Recruitment specialist in HR, Sales and Operations

Tips for smashing competency based interviews

April 24, 2023  /  andy@andrewjamesrecruitment.co.uk

Over the last few quarters, we have delivered to several retained campaigns which has as part of the service, included our participation in the competency interview stages of the hiring processes.

We regularly competency interview, but to do so in the company of our clients has been a particularly enjoyable experience. It has also offered some brilliant insight, which we are pleased to share.

Some of you may have views on whether competency interviews are appropriate and effective – another blog on that in the future!

For today, lets look at some tips for job seekers, who may be about to enter competency-based interviews soon. It is worth keeping in mind that the roles that we have delivered to recently have been senior level HR, Sales and Operations hires, but the observations that we took can be useful for people competency interviewing in any role within any specialism.

Tip 1 – use the STAR method – our clients liked it!

I am sure that most of you will have heard of this method for answering competency questions. As a reminder it is:

S is for situation – describe the situation and when it took place;

T is for task – explain the task / what was the goal;

A is for action – provide details about the action you took;

R is for result – conclude with the result of your action.

Nothing new here. However what is news is that our clients really liked it were candidates were using this technique, in fact it was unanimously popular. You have it from the horses mouth – employers like this structure!

Tip 2 – Use STAR, But! Remember synergy.

It has been very interesting to observe that people who used the most relevant examples, did the best in the competency interviews that we observed.  If you have worked in 5 workplaces, with 2 being similar to the one you are interviewing at (size, development, perceived culture, product, service etc), then clearly, your STAR answer is likely to have more impact and be more relatable to the panel, compared with describing your experiences and examples from other 3 environments that you have experience in. We witnessed some losing out out to others, by leaving impressions of not having synergy with the employing businesses situation and organisation when in fact they did, they just picked the wrong examples to focus on.

And to those who say that this was poor by the employer to not have digged further – we are sorry, but no – those that went through, did a better job of nailing the interview process (as I say this blog is not about the merit, non-merit or competency interviews, it is just about doing well when they are in a process).

Tip 3 – Don’t try to over impress – it backfires! How you communicate in interview, reflects how you will be perceived to communicate in work

Our clients were not very impressed when answers started with – ‘oh there are so many’, or ‘oh listen, I could give a hundred examples here’ and then try to rattle of a number of examples.  Compare that opening to someone who says something like, ‘ ok great, yes that would be a pleasure, I can talk you through this one……. STAR’. When you have gathered a lot of experience, it is easy to fall into the trap of desperately trying to convey all those experiences. Just keep in mind that the most impact comes from one concise answer, which is most specific to the question and relatable to the environment.

Tip 4 – don’t be afraid to clarify the question.

Just like sitting an exam, a key to doing well in a competency interview is to make sure you understand the question. There is nothing worse that giving an example (even with great STAR structure) when it is just off the mark and not relevant. We can think of a few times where people paused and asked for clarity or for questions to be repeated. This was always met with positive acceptance and on every occasion interviewers were very happy to clarify the question, go over it again and in some cases give some guidance.

Furthermore, this bravery and clarification questioning was also always taken as a positive communication characteristic. After all, it crosses over to live, in work situations. It is a great thing to make sure that a task, target, request, order, project is understood and clarified before resource is spent isn’t it!?

We hope this helps you in your interviews this week!

Look out for future blogs, about competency interviews and their appropriateness for hiring today and for some tips on how employers/interviewers can do well with competency interviews.

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