How To Answer Competency Questions

There’s several different types of interview questions that you might get asked at an interview – questions about you (“Why do you think you are suitable for this role?”), questions about your opinion (“What would you do in this situation?”) and questions that are downright absurd (“How many people flew out of Gatwick last year?”). As well as these, you also have competency questions, which are particularly important when it comes to answering correctly.

A competency question is an interview question that are used to analyse how you work in different situations, and how competent you would be for the role that you’re being interviewed for. These questions will vary widely depending on what type of job you’re going for, but will generally be focusing on how you adapt, communicate, problem-solve, work within a team/independently, and react to different situations. Simply put, they want to know what skills and qualities you can bring to their working environment.

Some examples of these questions are:

  • Tell us about a situation where your communication skills made a difference to a situation.
  • How do you prepare for an important meeting?
  • What big decision did you make recently, and how did you go about it?
  • Describe a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer.
  • Give us an example of a situation where your initial approach failed and you had to change it.
  • How do you deal with stress?
  • When did you last lose your temper?
  • How do you ensure that every member of the team is able to participate?

As you may notice, all of these questions are asking you to describe and elaborate upon a specific situation. They may seem hard, but there’s a ‘one size fits all’ answering approach that can make these questions a walk in the park.

The method is called ‘STAR’, which stands for ‘Situation, Task, Action, Result’. First of all, explain the situation that you have chosen to talk about to the interviewer, and set the context. Next, you need to focus on the task at hand. Tell the interview what specifically was required of you during this situation, and also make sure to mention whether you were told to, or if you decided to off your own back. Then, go into detail about the action that you took to resolve the situation. Finally, talk about the result – what was the outcome of your actions? Did it go as plan?

Have a look at this example below:

Question: Give me an example of a time you used your own initiative.


Situation – I recently had to use my own initiative at work – our manager was unwell one day and so did not come into work, and the scheduled delivery of stock did not arrive at the time it was supposed to.

Task – As the manager was not available and we had not heard anything from the delivery company, I realised that I needed to get the delivery sorted out, or we would not possess the stock that we needed, which could affect sales.

Action – I took it upon myself to locate the name and number of the delivery company using our online system. I contacted them to find out what had happened to the delivery, and made sure that we knew when it was going to arrive.

Result – I managed to rearrange the delivery for later on that day, as something had happened their end, which resulted in them not delivering the stock. Our stock arrived slightly later than usual, but we able to organise it as a team and not feel any major effects because of it.

As with any interview question, it’s always important to prepare potential answers before you go. have a think about situations that you can talk about, and phrase them in your mind in this way. Being able to structure an answer like this shows real competency to the employer, so make sure not to forget them!


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