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

What is a competency?

Competencies are the characteristics of an individual that are important for good performance in a role. They are usually a mix of skills, ability, motivation and knowledge. The competencies assessed in an interview differ from role to role depending on what behaviours are required for the job.

The types of competencies that we assess are:

  • Working with others / Teamwork
  • Planning and organising
  • Analysis and problem solving
  • Leading and decision-making
  • Communicating

What is a competency-based interview?

The main difference between a competency-based interview and a more general interview is that in a competency-based interview most of the questions will relate to past situations. So instead of being asked whether you like to work as part of a team, you will be asked to describe a time in the past when you have worked as part of a team. The theory is that your past behaviour is the best predictor of your future behaviour if you come to work for us.

What should I expect during the interview?

A competency-based interview is a timed, structured interview made up of specific questions relating to each competency area being assessed. The interviewer will have selected the most important competencies for the job and will ask you for specific examples of your past behaviour in relation to each of them. Questions often begin with "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of when you have..."

You will typically have around five to ten minutes per question. During that time, the interviewer will ask the initial question and then follow this up with a series of probing questions to gather all of the information that they need.

Here is an example of a typical question for the competency "Working with others".

Initial question:

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

Probing questions:

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

How do I prepare for a competency-based interview?

Unfortunately, we can't tell you exactly which competencies 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. Phrases like "the right candidate will have excellent communication skills and attention to detail" will help you identify the kind of past behaviours we will be looking for during the interview. For example, if the advert says that we are looking for an "ability to deliver to tight deadlines" it makes sense that we might ask you a question such as "tell me about a time when you had to deliver to a tight deadline".

You might like to make a list of these key words and phrases and for each one try to think up two or three examples from your previous work experience where you used your skills in the area to achieve a positive result. If the situation did not have a positive result, the important part is to demonstrate what you've learnt from the experience and what you would do differently next time.

If you don't have work-related experience, you could use examples from school, sport, voluntary work, hobbies or even your personal life. Try to use an example from the past two years, or the most recent example where you can remember lots of detail about what you did and why.

A useful mnemonic to use when preparing for and answering competency-based questions is "STAR". These letters act as a guide to remind you how to structure your response.

  • Situation - what was happening, what was the context?
  • Task - what did you want to achieve, or what were your aims?
  • Action - what did you do and why? Think about what you did, and refer to "I" rather than "we" so we can get a clear picture of your own role.
  • Result - what happened, what was the outcome of your actions?

The interviewer's probing questions will also help you to cover all areas of the STAR model.

What if I can't think of an example?

If you've prepared thoroughly, you should have quite a few examples to draw on during the interview, but if you really can't think of one describe how you would handle a similar task or situation if it came up in the future.

Are there any general tips for the interview?

Be yourself; act naturally. We want to get to know you. The interviewer is there to help you give a full picture of what you have achieved in the past and won't be trying to trick you or catch you out in any way.

Listen carefully to the question. Don't be afraid to take time to collect your thoughts and think of your best example to fit the question before speaking.

It's okay to ask questions. Remember it's a two-way conversation and we would like you to be able to find out more about us too and if you would like to work for us.

It's also okay to ask the interviewer to repeat a question, or check your understanding of what's being asked.

Your interviewer will be busy taking notes during the interview and may not be able to maintain eye contact with you. Don't let this distract you or put you off. It's their job to get everything down so they have an accurate record of what you have said in the interview.

If the interview is to be conducted by telephone, it's just as important as a face-to-face interview so follow the same preparation guidelines.

Good luck and we look forward to meeting you.

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