Conducting a competency based interview

Competency-based interviews will give you a good insight into how your candidate applies their skills to different situations. They are a systematic way of interviewing and are used to discover how specific examples from a candidate’s previous role might be advantageous to you if you hired them.

Major competency questions

This is a list of types of competency questions, grouped into five key areas and showing which skills they will demonstrate:

Individual competencies

These questions refer to a candidate’s: knowledge, flexibility, tenacity, decisiveness, personal integrity, risk taking and independence.
An example question is: Tell me about a time when work you had done was challenged.

Motivational competencies

These questions should display a candidate’s: motivation, drive, result orientation, energy, resilience, initiative and focus.

An example question is: When was the time you felt you worked the hardest and had the greatest sense of achievement?


Questions referring to a candidate’s: practical learning, decision making abilities, analytical skills, innovation, problem solving and attention to detail.

An example question is: Explain a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.


These will refer to a candidate’s: leadership, corporate sensitivity, strategic thinking, managerial control and project management.
An example question is: Have you ever led a group to achieve an objective, and if so, how?


These will demonstrate a candidate’s: leadership, social competencies and teamwork skills.
An example question is: Describe a situation where you successfully worked as part of a group.

Being relevant

You should design your competency-based questions to be relevant to the role and to your organisation. This will allow you to assess whether candidates possess the skills that they would need in the job on offer. Consider whether you’re looking for leadership and delegation skills over teamwork and communication skills, for example. When you know which skills are the biggest priorities you can come up with questions that address them directly.

What to look for

You should have a clear idea of the type of person you’re looking for before conducting a competency-based interview because scoring candidates by their answers can prove an ultimate deciding factor.
For example, when you ask a fairly direct question such as ‘describe a time you had to use X’, you’ll be able to gauge from their answer how skilled or unskilled they were in carrying out that task. Asking more general questions makes the process harder as the answers will also be less specific. You’ll have to use your own judgement, did the example they gave prove a success in their past role?
You should also be able to deduce a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses through their answers. Assess whether they demonstrate a willingness to learn or if they show a negative approach towards a task.


When conducting competency-based interviews, you should be looking for real-life, applicable examples in the candidate’s answers. You’re not trying to catch them out; you should simply be ensuring they’re the best match for the role and your organisation.