Interview Preparation Part 3 - How to answer competency based questions

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Michelle Hiseman, Career Counsellor at CV Writers, advises on how to answer competency based questions at interview

Competency based interviews are used in most interviews. They give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you have the right skills for the role by using real-life examples and often start with:

Give me an example of a time when….

Tell us about a situation when….

Describe a time when….


Always put yourself in the shoes of the employer and think about what they are looking for. This will enable you to tailor your interview answers accordingly. A detailed analysis of the job description will highlight the competencies they are likely to ask about, then brainstorm examples for each one, which can be used as a basis for an answer. Competencies are the qualities, behaviours and attributes that a recruiter is looking which show how you perform your job. Also, always keep in mind the culture, values and vision of the organisation when crafting your answers. Find information on what it is like to work at an organisation from websites like Glassdoor which often has reviews from current and previous employees, plus example questions and information about how the recruitment process works. Or

Using examples identified in your preparation, the CBI (Context, Behaviour, Impact) technique gives structure to your answers. It is possible to use one scenario for more than one competency, for example a large project could showcase your good leadership, problem solving and conflict resolution. Remember to adapt to the question being asked and stay relevant.


Briefly describe the situation, task, goals, main challenges and the reason for undertaking the task.

Due to a takeover of a smaller company, I was put in charge of aligning the invoice processes and integrating staff from the new company into our team. Due to poor communication, morale was low.


Never blame others or make others look bad. Focus on how you contributed to resolving the issue or the success of the project/task.

Explain what you did to achieve the outcome. This is where the most detail should be. Focus not just on ‘what’ you did but also ‘how’, including:

  • Your decision-making process
  • Reasons for choosing your course of action
  • How you interacted with people
  • How did you overcome the challenge

For example, when answering the question Tell me about a time when you were in conflict with a colleague. After you have given the context, you could say:

“I told him to calm down and explained what the problem was”.

However, there is not enough detail in this answer and the recruiter has not learned anything useful about you. Highlight the reasons behind your action, how you spoke to him and your course of action.  A better response would be:

I asked him to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings, he quickly calmed down. I then explained my own point of view, emphasising the importance of finding a solution that suited us both. We scheduled a meeting to………”

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Briefly, explain the outcome, what you accomplished, the contribution to the organisation, and what you learnt. Use quantifiable statistics if possible, plus reflections or interesting insights.

An example:

The introduction of my new processes resulted in an 85% reduction in errors on invoices within the first 6 months and we are on track to achieve 95% by the end of the year.  Plus, there is a noticeable difference in morale. I am particularly proud of this project because it was my first management role and I have gained a lot of confidence in my leadership abilities.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice your answers out loud and get comfortable talking about your work. This is more effective than thinking about them, so ask a trusted friend or hire an interview coach to give you a mock interview and give you honest, constructive feedback about your performance. A note of caution though, avoid over-rehearsing your answers. You need to come across naturally in the interview plus have the flexibility to adapt your answers to the actual questions being asked.

This article is written by Michelle Hiseman, Career Counsellor at CV Writers.

CV Writers are the official CV partner to ACCA Careers.

In addition to a CV writing service they can help with LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, career counselling and interview coaching. You can get things started with a Free CV Review.

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