initial interview questions, listening carefully to the responses, allowing the candidate time to process their answers, and taking time afterwards to evaluate the notes you took on each.

4. Create an interview packet. This is done to ensure that your interviewers don’t ask candidates the same questions, and are learning about different competencies in every interview.

Sample Competency Interview Questions

Now that you know how to start your competency based interview process, it’s time to get some ideas and examples of questions that will identify top talent.

Below you’ll find a list of standard competency based questions that you can use to identify communication, planning, management, leadership skills and more.

Common Competency Based Interview Questions

Here are the five most common, must-have competency based interview questions.

  1. Can you give me an example of a time you faced conflict while working on a team? How did you handle/manage that situation and still fulfill your responsibilities?
  2. Tell me about a time at work when you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on? How did you handle that pressure?
  3. Describe a time when you had to be very organized and strategic with your responsibilities to meet all of your top priorities. How did you do it?
  4. Tell me about a time you had to persuade a co-worker or manager. What did you do to persuade them to see things your way?
  5. Give me an example of a time when you saw a problem at work. What steps did you take to correct the issue?

Competency Based Interview Questions for Communication

Communication is major part of an employee’s day. They’ll be required to communicate with their manager, team, other internal/external stakeholders, clients and others.

Use these competency based interview questions to assess their communication style and skills.

  1. Tell me about a time when you were the expert in your field and needed to describe a project/situation/challenge. How did you handle this and ensure all stakeholders understood your perspective and what you were describing?
  2. Describe a time when you had to rely on written communication to initiate a project. How did you communicate to ensure your ideas came across to your team and they understood all deliverables?
  3. Describe a time when you worked as part of team spanning multiple departments. What forms of communication did you use to ensure the project ran smoothly? What challenges did you encounter regarding communication and deliverables? How did your team overcome those?
  4. Tell me about a time where you were a team leader for a project or task. What did you do to ensure everyone understood the deliverables and met the deadlines? Did you encounter any challenges? What would you do differently?
  5. Give me an example of a successful presentation you gave. How did you prepare and explain everything to ensure it was successful?
  6. Tell me about a time you had to make a good impression on a client. How did you ensure you made a significant, positive impression?
  7. Give me an example of when you had to interact with a difficult client/customer. What were the circumstances of the interaction? How did you handle this difficulty? Were you able to change the experience from negative to positive?

Competency Based Interview Questions for Planning

In various roles, your employees will be required to plan around different timelines and resource availability levels.

These competency questions will help you uncover the true planning and time management experience of your candidates.

  1. Describe a time when you had to be very organized and strategic with your responsibilities to meet all of your top priorities. How did you organize?
  2. Give me an example of a long-term project that you managed. What did you do to maintain progress and meet the timeframe of the project without wasting time?
  3. Give me an example of a long-term project you managed that had multiple stakeholders. How did you manage everyone’s time and tasks to ensure deliverables were consistently met?
  4. Tell me about a time where you had to create a plan for a long term project. What was your process for creating this strategy? What did and didn’t go as planned? What would you do differently?
  5. It’s not always possible to get everything on your task list complete in a single day. Describe a time when your responsibilities became overwhelming. What did you do? How did you prioritize?
  6. Describe a time when you had multiple projects with conflicting deadlines. Were you able to juggle these projects to meet their deadlines? What sacrifices did you make to ensure you were successful?
  7. Tell me about a time where you had to get a project completed with very little resources and team support. How did you plan around this? Were you successful? What would you do differently if given the chance?

Competency Based Interview Questions for Management and Leadership

Competency based questions are a great way to interview leaders and managers.

These types of questions provide more clarity around their overall styles of management and the types of leaders they are.

(Click here for a complete list of Executive Interview Questions)

  1. Think back to the best manager you’ve ever had. What was great about their management style? How have you modeled yourself or learned from their example?
  2. Tell me about a time you had to manage a large project with numerous direct reports. What was the project? How did you prepare your team / resources? What was necessary to get your team working well together to meet all deliverables? What would you differently if given the chance?
  3. Explain a time when you had to promote an idea or project to a group. How did you go about persuading them?
  4. Give me an example of a method you have used to successfully encourage/motivate your staff. What was successful about this method?
  5. Tell me about a time when you and your team faced challenging odds. How did you keep them engaged and motivated to overcome the situation and succeed?
  6. Describe a time when you had to deal with difficult or unmotivated staff. How did you motivate them or improve their attitude?
  7. Describe a time when an employee came to you with a complaint. What did you do? What was the outcome?

Competency Based Interview Questions for Phone Interviews

The phone pre-screen is often one of your team’s first interactions with a prospective employee. This is a great time for recruiters to get a good read on a candidate’s motivations, basic skills, and cultural fit.

Here are a few great questions that you should add to your phone interview process.

(Click here for a complete list of Phone Interview Questions to Ask)

  1. Describe a time where you had a conflict with someone on your team. Did you resolve the conflict? What was the outcome?
  2. Tell me about a time where you were working on a major project for your current role. What did you do to ensure everything ran smoothly? What adjustments did you make along the way and why?
  3. Describe a time where you had multiple tasks/projects with similar due dates. Did you meet the deadlines? How did you manage those tasks/projects to ensure you met both deadlines?
  4. Tell me about a time when you failed to meet expectations at work (it happens to all of us). What did you do? How did you communicate the outcomes with key stakeholders? What would you do differently?

Bonus: Competency Based Interview Questions for IT / Technical Specialities

When it comes to looking for top tech talent, technical recruiters need to be able to decide if the candidate has the chops and knowledge to warrant additional time from the hiring manager and technical team.

These competency based interview questions for IT and technical roles are a great starting point in evaluating for these roles.

  1. What programming language do you think is your biggest strength? Describe a project where you needed to rely heavily on this language. What was the project? What was the outcome?
  2. Describe an experience you’ve had where you were asked to work on a project in a language you were not familiar with. What steps did you take to overcome this challenge? Did you rely on anyone from your team? What was the outcome?
  3. Tell me about a project that required multiple technical team members. What was your role? How did you all collaborate? What was the outcome of the project? What do you think you could have done better individually and as a team?
  4. Tell me about a time where there was a technical issue that required your immediate attention. How did you address the issue internally? What steps did you take to troubleshoot and resolve the problem? How did you communicate the changes internally and externally?
  5. Describe a time where you had multiple deadlines on the same day. Did you meet those deadlines? How did you prioritize tasks or collaborate with your team to get everything done? What tasks (if any) did you push to a later date? How did you communicate the changes in deadlines for certain tasks?

Final thoughts: Competency based interview questions

Interviewing candidates can be tricky.

Today’s talent has access to a wealth of information regarding interviewing techniques and questions used by recruiting teams and hiring managers. However, leveraging competency based interview questions can give you a clear idea of the skills and traits of your prospective employees, no matter how good they are at interviewing.

For more information on interviewing, check out our eBook “Streamline the Interview Guide.” and don’t forget to see a demo of Lever Hire, our applicant tracking system to help you better manage and optimize your hiring process.


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