What Are Competency-Based Interview Questions?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 27 July 2022

Published 25 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Competency-based interview questions help recruiters understand who you are and how well you are suited to the post you are applying to. They are used to gauge your skills, knowledge and behaviour in the context of the job and workplace. These questions are often open-ended and won't have one correct answer, so you use examples from your previous experience. With a thorough answer, you can demonstrate your relevant abilities and impress potential employers.

In this article, we explain why employers ask competency questions and provide example questions and answers.

Why do employers ask competency-based interview questions?

Questions about competency give employers the opportunity to learn more about how you handle various work-related scenarios. They can get an idea of your communication, leadership and teamwork abilities. Recruiters can also gain insight into your multitasking, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. You might also be asked questions specific to your industry.

When preparing your answers, it can be helpful to use the STAR technique. STAR stands for:

  • Situation: What is a relevant and specific experience from your life?

  • Task: What was your role in the challenge?

  • Action: What did you personally do to overcome any obstacles?

  • Result: What was the outcome?

By using STAR, you can use real-life examples that naturally answer many common competency interview questions. Providing a story from your professional background proves your impact, thought processes and working style–all valuable information for employers to understand during the interview processes.

Competency interview questions and example answers

When getting ready for your interview, consider these competency-based questions and examples of how to respond:

1. Can you describe a time when you worked under pressure?

Some positions require completing multiple tasks with strict deadlines. Think of a time you performed well under pressure. It could have been during a tight budget, with a difficult colleague or customer, or perhaps when you had fewer resources than you were used to.

Example: “I was a manager in a retail store over the busy Christmas period. We were behind on sales goals but found it crucial to continue providing excellent customer service. To increase our sales, I created a detailed schedule for each week that included additional employee coverage. I also held a daily team meeting before each shift to address questions and highlight top performers to incentivise the team. We were able to keep customers happy and exceed our sales goals by 12% that month.”

Related: Interview Question: 'How Do You Work Under Pressure?'

2. Describe a time when you had to persuade a coworker or manager

During your career, you may need to explain your opinion or suggestion to a team member or customer. This question is seeking an example of your communication skills. Try to form a thorough response that demonstrates your ability to listen actively, form a solution and convince others of your suggestion. Consider a time you persuaded others to follow your lead or idea.

Example: “I was previously an event co-ordinator. I maintained regular communication with clients and my colleagues. There was a disagreement between a customer and my manager over when an event should start. Through multiple conversations in person, via email and through video conferencing, I was able to persuade them to agree on my idea of starting the event later than usual. This would give everyone time to get there after work, but not too late that the guests would be tired. They appreciated my experience in event management and how I confidently explained my reasoning to them.”

Related: How to persuade people: a guide to persuasion techniques

3. What is your biggest career achievement so far?

Completing a long-term career goal requires extensive planning, time management and dedication, which many employers value. A good answer can also display your determination and ambitions. As you plan your answer, consider all these factors and include any obstacles you had to overcome.

Example: “Throughout university, I wanted to graduate into an editorial assistant position with a top book publisher. As this is a competitive field, I knew I had to find a way to distinguish myself from other candidates. I did this by interning at two publishing companies during my summer holidays and making as many contacts there as I could. I would volunteer for extra duties and went to events and book launches.

I also met with the university's career advisor several times to plan my class and internship schedule. She helped me make valuable connections in the publishing field. Due to this hard work, I was offered an editorial assistant position before I even graduated.”

Related: Interview Question: 'What Is Your Greatest Achievement?'

4. Have you ever faced conflict when working with a team?

Many employers want to know that you are a team player. This means building and keeping healthy relationships at work, being able to resolve issues calmly and working well within a team. In your response, highlight your conflict-resolution, communication and judgment skills. Think of a time when you overcame an obstacle with the assistance of your colleagues.

Example: “I joined a sales team in a marketing role to help create more effective advertising campaigns for our customers. Once, we couldn't come to an agreement on how to market a particular client's product. We had one week to make a presentation to the customer. We spent the week thoroughly discussing each plan and ultimately formed a campaign from each team member's best suggestions. The client was happy with the choice, and the campaign was successful.

After that experience, whenever there was disagreement within the group, we worked hard to get together for discussions and work out the best parts of everyone's solutions. As a group, we would create an excellent proposal. This meant that our team dynamic improved, and our sales figures increased by 8% over the next four months.”

Related: Interview prompt: 'Tell me about working as part of a team'

5. What is the biggest change within the workplace you've ever had to address?

During your career, you may need to change how you usually work so that you can reach a goal. How well you accept and adapt to a company's adjustments can make you a desirable job candidate. Think back to a situation where you needed to alter your work habits or learn something new to show how well you can adapt to change.

Example: “I was a primary school teacher with a high percentage of students whose first language was different from mine. As families regularly moved in and out of the area, my classroom dynamic changed regularly. I realised my original lesson plans would not be as effective since every student had a different starting knowledge base. I decided to completely alter my teaching style and lessons based on what my students needed. The customised lessons resulted in higher test scores and better classroom behaviour. Soon, other teachers began to emulate my lesson plans to suit their own needs.”

6. Has there been a time when a manager asked you to do something you disagreed with?

In some situations, you may have been asked to do a task that you don't feel comfortable doing or you don't understand why you have been asked to do it. This question allows you to display your ability to analyse a challenge and effectively express your thoughts. Try to explain a time when you questioned why you had to do something and any ideas you had on alternative ways forward.

Example: “I used to work for a car dealership where the manager set a high monthly sales quota. As a salesperson, I felt that the goal made it difficult to offer the best customer service possible. I wanted to be honest and fair to all of my customers, even if it meant being flexible about price. I asked for a private meeting with my manager where I expressed my concern over my ability to both meet the quota and make my customers happy.

My manager chose not to change the quota, but instead, we agreed that I should shadow the top-performing salesperson to learn about their tactics. From this, I was able to learn effective strategies to help increase my sales. I was soon able to exceed the sales quota by 7% or more for six consecutive months.”

Tips for answering competency-based interviews

Competency-based interview questions let you bring your own personality and experiences into the interview, helping set you apart from other candidates. Here are some additional tips to help you do so:

  • Take some time before you attend the interview to think of many examples from your background that show how you handle different situations in a positive and confident manner.

  • Explain clearly what the problem was, how you dealt with it and what the outcome was, focusing on your individual contributions.

  • Draw links between what you did and how that skill could be used in the workplace for which you are applying.

Related: How To Prepare for a Competency-Based Interview (With Sample Questions)

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