Conquer Competency-Based Interview Questions

Posted September 20, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in Career Moves

Some interviewers keep their questions very basic: “Tell me a little about yourself,” and “Tell me the skills you could bring to our team.” Others, however, can get specific: “Give me an example of a time you worked well under a deadline,” or “Give me an example of a time you dealt with a difficult customer.” These are behavioral or competency-based questions — the interviewer wants to see how you react in specific situations.

Behavioral questions can be challenging, and they require you to be well-prepared. If you go into an interview not expecting questions like these, you might be at a loss to come up with a good example. Put on the spot, you might just think of the first situation that stands out in your memory, and you’ll realize later that you could have given a better example. It’s just like when a bully picks on you and you think of the comeback 10 minutes later. I’ve had this happen to me before — at my first job interview, I was asked a wide range of strange questions, including, “If I picked up the phone and called your mother right now, what would she say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?”

In some ways, these interviewers want to catch you off guard, but there are still ways you can prepare yourself. Careerealism Contributing Writer Margaret Buj suggests you try using the S.T.A.R. statement:

S — Situation

T — Task

A — Action

R — Result

Situation and Task: Identify a work situation in which you faced challenges toward completing a specific task. In preparing for an interview, you might think up of a few examples from different jobs, in which you faced different challenges (a tight deadline, a last-minute error, a difficult client). Buj says to make it specific but to keep it concise.

Action: Describe the action you took to overcome these challenges or to complete the task. Buj says to make sure you keep this part focused on you — the potential employer wants to know how you handled it, even if you were part of a team.

Results: Tell the interviewer what happened as a result of your actions. Did you complete the task? Did you receive good reviews afterward? Obviously, you want to pick examples that had good results.

When I was preparing for these types of questions, I thought of a few examples and wrote them down. Buj says to pick strategically:

Create S.T.A.R. statements from the jobs on your resume that you want to bring attention to. As you use the statements as examples, your interviewer will become familiar with the various positions you have held, and will get a good idea of your track record of success in those various positions.

Regardless of the type of interview, there is always a chance that you’ll get a question you hadn’t expected. Remember to keep calm and take a few seconds to think before you speak. You will naturally want to fill the silence right away, but when you do that, you’re more likely to speak what you don’t mean. Remaining calm will always be more impressive to an interviewer than immediately becoming flustered.

As you line up job interviews, remember: the more you prepare, the more confident and calm you’ll feel during those crucial interview moments.

Read the rest of Buj’s tips for competency-based questions here.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website


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