One. The Fundamentals

One. What Are Competency-Based Interviews?

Competency-based interviews, also known as behavioral-style interviews, offer you an opportunity to demonstrate the skills, proficiencies, and abilities you have developed in the course of your career. By answering interview questions that focus on your actions in particular workplace situations, you allow interviewers to compare your experience to the requirements of their open positions. This works to your advantage since the likelihood increases that their hiring decisions will be based on your know-how rather than on the interviewer's personal impressions.

Competency-Based vs. Traditional Interview Questions

Traditional interview questions are broad, allowing the candidate to select an example of a work situation that fits the question asked. These traditional types of interview questions are easy to detect because each typically begins with: "How would . . . ," "How can . . . ," "What would . . . ," "What experience . . . ," "What qualifications . . . ," "Can you describe . . . ," "Have you been . . .".

For example, the traditional question, "How would you describe yourself?" opens the door for you to answer in very general terms. You can choose to provide a short response, such as "I describe myself as hardworking." Or you can go into detail by saying, "Since my employment with ABC Company, I have never missed a day of work. I take pride in providing customers with a top-notch experience." You also could choose to mention your skills in problem resolution, negotiations, or account management. As you can see, with traditional interview questions, your options as a candidate are unlimited, giving you full control over how you answer each question.

On the other hand, competency-based interview questions are specific. They require you to provide examples in response to questions that are essential for the company and the position for which you are interviewing. An example of a competency-based interview question is: "Describe a time you kept your cool when in a stressful situation." In this case, there is no flexibility for you. The interviewer has laid out exactly what he wants to know. Because of this specificity, competency-based questions are more difficult to answer and they require more thoughtful responses.

Competency-style interview questions begin with phrases such as the following: "Tell me about a time when you. . . ," "Give an example of a situation when. . . ," "Describe an occasion . . .," "Describe a time . . . ," "Recall a time . . . ". They may also involve a follow-up question, asking for elaboration of your cited incident; for example, "Describe a time when there was a fundamental change in the way things were done in your workplace. What was your response to the situation?" Interviewers choose this line of questioning to ensure that they receive a well-rounded response from you.

In addition, interviewers may set up a competency-based question with an introductory statement. For example: "There are times when a firm decision must be made quickly, and there are other times when it is prudent to consider all angles before making a decision. Give an example of a situation when you took your time in making a final decision." Beginning a question with a scenario or an affirmation is a conversation tool that interviewers use to ease your anxiety and get you to open up. And that "opening up" allows you to present yourself as an asset to the company.

Proficiencies That Competency-Based Questions Measure

There are five core competencies that are measured during interviews that include these questions. The competencies are transferable from profession to profession and industry to industry and call for particular traits. They include the following:

Competency #1. Individual Responsibility

Decisiveness , Independence , Flexibility , Career goals

Competency #2. Managerial/Leadership Skills


Employee motivation

Ability to delegate

Strategic planning

Competency #3. Personal Motivation

Ambition , Initiative

Competency #4. Analytical Skills

Problem solving , Attention to detail

Competency #5. People Skills

Communications skills

Teamwork ability

Customer service awareness

In addition to these core competencies, interviewers seek industry-specific competencies, as noted on the next page. Lastly, you can find additional competencies in current or previous job descriptions, classified ads, performance reviews, and written correspondences. In Chapter 2 you will find examples of each.

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