The idea behind competency interviewing is that every question targets a certain skill or ability (a competency), one that is relevant for the job you apply for (flexibility, self-confidence, communication skills, etc). Before the start of the interview, the HR managers should know why they ask each question, and what they expect to hear in a good answer (in terms of your words, and attitude). Let’s have a look at how this interview technique works, and some questions for the most important competencies.


Score sheet for competency interviewing

This type of interview has a certain structure. Most of the time, the HR managers will have a score-sheet, and they will give each job applicant some points (from 1 to 10, ten is the best) for every answer they give in an interview.

Once they finished the interview with the last applicant, they will count the points for each person, and see who made the best score.

If they follow the procedure exactly, they will hire the the person who scored the most points. Or, when they want to hire more people (for example for some entry level positions, or on a hiring day), all people who crossed a certain threshold (for example 70 points out of 100) will be hired, or they will progress to the next round of interviews (with behavioral or technical questions). 


People are nervous, waiting for the start of their job interviewDrawbacks of competency interviewing

This form of interviewing has some drawbacks. First and foremost, it is not always easy to assign points for interview answers, unless the question is simple, or unless we offer exact options of an answer to the applicants, and all they have to do is choosing the answer they agree with the most.

What is more, it is impossible to eliminate subjective judgements from the competency-based interviews. At the same time, however, we should point out that each interview is subjective, at least to some extent, regardless of the form and the questions we ask the job candidates.


Advantages of competency-based questions and score sheets

The biggest advantage is that we can easily compare the job candidates at the end of the interviews. Everyone scored their points, and we can make a list of  the candidates, from best to worst. This advantage gains more significance if we have to choose from many applicants–ten, twenty, or even fifty, which is the case with popular job titles.

It is not easy to remember what everyone said and did in the interviews. But the score sheet clearly tell us how people fared…

Another advantage is that we can assign HR managers and recruiters with little experience to lead the interviews (once they have the interview template and know how to assign points for each answer, they are ready to go).

These interviews are easy to manage, organize, and schedule (since everyone answers the same questions, it is easy to estimate the time for one interview session).

Bearing in mind all advantages and disadvantages, you should understand the competency based interviews, 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 evaluate these competencies.
Two hiring managers talk to a job applicants. Everyone wears a blue shirt.

Questions for different competencies


  • 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 activity] 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 in front of a decision, and didn’t know what to do?


  • Describe some changes (of methodology, business processes, schedule) that happened to you in your current or past 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 big group of people?
  • How would you start a conversation with a stranger? What topic of conversation would you pick?

* Special Tip: If you want to prepare for the real challenges, the behavioral and tricky interview questions, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to more than 100 most common interview questions, from all categories, will help you get ready for everything the hiring managers may throw at you, outclass your competitors, and get the job. Thank you for checking it out!


Relationship building

  • Can you tell me more about the relationship you had with your former boss, and your former colleagues? Do you still spend some time together?
  • How do you like to spend your free time in general? Do you prefer to do things on your own, or do you seek company?

Sales skills

  • Try to sell me your mobile phone (your notepad, t-shirt, pen, anything in the office).
  • Can you tell me about the situation when you had to “sell” your idea to your superior, colleague, friend, or a family member?


  • What motivates you to wake up and go to work every morning?
  • What incentives or benefits would motivate you in this job?
  • Tell me about the crisis of motivation you experienced, either in your professional or personal life.


  • 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?


  • 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?
  • Talk about a situation when you led someone towards a goal they wanted to accomplish.

Organization and planning

  • Do you have a career plan? Can you describe it to me?
  • Have you ever managed a project? Tell me something about your project plan, and how you progressed from scratch to completion of the project.

* You can also download the list of competency based interview questions in a simple, one-page long .PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later, even when offline:

list of questions, PDF

Conclusion and next steps

Competency based interview can be a great tool in the hands of a skilled recruiter. But they have to know what they are doing.

They have to understand the key competences for the job, be able to create a list of questions to evaluate the competencies, and they have to know what they want to hear from a good candidate for the job.

Check one of the following articles to continue your preparation with Your best job interview coach since 2011.

  • Behavioral interview questions – Inquiring about your past, we try to understand how you would act in your new job, while facing various challenges and tasks at hand. Behavioral interviewing belong to the most common ways of interviewing job applicants, and you should definitely learn more about it.
  • Section for employers – Do you struggle with conducting interviews? Learn how to identify the ideal candidate profile, how to compose a great interview template, and choose the right person for the job. This section is dedicated to employers who look for advice, and are ready to improve their interview processes.
  • Interview questions by job title – Find your job on the list, and prepare for behavioral and technical questions you will face in your interview. From manual labor through IT to management–we have an article for everyone.
Matthew Chulaw
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