Careers and Employability Service

Competency Based Questions

Competency Based Questions

Many large graduate recruiters now use competency-based questions in applications and at interview, in which the questions are designed to help candidates give evidence of the personal qualities which are needed to perform well in the job. Usually, you will be expected to give an example of how you have demonstrated these qualities in the past in reply to questions such as:
“Describe a situation where you had to.....”

  • show leadership
  • make a difficult decision
  • work as a member of a team
  • show initiative
  • change your plans at the last minute
  • overcome a difficult obstacle
  • refuse to compromise
  • work with others to solve a problem

When have you planned and organised an event, taken the initiative or lead a team?
How do you cope with failure? Do you give up, or keep trying until you succeed? Or perhaps try an alternative route to your goal?
Competency-based selection methods are based on the assumption that past behaviour is the best predictor for future behaviour. It's not enough to just say what you can offer; you need to do this by giving evidence. Selectors are less interested in what you've done than how you've done it.

What competencies is the selector looking for?

This will vary according to the job but competencies of importance to many recruiters of new and recent graduates include:

  • Communication
  • Negotiation and persuasiveness
  • Team work
  • Decision-making
  • Problem solving
  • Planning and organisation
  • Leadership

What is the best way to prepare for competency-based questions?

  • Read the employer's web site and/or job description, and note the skills and competencies they require.
  • Note down any examples you can think of, when you have put these competencies into practice. These could come from vacation or part-time work, clubs and societies, voluntary work, holidays and travel or personal and family experiences.
  • Compose a paragraph or so for each situation, outlining what happened, how you approached it and what the outcome was.
  • Think about the underlying question. What is it that they want you to tell them about yourself?



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Last Updated: 18/08/2020