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Interview Tips: How to Prepare for a Competency-Based Interview

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

Interviews can be nerve-racking and uncomfortable. You are going into a room or on video with a stranger who will be interrogating you about your qualifications for a job.

What are they going to ask?

Are they going to interview me for the things I lack or focus on my strength?

The anticipation is anxiety-inducing, it’s like going for an exam at school except every spoken word is being evaluated so you can’t hide while they are judging your answers in front of you.

A presentation?

Oof! sounds like public speaking on a smaller scale.

Fortunately, like any test you have taken in school, you came out of it with all your limbs, and many times you ace it and wondered why you were stressing out in the first place.

First, it’s normal to be a little anxious before any interviews however, if you are the type to get extremely nervous before and during your interview, you probably have come to realize how it's impacted your performance.

A lot of times, your anxiety is based on feeling un-prepared or not knowing where to get started and what to prepare for in the first place.

Alleviating anxiety is all around building your confidence before the interview and a great way to do that is to prepare for a competency-based interview which typically covers most types of interviews.

Get Ready for a Competency-Based Interview

A competency-based interview is an interview where the interviewer focuses on a particular skill or attribute as it relates to the job.

Typically, you’ll get a clue of what these skills are in the job description itself.

For example, the job description can refer to managing various stakeholders without having authority over them.

Carefully analyze the job description for relevant competencies, in this case, there might be clues about relationship building, influence, interpersonal skills, etc.

Why Focus on Competency Base Interviews

Regardless of whether you know the interview will be competency-based or not, it’s always a good idea to expect and prepare for one.

You can and should always ask the recruiter or the hiring manager what type of interview to expect if you get a chance (I.e.: Behavioral/competency-based interview).

Otherwise, the reason you want to assume is that most interviews are competency-based in some capacity so the odds are in your favor.

Even if the interview ends up being more of a situational or case study focus interview, you will still benefit from being very familiar with competency interviews because it will help structure your answers.

How to Prepare for Competency-Based Interviews

A great way to prepare for competency-based interviews is to list all the competencies you feel are most important for the role based on your knowledge, contacts in the company, and job description.

At this point, start anticipating the questions that will be asked.

Once you generate your list, you want to think about specific stories and examples that demonstrate how you applied these skills.

Think, what problem have I solved in the past and then analyze the type of skills you might have demonstrated by solving that problem.

It could be one skill per question or it could be multiple skills in one example – Either way, it’s good to have a few scenarios (3-4) you can look back on and use to ensure you are prepared for any questions.

How to Choose the Right Examples

If we use our previous example on managing various stakeholders, I would definitely come up with an example that illustrates how I have built great relationships and was able to influence others to complete a project or task that involved a lot of stakeholders with multiple and conflicting priorities.

Try to find a scenario in the past where some stakeholders had different objectives and were incentivized in various ways but you had to pull resources together to accomplish a task, a goal, or a project.

In other words, use the example that shows how you solved somewhat of a complex problem. This can showcase many competencies you possess in just one example.

Now, depending on your experience level you may not be able to think of one example that illustrates a bunch of competencies which is totally fine but take the time to really think about it and find the best ones.

You may surprise yourself about the great work you have already done and all that is required is putting your thoughts together and articulating them in a way that highlights these job competencies.

As mentioned, prior to an interview, I personally try to anticipate the questions that I will be asked and write them down based on each competency I think are most important to the job.

Say for example I think influencing others is going to be a big part of the job.

I would build a question with that in mind and then write my answers. “Tell me a time when a client disagreed with you on the best action to take?”

Don’t focus so much on building the perfect question but do spend more time on crafting the perfect answer for each competency.

This way you will never forget them and can use them for future interviews and update the complexity of your scenarios as you gain more experience and knowledge.

Your question could be as simple as “A Time I Showed Influential skills?” or “A Time I Dealt with Ambiguity to Solve a Problem” followed by your in-depth answer.

Once you have all your questions and answers written down per competency, don’t forget to practice in front of a mirror or on your webcam.

This is crucial because you will pick up on how you are delivering your answers, practice body language, and time yourself so you don’t ramble on and go off track.

Use STAR’ Model to Structure your Answers

Ensure your answers are succinct but complete that’s why it’s so important to think:

“what competencies did I display with this example”?

"How does this scenario show I'm a problem solver"?

You don't want to ramble on and never demonstrate how you took ownership with your selected scenarios.

One of the most popular methods which I highly encourage you to use to structure your answers is the ‘STAR model’ – Situation, Task, Action, Result.

You want to ensure you clearly articulate your involvement in all 3 using this model. Practice being concise with each one and ask yourself some additional questions:

"Did I articulate the Situation in a concise manner"?

"Did I really explain my responsibilities in this Task vs Actions I have taken (I.e: owning the situation)"?

Finally, think:

"Did I thoroughly convey a favorable Result and how my Actions influenced or solved the issue at hand"?

If you can practice in front of a camera and confidently say Yes' to these for each competency you have listed for the job, then I guarantee you will significantly reduce your anxiety before the interview because you feel more confident and prepared, thus dramatically increasing your chances of securing that dream job.

Build An ‘Interview Study Guide’

As mentioned in my 'Resume Writing Tips' article, I am a big fan of having an active list of projects and work experience saved on a word document on the cloud or somewhere on your computer.

This way, you can quickly add or remove as you update your resume for each job. Even if it’s just point-form notes to remind you about your great work.

I suggest the same when you are preparing for an interview and going through the exercise of listing all the competencies you demonstrated with specific scenarios. Write them down!

Do you think there are transferrable competencies that will come up over and over again in your future job interviews?

Of course! It will save you lots of time in the long run and make you a better interviewee.

Yes, at first, it will take some time to think of past scenarios that demonstrate job competencies.

However, if you get in the habit of just writing your accomplishments and projects as you complete them in your current job, it makes it so much easier to build on them when you eventually have an interview to prepare for.

Don't forget to write down some thoughtful questions to ask the employer.

Building a ‘study guide” that you can refer to is so efficient and saves me so much time when I'm preparing for interviews.


It’s so important to prepare before any interviews but it’s even more important to know how to prepare for one.

I provide some tips on how to work smarter rather than harder so you are always confident and can overcome interview anxiety for every single interview.

A great way to do that is knowing how to prepare for competency-based interviews. I discuss what it is, why it’s so common, why it’s so important, and the best way to prepare for one.

Part of your preparation includes building an ‘interview study guide’, how to structure your answers using the STAR’ model and how to choose the right scenarios and examples to have a killer interview.

If you go in-depth with the recommendations in this blog and you apply them, I have no doubt you will not only land your next job but will feel super confident going into any interviews throughout your career.

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