Competency questions: It’s all about you

25th June 2020
Competency questions: It’s all about you

The world may still feel a bit topsy turvy but we’re starting to see a shift in the labour market as more jobs become available, which is really good news for job seekers!

Interviews may now be over skype or from a socially acceptable distance but you’ll still be hit with the same old questions. It often feels like an incredibly formal date as you try to sell yourself in the hope of a second date (interview). This feeling will never go away but just remember, we’ve all been there, including the person interviewing you!

One type of question that always seems to worry people is Competency-Based Questions. These questions are asked to assess you for the skills that are relevant to the job you’re interviewing for e.g. customer service, resilience, methodical thinking etc. The interviewer isn’t looking to trip you up with a difficult question but is looking for evidence of how you fulfill the person specification.

I’ve spoken to many a candidate who’s lost sleep due to these questions but I’m going to let you into a little secret…they’re actually really EASY to answer. I want to share with you my three-stage technique that works for ALL competency-based questions and should help you answer any question thrown at you during an interview.

Now, firstly you must remember that if you’ve made it to the interview stage then they’ve already seen potential in you and can see you have some, if not all the skills on paper for the job. This should fill you with confidence as they already believe you could do the job!

Examples of Competency-Based Questions

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Describe a situation in which you showed great customer service.

Give me an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace and tell me how you overcame it.

Give an example of a situation where you solved a problem in a creative way.

Describe a situation in which you led a team.

When you’re preparing for a job interview, look at the job description and the person specification and look out for the keywords of what they’re looking for. A decent interviewer will have questions that are linked to these skills/qualities and I’ve shown above by highlighting the relevant words how these could be turned into questions.

Think of the Job Description/Person Spec as your ‘Cheat Sheet’ before the exam to get hints about what they’ll ask for. From this, you can think of evidence from your previous jobs or life experiences that you could use to answer this.

For the question ‘What has been your biggest achievement to date?’ It’s always good to prepare for this question no matter what as this could be asked in any interview and yes, it can be non-professional. Passing your driving test, bringing up kids, and raising money for charity is EQUALLY as important as going to university if it’s special to you.

The Technique

Now that we know the keywords from the job description/person specification we can now think of how to answer the question. We’re going to do this in 3 easy steps.

  1. Describe the situation (Where you were/what your role was/set the scene)
  2. Describe what YOU did in the situation (Be selfish, I want to hear what you did and you only to showcase these skills)
  3. How was it resolved (Always end on a high – You want a round of applause, not floods of tears from your answers)

Example of how to answer a Competency question in 3 steps:


Describe a time when you showed great customer service


  1. I was working in an Apple store as a customer advisor and a customer came into the store in floods of tears and caused quite a scene.
  2. I took her to one side as to not disturb the other customers’ experience in-store and asked her what’s wrong. I listened to her dilemma and understood that all of her Apple products had been stolen and she was worried about her personal information.
  3. I logged on to the Apple website and supported the customer to block all her devices and wipe her data. She was so pleased that I had been able to put her mind at ease and although she didn’t buy anything that day, she came back a week later and bought replacement products directly from me.

I’ve highlighted the keywords from my answer: I’ve ensured that I’ve been able to use language that I know would be important to the interviewer through research of the JD/Person Spec.

It’s really that simple! You may be thinking ‘How am I supposed to think of all of this on the spot?!’ and the answer is – you’re not. If you take the time to prepare in advance, you will have all this information to hand and will really show to the employer why you’re brilliant for any role.