Two. Preparing for Competency-Based Interview Questions

An interview that includes competency-based questions will run longer than a traditional interview because the interviewer may choose to spend ten to fifteen minutes on each competency, asking you to elaborate or provide more examples. Interviewers may also opt to ask more than one question regarding each competency, so as to get a broader view of your experience and to avoid basing their perceptions on only one response.

So, how do you prepare for these questions? In this chapter I provide some strategies for a variety of personal situations.

Identify and Highlight Your Accomplishments

Recent accomplishments are easy to come up with during an interview because they are fresh in your mind. Yet, to appear competitive and provide diverse examples during the interview, you cannot rely solely on your current or last position as a performance indicator. Dig into your past and view your achievements in different lights; each activity in your history can be an ingredient in a tasty recipe that reveals your rich professional capability. Think about those activities in your past and make a list of them. As a result, you will have ample illustrations to choose from when responding to these questions.

Keep the following in mind as you compile your list:

Think small. Accomplishments come in many forms. If you cannot think of extraordinary examples for every question, that's fine. Mentioning occasions when you received an e-mail acknowledgment for a job well done or a time when you made a small but significant difference in your job performance, will impress interviewers as much as extraordinary examples.

Quantify the results. Increasing productivity or decreasing downtime or lowering overhead are impressive feats to accomplish for a company. Whenever possible provide interviewers with a percentage change or a dollar amount; this quantification will add weight to your responses.

Accomplishments are relative. Although helpful, numbers are not always everything. There is a false rumor among job seekers that accomplishments are limited to numbers. That is not the case, however. Your accomplishments are relative—relative to others with whom you work, relative to your field and position, relative to time and situation. Some accomplishments are subtle but significant. For example, an executive assistant's list of accomplishments could include the implementation of a new filing system, not quantifiable but nevertheless an important contribution to efficiency. The achievement is noteworthy because it demonstrates the assistant's ability to meet or exceed expectations.

When You Lack the Specific Experience

Ideally, your list of achievements will include specific examples. However, some of you will not have had the necessary experience to demonstrate your abilities. Of course, you have the option of simply informing the interviewer that you do not have said experience, but that is not advisable. Chances are, in your background you had some opportunities to accumulate the same skills as the interviewer is seeking, perhaps via a different route. You need to use the opportunity of this question to present your skills as comparable. In these circumstances, you have two viable choices:

Choice 1

Choose an example that closely relates to the question asked.

Competency—based Question: "Describe a time when you were charged with sourcing new vendors for a project."

Possible response: "All the companies I have worked for had first-rate vendors, so sourcing new ones was not needed. However, I did nurture the relationships with existing vendors and was able to renegotiate prices, successfully slashing purchasing costs by ten percent."

Choice 2

Provide a hypothetical example when you can't offer a real example. Answering hypothetically allows you to demonstrate your flexibility and your capacity to handle a situation if it came your way.

Competency-based Question: "Tell me about a time when you received a commendation from management for a job well done."

Hypothetical response: "I cannot recall a specific time when I received a commendation, but, if I may, I'd like to describe my work ethic. For example, recently I volunteered to work overtime and without compensation to develop and implement a bi-weekly innovative education and training seminar for thirty employees. This employee training resulted in an enhanced team environment in which staff members performed at a consistently high level."

When you do not have specific experience to cite, you need to take care in offering a response. Refrain from sounding apologetic, because doing so will only make you look unqualified for the position. Additionally, do not answer a competency-based question hypothetically when you do have the hands-on experience the interviewer is seeking.

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