How to Answer Competency-Based Interview Questions

By June 25, 2018For Talent

There is one thing that most of my clients have in common, they struggle with answering competency or behavioral questions during job interviews.

Traditional interviewers ask you basic questions such as, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

The process of competency-based interviewing is much more challenging. A prospective employer will try to make a prediction of your future success by understanding how you have handled situations in the past.

In a traditional interview, you can usually get away with somewhat vague, general answers. In a competency interview, on the other hand, they’re going to be asking you for very specific examples. Be prepared to be asked for details including names of people, dates, and outcomes.

They’ll ask you about lengthy projects you’ve been involved in, how your role evolved, how you handled deadlines, pressures and difficult personalities, how you went about thinking through problems, how you determined what steps to take and in what order.

The questions will start with “Tell about a time…” or “Describe a situation…” and then you might be encouraged to elaborate further with questions like “So what were you thinking at that point?” or “What was your decision-making process?”

The interviewer will try to establish what benefits you will bring to the company, and where your benefits might be greater than those of other candidates.

Therefore, when giving examples, I’d recommend that you use the S.T.A.R. Statement format:

S – Situation

T – Task

A – Action

R – Result

S.T.A.R. represents how your key skills are applied in work. Your S.T.A.R examples should illustrate your depth of knowledge, level of ability and value for each key skill.


Describe a work-related situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. Be specific and give details, but keep it short and concise.


Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did – not the efforts of the team.


Describe what you achieved. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? How much time/money did you save?

Take the time to develop and practice your S.T.A.R. statements. You’ll want to have at least six to eight S.T.A.R. statements at the tip of your tongue when you go into an interview.

Create S.T.A.R. statements from the jobs on your resume that you want to bring attention to. As you use the statements as examples, your interviewer will become familiar with the various positions you have held and will get a good idea of your track record of success in those various positions.

Margaret Buj is a career and interview coach who specialises in helping professionals to get hired, promoted and paid more. She has 13 years of experience in recruiting for global technology and eCommerce companies across Europe and the US.

In the last 12 years, she’s successfully coached hundreds of people to help them to get the jobs and promotions they really wanted. If you would like 1-to-1 interview coaching you can contact Margaret on

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Author Margaret Buj

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