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20+ Competency-Based Interview Questions (+ How to Answer)

Learn everything about competency-based interview questions and how to answer them. Discover 20+ questions with sample answers to get inspired by.
20+ Competency-Based Interview Questions (+ How to Answer)

A few years ago, I was preparing for a job interview and reading about different interview questions. When I encountered the term “competency-based interview questions,” I freaked out.

Yet another group of questions I knew nothing about. Behavioral, situational, brain-teaser questions, and now competency-based? I couldn’t keep up.

To my surprise, I found out that competency-based interview questions are a variation of behavioral questions. They’re designed specifically to test your competencies and skills based on real-life events and evidence from the past.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to answer competency-based interview questions with confidence.

You’ll read about:

  • What competency-based interview questions are
  • What competencies they assess
  • 24 common competency-based questions (with sample answers)
  • How to answer them
Big Interview: the best interview preparation tool

Don’t waste days compiling overused interview techniques. Get original answers to every single question you could expect.

What Are Competency-Based Interview Questions?

In summary: Competency-based interview questions are a variation of behavioral questions. They use past situations from your work experience to assess your competencies and skills. Common competencies they assess are teamwork, leadership, communication, problem-solving, and adaptability. Interviewers ask competency-based interview questions because they want you to prove you’re able to do your job well.

Competency-based interview questions are a version of behavioral interview questions. As their name suggests, they aim to assess your competencies or skills. And to do this, they use the context of the past situations from your work experience.

The trick with answering these questions is that you don’t need to elaborate on why you’re a good fit, at least not explicitly. Instead, you need to prove your skills and competency levels.

Why interviewers ask competency-based questions and what they want to hear

Interviewers want to know if you’ve got what it takes to do the job well. They want to know that you have the necessary skills and that they can trust you with all the duties and responsibilities of a role.

But instead of just looking at your resume and assuming you do or don’t have specific skills they are looking for, the best way for them to discover this is to ask directly. They want to hear a story about your competencies or skills — they’re interested in real past situations in which you displayed them.

More info in the video below:

What competencies do these questions assess?

Apart from technical, on-the-job skills, which will completely depend on the type of position you’re applying for, competency-based interview questions typically assess your:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Adaptability
  • Initiative

To best prepare to talk about these skills, think about particular situations in which you displayed them.

Common Competency-Based Interview Questions and Sample Answers

Questions that assess teamwork skills:

Questions that assess leadership skills:

Questions about problem-solving:

Questions about communication skills:

Questions that assess adaptability:

Questions that test the willingness to take initiative:

Let’s break them down.

Questions that assess teamwork skills

Interviewers want to make sure you’re easy to work with and that you can get along and collaborate with others. Key skills they’ll look for in teamwork questions include:

  • Communication
  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration
  • Motivation and inspiration
  • Conflict resolution

Here are some questions they might ask based on those competencies.

“Describe a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.”

During my time as a Customer Service Representative, I worked on a project to shorten our response time to customer inquiries. I had to work closely with a coworker whose personality is drastically different from mine. Amongst other things, he preferred async and written communication, while I liked getting on a call and working together. I recognized the project might be challenging and I tried to find middle ground. So I suggested working separately and then having regular check-ins — a call once per week and written documentation every two days. This proved to be a good solution. We adapted to each other’s way of work and completed the project on time. We managed to decrease response time, but my main sense of accomplishment came from the fact that we successfully overcame this communication challenge and had fun working together.

“Tell me about a time when you helped resolve a dispute between team members.”

In my last role, I had a situation where two team members disagreed over each other’s approach to the project they collaborated on. For confidentiality, I’ll call them Sarah and John in this example. The situation threatened to turn into a conflict at any moment, so I had to react swiftly. I scheduled a private meeting with each of them to understand where they were coming from. Sarah felt that John was not paying attention to other team members and focused only on his tasks, which resulted in delays in her and other people’s deliverables. And John thought Sarah did not communicate her thoughts and needs effectively. I understood both points of view and scheduled another meeting with the three of us where we openly discussed the situation. We found common ground and devised a plan, as well as clear communication protocols for moving forward. And I started doing regular check-ins to monitor the situation. We managed to defuse the tension and create a safe space for them to collaborate in. They grew closer, became more productive, and started meeting their deadlines. This situation convinced me that communication is one of the key skills in any workplace, for any role.

“Can you provide an example of how you have contributed to team success?”

At my previous company, during a really busy period, my team got an administrative task, in addition to the work we were doing for our clients. We were supposed to streamline our accounting processes to meet tight deadlines. The team was not happy, to say the least. But we gathered at a meeting and brainstormed about how to identify bottlenecks, track our progress, and split tasks appropriately. During this meeting, everyone’s voice was heard. We managed to successfully split the workload into smaller chunks and work on the most pressing issues first. In the end, we implemented new procedures that helped us improve efficiency and reduce turnaround times. And although this was a stressful experience, it was also one of the best team experiences I encountered. We were working as one, supporting and helping each other. It created such great energy.

“Share an experience where you had to rely on your team to accomplish a task.”

Last year, we had to prepare a long and detailed financial report for a major client presentation. It was a huge project, so I knew that effective teamwork was key in completing it. So I coordinated with my team to outline the scope and divide responsibilities based on our individual strengths and expertise. We split tasks into different types, like data gathering, analysis, and report formatting, and we also made sure our communication was top-notch. We had regular check-ins and each team member was in the loop with what the others were doing. In the end, we had a long coworking session where everyone chipped in with their part. We polished up the presentation and the report and reviewed them together. After a couple of changes, we were ready to go. When the presentation came around, we not only impressed the client with the quality of the report, but we also strengthened our bonds and grew closer as a team.

For a full guide on how to answer teamwork questions, read How to Answer Teamwork Interview Questions (Tips and Examples).

Questions that assess your leadership skills

Interviewers will ask these questions to gauge your potential for success in leadership, especially if you’re applying for management positions.

In your answers, you’ll need to find a way to prove you’re reliable, capable of leading others, and generating results. Some key skills assessed by leadership questions are:

  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Delegation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem-solving
  • Motivation
  • Empathy

Questions you might hear:

“Tell me about a time you had to lead a team through a difficult situation.”

During my time as a team lead at Acme, we had a tough situation when one of my key team members unexpectedly quit a few weeks before a major project deadline. It affected the rest of the team both in terms of workload and morale, so I had to step up. First, I assessed the potential impact of his departure on the project timeline and resources. I openly spoke to the team and emphasized that it’s very important that they voice their concerns as we’re coming up with a backup plan. Then I delegated the tasks effectively and split the responsibilities. I also did regular 1-1 and team check-ins to make sure everyone was comfortable and confident with their new tasks. In the end, we managed to complete the project on time, within budget, and without overwhelming any of our team members. The experience taught me the significance of proactive leadership, teamwork, and adaptability.

“Describe an instance where you had to take charge of a project. What was the outcome?”

In my previous company, we experienced rapid growth, and we needed to hire across multiple departments. Our team leader had just gone on maternity leave and we were waiting for her temporary replacement, so we didn’t have anyone to lead the project. So I stepped up and gathered the team together. I divided our responsibilities based on individual strengths and skills. My role was sourcing candidates, writing and refining job ads, and taking care of interview logistics. My two colleagues were in charge of interviews. We had a high number of candidates and a tight deadline, but our efforts paid off. We filled in all the positions but also spotted bottlenecks and areas of improvement that helped us refine our recruitment processes along the way. It was a great experience that taught me to be more proactive and brave in my decision-making.

“How have you motivated others in a professional setting?”

In my last agency, the holidays were always busy and stressful for the entire team. We had quotas to hit, and our clients relied on us to produce top-notch promo emails for them. Every year, we would manage to meet all the deadlines and bring in results, but the period after the holidays would always be disorganized and slow due to all of us burning out. One year, it was particularly slow. As their manager, I was thinking about how to acknowledge everyone’s contributions and express appreciation for their hard work. So I gave everyone in the team one extra day off to spend within the next month. I also organized a meetup for everyone in the area. We didn’t focus too much on work. Instead, I just wanted us to spend some quality time together, sightseeing, picnicking, and visiting wineries. And as far as work goes, I started giving each team member more and more autonomy over their work. They realized they could always come to me with questions, observations, and suggestions. This resulted in a collaborative, tight-knit team and I think it inspired them to do their best work. Each holiday season after that, I feel like we grew stronger and closer.

“Give an example of a time when you had to provide feedback to a team member. How did you handle it?”

Last year, we had a new writer join our team. After completing the onboarding process and writing his first article, he came to me for feedback before submitting it to our editor. It was an uncomfortable situation because the article wasn’t the best, and I didn’t know how to deliver negative feedback. The writing itself was ok, but it did not follow our internal interlinking and formatting best practices. So I approached the situation carefully and first told him what I liked about his writing. I complimented his clarity and interesting examples. Then, I told him that despite that, we’ll need to rework it to follow our best practices. I made sure to emphasize it’s normal for him to need some time to get used to a new way of work, and I outlined what needed to be done. I also sent him all the relevant materials like our brand book, writing and formatting guides, and good and bad examples. He took it well and explained how grateful he was that I was able to steer him in the right direction. Sure enough, the second draft was much better. He was ready to hand his first article in. This experience taught me to be realistic but kind when giving feedback. I also discovered that it’s best to provide very specific feedback and specific resources that could help a person get better.

For a full guide on how to answer leadership questions, check out this article: Behavioral Interview Questions: Leadership [How to Answer + Examples].

Questions about problem-solving

Problem-solving skills are crucial because your success in the role will depend on them to a large extent. They’re important because they directly impact your efficiency, the ability to innovate and adapt, customer satisfaction, stress management, and decision-making.

Here, interviewers will focus on skills like:

  • Technical knowledge
  • Leadership potential
  • Adaptability and innovation
  • Productivity
  • Collaboration
  • Decision-making

Questions you can expect:

“Give me an example of a challenging problem you faced and how you solved it.”

In my last role as a Customer Service Associate, we had a problem when a client threatened to terminate their contract with us. Their order was delayed because of a manufacturing error, and they needed those items for an upcoming event they organized. When I heard about it, I immediately reached out to the client, apologized, and explained the situation. I then escalated it to my supervisor and collaborated with the production team to speed up the process. I kept the client updated on our progress the whole time. Ultimately, we managed to deliver the order. It was slightly behind schedule, but the client was ok with it. This experience taught me to proactively take action against any issue. I didn’t have the authority to implement large-scale changes in our process, but I suggested a few improvements to our production tracking system. My manager praised me for the job well done and the client thanked me for assisting them. They didn’t terminate their contract and eventually, they became one of our key clients.

“Describe a situation where you had to think on your feet to extricate yourself from a difficult situation.”

One time, during a client presentation, I had a technical issue where the projector stopped working just as I was about to showcase key data. I got super nervous but I didn’t let it show. Without missing a beat, I calmly acknowledged the issue and told them that there was an alternative way to present the information. Then I pulled up the data on my laptop. I had to walk the client through the key points verbally, but at least I had the data and could finish the presentation. It was an unexpected situation. Of course, I became panicky, but I somehow managed to stay composed and focus on the goal of delivering the presentation. The client appreciated my professionalism and the rest of the meeting went smoothly. I’d say I left a pretty positive impression, because that client met with my manager a few days later and praised me.

“Tell me about a time when you identified a potential problem and took preventative measures.”

A few months ago, I realized we had a recurring issue with speed. Our app was experiencing slow loading times during peak hours. I knew this would affect user experience and potentially lead to user dissatisfaction. So I decided to do something. First I analyzed the app’s performance metrics. I realized that database queries were causing the slowdown. I worked with a colleague on implementing caching mechanisms to store frequently accessed data and reduce the need for repetitive database queries. As a result, loading times were reduced by up to 40%. It’s still one of my dearest achievements because I like the fact that I caught that problem early on and prevented serious consequences for major clients.

“Explain a scenario where you had to use data or analytics to solve a problem.”

Last year, we were working on a mobile app project. I noticed some discrepancies in user feedback that we couldn’t get to the bottom of. So I figured we needed a more data-driven approach to move forward appropriately. I took the initiative and dived into our analytics platform. I also examined user engagement metrics as well as their behavior patterns. Additionally, I conducted user research sessions to gather direct qualitative feedback. One important thing I discovered was a significant drop-off rate at a certain step in the user journey. This indicated a potential usability issue. So I proposed redesigning the interface layout to streamline the navigation flow. I made several other suggestions in line with my findings. The management team ended up approving all my suggestions and we moved forward with the project accordingly. They praised my proactive approach and the way I analyzed and integrated data into our processes. They said it showcased my ability to make informed decisions, which ended up laying the foundation for a leadership role in the future.

For more details about answering problem-solving questions, check out this comprehensive guide: Answering Problem-Solving Interview Questions: Tips and Examples.

Questions about your communication skills

Communication, in one way or another, is one of the key skills you’ll need in just about any position — even if it doesn’t require speaking to customers. You’ll still need to communicate with your teammates and managers daily, in written or verbal form. Recruiters will gauge your communication skills, such as:

  • Verbal and written communication
  • Active listening
  • Body language
  • Clear expressions of ideas
  • Empathy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Adaptability to different communication styles or channels

Questions they might ask:

“Can you provide an example of a time when you had to explain a complex topic to a non-expert audience?”

Last year, I took part in a seminar on QA testing. I had to deliver a presentation to a mixed audience of technical and non-technical people. The topic was the importance of automated testing in improving software quality. I wanted to make sure everyone could keep up, so I took a structured approach. I began by simplifying technical jargon and giving relatable examples to illustrate basic concepts. Then I used everyday analogies to explain more complex testing processes and tools. Throughout the presentation, I kept asking questions to make sure the audience was engaged and could follow the story. By the end of that presentation, even the non-technical people had a clear understanding of QA. The Q&A part of the presentation lasted for a long time, and there were even a few students inquiring about a career in the QA field. It was a fulfilling experience and it honestly made me proud of my communication and presentation skills.

“Tell me about a time when your communication skills improved a situation.”

In my previous role, there was a misunderstanding between our team and one of our clients regarding project timelines. The client was frustrated, the team was confused, and tensions were running high. I saw that the situation could escalate and I wanted to prevent that. So I scheduled a face-to-face meeting with the client and several key people from the team. We discussed their concerns, communicated our team’s progress, and proposed several options that could help us align better. Then we went over what each side had liked about the project thus far and where we saw it going. We ended up slightly adjusting the project scope and deadlines. In the end, the misunderstanding was resolved, and we completed the project successfully and built a solid foundation with the client based on trust. They were pretty happy, and they have remained one of our key clients since.

“Describe a situation where you had to negotiate with someone. How did you achieve your objectives?”

Two years ago, one of our biggest client’s contract came to an end and we needed to negotiate a contract renewal at a higher amount. I was in charge of negotiations, and I knew this task would be easier if I had strong claims to back us up. So I started by creating a list of the client’s greatest successes that came from using our platform, as well as how they affected their revenue. This included metrics like a 150% increase in Black Friday revenue and a 55% increase in open rates over that year. Having picked out the most meaningful achievements, I put together a presentation. I emphasized the value that our platform brought to our client, as well as our dedication to continuing to support their email efforts. I believe the numbers spoke for themselves because the negotiation was not as difficult as I expected it to be. I secured a renewal and got a solid bonus for this. And I decided that this would be my approach for any sort of negotiation from now on. Solid numbers and hard facts speak for themselves, so there’s no space for speculations and complications.

“Share an experience where you had to gather input from others to make a decision. How did you communicate your decision?”

I was recently assigned to write an article about the latest trends in influencer marketing. During my interviews with subject matter experts, I saw that the majority of insights and examples they gave me were highly visual and interactive. Those were case studies, statistics, examples of successful influencer campaigns, and cool YouTube Shorts and TikTok videos. I saw the dynamic nature of the content and I thought that article wasn’t the best option for conveying all the info. We needed an interactive format for better reach and engagement. I proposed that we switch the format to a longer YT video, or create a video alongside the article. I listed the benefits of that approach, including links to our SEO optimization tools, and my managers agreed to give it a try. We developed a video script and shot a fun, engaging video within that week. We published an article too, but the video generated higher views and shares. This experience showed me how important it was to adapt my strategies based on expert input instead of blindly following the existing plan.

Questions that assess your adaptability

Interviewers want to know you have what it takes to successfully keep up with trends, crises, changes, and innovations.

What they’ll assess with adaptability questions:

  • Willingness to learn
  • Flexibility
  • Resilience
  • Open-mindedness
  • Proactiveness
  • Problem-solving
  • Maintaining focus and professionalism.

Questions to expect:

“Describe a time when you had to adjust to changes you were not expecting.”

In my first role as a dispatcher in a trucking company, there was a day when severe weather unexpectedly caused road closures within our delivery routes. Our entire schedule was thrown off, and I had to think quickly in order to adapt and make sure our customers got their goodies delivered. First, I compiled a list of all road closures and alternative roads available. I contacted the drivers to inform them about the changes and give them our new route plans. One of the drivers complained about the new route so there was a bit of persuasion on my side to try and smooth everything out. But in the end, our timely communication and route adjustment in real-time helped us deliver the packages without major delays, as close to the original schedule as possible. It was then that I learned the importance of flexibility and quick decision-making, especially in the trucking industry.

“Tell me about a time when you had to learn something new within a short deadline.”

In my previous role, there was a project where I needed to learn to use a new software tool to manage data analysis tasks. An important meeting was coming up and I had a week to familiarize myself with the tool. I had no prior experience with tools of that kind, so it was quite a challenge. I first turned to online tutorials and user guides. Video tutorials helped me understand basic features and tool interface. When I acquired the basics, I reached out to coworkers who were proficient with the tool. They were able to give me some valuable tips and lesser-known tricks on how to use the tool. And then I set aside some time each day to practice. I experimented with different functions and within a few days I felt more comfortable using the tool. In the end, I was able to gain a solid grasp of the software within the tight deadline. I created the presentation on time and was praised by my manager. That experience really helped me understand the importance of adaptability and resourcefulness.

“Give an example of how you have successfully managed multiple tasks at once.”

One time, I was conflicted between writing several urgent promo email copies for our client and writing a report that goes out on a quarterly basis and has a fixed and strict deadline. I also had a bunch of smaller and personal tasks to take care of. I didn’t want to let our client down, but I had to write the report because we couldn’t call it off or change the release date. So I decided to use the Eisenhower matrix to get a clearer picture of my tasks and which ones I needed to prioritize. I split my tasks into important and urgent, and important but not urgent. The first group I dedicated my time to right away. The second I assigned to my coworker. As for the non-urgent tasks, I left the critical ones for the post-report period, as I knew I could work on them then. The non-important, small tasks I just canceled and decided I might come back to them if I had time, which was not likely. This helped me prioritize and get a clear picture. Back to the urgent and important tasks: I set aside 4 hours per day to work on the report and the remaining few hours for client copies and brainstorming. Having a clear plan and schedule helped me be more productive, and I managed to complete both urgent, important projects on time. That’s when I started using this matrix and marking time in my calendar for every single task that I do. And that’s when my productivity and creativeness rose up.

“Explain a situation where you had to change your approach because your initial plan was not effective.”

In one of the projects last year, I needed to organize a fundraising event for our company’s charity initiative. First, I wanted to focus only on traditional fundraising methods like direct mail campaigns and phone calls to potential donors. But after doing this for several weeks without much success, it became evident we needed to change our strategy. I proposed focusing on digital fundraising methods like social media campaigns and online crowdfunding platforms. I did some research to discover some successful digital fundraising strategies by other organizations, which helped me create a new plan for our initiative. The result was awesome. We managed to reach a broader audience, increase donor engagement, and surpass our goals. This situation taught me to let go of the old ways and adapt to new circumstances at all times.

Questions that test your willingness to take initiative

Everyone wants a doer on their team. This is why you’ll want to prove you’re a self-starter, able to take initiative and proactively work on different challenges you might face.

Skills interviewers might assess for questions about initiative:

  • Proactively seeking solutions
  • Taking ownership of tasks and responsibilities
  • Enthusiasm
  • Identifying opportunities
  • Seeking out new projects to contribute to

Common questions:

“Tell me about a time when you took the initiative to address an issue before it became a problem.”

In my last role as a recruiter, I noticed a trend where the entire team needed increasingly more time to fill different positions. I thought that it would negatively impact our quarterly goals and the candidate experience, so I wanted to do something to address this issue. I spoke to my manager and she gave me a green light to experiment and come up with a solution. So I reviewed our recruitment process to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies. I noticed that delays were primarily happening because of the coordination challenges between hiring managers and candidates. There was a lot of back-and-forth to find an appropriate time slot for each. To streamline the process, I suggested that we start using an automated scheduling system. After researching these tools, I narrowed my choice down to the top 2 and presented them to the team. We selected and implemented a tool that simplified the process and helped us reduce time-to-fill by more than 20%. It was the first time that I ventured to do something like that on my own, and I was really proud that I managed to pull through. My manager also praised me for being proactive and taking initiative.

“Describe an instance where you went above and beyond what was expected of you.”

In my first role as a Customer Service Representative in a telecommunications company, there was this long-time customer who kept complaining about repeated billing errors. He was really frustrated and ready to ditch us. I didn’t want to lose a client so I addressed this issue ASAP. First, I analyzed their account history and transaction records. I found the problem and reached out to the billing department to ask them to fix the incorrect data and code immediately. Then I updated the customer on the situation, explained what caused the problem, and gave them a small discount on their next month’s subscription. It was enough for him to drop the attitude and thank me. He left a nice review for us and mentioned me specifically. It felt nice that I was able to fix their problem and make sure they were satisfied with our services.

“Can you give an example of a project or idea that was implemented primarily because of your efforts?”

In my role at a busy retail chain, I noted the queues were getting increasingly longer, especially during peak hours. Holidays became almost unbearable because of this. I saw that this could hurt our store’s reputation and frustrate the customers, so I spoke to my manager about potential solutions. I proposed implementing a system where customers could check out items themselves by using self-service kiosks. I researched the available options and presented the benefits to our store manager. I think our leadership team was considering something similar at that moment, because we soon installed those self-service checkpoints. The process was fairly simple, so the customers didn’t need much time to get accustomed and start using them. This helped us drastically reduce wait times at the checkout counters. Our customers were happier, we were less stressed, and our store operations became more efficient. It was a win-win situation.

“Share a time when you identified a need and took steps to fulfill it without being asked.”

Last spring, I wanted to request some days off. But we didn’t have a system in place, so I had to go back and track my days off manually in the calendar. I also had to calculate how many remaining days I had myself. It wasn’t a lot of work, but I didn’t understand why we had to do it this way. So I wanted to implement a days off tracking system that would automatize the process. I did my research and found a free tool that seemed convenient. I tested it out and played around with it for a few days. In the next one-on-one meeting with my manager, I told them about the situation and suggested we start using the platform. After a few days of testing it, she said we could start using the platform. So we made accounts for everyone on the team, added basic information, and created a short tutorial on how to use it. Turns out, manually tracking days off was bugging a lot of people, and they were more than happy to use the tracker. It wasn’t a major problem that I solved, but I automatized a boring task and saved my coworkers time and effort.

Those covered all the basic competencies and skills you’ll be asked about, but we do have a few additional detailed guides:

How to Answer Competency-Based Interview Questions?

In summary: When answering competency-based questions, use the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method and refer to real-life examples of when you put your skills to use. Make sure the examples and stories are specific, relevant, concise, and positive.

Use the STAR method

Here’s a guide on how to answer these questions using the STAR format:

The STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method will help you craft a compelling story in which you’ll be able to elaborate on all the relevant details.

By picking a story from your past and telling it through the STAR framework, you’ll show examples of putting your competencies into practice. Your answers will automatically become more believable.

S stands for Situation — briefly describe the context of the situation you found yourself in.

T stands for Task — say what your task was in that situation.

A stands for Action — elaborate what and how exactly you did something in order to fix a problem, overcome a challenge, or achieve a result. This is supposed to be the longest part of your answer.

R stands for Results — recap what the results of your actions were. Bonus points for including lessons learned from that experience.

For example:

Situation: In my first company, I struggled with meeting deadlines. Then, I became a part of a serious project and my role in it was critical.

Task: I had to make sure that I delivered everything on time so my colleagues could take over.

Action: So a month before the project kicked off, I installed a time tracker. I started tracking every single type of task that I did so that I had a rough idea of how much time I’d need for similar tasks in the future. I started logging in time and taking notes to identify roadblocks and distractions. This actually helped, and within two weeks I was able to successfully estimate how much time I’d need to complete different tasks. Plus, I tested my hypothesis several times. So when that important project kicked off, I could give my team my estimates and deliver my part on time.

Result: I managed to hand in my materials 2 days ahead of the deadline and my manager was so happy that she complimented me in front of the entire company. That experience taught me the importance of taking proactive steps to solve my challenges.

For another example of the STAR method, check out this video:

Be specific

It’s important to be specific in your answers and provide as much detail as you can. This will help:

  • Demonstrate your experience and capabilities. If you provide enough details, your stories will be more credible.
  • Make you more persuasive. The specific examples will help to support your claims.
  • Show that you’re a good fit. By providing specific details that are directly connected to the role, you’ll make it easier for them to realize you’re the best candidate for the role.
  • Become clear and effective. Interviewers will understand exactly what you’re trying to say and they’ll have no doubt about your capabilities and experiences.
Pro tip: To be as specific and detailed as possible, choose a true story from your own experience. When you personally go through something, you’re armed with every single detail about what happened and why it happened. This will make your claims stronger and more believable. Plus, the story will be more interesting for the listener. On the other hand, if you make up a story or lie, you’ll probably find yourself grasping for details because your story feels general. You might also get confused, and your arguments will feel weaker. So honesty is your best policy here.

Stay relevant

It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to talk about how you saved the day with your technical knowledge if the interviewer is asking about your communication skills, right?

That’s why you need to pay attention to the relevancy of your answers.

For each question you get, try to get to the bottom of it. Think about why they ask it and what group of skills/competencies they’re trying to assess. Then, choose an example demonstrating exactly that competency (check out the questions and sample answers above — we outlined targeted skills for each question group).

✅ Pro tip: Make sure you’re aligned with the role and company values. For example, imagine you applied for a Customer Service role and they ask you to tell them about the time when your communication skills improved a situation. You might have several stories to choose from. But a story about how you used your communication skills to persuade your manager to extend a deadline would not be fitting. A story about how you saved an important customer from churning? Now we’re talking.

Be concise

Structure your answers to be clear and to the point, and avoid unnecessary details that do not add value to your response.

Because you’ll be using the STAR format, it will be easy. Remember that the Action part of the answer needs to be the longest and you can fit in the most details here. Other elements should contain only the necessary information.

But generally, you’ll want to be direct, and concise, and make your answer 2–3 minutes long max.

Reflect positively on your experiences

As with any other answer to any other interview question, you need to stay enthusiastic and reflect positively on your experiences.

Badmouthing or talking negatively about previous employers and situations will backfire, and you’ll end up looking like a villain.

This is why you’ll want to focus on the positives, like achievements you accomplished, results you brought, or lessons you learned (especially for uncomfortable questions like those about failure or weaknesses). Sure, there are negative experiences you went through, but what counts is your resilience and the ability to learn from your mistakes.

This will demonstrate your growth and a proactive approach to challenges.

How to Prepare for Competency-Based Interview Questions in Advance

In summary: To best prepare for these questions in an interview, perform a self-assessment and write down your key skills, competencies, strengths, and weaknesses or failures. For each of them, prepare a story that best illustrates them. Make your answers align with the company and the industry by researching the latter and look for opportunities to prove you’re aligned and will fit in perfectly.

Perform a thorough self-assessment

Before your interview (and we mean days before), sit down and think about your work experience so far.

Write down these details:

Writing them down will give you a holistic view of your career so far.

Then, for the purpose of competency-based interview questions, go through the list and try to remember the situations in which you displayed these qualities or experienced failures.

Pro tip: If you’re having a hard time thinking of specific times when you displayed certain strengths, skills, or weaknesses, you can talk to your friends, family, or coworkers and ask for their thoughts. Looking back on your experiences through their eyes might help you objectively see things that wouldn’t otherwise come to your mind.

Research the company and the role

Align your answers with the company or the role you’re applying for.

This is best done by researching them before the interview.

For the company, check out their website, social media, news, and reviews by current and former employees in order to gather an impression of what the culture is like and what are its values.

For the role, focus on the job ad. Extract keywords, and check if your experience is a good fit for filling in the gaps. If so, try to align your answer so it demonstrates the key values and competencies they’re looking for.

A full guide to researching a company is here: The Job-Seeker’s Guide to Company Research.

Prepare “general” answers that illustrate your most relevant competencies and skills

Prepare a few stories with different skills and competencies you could use. Then, think of ways to reuse those stories to answer different interview questions.

Don’t use the exact same story to answer several questions, but find ways to modify them and use them for different questions you might get.

For example, if you closed a $100K deal by jumping in and solving a client’s problem, you could use that story to illustrate your analytical skills, customer focus, persuasion, or problem-solving skills.

Of course, if you get a question about both customer focus and analytical skills, you can’t use the same answer, but having many backup versions for each story will make you covered in any case.

Summary of the Main Points

  • Competency-based interview questions are a variation of behavioral interview questions.
  • They test your competencies and skills important for the role, based on real events from your past.
  • They assess key competencies and skill groups like teamwork, communication, leadership, problem-solving, adaptability, and initiative.
  • To answer them, you should use the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method.
  • Your answers should be specific, relevant, concise, and positive.


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How are competency-based interview questions different from behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions dive into your past experiences and behaviors to predict how you’ll behave in similar situations in the future. Competency-based interview questions are very similar in the sense that they also will inquire about past situations, but more focus will be placed on your skills and competencies and how you displayed them. Common competencies include problem-solving, communication, leadership abilities, initiative, and adaptability. Basically, competency-based interview questions are just a variation of behavioral interview questions.

Can they ask me competency-based questions to assess some technical, job-specific skills?

Yes, especially in interviews for roles that require extensive technical knowledge (but it doesn’t have to be only technical — it can go deep into expertise of any kind). They’ll ask these questions to identify your technical competencies, specific problem-solving, and tools you’ve used so far. For example, if you’re interviewing for a Content Marketer position, they might ask you about your experience with SEMRush or Ahrefs, or how you tackled a certain problem in WordPress. For software development roles, they might ask how you solved an issue in Python, or what’s your experience with different software development processes like Agile methodology.

Are competency-based questions usually focused on hard or soft skills?

They can focus both on hard and soft skills. For hard skills, they’ll focus on specific technical problems you solved, your experience with certain tools, or industry-specific knowledge. For soft skills, they’ll mainly inquire about your teamwork skills, problem-solving, analytical skills, communication, leadership, or adaptability. Depending on the role you’re applying for, they might place more focus on competency-based questions about hard or soft skills. For example, certain roles, like Customer Service, require highly developed soft skills. For these roles, hard skills are usually secondary and related to platforms used in these roles, which can be learned quickly. But if you’re applying for a role in software development, your hard skills will, of course, be the critical element and a priority.

How to answer competency-based questions if I have little or no experience?

You can draw from your experiences at school or uni, from your private life, private lessons, volunteering experiences, hobbies, sports, and similar. This is easier to do with soft skills, as you certainly solved a problem or communicated something successfully in your private life or at school. It might be trickier for hard skills, but you can rely on your experience with the technologies and tools you used and practiced with during your studies.

How to answer competency-based questions if I’m aiming to change careers?

You can focus on transferable skills — the skills you acquired in your previous work and life experiences, which you could put to use in this new setting. When giving examples, tailor them to fit the role and industry you applied for. Highlight your ability to learn and adapt, and show your enthusiasm and motivation. It’s also completely ok to say something like “I’ve never been in that situation before, but there was a time when…” and continue the answer by giving a similar situation you experienced, highlighting the competency or skill the interviewer is looking for. Or, you can say “I’ve never been in that situation before, but here’s how I’d handle it…”

Maja Stojanovic
A writer specialized in interview preparation and resume building. Spent 5+ years tirelessly seeking a meaningful, rewarding job. Which is exactly what I’ll help you find.
Edited By:
Briana Dilworth
Briana Dilworth
Fact Checked By:
Michael Tomaszewski
Michael Tomaszewski

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