Interviews are difficult at the best of times.  There are different types of interviews dependent on the organisation and the job you are being interviewed for.

Formal interviews, CV based interviews and once my dreaded option – competency based interviews.

Competency based interviews also known as behavioural or structured interviews – are made up of a number of questions to ask candidates to describe situations in order to find out about their past performance in the workplace.

  • The theory is that past behaviour will influence future behaviour.
  • Competency based interviews ask questions like – Tell me a time… when you were able to meet a strict deadline, demonstrated team spirit, showed your leadership qualities.
  • These will usually be influenced by the competencies required for the job for which you have applied. Read the job description and personal specification thoroughly  prior to interview as this will really help you to understand the questions that might be asked.

If this sounds daunting don’t worry, the method I have found will be a great help to you.

After experience and increased confidence, I find competency based interviews are a great way to highlight your individual strengths and knowledge by using the STAR method.  Before this I would go off on a tangent, waffle, forget major aspects of work I had done or freeze up during the interview and not answer questions thoroughly.

This Acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.  This is a great way of structuring your responses in advance of interview, and increases your confidence too.  

A candidate for a marketing executive role might be asked: “Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight timescale.” Here’s how you could structure your response:

  • Situation – set the context for your story. For example, “We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 50 delegates on a new product and my Manager Karen who was due to deliver it, was ill on the way there and was not well enough to give the presentation.
  • Task – what was required of you. For example, “It was my responsibility to find an alternative so the presentation wasn’t cancelled, and it didn’t reflect badly on the company and we didn’t waste the opportunity to showcase what we do.”
  • Activity – what you actually did. For example, “I spoke to the event organisers to find out if they could change the running order. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted our Assistant Manager Phil, another member of the team, who agreed to step in. He agreed to drop what he was doing and head to the event.”
  • Result – how well the situation played out. For example, “Karen didn’t make the meeting but we explained the problem to the delegates and Phil’s presentation went very well – a bit ropey around the edges but it was warmly received and much appreciated. As a result we gave a professional performance and didn’t let people down, our product was well received and at least three delegates converted into paying clients.”

A few tips.

It is important be speak in specific rather than general terms and demonstrate a successful outcome. In this example, we mentioned 50 delegates, the names of the people involved and quantified three contacts converted to clients. From a listener’s perspective, this makes the story more interesting and they are more able to gauge your success. Nameless figures and undefined successes can make the answer less feel less convincing. Secondly, as there are likely to be many questions and a whole list of previous candidates, interviewers have short attention spans, so it’s  important to keep your answers very concise and to the point.  Always end on a positive outcome.

In a second example, a candidate for a customer services role is asked: “Describe a situation when you had to deliver excellent customer service following a complaint”

  • Situation: “A customer rang up complaining that they’d waited more than two weeks for a reply from our community support team regarding a complaint they had about our community support service.”
  • Task: “I needed to address the client’s immediate query and find out what went wrong in the normal process to reassure the caller that I was taking their complaint seriously.
  • Activity: “I apologised, got the details and passed them to my Manager, who contacted the client within the hour. I investigated why the query hadn’t been answered. I discovered that it was a combination of a wrong mobile number and a generic email address that wasn’t being checked properly by the team member who took the original message. I let the client know and we would send a member out to them within 24 hours
  • Result: “The client not only continued to use our service but posted a very positive customer service message on our main facebook page, with a thank you message naming me personally for the way I had dealt with their call”

Used well, this structured response is well articulated and a fantastic way to deal with competency based interviews.

Create a bank of answers in advance for use at interviews, so you can refer to these prior to interview and make sure there is a copy neatly placed in the bag you are taking to interview. Study, review and memorise prior to interview on the day.

Good luck I hope this STAR method will help you to beat your competency based interview FEARS!


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