Top five tips on how to prepare for competency interviews

Hamish McCombie - 06/03/2013

Competency based interview questions are now fairly common in many job interviews. Although it is still fairly rare for employers to run an entire interview in this format most managers will throw in a couple of questions along the lines of “can you give me an example of a time when you have…”

One of the most common and frustrating mistakes candidates make in responding to these questions is choosing  the wrong example to illustrate the competency requested. There is nothing worse than starting down the road of a particular example only to realise that it
either doesn’t illustrate well the point you wanted to make, that it’s very hard to articulate the point or that so much background explanation is required that the answer becomes disjointed and hard to understand.

The key to getting this right is proper preparation. For project and change professionals it is actually reasonably easy to predict and prepare for these questions using the following five steps:

1) Preselect the roles or projects that you are going to use to illustrate your answers: The fewer projects you plan to refer to the less likely you are to head of down a dead end. Most people find they can cover everything they are likely to be asked by relating to two projects (ideally your most recent).

2) Predict the questions: You are almost certainly going to be asked to demonstrate core project skills. Apply a project lifecycle against your projects and pick out an example of each stage in the lifecycle that you are going to use to demonstrate your experience. You will almost certainly also be asked about your organisational and/or stakeholder management skills so cover these off too.

3) Choose examples that you can present succinctly: Don’t select long convoluted situations that require extensive scene setting. Remember it’s your ability to articulate the answer that counts and it’s often better to choose a simpler situation to make your
point than try to describe a highly complex scenario even if it’s very relevant to the question.

4) Use the STAR method to prepare the examples: For each answer you should describe the Situation, Task, Action and Result (STAR). This will help you to structure your answers including all the relevant information without waffling.

5) Do your prep properly: Take the time to actually write it out even if it’s just crib notes to ensure that you have covered everything off and run through it so it trips off your tongue when you have to do it for real.

I hope you have found my competency interview tips helpful and if you have additional tips, please comment below. Or if you require further advice or would like discuss project and change job opportunities, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Associate Director, London
+44 207 092 0162
hmccombie@morganmckinley.com