Your Career, Your Choices

How to improve your answers at competency-based interviews

During competency-based interviews, candidates are asked questions about specific situations where they have shown themselves have competencies that match the job description. In many instances, it is better for candidates to take the broader perspective by using proven answering methodologies that give more comprehensive answers to both the opening and follow-up, or probing, questions, writes Pearse O’Donnell, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

Let us take a look at a typical competency-based interview scenario. ‘Decision making and problem solving’ are often grouped together as the same competency and frequently stipulated in a wide range of job descriptions.

An opening question related to this competency could be: ‘Can you tell me about a time when you had to make a decision to solve a particular problem at work’? A typical follow-up, or probing, question might be: ‘What did you learn from this experience’?

In answering the opening question, it is useful for the candidate to employ an established answering procedure, such as the START method, which is our preferred one. This method of answering competency-based questions can be accessed by following this link

The START method offers a good structure to an answer. It prevents repetition and diverts the candidate from heading down the dreaded cul-de-sac. In this case, it will steer you onto a logical sequence ( Situation Task Action Result Them ) of indicating how an effective decision was reached when faced with an onerous problem.

In short, you tell the story of what you did in a coherent manner.

It is in the follow-up, or probing, question ‘What did you learn from this experience’?

that candidates can score valuable points by proving that they follow a framework, or process, when assessing problems and coming to decisions. In this regard, it may be helpful to tell the employer that what you learned most from the story you’ve just told was that using a tried-and-tested decision-making process works best for you.

Such an approach could include you stating that you first like to analyse a problem. You then prioritise options and solutions that include all consequences and risks. Once you execute the decision, you find it helpful to periodically conduct a review of the procedure and adjust accordingly to ensure consistent and long-term success.

There is method in the madness of employers asking follow-up questions pertaining to this competency. They want to ascertain how the candidate’s mind works when confronted with a problem and particularly what processes the candidate uses to grind out workable and effective solutions.

Employers may want to know if you are someone who undertakes appropriate research and investigation, draws on your own experiences and those of others through consultation, and are able to identify key issues to solve complex problems. Be aware that people who view problems as challenges, rather than difficulties or obstacls, tend to be preferred by employers.

Giving the employer a comprehensive step-by-step example of how you dealt successfully with a once-off problem will work well in your favour. Proving to the employer that you consistently adopt a coherent and well thought-out methodology for all decision-making and problem-solving situations will serve you even better at interview.

Sli Nua Careers ( ) have offices in Galway (Patricia Maloney, 091 528883 ), Mayo (Ballinrobe and Claremorris ), Limerick, Sligo, Nava, Tralee, Cork and Athlone. Their services include CV preparation, interview training, job-searching strategies, public speaking and presentation skills, and career direction. For more details, visit


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