Interview questions will vary between jobs and employers; however they all carry a very similar theme. Competency-based questions will ask you for a relevant example from a situation in the past. These are the most common type of question used in graduate and managerial interviews.
So, if ‘team working’ is deemed important to the role you are applying for, you may be asked; “Give me an example of a time when you have worked as part of a challenging team?”. Sub-questions asked later may include “What were the challenges involved?”
Example Questions for Common Competencies
- Planning and Organising: “Tell me about a time when you have had to plan and organise a project or task?”
- Communicating: “Give me an example of a complex piece of work that you have had to convey to a lay audience?”
- Problem Solving: “Describe a situation from the past where you have had to resolve a work-related problem or query, to which you did not have an immediate answer?”
- Influencing: “Describe a time when you have to persuade others to your way of thinking?”
- Decision Making: “Tell me of a time when you have had to make a difficult decision at work?”
You should have a think about the type of job you are applying for and then decide what competencies are likely to come up. We strongly recommend that you use our short ‘Question-Identifier’ tool and we will provide you with the questions that are most likely to be asked in your interview.
Types of Questions
Interviewers are advised to use competency-based questions in their interviews. In this section we cover the concerns associated with other types of questioning which Interviewers sometimes engage in. Thus, this sub-section is written with the interviewer in mind.
Closed questions - These types of questions should be avoided in competency-based interviews. The answers to these types of questions do not provide a detailed response of a past example which is what is often sought in assessment. Unless this type of questioning is for information collection purposes (administrative), these questions are unlikely to provide an interviewer with much value in predicting your suitability. For example, a closed-question could be “Did you find that difficult?” which would evoke a simple “Yes” or “No” response.
Leading questions - The other type of question to avoid is known as a leading question. This type of question can indirectly give guidance to the candidate in terms of what you are looking (or not) for. Using leading questions can be unfair as it is likely that some candidates may pick up on this more than others and as a result gain an unfair advantage. Alternatively, leading a candidate incorrectly would be unfair as the candidate may be influenced by the question and provide a different response due to the leading question and not on the basis of what they would normally have said. An example of a leading question is; “So your boss was happy with you”?
Multiple questions - These questions consist of a number of questions that are all asked as part of one question. For example “Give me an example of a time when you worked as part of a team, what was your role, what were the challenges involved, what did you contribute, and what was the outcome?”. This makes it very difficult for the candidate to dissect and respond to the question in a well thought out manner. The response may not be confidently attributed to any specific sub-question.
Open-ended questions - As such, the best types of competency based questions are ‘open-ended’ questions. These questions do not give candidates any steer per se, and do not encourage a limited response. In fact, these questions allow a candidate to talk freely about their past experience or examples whilst the interviewer can remain confident that they have not influenced their response.An example of an open-ended question is “Give me an example of a time when you have had to plan and organise a big piece of work or project?”
How Will You Be Assessed
Contrary to some beliefs, observers do not (or at least are trained not to) ‘Evaluate’ (make judgements) during an interview. Instead they write down (record) everything they ‘hear’ and ‘see’ and avoid writing anything they ‘think’ or ‘feel’. The reason for this is simple; judgements are not objective and any candidate' rejection based on an opinion that cannot be backed up by evidence that was seen or heard could result in huge fines for the employer. After the interviewer is over, the assessor reviews the information which they have ‘recorded’ and decides on how each response may fit to a particular area of a competency which they require. The assessor then makes a decision about an individual’s competence.
An assessor will look for evidence in the answer that you provide to a question, which supports your competence. For example, if you talk about an example of a time when you planned a complex project and then go on to describe many of the positive behaviours that are involved with this process, you will be rewarded accordingly.
Assessors will probe using sub-questions if your answers are not sufficient. Do not be disheartened if the assessor asks further questions, or stops you at any point. They simply want to get the relevant information from you and move on to the next question. It is unfortunately a process!
How to Answer Interview Questions - CAR and STAR
Following the CAR and STAR approach to structure your responses will help greatly. Also see section on 'Competency Based Interviews' which outlines how to structure interview questions - CAR and STAR. Using this structure will save the interviewer some time by them not needing to ask probing questions, but will also make the interviewer’s job easier.
There are numerous ways to answer a competency-based question and the answer will involve seeking information from a situation in the past where you may have demonstrated those behaviours that are being asked about in the question. However it has become standard for trained interviewers to accept an answer which follows a particular format otherwise known as the ‘STAR’ or ‘CAR’ model.
For example: a job may require the ‘Planning and Organising’ competency. The interviewer may ask you to ‘tell them about a time when you have had to plan and organise a difficult project or task’. They will probe further until you have fulfilled the following aspects to support your demonstration of this competency:
- Situation – also known as the context of the situation
- Task – which you were undertaking
- Action – which you took
- Result – of the action that you chose to take
This can be remembered using the acronym ‘STAR’. Another acronym ‘CAR’ may be applied where the letter ‘C’, ‘Context’, covers both the ‘Situation’ and ‘Task’ elements of the ‘STAR’ model.
A good answer here may refer to a project which you undertook, highlighting behaviours such as planning with contingency, being aware of and sharing risk with all stakeholders, providing updates to all stakeholders on a regular basis, managing expectations of all stakeholders and so on. However, if you did not perform any of these behaviours, then this would suggest your competence in ‘Planning and Organising’ is not sufficient - this would most likely work against you.