How to run a competency-based interview

How to run a competency-based interview

A competency-based interview (also known as a behavioural-based interview) is modelled on the HR and psychology principle that “past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour”, meaning that a candidate’s performance is evaluated by what they’ve done rather than on hypotheticals.

As the Psychometric Institute states, “The key to answering competency-based questions is to ‘demonstrate’ that you have the right skills by using examples based on your prior experience, and not just talk about the topic in a theoretical and impersonal manner.”

Competency-based interviews have been a popular style of interviewing for companies who prefer a more evidence-based approach to recruitment because it offers a systematic assessment of a candidate’s ability to meet and exceed job challenges. There are some elements to consider before you develop a series of behavioural interview questions.

Let’s start with definitions

A competency is defined as the application of knowledge, skills and qualities required to perform a specific job in the workplace, while a behaviour is defined as an action and attitude that someone exhibits.

Every competency has a set of behaviours – a checklist that determines whether a candidate will be able to perform a job “competently”.

Determine the competencies

Decide on three to six competencies deemed necessary to perform well in the role. For example, competencies associated with a customer service position in a close-knit team might be “communication”, “problem solving” and “team effectiveness”, whereas competencies for a CEO might be “leadership” and “negotiation”.

Under each competency, list the behaviours you’ll need to see candidates exhibit in order to meet the prerequisites to fulfil that competency as shown in the previous example. Remember to ensure the competencies and behaviours of an interview adequately reflect the requirements of performing the job.

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Develop appropriate questions

The next step is to develop questions around these competencies and its associated behaviours. So instead of asking, “Are you a team player?” you could ask, “Tell me about a time when you worked in a team to achieve a common vision?”

Be careful not to ask closed-ended questions, which elicit only a yes/no response. Also be sure you include a list of prompters in case the candidate struggles to respond.

Preparation is key

Ensure you are familiar with the candidate’s CV, including qualifications, job history and skills. Make note of any discrepancies in job gaps or short tenures (if retention is an important requirement of the job).

Explain they need to use the STAR model – situation, task, action and result. What was the situation and task, what were their actions, including what they said, and what was the outcome?

The interview process can be challenging, particularly for those who are not highly skilled in the art of communication. So even though it’s a formal process, it may help to be friendly and conversational.

Control and manage the flow

Not all candidates are skilled at responding well in interviews. Some may be verbose and waffle, while others may be too generic in their responses. As the interviewer, it is your responsibility to extract the information and level of detail required to meet the behaviours. Ask specific questions and interrupt them politely if they are going off on tangents.

Closing the interview

Ensure you have covered all the questions in the interview, returning to any you missed. And make sure you ask questions outside of the set interview relating to job history, reasons for leaving a role, career goals, etc.

Ask whether the candidate has any questions about the job and answer them properly. If you do not know the answer, make a note of it and tell them you will follow up with them – and do it.

Scoring and assessment

A competency is effective when a candidate can exhibit all or most of the behaviours listed. If you use a scoring system between 1 and 5, where 5 is considered “outstanding” and 1 is “significantly below” par, then you could consider this following rating scale:

  1. Unsatisfactory
  2. Below satisfactory
  3. Satisfactory
  4. Above satisfactory
  5. Extremely satisfactory

Note that a rating of 2 for a single competency should not immediately rule out a candidate’s suitability for a role, particularly if they scored 4s and 5s in other areas. It could just mean they did not show the behaviours necessary to ace it. You might want to investigate further, perhaps through reference checks or a follow-up interview.

One thing to be mindful of is consistency. However you decide to approach this part of the assessment, always ensure you are being fair across the board.

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