Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

How to Answer Competency Questions (Well) In an Interview

By Charles Trivett | Apr 5, 2016 | Candidate Tips

79977465_thumbnailGot an interview coming up? Or just want to be fully prepared for the future?

Hopefully, you’ll already have sussed out your answers for the simpler, cliché questions like…

  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?

(…if not then click here.)

But competency questions are quite different and they do tend to trip up unprepared candidates.

So this week, I thought I’d give you a helping hand and reveal the best way to show off your skills, attributes and competencies using the well-known STAR method.

What are competency questions?

Competency (AKA behavioural) questions are used to assess you on a wide variety of skills and will require you to give real-life examples to justify your claims.

So, for example, if the job requires someone who can solve problems quickly and think on their feet, your interviewer might just ask you…

“When was the last time you had to think on your feet?”

These questions are specifically designed to yield more, detailed information about your specific experiences, so you can expect to get grilled if an interviewer doesn’t think you’re expanding enough.

Now because these questions are pretty intense, most (good) interviewers will use no more than six, but some (inexperienced) ones may ask you more, so it’s better to be over-prepared!

The STAR Method

To really WOW your interviewer, you should answer competency questions using the star method.

As you recall your story, make sure you include all of the following, in detail…

  • The Situation you were in that demonstrates the competency in question.
  • The Task that, as a result of that situation, you were challenged to complete.
  • The Action you took to successfully complete the task.
  • Followed by the Result of that action (obviously a positive one!)

If you leave out any of the above or your answer is too generic then your interviewer is likely to question you further – so you better be ready!

An Example Answer

Let’s go back to our original question: “When was the last time you had to think on your feet?”

Here is an example of a superSTAR answer…


“A colleague and I were supposed to be performing a sales presentation for a really important potential client. However, he called in sick that morning.”


“It was left to me to resolve the situation in a way that wouldn’t make our entire company look bad! Bearing in mind, we had two hours left till our slot.”


“I called another colleague who I knew was an expert in this field and she agreed to back me up (especially for any technical questions that might be asked at the end).

Then I spent the hour learning and rehearsing the rest of the presentation, as best I could.”


“In the end, the presentation was certainly not perfect, but we were complimented on how natural it seemed and that we were clearly very passionate about the subject. We got the sale in the end – so it can’t have been that bad!”

Recruiter Pro Tip

You should also be able to answer this follow-up…

“If you could do it all again, would you do anything differently?”

It’s a real favourite amongst interviewers as it shows self-awareness and a willingness to grow and improve – nobody’s perfect (but obviously don’t be too negative either)!

For example: “I’ll make sure that we always have a stand-in who knows the presentation inside-out, just in case any unforeseen circumstances put the main speaker out of action!”

Easy, right? Obviously, you can amend this storytelling style for any kind of situation – just make sure you cover all of the above and ALWAYS end on high note!

10 Common Competency Questions

As you can imagine, there are a number of skills and competencies that you could be tested on – it would be impossible to cover everything.

We recommend that you take a look over the job specification and see what kind of skills they are looking for – essential and desirable – and prepare for questions based on those.

As an example, here are 10 common skills you might be assessed on and questions you might be asked…

1. Problem-solving: “Can you tell me about a situation when you personally had to solve a problem at work?”

2. Teamwork: “Tell me about a project you completed as part of a team.”

3. Leadership: “Tell me about a time when you took a leadership role.”

4. Resilience: “What do you do to refresh yourself after a tough day at the office?”

5. Adaptability: “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond your job role.”

6. Communication: “Tell me about a time when someone couldn’t understand a point you were trying to put across.”

7. Customer Service: “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer. How did you manage?”

8. Time Management: “Give an example of a difficult professional goal you’ve been set in the past and how you went about reaching it.”

9. Manageability: “Tell me about a time when you had to do something, even though you knew you were right.”

10. Persuasion: “When’s the last time someone initially disagreed with you, but you won them over?”

You get the gist! The MOST important thing is that you show how you added value the business – the fantastic Result of your Action!

Click here to check out a really interesting article – R.A.T.S. is How Employers Prioritize the S.T.A.R. Method – and find out more.


Some interviewers will throw much more difficult competency questions at you – often with a negative spin on them.

This is as much to see how well you can handle the pressure as it is to see how skilled you actually are so be ready and prepared…

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your Manager. What did you do?
  • When was the last time you took a risk that didn’t pay off? What happened?
  • When was the last time you had a disagreement with a colleague or customer? What happened?

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to trip up with these questions!

Take a deep breath and think before answering – always remembering to end on a positive Result.

It’s absolutely fine to take a moment before answering – you’re not going to impress anyone by blurting out some random, negative answer.

(Click here to discover more tricky interview questions – and how to answer them).

And always be honest…

Trained interviewers will know the deep, probing questions to ask you that will reveal the truth!

And they’ll also be able to tell if your body language is suspect (sorry about that).

If you’d like more information on how to answer all of the different types of interview questions and guidance on how to find your dream job, feel free to sign up to this blog.

We’ll send over a weekly email with our latest advice, just for you.

Good luck!

- Charles Trivett
Charles - blog author

Charles Trivett

Charles heads up Coburg Banks’ IT Division, and has worked in recruitment for nearly 20 years.  His knowledge of how to optimise and get the most from a recruitment campaign is second to none, and he now works with a select handful of clients in maximising their recruitment ROI.

> More blog posts by Charles Trivett

Get in touch with us.

Telephone: 0121 362 2300
Or send us a quick message and we’ll call you.
*These are required fields
Please leave this field empty.