What do employers look for in competency interviews?
Competency questions are still hugely popular and form part of most interviews. Whilst recent research has questioned their value in predicting success in fast moving environments (Harvard Business Review Feb 10th 2016), you’d be well advised to anticipate competency questions and have examples to hand.
Here’s a few things to consider in the lead up to your interview:
Be strategic with your examples:
Review the last 5 years in your job, identify your biggest wins and build your examples around them. Choose examples that most closely align with your target role. For promotion interviews, try to choose examples where you’ve already “acted up” in your role – eg where you’ve deputised for your manager or taken a lead role in a project.
Keep to the script:
You’ll be expected to use the STAR technique. Situation, Task/Objective, Action you took and Result. The bulk of your answer (75-80%) will be spent in the action you took. The interviewer needs to get inside your head to understand the tools you use to demonstrate the competency. Typically your answer should be no longer than 5 minutes.
How do you connect with the hiring manager?
By telling well-crafted stories to demonstrate that you have both the technical skills and emotional intelligence to do the job.
Keep the story line tight, with a well-defined beginning, middle and end. To prove that you’re highly skilled in each competency, you’ll be expected to demonstrate certain behaviours. I’ve outlined the 7 most popular competency questions below and signposted what should be included in your answers:
Tell me about a time you deal with failure:
Failure is a very emotive term so it’s useful to reframe this question as “overcoming a serious setback”.
Areas to consider when answering: Your resilience and ability to bounce back, owning setbacks and admitting if you were at fault, managing the communication piece, reflection and how you incorporated the learning into future pieces of work, acting as a role model for your team “it’s ok to fail as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice”
Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict:
Conflict is a powerful word so it may be useful to reframe it as a disagreement.
What to consider when answering: Focusing on the solution not the problem, not personalising the situation, showing empathy and understanding the issue from the other person’s perspective, active listening, not interrupting, being assertive and backing up your point of view with facts, being comfortable when challenged, being open to alternative solutions and looking for common ground
Describe a situation where you showed strong leadership:
What to consider when answering: Creating a purpose/vision for the team, communicating honestly and encouraging others to do same, sharing ideas and best practice for common business benefit (looking at “bigger picture”), showing openness to new ideas and innovation, leading by example and acting as a role model, creating a culture of trust, advocating “for” rather than “against” and encouraging others to do the same, developing the capabilities of others so as to maximise the success of the team, celebrating wins
Tell me about a time you worked under significant pressure:
What to consider when answering: Taking ownership for delivery of results, agreeing and setting clear goals for self and others, setting milestones to know how and when to check performance of team members against targets, prioritising to focus attention on achieving most important targets, managing underperformance, coaching and developing staff, encouraging others to find more efficient ways of working
Tell me about a time you demonstrated you problem solving skills and how you went about identifying a solution:
What to consider when answering: Analysing large volumes of data (verbal and numerical) and identifying trends, understanding cause /effects, recognising the effect a problem would have on the future, identifying links between disparate pieces of data, seeing the bigger picture (taking account of the different interests of other affected by the problem), anticipating potential future problems/obstacles and risks, encouraging others to look at issues from outside the traditional boundaries
Coming up with a range of possible solutions, making sound and well informed decisions and understanding their impact on others, taking action/ making a decision in a timely manner and having the courage to see it through
Tell me about a time you influenced someone around to your way of thinking:
What to consider when answering: Understanding the importance of relationship building and nurturing your network, presenting your position clearly and backing it up with facts and data, selling the benefits to the other party, encouraging feedback, actively listening to gain an understanding of the other party’s perspective, having the confidence to defend your position and to respectfully challenge the other party’s assumptions, being direct and open in order to build trust, looking for common ground to facilitate securing a win-win outcome
How important is self-development to you?
What to reflect on when answering: Understanding the importance of reflection and learning from mistakes, learning through colleagues and enriching your knowledge through understanding the perspective of your stakeholders, keeping up to date with industry trends and reading industry journals, continuous education and CPD, engaging with a coach or mentor
Never forget to look at the bigger picture. When interviewing for executive positions, working within the status quo is not enough. You’ll be expected to stimulate meaningful change and help drive the corporate strategy. Showing that you are future focused will ultimately give you the edge over other candidates.
About the Author
Laura is a qualified executive coach, EMCC Certified with over 20 years’ experience in executive search and recruitment. She’s the owner of Interview Techniques, a leading provider of interview and career coaching services and has been a guest lecturer with Trinity College Dublin and TU Dublin. For a consultation, please call 087 669 1192 or go to www.interviewtechniques.ie.