Our Guide to Competency-Based Interview Questions and Answers

4 Minutes

Depending on their experience and the positions they’re applying for, the average number of ...

By Pareto Team


Depending on their experience and the positions they’re applying for, the average number of interviews a candidate will need to attend before receiving a job offer is anywhere between 10 and 20, according to research carried out by Teamstage. 

Whatever industry it is that you’re looking to work in as a graduate, it’s likely that you’ll have to prepare for interviewers' expectations of competency-based interview questions and answers. If you’ve done the right job interview preparation and have your interview etiquette locked down, this shouldn’t pose too much of a worry—but what if this is your first professional role? 

In this guide, we’ll explore common competency-based interview questions and answers, but before we do that, we’ll lay the right foundations by considering job interview preparation techniques, and the key aspects of interview etiquette that you need to follow to ensure you make the right impression. We’ll also discuss some smart questions to ask in an interview to show that you’re a conscientious and well-prepared candidate that’s serious about the role. 

Job Interview Preparation

Preparation is essential if you want to confidently answer all the questions coming your way. It’s important to prepare properly, though, and there are efficient ways to ensure that you’re gaining the knowledge you need to answer your interviewers’ questions successfully. 

  1. Read the job description thoroughly. If you’ve gone forward to the interview stage, it’s likely you’ve already done this. Still, it’s important to re-review the description in advance of the interview, however, since you’ll need to think of examples for each of the listed criteria that may be assessed during the course of the interview, as well as additional questions which may be asked regarding the company’s culture and values. You should have a deep understanding of why it is you’re applying to work with the company you’re interviewing with, so make sure that you do your research on them and are prepared to offer examples of what you’ve read about them.

  2. Check out the company website. You need to thoroughly understand the products and services offered by the company you’re interviewing with. Whether it’s a tech-forward innovator or a more traditional organisation, it’s important to understand how your competencies will add to the team and drive productivity within the vacancy. These aspects of your professional life may not have been stated in the job description, but it’s always important to consider these and evidence your respect for your interviewers’ time by doing the right amount of job interview preparation. 

  3. Explore your professional network. Whilst your existing professional network—fellow graduates, family members, or acquaintances connected with through platforms such as LinkedIn—may not work in the specific area that you’re interviewing for, it’s important to still reach out to your network for any advice that can be offered on interviewing successfully. You never know when someone can provide that piece of advice that makes the difference in the interview environment, whether they’ve previously worked in the sector or have more experience standing out during the hiring process.

  4. Check platforms such as Glassdoor. Job review platforms such as Glassdoor can not only provide a clear illustration of the culture of a workplace, but they can also provide valuable insight into the competency-based questions that certain workplaces will commonly use. Many users will share these organisation-specific interview questions to help browsers to get a leg up and enter the meeting room with confidence.

  5. Utilise courses and tutorials. Many organisations offer opportunities to learn new skills and develop solid interview etiquette. These will typically be delivered in a virtual or hybrid manner, meaning you can take advantage of your free time to cover various aspects of the interview process and identify areas where you need to improve. 

It’s important to contextualise your job interview preparation efforts to ensure that you’re ready to answer competency-based interview questions with reference to strong examples from your past experience, highlighting your role in that positive outcome.

We’ll explore what these strong examples could be soon, but first, we’ll discuss important aspects of interview etiquette to get down, ensuring you make a good impression before it even comes to addressing competency-based interview questions and answers.

Developing Your Interview Etiquette

We’re all aware of the saying that “first impressions matter”. But did you know that you typically have seven seconds to make that—hopefully positive—first interaction matter? This is why developing your interview etiquette is crucial to acing the hiring process. 

Ensuring that you arrive on time, or even a few minutes early for your interview, highlights your respect for your interviewer’s time, and indicates your professionalism and commitment towards the role. Failing to be punctual can also highlight poor time-keeping skills, making hiring managers question whether you’re up to delivering your work on time, particularly within fast-paced environments such as sales or tech.

It’s also important to be professionally attired. Dressing appropriately for the interview and making certain that you’re neatly presented, and well-groomed can help to show that you’re taking the interview seriously and will fit in well with the existing corporate structure. You’ll ideally aim to choose attire that aligns with the company’s dress code—or is even slightly more formal. For instance, if the workplace is “smart casual”, and employees are often seen in a dress shirt and chinos, then perhaps consider a modern-styled suit without a tie.

You will want to practice your active listening skills before you enter the interview environment. Luckily, this can be done with your current friends, family, and acquaintances. Give the speaker your full, undivided attention, and show genuine interest in what they’re saying by asking questions which allow them to elaborate on their topic. Try not to interrupt them; instead, carefully consider your responses before you reply. A brief pause after a question shows that you’re taking the conversation—and the person you’re conversing with—seriously.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s vital to maintain a polite, positive, and enthusiastic attitude throughout the application and interview process. This is especially true when 78% of recruiters highlight that a positive attitude can make all the difference in the interview process. 

Greeting your interviewers with a smile and friendly introduction can go a long way when it comes to interview etiquette, well before you’ve had a chance to address their competency-based interview questions. Remember to thank everyone you encounter during your interview since you never know who will be asked to offer their impression of you.

Ensuring that your interview etiquette covers these key aspects can help you to create a positive impression, demonstrate your professionalism, and highlight your respect for the opportunity to interview before you’ve even said your first word—which is why it’s a crucial aspect of job interview preparation.

Common Competency-Based Interview Questions and Answers

So, what are some common competency-based interview questions and answers, and how will you be expected to address them? 

The Method for Addressing Competency-Based Interview Questions

Before we get into our list of competency-based interview questions, we’ll discuss how you can structure your answers to ensure that they’re focused, reducing your risk of rambling before you have an opportunity to communicate your strengths and skills. 

This technique is the STAR method, named so because it highlights the situation you faced, the task—or responsibility—you had to address that situation, the action or steps you took to make a difference, and the results or outcomes of what those actions achieved.

5 Common Competency-Based Interview Questions and Answers

Whilst the competency-based interview questions you’ll be asked are likely to differ from industry to industry, the level of responsibility you’ll hold in the role, and the company that’s interviewing you, there are some common and recurring questions that will be asked in many environments that recent graduates are applying for.

With all the competency-based interview questions highlighted in this list, we’ll illustrate how you might prepare your answers following the STAR method, offering you a formula for constructing your responses. 

Question 1: Tell me about when you faced a difficult problem at work.

Example Response

S: “In my previous role as an intern project manager, we identified a major technical problem that could cause a significant delay if it wasn’t addressed.”

T: “My responsibility was to quickly discover a solution that minimised the risk of impact to the project timeline.”

A: “By conducting an analysis of the issue, I consulted with our internal experts, devising a plan to mitigate the problem by utilising their technical skills.”

R: “As a result, I was able to resolve the issue, minimising any delays and allowing us to successfully deliver the project on time.”

Question 2: Illustrate a situation where you had to work collaboratively with a diverse group.

Example Response

S: “During one of my university modules, I was asked to work with my peers from different courses and cultural backgrounds to deliver on a group project.”

T: “My objective was to develop a comprehensive marketing campaign that catered to a diverse demographic.”

A: “I made sure that our project was a success by facilitating open communication between members of the group, and organising regular meetings to ensure that all group members felt their perspectives were considered. I also allocated duties based on the strengths that each group member possessed.”

R: “Our campaign was well-received by our lecturers, who commented that it was a considered and professional approach to marketing towards a diverse audience. As a result, we demonstrated our ability to collaborate, and earned a good grade for our project.”

Question 3: Let me know about a time you demonstrated strong leadership skills.

Example Response

S: “I was appointed as a team leader for a project with tight deadlines which was focused on a high-value client.”

T: “My role required me to coordinate my team’s efforts, delegating tasks and facilitating a communicative and collaborative environment to ensure that they were provided with guidance  throughout the project lifecycle.”

A: “I conducted meetings with each individual on the team to understand their strengths, offering support and the resources they needed to complete their duties effectively and efficiently.”

R: “As a result of my strong leadership skills, our team delivered the project ahead of time and within budget, allowing us to maintain the high level of service and satisfaction that this business-critical client expected from our organisation.”

Question 4: Share an example of adapting to a change in your working environment.

Example Response

S: “Our company implemented a new CRM software system that required employees within my team to adopt new processes and working practices.”

T: “My day-to-day duties meant that I had to quickly adapt to ensure that I could maintain my high level of productivity and make certain that the transition was smooth.”

A: “I decided to request and attend formal training sessions, actively participating in the knowledge-sharing in these meetings, and offered my time to colleagues that needed help with the transition. This allowed me to regularly feed back to management, helping them to understand how these changes were going.”

R: “By embracing this change and supporting my colleagues, my company was able to successfully integrate this new software into our workflows, increasing our efficiency and improving collaboration between our different teams.”

Question 5: Tell us more about when you had to work with a challenging customer or client.

Example Response

S: “An angry customer contacted the store I was working in during my university degree as they were dissatisfied with a product they had been sold.”

T: “My goal was to resolve this issue, restoring this customer’s satisfaction in the shop and ensuring their continued business with our organisation.”

A: “I actively listened to the customer’s issues and concerns, empathising with their frustration and offering a sincere apology. I offered to investigate the problem straight away, and provided regularly updates to ensure that they were informed and aware that their complaint was being taken seriously.”

R: “Through effective communication and a problem-solving attitude, I was able to resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction, continuing the long-term, positive relationship they had with their local store.”

Competency-based interview questions are logical, and structured to expose your abilities and skills. You’ll need to back up your answers with good examples that directly address the particular competency they’re testing. As you can see, the STAR method allows you to carry out your job interview preparation in a considered manner, allowing you to consider the different professional experiences you’ve had and how they’ve allowed you to illustrate your strengths. 

Fundamentally, no matter how the questions are phrased, they will always come down to one thing which the interviewers are trying to establish: will this candidate fit in with the company and do this job better than any other candidate we’re meeting with? Therefore, knowing your competencies and how to confidently express them in your responses to their questions will make you stand out amongst other interviewees.

If you’re interested in learning more after you’ve read this guide, gain more cutting-edge insights from our Graduate Survival Guide, which goes into deeper detail on all the different forms of interviews and how to prepare for them.

Smart Questions to Ask in an Interview

An interview is a two-way street. If part of your job interview preparation isn’t spent considering some smart questions to ask in an interview, you’ll likely be losing out to a candidate that has chosen to address the key aspects of the role and company that the interviewer and job description haven’t touched on. 

There are several examples of these questions, and whether you ask them will often depend on what has been discussed during the meeting—but you can consider the following list as a good starting point: 

  • “Can you tell me more about your company’s culture and values?” You could even provide some examples you’ve researched here, highlighting the organisation’s EDI and CSR initiatives you’re interested in learning more about. This can be an excellent way to evidence how your principles align with those of the business.

  • “What opportunities are there for professional development, learning, and growth within the company?” With this question, you’re emphasising your ambition and eagerness to advance your career. Based on the interviewer’s answers, you’ll also be able to see if the company can support your long-term goals.

  • “How would you describe the company and team dynamic, and how do you provide opportunities for collaboration?” Inquiring about the organisation’s team dynamic shows the interviewer or hiring manager that you’re interested in helping to foster a positive working environment and that you’re keen to work well with colleagues. 

  • “What are the key challenges for this role, and will it develop over the six month, one year, and five year milestones?” Asking this question shows that you’re taking a proactive approach to the vacancy and that you’re ready to hit the ground running. It helps you to grasp the company’s current priorities, and their plans to nurture you whilst you’re in this position.

Any list of smart questions to ask in an interview will necessarily be non-exhaustive and guided by what’s discussed in the meeting, so make sure that you ask your interviewers if they’ll be happy for you to take notes during the meeting, allowing you to address specific points in more detail. 

Thorough job interview preparation is necessary to answer the most common competency-based interview questions. You’ll want to contextualise your preparation to focus on expressing your strengths and competencies, utilising examples from past professional or educational experience. 

Alongside this, first impressions matter, and a poor first impression can cloud your interviewer’s ability to properly connect with your answers to their competency-based interview questions. As a result, developing your interview etiquette is vital to creating a positive first impression of you as a candidate. 

Similarly, you need to make sure that you’re structuring your answers in a clear and coherent manner. The STAR method allows you to describe your strengths and skills in a focused way, so ensure you’re utilising it to address hiring managers’ questions. 

Finally, make sure you’re coming prepared with smart questions to ask in an interview environment and listen actively to your interviewers to make sure that you’re taking advantage of opportunities for these impactful questions during the conversation.

Helping Candidates to Realise Their Potential for Over 25 Years

At Pareto, we’ve been helping graduates to prepare for professional employment opportunities for over two decades, and our expert consultants are here to support you every step of the way. Our process isn’t just created to find you a job, but to assess your core competencies and ambitions, matching you with a perfect role that aligns with your skills and getting your graduate career off to the right start. Contact us today to discover your future, or see our guides on how to get ready for an interview for even more insights. 

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