Three people in a competency based interviewThe idea behind the competency interviewing is that every question targets a certain skill or ability (competency) that is relevant for the job.

Before the start of the interview, the HR managers should know why they ask each question, and what (words, approach, attitude) they expect to hear in a good answer.

They often have a score-sheet, and will give you points (from 1 to 10) for every answer. At the end of the interview they count the points for every job applicant and see who was the best (who scored the most points for their answers).

While this form of interviewing has some drawbacks (it is not always easy to assign points, questions must be relatively simple, otherwise the answers would vary a lot and it would be impossible to assign points; there is a lot of subjectivity involved, etc), it has also some advantages: it is easy to compare the candidates at the end of the interview sessions, HR managers and recruiters with little experience can be assigned to lead the interviews (we just give them the template and let them lead the interviews), and the interviews are easily organized and managed.

Whatever your opinion on competency based interviewing, you should understand it, because you can realistically face it (as a job seeker), or use it (as an employer).

Let’s have a look at some competencies and questions we use to “test” the competencies.

Questions for different competencies

Self-confidence: Can you describe the situation when you had a different opinion than your boss (colleague, teacher), and your opinion proved correct at the end? How would you rate your skills in [any ability] on a scale from one to ten?

Decision making: What was the toughest decision you ever made in your life? Did it happen to you that you stood before a decision, and didn’t know what to do?

Flexibility: Describe some changes (of methodology, business processes, schedule) that happened in your current or last job. How did the changes affect your work? How did you cope with them? What is your favorite ice cream? What do you do if they do not have your favorite flavor?

Listening skills: Can you remember a situation when you did not pay attention to someone telling you something important? What do you think matters more to keep a conversation going – to listen, or to talk?

Communication skills: Describe a situation when you struggled to explain something to someone. Have you ever been confronted with a task to speak in front of a bigger group of people? How would you start a conversation with a stranger?

Man is preparing for competency based interview questionsRelationship building: Can you tell me more about the relationship you had with your former boss, and former colleagues? Do you still spend some time together? How do you like to spend your free time in general?

Sales skills: Try to sell me your mobile phone. Can you tell me about the situation when you had to “sell” your idea to your superior, colleague, or friend?

Motivation: What motivates you to wake up and go to work every morning? What incentives or benefits would motivate you in this job?

Loyalty: Why did you leave your last job? Have you ever thought about making a lifetime career in a single company? What do you think about people who have the same job for ten years? What do you plan to do in five years from now?

Leadership: Would you characterize yourself more as a leader, or as a follower? What characterize a great leader from your point of view? Can you describe a situation when you inspired someone to make a major change or decision?

Organization and planning: Do you have your career plan? Can you describe it to me? Have you ever managed a project? Tell me something about your project plan.


Competency based interview can be a great tool in the hands of a skilled recruiter, if they know what they do, if they understand the key competences for a job, if they know how to plan the questions accordingly, and if they know what they expect to hear from a good candidate for the job.

If you are not sure about any of those things, you rather hire a skilled recruiter (or agency) to help you, or opt for another form of interviewing job applicants…

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