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A complete guide to competency-based interviews

If you've been asked to take part in a competency-based interview, here’s what you need to know to stay calm and do well.

What are competency-based interviews?

Competency-based interviews use questions to target how you’ve used specific skills in past jobs and how you approach problems and tasks. 

The idea behind this style of interview is that your existing experience is an indicator of how you’ll be in the role you’re applying for. 

They're different from regular interviews which tend to be more informal. These are structured and each answer is scored.

Top tips for competency-based interviews

Our careers adviser, Carrie Stewart, has three top tips to help you conquer a competency-based interview.

Here's what employers are saying

You should have a number of scenarios ready to talk about. Depending on the job you're applying for, it should be fairly straightforward to anticipate a range of potential questions you'll be asked. Then it's just about finding good examples, being succinct and sticking to the STAR approach.John DuffinLearning and Development Advisor, NHS Scotland

Practice, practice, practice

The key to giving convincing, job-winning answers is preparation. And the good news is that this is relatively easy to do with competency questions. 

Employers use competency-based questions to get you to demonstrate a skill needed for the job. Many employers will share which competencies they’ll be looking for ahead of the interview so you can prepare examples.

Let’s take a look at what some of these questions might sound like. 

  • "Could you tell us about a time you led a complex project? How did you handle it?" The interviewer may want to hear about leadership.
  • "Have you ever helped a manager resolve an issue? Which method did you use?" An employer or interviewer is looking for resilience
  • "Can you tell me about a time you learned something new to complete a task?" The person interviewing you may want to hear about flexibility.
  • "Describe a time you had to handle a customer’s difficult request." An employer or recruiter is looking for a time you resolved conflict.
  • "Could you tell us about a time you used attention to detail to complete a project?" The interviewer wants to hear about problem solving skills.
  • "Could you explain how you’ve increased your company’s revenue?" An employer or interviewer wants to see if you have commercial awareness.
  • "Tell us about a time you increased your output or the quality of your work!" They're looking for an example of a time you showed adaptability.
  • "Describe a time you collaborated successfully with a team." The person interviewing you wants to hear about teamwork.
  • "Name a time you had to make a challenging decision in the workplace." An employer or interviewer could be looking for a time you were decisive.
  • "Can you tell us about a time you had to work under pressure?" The interviewer may want to hear about resilience.
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Be a STAR 

So, we know competency-based questions are your opportunity to give certain skills some priority. Now you can prepare examples from your experiences to demonstrate them best. 

You should try to draw on a variety of experiences from your studies, previous employment or any work experience you’ve done. 

A great method for doing this on the day is to use STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Let’s take a closer look.  


Set the scene. Where and when did this take place? Are there any project details you can provide, like who you were working for?


Explain what your task and responsibility was. Make sure to focus on what you were specifically assigned to, not your team.


This is the most important part. Describe how you handled the situation and conquered the problem. You're trying to show them how you assessed the situation and stayed proactive.


Close the story by stating the outcome of your actions and what you learned. This is a good time to quantify the impact you had with statistics or other evidence.