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Interview Preparation

Competency-based interviews

We use competency-based interviews as part of the recruitment process for all our roles. The following information will help you understand the competency-based interview structure in preparation for either a telephone, video call or face-to-face interview.

What are competencies?

Competencies define how we can work effectively at MI5 to successfully perform in our jobs. They focus on behaviours rather than skills, knowledge, or abilities. Our competencies sit under the three themes of FUTURE, PEOPLE and DELIVERY, all of which are critical to the delivery of our strategies and goals.

Competencies help us understand the on-the-job behaviours needed to succeed at work. As competencies are observable behaviours, they help us to be more objective about our own and other people’s abilities, performance, and development needs. 

You can find a brief description of the competencies below, just hover your mouse over the tiles.


human and digital hands shaking

I understand how my goals support and align with other teams and organisational objectives. I recognise wider priorities and ensure work is in the national interest.

human and digital hands shaking

I seek out opportunities for experimentation and suggest ideas for change and improvement. I review and adapt ways of working to prepare for the future, including seeking and providing feedback.

human and digital hands shaking

I prioritise continuous learning and development for myself, others and the organisation. I recognise different contributions and embrace all learning, even when things do not go as planned.


group of people meeting around a table

I engage and listen to the perspectives of others, respecting their needs, responses, and opinions. I make sure I understand others and am prepared to adapt. I communicate purposefully with clarity, integrity and empathy.

group of people meeting around a table

I develop effective partnerships and relationships internally and externally, seeking out a range of diverse perspectives, sharing information, resources, and support generously.

group of people meeting around a table

I show pride in my organisation’s work and role model our values. I create, engage and empower others to deliver a shared vision. I value equality, diversity and inclusion, ensuring fairness and opportunity for all


arrows on a road

I use data, evidence, and knowledge to support advice and transparent decision making, taking account of compliance standards. I consider alternative options and consult others. I recognise bias and the implications and risks of decisions.

arrows on a road

I take responsibility for delivering timely and high-quality results with agility, focus and drive. I plan, review and adapt my approach to meet priorities.

arrows on a road

I form an understanding of customers and manage their requirements. I deliver with professional excellence, expertise and efficiency, taking account of diverse needs and expectations.

These competencies apply to campaigns launched after 1 September 2023.

Campaigns launched prior to 1 September 2023 will use the old competencies.

What should I expect during an interview?

A competency-based interview is timed and structured and comprises specific questions relating to each competency area being assessed. The interviewer selects the most important competencies for the job and asks you for specific examples of your past behaviour in relation to each of them.

The interviewer will want to learn about your past situations. So instead of asking how you feel about working in a team, you’ll be asked to talk about actual examples of working in a team.

You will typically have around five to ten minutes per question. During that time, the interviewer will ask the initial question followed by a series of probing questions to gather all the information they need.

"Tell me about a situation where it was important that you worked as part of a team."

  • "What was the situation?"
  • "What part did you play in the team?"
  • "What difficulties did you encounter and how did you approach these?"
  • "What have you learnt from this experience?"

How do I prepare?

1.  Check key skills on job listings

  • Unfortunately, we can't tell you exactly we are assessing at the interview. However, spend some time looking at the key skills that are listed in the job advert and on the website

2.  List key words and phrases and provide examples from work

  • List key words and phrases, and for each one, think of two or three examples from your previous work experience where you used your skills to achieve a positive result and what you learnt from that experience

3.  If you don't have work experiences, you can pull from school or personal life

  • If you don't have work-related experience, use examples from school, sport, voluntary work, hobbies or even your personal life. Use recent examples where you can remember lots of detail about what you did and why

4.  STAR is a useful mnemonic to structure answers

  • Situation - define the context
  • Task - What were your aims?
  • Action - What did you do and why?
  • Result - What was the outcome of your actions?

Use "I" rather than "we" so can get a clear picture of your own role.

General Tips

  • Be yourself, we want to get to know you
  • Listen attentively and take your time answering questions
  • It's okay to ask the interviewer to repeat a question or check your understanding of what's being asked
  • Don’t be distracted by the interviewer taking notes, it’s their job to accurately record the interview
  • Telephone interviews are just as important as face-to-face interviews