How to Ace Competency Interviews- Part 2

Over the past 12 months, I have interviewed over 300 graduates from all over the world for a range of fabulous roles. It is a real privilege to talk to so many people and find out about your education, career aspirations and some of the experiences that have made you who you are today. You are fascinating! But I must admit that there is one area that graduates sometimes struggle with…the competency questions!

So I want to give you some insider’s tips to help you prepare for your big day focusing specifically on how to tackle the competency part of the interview. Oh and before I do, I want to give you a really importance piece of information. Your Futureboard interviewer is not there to try and intimidate you or catch you out! When I speak with my interviewee, I really, really want them to give their best possible interview! My role is to help put you at ease, listen intently and ask you exploratory questions to help draw out your potential. This helps me to understand whether I think the role is going to be a good fit for you and vice versa.

How to Prepare

The content

The likelihood is that even if you haven’t got a lot of work experience, you will have plenty of strong examples (from internships, university and extra-curricular activities like volunteering) that are relevant for a competency interview. This is where preparation is absolutely crucial. Think about the role that you are applying for and the skills and competencies that you would need to be successful. It is likely that your Futureboard contact has discussed these with you or there may be some clues in the job description.

To prepare, brainstorm some different examples that you could use to demonstrate a competency. For instance if you think that the role will require strong communication skills, brainstorm some examples that demonstrate where you have used your excellent communication skills.

Even though you only need to talk about 1 example for each competency, I would suggest that you have at least 2 but ideally 3 examples that you could use. Give yourself as much choice as possible. This is not over-preparation for the sake of it, there is a good reason why I suggest this!

This is a common scenario:

It is likely that you will have one favourite example of a specific project or piece of work that has gone extremely well. It is your biggest success and you definitely want to use it for the competency part of the interview. The first competency question you get asked is asking for an example of your excellent influencing skills so you decide to use your favourite example. But then the next question is about leadership. Actually your favourite example demonstrated your leadership skills even better than your influencing skills, but you have just used it already and you don’t have a back-up example for leadership. Oh no! This is why it’s worth preparing two or three different examples for each competency.

 The Structure

The STAR method is an extremely useful way of structuring an answer to a competency question. I can tell when candidates use it and when they decide to freestyle instead and I can safely say that those who use it always do better in this part of the interview! It is likely that one of the Futureboard team will have briefed you on the STAR technique prior to your interview and this previous Futureboard blog is well worth reading

During the interview

  • Take a moment to think about the question before you start to answer it. Competency questions do require a bit of thought and mental preparation. If you want to take a minute to think before you launch in to your answer that is absolutely fine with me. All of the Futureboard interviewers have lots of experience of interviewing. We are fine with waiting in silence whilst you think about your answer; it won’t make us feel awkward!
  • If you start to give an answer and suddenly realise that this isn’t the best example you could use, just stop and ask the interviewer whether they mind if you start your answer again. It is far better to do this than carry on with an example that you know is not as strong as it could be.
  • A common mistake that people make when answering a competency question is to use ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. For example:

‘We were able to convince our manager that this would be the best approach’

I really want to hear examples of what YOU have done. When you use ‘we’ I don’t know whether your influencing skills were able to convince your manager or whether actually your colleague did that. So ask a friend for help practicing competency questions and make sure they correct you if you say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.

  • Relax in to it! It is completely normal to be a bit nervous particularly during the competency interview. But with good preparation and practice, I’m sure you will impress. This is a great opportunity to show off how brilliant you are!

Good luck!

Lucy James, Associate Coach at Futureboard

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