Competency Based Interviewing


A competency based interview (also referred to as a situational, evidence based or behavioral interview) is a style of interviewing often used to evaluate a candidate’s competence, particularly when it is hard to select on the basis of technical merit e.g. for a particular graduate job where relevant experience is less important or not required. However, increasingly, companies are using competency based interviews as part of the selection process for experienced recruitment, as it can give valuable insights into an individual’s preferred style of working and help predict behaviors in future situations.

Competency based interviewing is used in an effort to make the interview process as standard and as fair as possible. There are two common approaches: one is to ask a series of questions, targeted at each of the core competencies while the other involves in-depth probing questions with the interviewer actively listening for clues which provide evidence that the candidate possess the necessary skills.

When preparing for a competency based interview, the experienced interviewer will draw up a list of questions relating to each competency and all directed towards discovering if the candidate has the necessary skills. The most common types of questions asked in competency based interviews are behavioural based and are used as a tool to discover how the applicant’s behaviour in a previous role or situation can contribute to the performance in the job being recruited for.
These will usually start with phrases such as:
• Tell me about a time when you….
• Give an example of a situation where….
• Describe a scenario….

The theory behind competency based interviews is that past work behaviour is a good predictor of future job performance. The emphasis of a competency based interview is on the applicants’ life learning. Interviews of the past have focused on accomplishments and future plans whilst competency based interviews assess the individual as a whole. Competency based interviews place the emphasis on the applicant’s individual ability to relate learning from experience to the position in question.

The competency based answers during a job interview are quite an intelligent and quick way to find out about the attitude and mindset of the individual who has applied for the job. The answers to the competency based interview questions also provide a graphic portrayal of his or her attitude towards work, people and life in general. Competency based interviewing is the best way to uncover the behavioural aspects of an individual in a quick and precise manner.

Research into recruitment and selection methodology suggests that structured, competency based interviews can be one of the most reliable and accurate forms of assessment. A good recruitment and selection interview should assess candidates against each essential criteria or competency, asking questions about:
• Past behaviours and performance
• Learning from past behaviours
• Future adaptability to new post
• Knowledge and understanding of issues in relation to the post

There are three components which make up the overall behavioural competencies for any kind of job:
• Behaviours
• Skills
• Knowledge

This type of interview focuses on real life incidents that have taken place in an interviewee’s working life in particular or even life in general. The interview questions and the candidate’s responses, help determine if the candidate has the competencies necessary to be successful in the role. Competency based interviews do not replace technical interviews and your interview should also cover the technical requirements of the job e.g. knowledge and experience.

By asking detailed questions that require the candidate to tell you a story, you begin to learn much more about the candidate and their experiences, how they handle situations, and how they interact with others. Through this, you have a better understanding of their fit for the position and the organization. The questions you asked should align to the competencies required for the role. For example, if the role requires an individual to be able to lead teams, ask questions about how they have done this in the past. Every new employee will have a learning curve on the job – they need to get up to speed on the culture, the way of working within the organization, etc. but choosing a candidate who has the necessary experience in his/her background will ensure a more successful and quicker transition period. Getting the right people into the right jobs becomes more critical to organisation’s success.

Veronica Matlaila, Chief Executive Officer, Ubuzwe Talent Solutions,