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HR Guide: What is a Competency-based Interview?

Mohamad Danial bin Ab. Khalil
by Mohamad Danial bin Ab. Khalil
Jul 27, 2020 at 4:02 PM

The basics

Competency-based interviews, also known as structured, behavioural or situational interviews, are designed to measure one or more skills or competencies. The competency-based interview is popular with recruiters because they can easily compare many candidates. The interview has a list of questions, each focusing on a particular skill, and the candidate's answers will be compared to pre-determined criteria and marked accordingly. 

The competency-based interview works on the principles that past behaviour is the best indicator of future performance. It can be used by employers across all sectors but is very popular among large graduate recruiters. 

A competency-based interview is different from normal or unstructured interviews as it is more systematic and each question targets a skill for the job. Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they will need to back up with concrete examples. Here are the main competencies that employers usually look for: 

Skills for competency-based interviews


What kind of competency-based interview questions can you ask?

Most questions revolve around examples of situations where a job candidate have demonstrated specific skills, though they can appear in different formats such as:

  • Tell me about a circumstance where you made a decision and then changed your mind.
  • Give me an instance of a situation where you had to deal with a dispute with an internal or external client.
  • How do you ensure that you maintain good working relationships with your senior co-workers?
  • How do you influence people in situations where there are conflicting agendas?

The interviewer should start with a general question, which they will then follow-up with more specific, example-based questions such as:

  • Give us an example of a situation where you had a fundamental dispute with one of your superiors.
  • How do you manage upwards?


How do you mark competency-based interview questions?

Before the job interview, the interviewer should determine which type of answers would score positive points and which ones would count against the candidates. For instance, for questions such as "Describe a time when you had to deal with pressure", the positive and negative indicators would look like this: 

positive indicators and negative indicators

In some situations, negative indicators are divided into two further sections: minor negative indicators and decisive negative indicators, based on the severity of the negative indicators. Marks are then allotted depending on the extent to which the candidate's answer matches those negative and positive indicators.

Here is an instance of a marking schedule for a competency-based interview:

COmpetency-based skill interview marking

If the interviewer feels that there are areas that the candidate has failed to address, they may help the candidate by probing appropriately. For instance, in answering the question "Describe a time when you had to deal with pressureif the candidate is focused on how they dealt with the practical angle of the problem but forgot to discuss how they managed their stress during after the event, the interviewer can prompt the candidate with a further question such as “How did you handle the stress at the time?”

This would give the candidate a chance to present a full picture of their behaviour. This is where the marking can become subjective. 


Competency-based interview questions template

Competency-based interview questions vary differently between sectors and depending on the level of responsibility to which the candidate is applying. The type of competencies against which the candidate will be assessed also depends on the actual job position and the employer. For instance, Company A view leadership as competency on its own whilst others prefer to split leadership between a wide range of components such as creativity, flexibility, strategic thinking, vision and others. 

Here, we provide a document containing a spectrum of competency-based interview questions, ordered by competency. It will give the interviewer an idea of what they can ask.

competency-based interview questions
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Preparing competency-based interview questions

The key to preparing the right questions based on competency is the job advert itself. The job description or person specification is where you identify the main competencies a job candidate should possess. 

Focus on the candidate's experiences from their studies, previous employment or any work experience they have undertaken. 


As long as you know which skills and expertise you are looking for, you will have no problem finding the right questions to ask your job candidates. 

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Sources: Prospects, SHRM, & ISC Professional

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