5 Best Questions to Ask in a Competency-Based Interview

Finding competent hires who fit your business model and vision can be a tall order. The process usually involves long, interview-filled days with candidates who often provide the same rehearsed answers you’ve heard countless times. How can you weed through the applicants and find the best person for the role?

The answer is in your questions.

There are a variety of interview questions and styles you can use when talking to prospective employees. Whether you’re interviewing a new project manager or a frontline lead, a competency-based interview can help you determine the best choice for your team.

To get started, we’ve compiled a list of what these interviews involve as well as questions you can ask.

What Is a Competency-Based Interview?

When you interview someone about their key competencies, you’re trying to understand how their experience and qualifications will play a part in the specific role they would have on your team. Whether it’s a candidate’s first conversation with you or their second interview, this approach asks for real-life examples that can provide keen insight into how well they will fit your company culture.

These types of questions help you see if the applicant has specific talents like communication skills, adaptability, and problem-solving. Ultimately, the applicant’s answers will help you ascertain if they can handle entry-level jobs, management positions, or other roles at your company.

Employers frequently use this kind of job interview when the applicant’s previous experience in the industry doesn’t show whether or not they’ll succeed in the position. For example, leadership skills may carry over between different industries, so someone doesn’t need to work in the same field.

A competency-based interview helps hiring managers see how potential new hires will react in a specific situation and how they handle tasks such as problem-solving.

Here are some qualities that competency-based interviews can help surface:

  • Communication skills
  • Collaboration skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Soft skills
  • Leadership
  • Flexibility
  • Decision-making
  • Technical skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Risk-taking

How and Why to Use Competency-Based Hiring

The right interview questions can help recruiters identify top performers and whether an applicant is the best match for the job description. Competencies reflect an employee’s set of demonstrable traits and skills. As such, a competency-based interview lets you gauge the employee’s future performance based on how they responded to a difficult situation they faced in the past.

Competency-based questions should be open-ended and require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response. These types of questions allow the applicant to elaborate on how they responded to a real-life challenge. The goal of these questions is to detect (and more accurately predict) the behaviors and skills an employee already possesses or will need to acquire for the job.

The type of experiences you ask about will depend on the abilities, knowledge, and particular qualities needed for the position you’re trying to fill.

The Importance of Pre-Intake Meetings

Before conducting your competency-based interview, it’s crucial to set up a pre-intake meeting. This discussion typically takes place between the hiring manager and recruiter to determine competencies and build success profiles for the role.This ensures that all parties involved in the hiring process have a clear understanding of what qualities to look for in applicants.

During the conversation, you’ll want to answer questions about the ideal candidate, such as:

  • What education or previous experience should they have?
  • How much will they be compensated?
  • What hard and soft skills are essential for the job?
  • How will they fit into the company culture?

Reviewing the options can be much easier when gathering comprehensive reference data with a platform like Searchlight. With science-backed assessments and automated systems, you can get signal on behaviors, competencies, and team fit, all in a few clicks.

Competency-based interview: A business woman looking contemplative

Competency Interview Question Examples

If you’re new to conducting a competency-based interview, you may want to try the STAR approach, which stands for situation, task, action, and result. While this is a common technique used by interviewees, you can also use it as a hiring manager.

When a candidate uses the STAR technique, they answer by describing the situation and the tasks they performed, the action they took, and finally the outcome, whether negative or positive. Sometimes, they use an example from the past while other times they might create a new approach based on the situation given to them by the interviewer.

Likewise, you can use the STAR method to devise interview questions. For instance, you can prepare for the interview by planning out situational inquiries that focus on issues you’ve faced on your own team. From there, you can ask the candidate what action they would take to either prevent or solve the issue and the results they would expect from their efforts.

If you’re struggling to create competency-based interview questions, consider the following examples.

1. What do you consider your most significant achievement at this point in your career?

This type of question helps you learn more about the candidate and their past successes. It also allows them to showcase a particular accomplishment or goal that makes them proud.

Watch for red flags to this question that point to discrepancies between what you consider to be an achievement and what they consider a triumph. An applicant may tell you that they were never late to work for three months in a row and consider that a major accomplishment. However, most managers would agree that getting to work on time is a standard expectation, not a notable victory.

2. How do you handle adversity?

Ask the candidate to describe a specific situation where they faced a setback and the steps they took to remedy it. This shows how the applicant thinks under pressure, which is a good predictor of how they will perform at your company. If they haven’t been able to handle adversity well in the past, it’s unlikely that they will suddenly improve at handling stressful situations in the immediate future.

3. Describe a situation where you were in charge of a team that successfully achieved a task or project.

Competency-based interview: Team members brainstorm in front of a white board

With this kind of question, you can glean more about the applicant’s leadership skills. When they are on a team, are they capable of rallying everyone around a cause? Do they step up to a leadership role when a situation calls for it?

This is an excellent question to use the STAR method. Start by having the applicant describe the situation and the task they were assigned. Then, have them tell you about the actions they took and the results they ended up achieving. You could also dive a bit deeper, asking about a time when their team failed to meet a goal and how they bounced back.

4. Can you tell me about a major decision you had to make recently? What was your process for making this decision?

If you want to know how an applicant handles problems and obstacles at work, this competency question is a good place to start. Have the interviewee walk you through the decision they made, as well as the steps they took to determine what to do. This question can reveal the applicant’s problem-solving and decision-making abilities.

A candidate could go in a personal direction with their response, which may not be relevant to your industry. Look for an example of a professional situation that proves their ability to make effective choices in a business atmosphere.

5. What do you do to maintain good relationships with your co-workers and subordinates?

In workplaces, employees often leave a manager and not a company. By asking this question, you can better understand how your prospective managers and leaders handle their working relationships. Do they lead by example and action or only by word and instruction?

In addition to spotting obvious problems, this question will also help you determine if the applicant would be a good fit within your company’s culture and help you minimize turnover rate to keep — not drive away — current and future employees.

Following Through

Many applicants take time to research and review interview questions before they arrive at your company. This is normal for candidates who want to be as prepared as possible. But where the top performers shine is when you ask them to get more specific. 

Some examples of follow up questions: 

  • Can you tell me more about your thought process behind that?
  • Can you give me a few examples of how you did that? 
  • Can you walk me through in a little more detail how that led to those results?

This is where top candidates shine as they’d be able to recall from memory with high specificity. 

Competency Questions Can Improve Your Hiring Process

In summary, competency questions allow you to determine how applicants perform in specific situations. With the right interview questions, your company can get a head start on finding the best employee possible.

Be sure to check out other types of interview questions to help you find the best candidate.

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