How to excel during a Competency Based Interview
This is my fifth blog on how to be successful at that all important job interview. In the previous blogs I told you how to come across as confident and in control during the interview process using a standard approach to interviews that most employers would use.
However interviews are such a notoriously poor indicator of future success in the job that recruiters are constantly seeking more effectively methods to select the right candidate for the role.
One of these different approaches is competency-based recruitment. Personally I like this approach because it is based on the idea that ‘if you have done it before you can do it again’.
So rather than ask you to talk about yourself and sell yourself into the role, which I am sure you can see benefits those who ‘can talk a good talk’, it asks the interviewee to talk about their previous experience around a number of key areas.
The only problem with this approach is that it can come across as very direct and can feel a bit like the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ so I prefer to select a blend of the two approaches just to soften the style a little.
But in this blog I will just focus on competency based recruitment. The good news is that if you prepare for one style of interviewing it will also stand you in good stead for the other style.
The first thing to realise is that competency based recruitment starts well before the interview. When an organisation makes the decision that there is a vacancy to fill, the recruiter will decide what skills the successful applicant has to have to be able to do the role successfully. Each organisation will have a separate library of competencies for this purpose but I have included a set that I use to demonstrate the process in the photo to the right.
The idea is look at the job vacancy and to decide what areas the applicant needs to be competent in to do the job successfully. Someone who knows what the job involves usually selects about 6 competencies, which then become the basis on which all decisions are made about the applicants throughout the entire recruitment process.
Just to bring this idea to life, these might be the competencies selected for a shop assistant, a project manager in the building industry, an advertising executive and political lobbyist. It would of course be assumed and confirmed that the applicant has the necessary professional qualifications to do the job as part of the recruitment process.
- Spoken communication
- Customer sensitivity
- Need to achieve
Project Manager in the Building Industry
- Action tendency
- Planning and organisation
- Detail handling
- Problem solving
- Business awareness
- Creative thinking
- Customer sensitivity
- Spoken communication
- Political awareness
- Action tendency
- Detail handling
- Problem analysis
- Risk taking
As you can see the selections regarding the competencies are not magic they are just the decisions that the recruiter made at the time about the perceived skills required to do the job successfully.
These competencies will then be used in the advertisements for the position, or to instruct employment agencies. The recruiter will then use the evidence provided to decide if the presenting candidates are competent when compiling a short list.
It is worth mentioning here that it tends to be larger commercial organisations, Public Sector bodies, Central Government and Local Government who use this approach and usually train their recruiters in the techniques. One of the reasons for this is that all candidates are asked the same questions so that it is considered as a much more ‘equal opportunity’ approach.
It is an approach which is also believed to favour the people who can do the job over those who are just able to perform well at interviews. Having said that it does require preparation to be comfortable and effective during a competency based interview so where is the equality when only those who know about the process can perform well within it? For this reason I think it can be very difficult for someone who does not already work in the organisation or an organisation like it to get a job using this approach. Unless, of course, you know how to prepare for and perform well in this type of interview.
It is very likely that an organisation using competency based recruitment will have indicated that they will be using this approach right from the very beginning and it will be built into the early selection process as well as the interview. So once you have decided to apply for a position you should start to collect evidence from your experience to demonstrate that you have that skill.
Each of the interview questions will relate to one of the competencies that they are looking for usually without actually saying what the competency is. The interviewer selects the questions from a range of ‘trigger’ questions to create the interview framework.These questions are intended to start the conversation off.
The interviewer is then trained to investigate and probe your answers more fully. It is very difficult to lie in this type of interview because you will be asked very detailed additional questions about your experience.
Just to give you some idea of what the ‘trigger’ questions might be lets go back to the competencies identified for the four random jobs I mentioned earlier in the blog. These were shop assistant, project manager in a building company, advertising executive and political lobbyist. Each question will start off with a request for you to give an example of a particular competence. Your role here is to give an example, which is real, ended with positive results, can be probed further and demonstrates that you are competent in the particular area being questioned.
- Efficiency – Can you give me an example of when you have changed a system or process to improve the efficiency of the systems? What was the outcome?
- Spoken communication – Can you give me an example of when you have used your communication skills to make things better for a customer?
- Customer sensitivity – Can you give me an example of when you have taken action to improve the experience for the customer?
- Persuasiveness – Can you give me an example of when you made a sale because you were persistent with the customer?
- Need to achieve – Sales is all about targets and achieving goals can you give me an example of a day when you were particularly pleased with the results of your efforts.
- Initiative – Can you give me an example when you did something out of the ordinary either for the customer or for the company and tell me what happened?
Project Manager in the Building Industry
- Action tendency – Can you give me an example when you took action when other people were holding back?
- Delegation – In your current job can you give me an example of a large task some of which you delegated to your subordinates. Which parts did you decide to delegate and which parts did you decide to focus on yourself?
- Planning and organisation – In your current job can you give me an example of how you schedule your time to ensure that both small and large projects are completed
- Detail handling – We all get bored sometimes with the detail of a task or job. Can you describe a situation when this has happened to you and how you coped with this?
- Problem solving – Can you describe a situation when you discovered an unexpected problem and tell me what you did about this?
- Tenacity – Can you give me an example of when you have achieved an objective through sheer persistence. What happened?
- Presenting – Describe a presentation you have made in the past of which you are particularly proud. Why was it good and how did you prepare for it?
- Business awareness – What methods do you employ in your current job for keeping up to date with economic trends/government policy/customer needs?
- Creative thinking – Can you tell me about an occasion when you solved a problem with an unconventional solution.
- Customer sensitivity – You must have faced conflicts of interests in your current role. Can you think of an example of a conflict between customer needs and commercial necessities? What did you do about it?
- Spoken communication – What is the most complex idea you have been required to explain to an individual? How did you go about it?
- Persuasiveness – What is the best idea you have sold to your boss?
- Political awareness – Can you give me an example where you have been able to influence key decision makers within your organisation?
- Persuasiveness – Tell me about your toughest selling experience
- Action tendency – Have you ever had to galvanise your colleagues/subordinates into action? How did you achieve this?
- Detail handling – Can you give me an example of when you have needed to keep track of the detail in your current job?
- Problem analysis – Can you give me an example of the most significant piece of research you have undertaken to date and what this suggested in terms of recommendations.
- Risk taking – In your current job can you give me an example when you took a risk and how you calculated the balance between the risks and benefits of your action? What happened?
These are just examples of some possible competency based questions you might be asked to help you to prepare for the interview. In the actual interview of course they might ask different ‘trigger’ questions to explore a particular skill.
One of the concerns that applicants have when asked about a relevant work experience is that they will either say too much and ramble or not say enough to demonstrate the skill. In a previous blog I have mentioned the use of the STAR approach to sharing your skills which I think is worth restating here.
Using this technique you would describe the Situation you were involved in, then explain the Task you undertook in relation to this situation. Then describe the Action you took in relation to the situation and finally you would describe the Result of the action. The idea is to keep your example focused, short, descriptive and positive.
When using this approach interviewers are trained to probe the answers you provide to ensure that the example you are giving is genuine and that you were actively involved in the experience. They are then asked to score the evidence as
- (+) positive – evidence of the competence provided
- (-) negative – negative evidence provided against the competence.
- (/) no evidence – if no evidence is provided the interviewer depending on the situation then may continue to probe until either positive or negative evidence is provided.
Please be aware that the examples do not have to be huge – they just have to be appropriate for the job and level of job that you are going for.
Once you are aware that competency-based selection might be used in the recruitment process it is a good idea to prepare your examples to evidence your competence. As I have said in my blog ‘Get that job’, the good news is that whether you are interviewed using the competency based approach or a more traditional interview format, the preparation for both styles is the same ie to work out what they want and provide them with evidence that you are the person that they are looking for.
I hope that this blog has been of interest to you and wish you every success in your job search.
You might also want to refer to other blogs in the series on interviews.
‘Get that job’ – How to impress at the interview https://pamelamilne.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/get-that-job-how-to-impress-at-the-interview/
‘How to answer those pesky job interview questions’ https://pamelamilne.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/how-to-answer-those-pesky-job-interview-questions-the-life-book-for-work/
‘Why do you want this job? How to answer this question at the interview’ https://pamelamilne.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/why-do-you-want-this-job-how-to-answer-this-question-in-the-interview-a-life-book-for-work/
‘Will you fit in? How to put the interviewer at their ease’ https://pamelamilne.wordpress.com/category/interview-techniques/
With thanks to Jo Grant for permission to use her photographs
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