How to answer competency based interview questions

November 27, 2023

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

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels 

Preparing for a competency based interview, particularly in technical and engineering fields, starts with a familiar step: understanding  the job requirements. Unlike standard job interviews, competency interviews require a deep dive into the job description, ensuring you're not just familiar with what the role entails, but also fully prepared to demonstrate how your skills align with the employer's objectives.

However, the nuances of preparing for a competency-based interview in tech and engineering roles go beyond simply the ability to follow orders. These interviews often probe into your decision-making skills and problem solving abilities. For instance, you might encounter scenarios where making crucial decisions is part of the job. It's essential, therefore, to showcase your competence in these areas to potential employers, who often seek to access deeper aspects of your professional aptitude.

What is a competency-based interview question?

A competency-based question is designed to gauge your demonstrated abilities in a specific role, allowing the interviewer to evaluate how effectively you handle situations that may arise in the position. This approach means that the interview isn't solely focused on assessing your technical and soft skills; it also delves into how you've practically applied these skills in the past.

In essence, competency-based interview questions aim to assess your proficiency in managing tasks, navigating complex situations, and interacting with people effectively.

Most employers will have highlighted their desired qualities in the job advertisement, providing a solid foundation for your research and preparation. However, for top engineering roles, the most commonly sought attributes often include leadership, communication, problem-solving, organisation, and decision-making skills. An emphasis is also placed on the ability to effectively manage and collaborate within a team.

Demonstrating your competence 

The key distinguishing factor of a competency-based interview lies in its focus on real-world examples. Interviewers expect you to substantiate your answers with specific instances where you've effectively demonstrated your abilities. This approach is crucial in providing tangible evidence of your skills and how they translate into action.

For example, to showcase your leadership and problem-solving skills, a potential employer might ask you to describe a challenging situation you encountered in a previous role and how you guided your team through it. Such questions are designed not just to assess your technical expertise but also to gauge your capacity for critical thinking and effective team management under pressure

Usually, these questions will begin with phrases like:

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

Answering competency based interview questions

Given that your communication skills will be closely evaluated, it’s vital to practise responding to typical competency-based questions. This preparation helps in articulating your experiences and skills confidently and coherently during the interview.

Yet, be prepared for the possibility of facing an impromptu question that you hadn't anticipated. Such instances are not uncommon in interviews, as they provide the interviewer with an opportunity to observe your reaction to unforeseen scenarios. This helps them gauge your adaptability and presence of mind, qualities that are highly valued in dynamic professional environments.

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: Tomás Battaglia, Content Marketing Coordinator