candidate shaking interviewers hand in competency based interview

Guide to Competency Based Interviews (CBI)

Written on July 6, 2020 by Jason Horwood

If we asked if you have heard of a telephone interview or a group interview, the answer would probably be yes. But, if we asked if you knew what a competency-based interview was, you may not be so sure. Here at Agile Recruit, our team of consultants aim to help our candidates be as prepared for the interview as they can be, and so it is important that you are aware of all of the different types of interviews you may face.

Here is our quick guide to Competency-Based Interviews (CBI):

What is a competency based interview?

In competency based interviews the interviewer will ask a set of questions, each based on a specific skill the company is looking for, with the candidate’s answer being graded against a particular set of predetermined criteria.

A lot of recruiters like CBIs as they are a great way to find out how the candidate has used the specific skills they are looking for and also how the candidate usually approaches problems, tasks and challenges. CBIs are also a fair way to assess candidates as they remove some of the emotional elements that can cloud the interviewer’s judgement. Instead there is a focus on scoring each candidate in a way that can be compared against other candidates directly and against the competencies required for the role.

Candidates, on the other hand, are not so keen on CBIs as they can sometimes feel like more of an interrogation than a conversational style interview. It is important to remember that a structured interview like this can help you to keep to the point.

The key competencies that most recruiters will tend to look for in a CBI include:

  • Adaptability
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Decisiveness
  • Independence
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Organisation
  • Problem solving
  • Resilience
  • Teamwork

Examples of competency based interview questions

Obviously, the type of CBI questions you will be asked will depend on the role you are applying for, but there are some common themes which tend to run through this type of questioning.

The interviewer may take the approach of using very specific questions with no follow-up such as, “Describe an occasion where you achieved a goalwhat steps did you take to get there?” Once you have answered this question, they may carry on the interview with a further list of questions like this, focused on the key competencies.

The other approach an interviewer might take is to ask more open questions such as, “What has been your most significant achievement?” They will then make a note of the competencies you mention in your answer, and may also ask follow-up questions to enable you to further elaborate on your skills. The challenge here is to answer the questions as fully as you can, without waffling or spending too much time on just describing the task.

The aim of any good interviewer is to discover exactly what you have learnt from your experiences, including what you might have done differently. Be prepared to reflect on your past performance.

How to answer competency based interview questions

The best way to answer CBI questions is to use the STAR model to structure your reply – as this will help you give clear and concise answers. The STAR model is:

  • Situation: Briefly describe the task you had to complete and give background to your example, e.g: “I led a group of colleagues in a presentation to potential clients.”
  • Task: Explain the task or activity
  • Action: Outline the action you took to complete the task (the how and why) e.g.” I delegated sections of the presentation to each team member, making sure we discussed our ideas in a series of meetings.”
  • Result: Summarise the result of your action e.g. “As a result of the team effort and hard work, we won the business!”

As you can see, the Situation and Task element of the STAR model often roll into one another and so should be kept fairly brief. The critical section is the action section and so you should keep it personal, talking about yourself and not the rest of the team. The interviewer may not be able to guess what you mean so explain precisely what you did, how you did it and why you did it.

How to prepare for a competency based interview

As with any interview, the key to providing successful answers in a CBI is all in the preparation – and the good news for you is that preparation is fairly easy to do. Just follow the steps outlined below:

  • Closely study the company’s website to glean the competencies they deem to be important – brand values and mission statements are great places to start.
  • Ask the company if you can have details of the competencies ahead of the interview.
  • Analyse the job description and person specification in depth so you are really clear about what the employer is looking for.
  • Pull together a list of the competencies you have identified in the previous three steps.
  • Review your CV to find two examples for each competency.
  • Write bullet points for each competency based on the STAR model outlined above.
  • Practice your answers with a friend who will give you helpful feedback.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you find your next data specialist role, or if you have a data specialist role you would like to fill, please get in touch by email at info@agilerecruit.com.