Competency-based interviews have become much more widely used over recent years, and it is a strong possibility that you will encounter one during the interview process at one job or another. It is sometimes viewed as being ‘better’ than a traditional interview because you actually get to demonstrate the skills you boast, as well as your actual ability when it comes to doing the job they need from you.
For those who haven’t been through one, or for someone who is going for something challenging to their current skillset, a competency-based interview can be pretty daunting, but there are a number of tips and ideas that will help you get through it while using it to the best of your ability.
My favourite saying, learned from a high school teacher, is ‘Fail to prepare; prepare to fail’, and it really is true. Interviews require a bit of preparation to ensure that you will perform as well as you should. Some questions we face we are automatically prepared for,but others will be thrown in there to make you think, to challenge you, and to help the interviewer understand how you think as well as helping them to see how you think. Answers should be rehearsed slightly, but not word-for-word. Have the gist of your answer in your mind, and build on it with whatever comes to you that is relevant, as well as any scenario-specific information. Have multiple answers in your memory library so you can chop, change, or use them all if need be. Understand that you may need to do some homework before turning up to any interview!
Find out about the questions
It helps if you know the competencies on which you are to be assessed. You may be given a job description, a job profile or in your interview pack. However, many companies do not supply these as standards, so do not be shy about asking for them. Most recruitment agencies will have this information; if not they will at least have an idea of what previous candidates have been assessed on. If you are communicating directly with a hiring manager, ask them if they can give you this information. They may not wish to share it to see how you cope under pressure, but having the desire to be organised and prepared for the questions is not a sin.
STARs and CARs
STAR is a term commonly banded around, but its little sister CAR is just as effective in helping you to structure an answer. Give the situation some Context, tell the interviewer what Action you took, and what the Result was from your actions. It keeps the story natural while maintaining a template to stop you from forgetting any information. It can also lead questions for the interviewer, which is good too: questions = engaged interviewer = better chance at getting the job.
Expect Unexpected Turns of Events
Interviewers like to ask completely random questions to gain insight into the inner workings of your mind. These may involve role play, activities dropping you in at the deep end with a customer and seeing how you handle it, or there might be one question such as ‘If you were an animal, what would you be and why?’ to try and find out how you view yourself and the way you work. Take a deep breath, think, and find something smart to feed back to them.
Take time to learn about the company
Most companies publish their working ethic online, and there may be talk of their projects in forums or on their site. If you can find an insider, find out the business objectives for the year ahead, five years ahead, and ten years ahead, so that when you answer a question, you can link it to how you fit in with the company. They need to know what you are capable of within their organisation, and if you can make links, they will be able to envisage you in their team better.
Learn to communicate
One of the most popular competencies to test is how well you communicate. You can be a rock star rocket scientist, but if you are unable to communicate important information, this may let you down. Without even realising, they are assessing your competency in this from the moment you set foot in the door. If you have been asked to construct a presentation, practice well and prepare to take questions at the end, which you can answer confidently and accurately.
Don’t let the interviewer distract you or throw you off
Some interviewers prefer to ‘wing it’ when it comes to questions, but some stick to rigid questions, some of which are intentionally slightly repetitive to see just how well you can answer. Chances are that all candidates are asked the same questions, but even when they repeat, refer to what you said before, elaborate, then move on to your next point.
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