Answering Competency Based Questions

Competency based recruitment is a style of interviewing used so that a candidate can best show how they would demonstrate certain behaviours/skills in the work place; by answering questions about how you have reacted to and dealt with previous work place situations.

By using past experience a potential employer can predict future behaviour by:

  • Eliminating misunderstandings
  • Preventing personal impressions
  • Reducing the candidate’s ability to “fake”

You will be asked to give an example of a situation or task which led you to take a certain course of action. Probing questions will then be used to determine the course of action you took and what changes were created by those actions and the effects of those actions on others.

Traditional job descriptions are now quite out-dated. Most organisations will analyse a role by breaking it down into key competencies. For example the competencies of a lawyer may be planning and organising, innovation, personal drive, problem analysis and decision making. If an organisation uses this type of interviewing, it is very likely that your job will be defined on this basis and your performance in it will be managed through competencies.

For example your appraisal may well be linked to evidence and real-life examples of having demonstrated these competencies.

Techniques for answering competency based questions: *

Wikijob have some very useful articles regarding answering interview questions – more can be found here

The STAR Technique

  • Situation: Describe the situation.
  • Task: Describe what task was required of you.
  • Action: Tell the interviewer what action you took.
  • Result: Conclude by describing the result of that action.

Be positive about your actions throughout your response and do not make up an example as you will not come across as believable. If you cannot think of good examples instantly, ask the interviewer for a moment or two to think about the question and then give your answer.

The CAR Approach

CAR stands for Context, Action, Result. It helps you to structure your answer like a mini essay.

Context is your introduction, where you describe the scenario you faced, the date and the place. The Action forms the main body and should be the longest part of your answer. The Result is the conclusion and like the introduction, should be quite short.

  • Context: Describe the situation and the task you were faced with, when, where, with whom?
  • Action: How? What action did you take? Sometimes people focus on what the group did without mentioning their individual contribution.
  • Result: What results did you achieve/conclusions did you reach/what did you learn from the experience?


You will find below suggestions of what the underlying question that the interviewer is getting at is, suggestions on how to answer, plus examples of the sorts of answers you could use.


Describe a time, perhaps linked to a challenging task or assignment, when things were difficult and you were working under pressure


  • How do you cope in difficult situations?
  • Do you panic?
  • Can you respond to challenges and set yourself goals?


  • Briefly outline the task and the difficulties.
  • Show the steps that you took to cope with the situation.
  • If other people were involved, be specific about what your particular role was.
  • State the result – don’t worry if the outcome was not 100% successful but show what you learnt from the experience.


  • Being landed with extra, unexpected responsibility at work.
  • Completing a project that did not run smoothly as anticipated.
  • Balancing your studies with a part-time job.
  • Coping with a family crisis or illness.


Describe a recent experience of working with other people. What did you contribute and what was the outcome?


  • How do you get on with other people?
  • What role do you take in a group?
  • Are you able to focus on goals and targets?


  • Outline the situation, your particular role and the task of the group overall
  • Describe any problems which arose and how they were tackled.
  • Say what the result was and what you learned from it.


  • Working as part of a team on a project.
  • Working in collaboration with a customer/supplier team to solve a problem


Give an example of a situation where you solved a problem in a creative way.


  • Can you think laterally?
  • How do you cope with solving problems?
  • Are you flexible enough to cope with change and challenges?


  • Outline the situation (what was the problem?), the various approaches you might have taken and the one that you adopted.
  • Why did you choose to tackle the problem this way and what was the result?


  • Handling customer complaints at work.
  • Being brought into a project that was failing


Describe how you handled a situation where you had to initiate and complete a task in the face of resistance from others.


  • Are you a leader?
  • Are you willing to take on responsibility?
  • Do you believe in yourself and your aims?
  • Can you persuade, rather than coerce people and gain their co-operation?


  • What was the task, who resisted you and why?
  • How did you counter their objections?
  • How did you go about completing the task and what was the outcome?


  • Suggesting how procedures at work might be carried out more effectively.
  • Being asked to lead an existing project


Why are you applying to us?


  • Have you prepared properly?
  • Have you read our brochure, thought about what we are seeking and what you have to offer us?
  • Are you committed to this career?


  • The good public image the organisation has as an employer.
  • The opportunities it offers for training and career development.
  • Experience of the organisation, e.g. through a vacation job or course.Information you have gathered from talking to people who work for the organisation, or its competitors.
  • Information you have gathered from reading the business or professional press, or searching the Internet (NB. Researching the company’s web site will be taken for granted!)
  • Because the organisation’s area of business fits in with your personal, academic or career interests.

*  see for more information 

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