How to answer competency-based interview questions

March 24, 2021

Nervous about competency-based interview questions? Here's our guide on how to answer them.

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels 

Just like any job interview, the first step when preparing for a competency-based interview is to familiarise yourself with the job requirements. Usually, this involves going through the job description, understanding what the role requires of you, and ensuring you can demonstrate how you're going to meet the employer's objectives. 

However, for competency-based interviews, the preparation is slightly different. Technical and engineering roles require more than your ability to take and implement orders.

For example, you may be required to make crucial decisions, so your potential employer might dig deeper to assess your competence for the role.

What is a competency-based interview question?

A competency-based question seeks to identify your demonstrated abilities in a given role. It helps the interviewer to assess how well you can handle emerging situations in the position.

This means that, as well as evaluating your technical and soft skills, the potential employer will ask questions to find out how you have previously applied those skills.

In a nutshell, competency-based interview questions will evaluate your ability to handle tasks, situations, and people.

Most employers will have outlined their most-sought qualities in the job advertisement, so you'll have a base for your research and preparation.

But the most common attributes for top engineering roles may include leadership, communication, problem-solving, organisation and decision-making skills, as well as the ability to manage and work in a team. 

Demonstrating your competence 

The key distinguishing factor of a competency-based interview is that the interviewer requires you to back up your answers with examples of situations where you have demonstrated your abilities.

For instance, to demonstrate your leadership and problem-solving skills, the potential employer may ask for an example of a problematic situation in a past role and how you helped your team navigate it. 

Usually, these questions will begin with phrases like:

  • Give an example of...
  • Describe a time when...
  • Tell me about a time when...

Answering competency-based questions

As your communication skills will be under scrutiny, it's crucial to practice answering common competency-based questions.

However, sometimes you may be asked an off-the-cuff question that you hadn't prepared for. This is a common occurrence, and the interviewer may want to assess how you react to unexpected situations.  

For this reason, it's recommended that you practice answering different types of questions using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) technique

Essentially, the STAR technique involves painting a picture of the situation you were in and the task involved. Then you need to explain the specific action(s) you took to carry out the task and the results (outcome) of your actions.  

Although most competency-based questions may take a similar format across different disciplines, doing in-depth research on specific interview questions for your particular area will heighten your chances of succeeding.

Ready to find your next role?

At Airswift, we have helped top engineering professionals secure their choice jobs across many locations worldwide. Visit our jobs board today and let us connect you with your next job.


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This post was written by: Firaz Hameed, Permanent Recruitment Director - Europe & Africa