Taking the “fear factor” out of Competency Based Interviewing

Do YOU get the fear factor when you hear you’ve been called for a Competency based Interview?


Do YOU get the fear factor when you hear you’ve been called for a Competency based Interview? It puts the shivers up and down most candidates’ spines.
Here is a summary of how I take the fear factor out of the equation resulting in an outstanding interview performance.


A competency interview is an interview process where the hiring company identify the key competences (usually between 4-8 competencies) for the position they are hiring for. They will interview all candidates on these competencies and candidates will be scored on a scale of 1-5 usually with 5 meaning: the candidate effectively demonstrated solid evidence of this competency.

Some examples of competencies are: Problem Solving, Leadership, Innovation, Judgement and Decision Making, Technical expertise (in the relevant field), People Management, and Team Involvement.

In the Public sector the candidate will have already answered questions in their application form that should demonstrate their experience in these areas of competency. In the Private Sector candidates will often be informed of the competencies prior to the interview.

So, clients call me and say: “I am an experienced (engineer, accountant, teacher, clerical officer for example), and I need to complete an application form for a vacancy but I am struggling with the competency questions”, or “I have a competency interview coming up and I’m not sure how to prepare as I’ve never done one of these interviews before”.
For the most part clients possess these competencies but struggle to communicate them in a manner that demonstrates their experience in these areas. In some cases clients don’t recognise these competencies from their experience because they’ve never really thought about it. And once they hear “competency interview”, the fear factor seems to set in.

The Client sets up a meeting with Devane Careers to prepare for the interview. This service is a two meeting process. The first meeting is used to analyse the client’s background in terms of experience, skills, education and desire for the role. In this meeting training is provided on the STAR (Situation, Task, Actions and Results) framework. This is a framework that helps the client design their answers to competency based questions. What does a competency based question sound like? “Tell me about a time when you feel you demonstrated strong problem solving ability”?

Before I meet with the client, I have already dissected the job description for the role they are interviewing for, and I have reviewed their background very closely. This will make our meeting very productive indeed.

Of course after welcoming the client and making them feel at ease, I outline the structure of the meeting and invite them to discuss their concerns, their reason for applying for the role and their background in great detail.
I regularly notice when a client arrives at my office, they bring a lot of material. This could include job descriptions, projects, CV, a recent Performance Appraisal, lists of interview questions from their friend and more questions downloaded from the internet. At times the client feels cluttered in their head but also physically with all of the documentation. They are not sure where to start they tell me.
I commence a de-cluttering process by firstly analysing the job description and summarising it together with the client. This process allows the client to now see their alignment to the requirement to the role in terms of ability, skills, experience and qualifications.
Next I discuss the possible distraction of all of the documentation in front of the client. I explain that some of it may not be relevant and advise that it may be best to put it away for now and that we should start with a clean slate.

I use a whiteboard to document the client’s strengths, successes, experience, and competencies. Following that I train the client on the STAR technique and they now see the relevance and the benefit of this framework. Next we work on each competency and I facilitate the client to discuss their experience providing clear and concise examples in each competency area. The client documents a summary of each and I provide feedback if the example being discussed meets the competency criteria or not. In some cases the client needs to remember another example which may demonstrate the competency more clearly. I then advise them (for homework) to document each example in the STAR format for their mock interview which generally takes place within a week of this first meeting.

As we wrap up the meeting, I am always excited and rewarded to see the difference in the client. The de-cluttered mind, the realisation that they can put away the mountain of documentation, the increased confidence, the relief, the feeling of support and the barriers broken down with regard to the competency interview structure.
Their feedback at this point is that they feel much better and more confident that they now know what to prepare and how to prepare.

At the next meeting, I carry out a mock interview following a discussion with the client.
I start with some standard interview questions and then move to unexpected challenging questions, and finally I examine all of the competencies one by one. We pause after every 2/3 questions to provide feedback and to give the client time to write down pointers. I then work on more confidence building techniques with the client. Finally we discuss key take aways from the session.

The “fear factor” has disappeared and the client is well prepared for their competency based interview.
But the story regularly continues as clients move through to the next step in the interview process.


Tel: 353 87 7475865
Email: marie@devanecareers.ie
Twitter: @DevaneCareers
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariedevane/
FB: @Mariedevanecareers

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