The best competency questions and how to prepare

Competency questions – why they are important and how to prepare yourself for an interview.  Competency questions are increasingly used by employers to ascertain and understand the relevant strengths and weaknesses of applicants. Competency questions will vary from industry to industry, however, you’ll find them included in most interviews, so be prepared!

Interviewers are looking for concise, confident and relevant answers; they’re also assessing the way in which you articulate your answers. Employers are aware of those who don’t tell the complete truth too; don’t become Pinocchio!

  • Be ready. Preparing for an interview will put you in good stead. Prior to the interview, brush up on your career experiences and identify examples of where you have excelled e.g. saved budget, slashed spending or smashed a target. For each question, your interviewer will want you to provide a specific example of previous work and how that transfers into the requirements of the new job.
    Top tip: Be concise and measured but also go into detail about the example you are describing. Relate it to how you will transfer those skills and your experience into the new role. If you can’t think of the perfect example, be positive and offer an alternative, yet relevant example and show how you can grow and develop.
  • Rehearse your answers. Aligned with being prepared, it’s a good idea to seek out friends, family or neighbours who are hiring managers. Take 10 minutes with them asking you questions so you can prepare and rehearse. Don’t be afraid to ask for direction on how you can improve – remember, everyone can improve.
    Top tip: Read through your questions and answers and think about your answers. Are they engaging?
  • Be positive. Your interviewer will be looking at your non-verbal communication as well as how you answer their questions. Be positive, have faith in yourself and look your interviewer in the eye. A good, solid handshake sets the tone for a positive experience. Do your best and be you.
    Top tip: Practice your handshakes with others to get the right pressure and concentrate on looking at people in the eye.

Paying attention and listening to your interviewer(s) is essential. When they ask a question, listen to the clues in the answer they are seeking. Be positive in your answer (see above) and don’t rush.

  • Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and see it from their point of view. They are looking for someone dynamic, impressive and confident; make sure you show these traits.
    Top tip: Read up on the firm you’re being interviewed by and look at all online resources, including social media and Google/Bing.
  • Just be yourself. Be true to your personal brand. You have values and be strict to them; be honest and open. If you can’t answer a question, be truthful. Be concise and direct, yet personable. It’s your personality that’s being assessed, so your interviewers won’t want a textbook answer, just an answer from you.
    Top tip: Don’t blind your interviewer(s) with management and industry jargon. If you are moving between industries, explain terms and illustrate their relevancy to the role you’re moving into.
  • Some sample competency-based questions.You may encounter some of these, so be prepared. This is not an exclusive list and will vary between roles.

Technical expertise:
What relevant technical expertise do you bring to this role and how would you evidence this?

Oral communication:
Tell me about a time when you have had to communicate difficult information to more senior people.
Tell me about a time when you have had to make presentations to individuals or groups.

Organisational awareness:
When have you had to use current legislation that you are up-to-date with to change or manage a situation in the business?

Working/managing a team:
Give me an example of where you had to work as part of a group to achieve a goal.
Give me an example of when understanding colleagues has been critical to achieving success.
Give me an example of when you have contributed to the success of the team.
Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team.
When have you had to delegate tasks in order to meet a tight deadline?

Give me an example of where you found it necessary to change a process to meet customer needs.
Tell me about a time when you have developed services/products to give your business a competitive advantage?
Tell me how you organise your daily working schedule.
Tell me about a time when you improved financial targets.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken at work and how did you manage it?
Describe a situation when you came up with a solution to a problem

Managing customer’s expectations:
Give me an example where you have turned around a customer relationship.
Describe a key customer relationship you have built.
Given a limited time frame, how would you make an impression on somebody?
Give me an example of a time when you had to work hard to build up a good relationship with other people?
What is your project management experience? When have you had to apply this?
In your current job, how do you manage your time and workload to achieve your objectives?
What common obstacles do you encounter and how do you overcome them to achieve your objectives?
Give me an example of a time when you encountered problems and how did you resolve them? Was this day-to-day or a larger project?

Explain an occasion where you made the wheels turn in a previous working environment.
Describe a time when you have had to enlist the help of others to complete a piece of work.
Describe an occasion when you needed to adopt a new approach to get agreement from others.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Tell me about a time when you delivered something that you felt proud of.
Give me an example of a time when you had to use your values to impact a piece of work
Tell me about a particularly difficult piece of work you have faced
Do you set yourself goals?

Importance of strategy:
Tell me how you have gone about planning for the future of your unit/department.
Describe a strategic change you have recently implemented.
Tell me about a time when you have influenced strategy.

Leading others:
Tell me about a time when you led a team of people.
Tell me of a success you have achieved when you have had significant influence of a team.
Describe how you have established the priorities and activities of a team.
Tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage a team to tackle a difficult situation.
How do you set objectives for your team?

Can you adapt?
Tell me about a time when you’ve personally had to handle significant change.
Describe a time of uncertainty or change you have faced.

Developing a strategy:
Tell me how you find out about developments both in the marketplace and within the organisation and the impact they may have.

There’s a few to get you started. Good luck!

Roland Seddon, Managing Director, MRK Associates.

MRK Associates is a recruitment and career advisory company specialising in three distinct areas of professional employment – finance/accountancy jobs, office support/administration jobs and revenue management/yield jobs. Our main geographical focus is in the Northern Home Counties area (Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Bedfordshire) where we provide a personal, knowledgeable and professional service within these markets.

For more information, please telephone 01442 894555 or email:



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