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How To Prepare For A Competency Based Interview

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How To Prepare For A Competency Based Interview


Congratulations! You’ve landed yourself an interview… but now the nerves are kicking in. 

You were probably expecting the standard face to face interview, but you’ve just discovered it’s going to be a competency-based interview and you’ve probably got a few questions about what to expect and how to prepare. It’s not as scary as you think. The wonderful thing about this type of interview is that it gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your previous experience. 

This guide will help you prepare for and ace that interview.

What is a competency-based interview? 

Competency-based interviews (also known as structured, behavioural or situational interviews) work on the basis that past behaviour is a good indicator of future performance. Interviewers use specific questions relating to the skills required for the role to find out how you would behave in certain situations. 

These questions are designed to test your knowledge, skills and attitude and your answers are measured against a pre-decided criterion. An employer will typically use this type of interview if experience in the industry isn’t seen as essential. 

So, where some employers want to know if you have relevant experience in the industry, a competency-based interview does just that, it tests your competence. An example of this would be ‘how do you handle stress or pressure?’ Whilst stress can be negative, you can spin this into a positive by explaining how you perform better under a reasonable amount of stress and describe how you would cope with difficult situations.

What are key competencies? 

Key competencies are skills that employers look for when recruiting to identify if you are a suitable candidate for the role. Key competencies can include: 

Teamwork – Whilst working independently is a great skill, employers want to know that you are also able to work effectively as part of a team. This is probably one of the most important competencies because if you lack in this area it can affect how the whole team performs. Being a good team member means being able to communicate professionally, help each other reach targets, resolve conflicts etc and it proves you are able to work well with others. 

Example question: Tell me about a team experience that you found rewarding. 

Commitment to career – Employers want you to demonstrate your commitment to your career, you can do this by finding out as much information about the firm, the role you have applied for and the industry. You should research this information prior to the interview. They want to know that you are serious about your application and that you fully understand the role you are applying for. 

Example question: What do you find interesting about this job? 

Communication – Communication is vital for any role. Good communication shows that you are able to present information (either written or verbal) in a way that can easily be understood by the recipient. When you work in the tax industry you need to demonstrate that you can clearly explain things like complex regulations in a clear and easy way for someone who isn’t specialised to understand.

Example question: Describe a time you had to adjust your communication approach to suit a particular audience.

Decision making – When it comes to decision making it is important that you come to an informed decision in a short amount of time and can back it up with supporting evidence. Having good decision-making skills shows an employer that you can use your own initiative and that you have the right skills to make the right decision. 

Example question: Give me an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision. What steps did you take? What was the outcome?

Problem solving – It is guaranteed at some point in your career you will come across a problem that needs to be solved, it might be a small problem or possibly even a major problem. An employer wants you to demonstrate that you can resolve problems in a professional and positive manner. 

If during the interview you are provided with a scenario you could try using the IDEAL method to demonstrate your knowledge about problem solving, Identify the issue, Define the obstacles, Examine your options, Act upon an agreed course of action, Look at how it turns out, and whether anything else needs to be done.

Example question: Identify a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.  

Adaptability – It is important that you show you can easily adapt to change and demonstrate how you handle it. Employers want to know that you can take on new ideas and concepts and that you have a willingness to learn. They want to see that you have a positive ‘can do’ attitude. 

Example question: How do you adjust to changes you have no control over? Provide examples. 

Commercial awareness – Commercial awareness shows that you have a genuine interest in the tax industry. Do as much research as you can to expand your knowledge, follow different trends relating to the tax industry and read relevant articles. You should be able to talk about the industry confidently and discuss the latest news and trends. You should also be able to discuss why you are interested in working in the tax industry. 

Example question: What do you understand of the role this firm plays in the tax industry?
Attention to detail – When it comes to the tax industry it’s vital that you have a high attention to detail, you need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of tax law and the regulations. 

Example question: Tell me about a piece of work you produced where accuracy was essential.

Accountability – Do you take responsibility for all work activities and personal actions. Are you able to follow through on commitments? Can you implement decisions that have been agreed upon? Can you maintain confidentiality with sensitive information? It is important that you are able to acknowledge and learn from mistakes without blaming others and recognize the impact of one’s behaviour on others.

Example question: Describe a time when you took personal responsibility for delivering a project or assignment.

Initiative – Initiative refers to your ability to improve a situation without waiting for instructions and understanding how your own actions relate to the strategic goals. Can you recognise and respond to opportunities in order to reach a goal? Are you able to seek new and improved techniques, solutions, and approaches to completing assignments? These are all examples of how you can show how you use your initiative. 

Example question: Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.

How to prepare for a competency-based interview

As the saying goes, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Preparation is key to success. It is likely an interviewer will ask you to provide examples of your previous experiences and they may even ask you what you would do in a scenario based on your examples. 

Prior to your interview it is important for you to identify what competencies are relevant for the role you are applying for in order for you to be prepared for the questions that might come up. 

Competencies are the knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours that are necessary for the job. Make sure you understand both the job and person specification, you will usually find that this includes information around the competencies the employer is looking for. You can also look online at other examples of job descriptions for the job title you are applying for.  

For each competency you have identified write down examples based on your previous work, education or personal life experiences. Be positive with your answers and showcase your skills. 

You can use the STAR technique to construct your answers. The STAR technique is becoming increasingly popular. It offers a straightforward format you can use to answer competency-based interview questions by using the following steps:


  • Situation – Describe the situation and what you needed to accomplish. Give specific examples.  

  • Task – Explain the task or activity, what was your goal? 

  • Action – Outline the actions you needed to take, what steps did you take? And what was your contribution? Don’t discuss what your team did, talk about yourself and what actions you took. 

  • Result – Describe the outcome. Take credit for your actions, speak about what you learnt. Make sure the outcome is positive, don’t focus on any negatives.

How to ACE your interview

So now you know what a competency-based interview is and what the interviewer is looking for, now all that’s left is to go and ace it.
Practice your answers prior to the interview so that you are comfortable discussing them with the interviewer. Don’t try and think on your feet, this will more than likely end up with you slipping up or not knowing what to say. 

Update your CV, the interviewer may ask you questions, so be sure to have evidence to back it up. 

Be confident, you need to show the interviewer that you’re capable of fulfilling the role.

Be honest with your answers, if you haven’t got a previous example then be honest with the interviewer and explain how you would deal with that situation.

Research the company. Start with their website, read their news articles to keep up with the latest industry news. Show them that you have a genuine interest in the industry. 

Make sure your answers are relevant to the question asked. Listen carefully to what the interviewer is asking.

Research the IDEAL and STAR techniques noted in the article to find more examples. There are also other techniques out there that you might find easier.

Remember to be yourself, this is probably the most important tip when you are preparing for an interview. The Interviewer wants to get to know you and will want to hear about your own individual experiences. 

Here are a few more examples of competency-based interview questions: 

  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills. What was the outcome? What did you learn? 

  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.

  • Tell me about a time where you had to prioritise your workload because you had too many things to do. 

  • Give me an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision. What steps did you take? What was the outcome?

  • In what ways can you contribute to our company?

  • What do you find interesting about this job?

  • Give us an example of a challenging situation you've overcome.

  • Describe a situation where you showed leadership 

  • Where do you want to be in 1, 3 or 5 years’ time? (keep your answer relevant to the role you’re applying for).

Want help responding to the questions above? Contact us below.



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