Before an interview, you might consider preparing for various types of questions. Many interviewers ask competency prompts that gauge your skills and behaviors as they relate to the available position. Reviewing sample answers can help you effectively demonstrate your abilities and differentiate yourself from other candidates.
In this article, we explain why employers ask competency interview questions and provide example questions and answers.
What are competency interview questions?
Competency interview questions are prompts that employers ask to gauge your skills, knowledge and behavior as they pertain to the role for which you’re interviewing. These questions are often open-ended and may require answers involving real-life, situational examples. When preparing your answers, it can be helpful to use the STAR technique. STAR stands for:
Situation: Describe a particular scenario or experience.
Task: Explain your role in the challenge.
Action: Define the steps you took to overcome the obstacle.
Result: Explain the outcome of the situation.
This response method allows you to provide real-life examples that accurately address common competency interview questions. Providing a story from your professional background demonstrates your impact, thought processes and working style. Employers often define criteria for each question and grade you based on the response you give to determine whether you’re a suitable candidate.
Why employers ask competency interview questions
Competency-based interview questions allow employers to learn more about how you manage various work-related scenarios. These questions can help evaluate your power skills such as communication, leadership and teamwork. Hiring managers can also gain insight into your ability to multitask, solve problems and think critically.
Potential employers may ask additional questions about your industry knowledge, such as the hard skills that the position requires. Additionally, your answers to competency-based questions can help you differentiate yourself from other candidates and contextualize the education, experience, skills and certifications you listed on your resume.
7 competency interview questions and answers
Here are seven competency interview questions and example answers that you can use to prepare for a meeting with a hiring manager:
1. Describe a time when you worked under pressure.
Some positions require completing multiple tasks with strict deadlines. A successful answer demonstrates your ability to perform your duties regardless of challenges like limited resources, time or budget constraints or combative clients or team members. Consider providing an example of a time when you remained calm by using specific power or technical skills.
Example: “I was a manager in a retail store during the very busy holiday season. We were behind on sales goals but found it crucial to continue providing excellent customer service. To increase our sales, I created a detailed schedule for each week that included additional employee coverage. I also held a daily team meeting before each shift to address questions and highlight top performers to incentivize the team. We were able to keep customers happy and exceed our sales goals by 12% that month.”
2. Describe a time when you had to persuade a colleague or manager.
At some point in your career, you may explain your opinion or suggestion to a team member to inspire innovation or resolve conflict. Your answer can demonstrate your communication skills with various audiences. Try to form a thorough response that demonstrates your ability to listen actively, form a solution and convince others of your suggestion. You might also refer to the job description to determine what types of people with whom you’re likely to interact. For instance, you can provide an example of communicating with entry-level employees if you’re applying to be a manager.
Example: “I once worked as a coordinator for an event planning team. My main duties included regular communication with colleagues and clients. A disagreement between a customer and my manager occurred over an event’s ideal start date. Through multiple conversations, both in-person and over the phone, I persuaded them that we could find a shared solution based on their schedules. After a conference call, we found a time that accommodated employee schedules and met the customer’s expectations.
3. What is your biggest career achievement so far?
Completing a long-term career goal requires extensive planning, time management and dedication, which many employers value. A compelling answer can also display your determination and ambitions. When constructing your answer, consider choosing a goal in which you can detail the steps you took to be successful, including any setbacks you had to overcome.
Example: “By the end of my sophomore year in college, I was determined to find an editorial assistant position with a top publisher. Since it’s a competitive field, I knew I had to find a way to distinguish myself from other candidates. To gain more skills and experience, I interned at two publishing companies during my summer breaks and took as many relevant classes as possible. I also met with the English department’s career counselor several times to plan my class and internship schedule. She helped me make valuable connections in the publishing field.
At the end of my senior year, a publishing company offered me a position as a customer service representative. Though I was initially disappointed, I realized it was a great opportunity to learn more about the business and improve my customer service skills. I accepted the job, and after a year of dedication, the organization promoted me to an editorial assistant position.”
4. Describe a time when you faced a conflict while working with a team.
Many employers want to know that you can build healthy relationships, resolve issues and work with a team. In your response, try highlighting your conflict resolution, communication and judgment skills. You can use an example where you overcame a group obstacle with your colleagues.
Example: “I joined a sales team as a marketing associate to help create more effective advertising campaigns for our customers. Once, we couldn’t agree on how to market a particular client’s product. We had one week to make a presentation to the customer. We spent the week thoroughly discussing each plan and ultimately formed a campaign from each team member‘s best suggestions. The campaign resulted in success and yielded a net sales increase of 10%. After that experience, whenever there was disagreement within the group, we worked hard to make compromises and group decisions.”
5. What is the biggest change within the workplace you’ve ever had to address?
During your career, it might be necessary to adjust your work style or approach to reach a goal. Your ability to accept and adapt to a company’s adjustments can make you a desirable candidate in many environments. Consider discussing a situation in which you altered your work habits or learned something new at a previous position to display your adaptability.
Example: “I was a middle school teacher with a high percentage of students whose first language was different from mine. Also, families often moved in and out of the district, so my classroom dynamic was constantly changing. I realized my original lesson plans wouldn’t be as effective since every student had a different knowledge base. I decided to completely alter my teaching style and lessons based on student needs. By incorporating partner exercises and team-based quizzes, I helped increase student test scores by 20%.”
6. Tell me about a time when a supervisor asked you to do something with which you disagreed.
In some situations, you may have a task that you don’t feel comfortable performing or understand its value. This question allows you to display your ability to analyze a challenge and effectively express your thoughts. Try to explain a time when you questioned your manager’s instructions and how you came to a solution. The interviewer may desire an answer that balances your respect for authority with your commitment to your values.
Example: “I used to work for a car dealership where the manager set a high sales quota. As a salesperson, I felt that the goal made it challenging to offer quality customer service. I wanted to be honest and fair to all of my customers, even if it meant being flexible about price. I asked for a private meeting with my manager where I expressed my concern over my ability to meet the quota and make my customers happy.
My manager understood my reasoning but still wanted me to meet the quota to increase our profitability. Eventually, we decided that it would be helpful if I shadowed the top-performing salesperson to learn about their tactics. After two days of shadowing, I was able to learn some effective strategies to help increase my sales. I missed the quota the first two months, but with a lot of practice and perseverance, I was able to exceed it by 5% or more for eight consecutive months.”
7. Tell me about a time when you demonstrated integrity and professionalism.
This competency question gauges your ability to demonstrate integrity and professionalism even when it might not be the easiest route. You can center your answer around a situation that focuses on taking accountability for your actions or maintaining the organization’s mission. A compelling answer can help interviewers understand that you prioritize ethical behavior in the workplace.
Example: “At my last job, I noticed a colleague was stealing inventory for personal purposes. The inventory wasn’t of great value, but I felt that their actions compromised the company’s values. Instead of confronting my colleague directly, I followed company protocols by reporting them to the human resources department. The department disciplined the employee, which helped save the company money and protect its integrity.”
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