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Why competency interviews aren’t as scary as they seem

Statistics suggest that 73 per cent of job seekers feel stressed by the process of searching for a new position. In many ways, this is understandable. Securing a new role can be life-changing, so when it comes to applying, and performing under pressure at the interview stage, it’s normal to feel some nerves.

As a recruitment agency, we place a real emphasis on getting to know candidates. We conduct face-to-face interviews to learn about your motivations, career aspirations and strengths, and as part of this, I’ve noticed that many people seem particularly worried by the thought of competency-based interviews.

In reality, these types of interviews, which specifically focus on testing the skills you’ll need for the job, have many benefits for candidates and employers alike. For hiring managers, this is an effective, efficient way of testing whether applicants have the right skillset needed for the role. By introducing competency-based questions, they’re making sure that performance expectations will be met.

For candidates, this approach helps to ensure objectivity during the interview process. Unlike unstructured, informal interviews, hiring managers rely less on personal opinion or even gut instinct. Instead, they take a more systematic approach looking for demonstratable evidence of key factors. All of this means that if you have the skills and experience desired, you have all the tools at your disposal to shine during these types of situations.

So, what do you need to know? Typically, a competency interview will involve more than one panellist. As part of this, you’ll be scored by each interviewer, and the points added up afterwards. The best candidates will be those who can give practical examples, including demonstratable evidence of a situation in which they’ve solved an issue or added value. Questions could test your communication skills, ability to resolve conflict or perform under pressure – just to name a few.  

Many applicants worry that they may not be able to answer tricky, unexpected questions. However, there are a few easy things you can do to prepare. First of all, examine the job description to identify the key competencies employers are looking for in the role and consider how you meet the brief, writing down examples for each skillset needed. While it’s not possible to foresee everything you’ll be asked, having a few real-life cases in which you’ve demonstrated success should fill you with confidence as you walk through the door.

Competency based interviews are designed to give employers a great insight into you as an individual, including how you react to certain situations. In order to give them the details they require, consider using the STAR technique, which stands for situation, task, action and results. It’s as simple as it sounds, follow each of these prompts to help you flesh out your answer. Start by thinking of a relevant example before describing the background, outlining the brief and moving onto how you handled the situation and what the outcome was.

Some common questions could be:

  • Provide an example of how you’ve led your team to success.
  • Tell us about a challenging decision you’ve had to make.
  • Have you ever had a situation when you’ve had to adapt your approach to a task in order to work as a team?
  • Give us an example of when you’ve been particularly stretched timewise delivering a project and how you dealt with this.

Although these kinds of questions are testing your professional capabilities, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Interviewers are looking for candidates who stay positive when they’re facing a challenge, understand their strengths and weaknesses within certain situations and have the ability to adapt under pressure by asking for help, working as a team and making the best decision possible at the time. When you’re struggling to answer a question, try to break it down, responding on the points that you are able to. Engage with the process by asking for clarification if needed in order to fully understand everything the hiring panel is looking for.

At Allen Associates, our focus is on you, your aspirations and your needs. So, if you’re still feeling daunted by the prospect of a competency interview, we’re here to help. Remember, we’re not just recruiters, interviews are a big part of working life and in order to get where we are today, every one of us has also experienced what it’s like to be a candidate. We place a huge emphasis on matching the right people to the right positions, and if we’ve recommended you for a post it’s because we think you’d be a great match – go in there, be confident and give it your best!

Over the last 20 years, we have grown as a business to become one of the leading independent Recruitment agencies in Oxfordshire, and in 2018 we opened our first London office, to service Clients and Candidates in the capital.  

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Kate Allen

Kate Allen

Kate founded Allen Associates in 1998 out of a determination to build a recruitment business which delivered a bespoke service centred on the needs of clients and candidates.

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