How to Prepare for a Competency Based Interview

It’s all about evidence


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How to Prepare for a Competency Based Interview


In the course of your Job Search you will probably already have had a Competency Based Interview (or CBI if you are down with the kids).  If not, it is more than likely that you will soon, so in this week's BLOG I want to demystify them for you.

Competency Based Interviews are good news.  Speaking as a Recruiter, I am always very pleased if a client informs me that they are going to conduct a competency based interview because it means that:

• They have received some training in interview technique

• They are trying to be fair 

• My Candidate is going to be able to prepare effectively

How so?  Well CBIs work on the simple but common sense principle that someone's ability to do a job in the future is best indicated by whether or not they have done it in the past.  If you needed to hire an astronaut for immediate start (er, blast-off?), it will be a clear indicator of his or her suitability for the role if he or she has already been to the moon twice.  

It's all about evidence of past experience, skills and behaviours. 

The Questions

In preparing to conduct a Competency Based Interview the interviewer will have to break down the requirements of the role into those key skills, experiences and attributes that they would like a successful candidate to possess.  They will then write a question for each designed to ask you to evidence your possession of said skills and attributes etc.

So, in the case of the astronaut, the successful applicant might need to be able to demonstrate experience of sitting like spam in a can on top of an enormous bomb, handling themselves in weightlessness and getting along with Russians, that sort of thing.  

In summary, the key to understanding how Competency Based Interview questions are constructed is that they are basically asking you for examples of when you have done something in the past.  It is then reasonable for them to infer that you will be able to do that something again in the future.

So the Competency Based Questions for the requirements above might be:

• Can you give me an example of when you have sat on top of a rocket?

• Can you describe a time that you have used a zero gravity toilet?

• Can you tell me about a time you worked with Russians?

Hopefully you get the drift.  These are also what are known as "Open Questions' i.e. questions to which you cannot give a Yes or No answer.  

They are looking for descriptive answers - examples. A more down to earth (get it!) question for say, a shop manager would be:

"Can you tell me about a time you had to handle a complaint", or "Can you give an example of an initiative you introduced which increased sales"?

In preparing for the interview, the interviewer will break down the job into its constituent parts and then write a list of questions that will give the interviewee an opportunity to impress with examples from their experience that demonstrate or evidence that skill or attribute.

Fairness THE Competency Based Interviewer will ask all of the Candidates the same questions, and make a comparison accordingly.  This is why CBI interviews are often fairer than other approaches, because they are evidence based and because there is no variety in the content and type of question asked from one interview to another.  That's the theory, anyway.  Interviewers will very often score each question, "Strictly" style.   Seven!!!!  At the end of all of the interviews they will add up the scores, and he or she with the most points wins!  What do points make?  Prizes!  Or in this case a job.  Not everyone will do this but the principle of fairness applies.

Preparing your Answers Finally the biggest advantage of the CBI goes to you, the Candidate.  If you have prepared properly, doing your homework for an Interview you will be able to anticipate the areas about which you can reasonably be expected to be questioned.  And you can therefore write out Competency Based questions and of course your answers to those questions. For example, you see in the Person Specification that you must have had experience of managing large teams. The question would be: 

"Can you tell me about a time when you managed a team of more than 50 people?"  You can prepare an answer for that.

Or if the advertisement states that you must have experience of writing code for iPhone Apps, the Question might be: "Can you give me an example of an iPhone app which you have coded?"  

I'd say Angry Birds if I were you - that would be a good one.

Finally, Interviewers will often group the questions around a different theme.  If you are facing more than one interviewer they may split the questioning.  

Typical "themes' are the past and the future, People Skills and technical Skills, so on and so forth.

So there we have it.  Competency Based interviews are great because they are fair, they mean that you should be meeting a competent interviewer and because you can prepare for them. Prepare as I have explained and you will shine at interview and dramatically increase your chances of getting that job. Another time I will talk more about the different types of questions you will be asked at an interview.

If you like my BLOG please tell your friends and sign up on the right of the page for updates and offers. If you would like coaching in anticipation for an important interview you can always ask me to help you.  Just call me on +44(0)333 300 1296.

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