How best can you prepare for competency based interview questions?- Hays careers advice

How best can you prepare for competency based interview questions?

According to your CV, you have some strong skills, a good academic or professional background, and the potential to make a positive impact in your next role. These claims were enough to secure your upcoming job interview, but now the hiring manager is going to want you to put your money where your mouth is. And here come the competency based interview questions.

How do competency based questions differ from normal ones?

So what are competency based questions, and how are these different to regular, non-competency based ones?

Well the latter will be more general, and designed to get a broader impression of you and how you might fit within an organisation, for instance, “how would your colleagues describe you?” or “what do you think you can bring to the business?” You should certainly prepare for these types of questions and practice your answers ahead of your interview.

Competency based questions, on the other hand, are designed to test for specific attributes, for instance, “tell me about a time you worked well in a team” or “talk about when you resolved a difficult work situation?” These questions aren’t designed to trip you up or throw you off. The interviewer wants to be certain that you can perform to the standards that this role requires. This is in both of your interests, after all, you don’t want to feel out of your depth. Therefore, when preparing to talk about your below competencies, I urge you to keep your answers factual and honest.

Which competencies will you need to prove?

Below, are the main competencies most hiring managers will look for.  The importance of each of these will vary between seniority and job function, and the interviewer may focus in on some requirements more than others. For instance, if you are interviewing for an Office Manager role, the interviewer will want to know that you are extremely organised and able to balance multiple administrative tasks, so will ask more questions surrounding your organisational skills.

Whilst you should use your initiative and knowledge of the role to gauge which competencies are the most important, remember that each of the below will be required to some degree in almost every job, and you must be able to show that you can possess all of them.

1. Specific technical skills
Start by identifying the core abilities needed for this role. These will be skills which require some degree of training and education, for example, Microsoft Excel, or event planning. You will be required to give examples of times that you have used these skills, for instance:

“Can you talk about what you used Microsoft Excel for in your previous role?”

Therefore, it would be a good idea to highlight the key technical skills required for this job and prepare some examples of times you have demonstrated these skills throughout your career. If you have a lot of experience in this area, talk about your most recent examples.

2. Being a team player
Now onto the more generic skills, such as your ability to work in a team. No matter how big or small the team is, the hiring manager will want to know that you can develop a strong working relationship with them, as this is essential for productivity and achieving company goals. You may be asked something like the below in order to test if you are a strong team player:

“Tell me about a time that you and your team worked together to achieve a good result”

Reflect back to all of the times you worked with other people to reach a shared objective. Have a couple of examples up your sleeve and focus on how you collaborated, plus which skills you combined.

3. Communication
Whether it’s liaising with colleagues and suppliers or building a rapport with clients and internal stakeholders, the ability to communicate clearly and effectively to a variety of people is essential to just about any role.  The hiring manager may ask you something like:

“Can you talk about a time where you built up a strong professional rapport with somebody?”

When giving your answer, be sure to mention how you maintain an open and communicative relationship with this person using both your listening skills, as well as your ability to articulate yourself clearly.

4. Decision making
In most roles, even the more junior ones, you will need to show that you can make well-informed decisions exercising your own judgement and knowledge. With this in mind, you can expect to be asked a question like the following:

“Can you give an example of when you last made a decision which had a positive outcome?”

As you talk through your chosen example, be sure to include how you came to this decision, factoring in things like timeframes, budget and priority of the task. You should also talk about the results.

Finding someone who is able to stay on the ball and organise their workload will be another key focus for your hiring manager.  Therefore expect to be asked some kind of variation of the below question:

“How do you manage your workload effectively?”

Everyone has their own way of keeping on top of their tasks and responsibilities, making sure they meet their deadlines and goals. Perhaps you have a list of tasks which you order by priority, reviewing this list throughout the day and reordering if needed. Either way, be prepared to talk about how you stay organised and in control of your own workload.

6. Problem solving
The old adage goes that managers want people who come to them with solutions, not problems, and for me, I couldn’t agree more. The employees who can rise to a challenge and think of innovative ways to solve a problem are the ones who go on to achieve great things both for themselves and the business. Taking this into account, your manager may ask something like:

“What’s the biggest challenge you have faced at work?”

Think back, and be ready to talk about this experience positively, emphasising how you solved the issue using outside of the box thinking and a problem-solving attitude.

Every role will vary, but the six competencies listed above remain constant for every hiring manager. Therefore it is important that you prepare clear, truthful anecdotes which reflect these attributes and practice talking about them in a confident and concise way. Doing this, combined with all of your other interview preparation, will give you the best chance for achieving interview success.

Still in need of some more interview advice? Then you may find the below useful:


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Marc Burrage was appointed as Managing Director for Hays Specialist Recruitment Japan KK (“Hays Japan”) in October 2015. Marc has 20 years recruitment experience, 17 years within the Asia Pacific region and 8 years at country manager level.

Marc joined Hays at the beginning of 2012 as the Regional Director for Hong Kong, in 2014 he was asked to head up Hays Asia wide Talent Solutions business before being appointed to his current role. Marc is now responsible for the day to day operations and growth of the Japanese business across all specialisms, supplying permanent, executive search, temporary, contract and onsite solutions. Marc has broad industry and functional expertise, with a proven track record of continued success and has led and grown businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

Prior to working in the recruitment industry Marc held various sales and marketing management positions in the automotive industry. He has extensive business transformation and change management experience and is adept at building, developing and leading cross functional teams. Marc was a board member for the Leadership Institute of New Zealand and studied strategy at Ashridge International Business School.