A Guide to Competency Based Interview Questions

Published on: 24 Feb 2021

Competency based interview questions

Competency questions are asked to discern – you guessed it – just how competent you are. This is your chance to establish what relevant skills and experience you have, and why this makes you the best candidate for the role. These types of questions tend to focus on how you’d work under time constraints, or how you might handle an issue with a colleague. Since this is a key area of questioning, be sure you prepare by coming up with examples of a time you’ve had to overcome a problem, or when you went above and beyond what was expected of you.

Finally, when asked these hypotheticals, make sure you back-up your reasoning with work-relevant examples, and that you can relate them back to the job you’re interviewing for.

Competency-based interview questions

The following are some examples of questions you’ll be asked in a competency-based interview:

  • Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.
  • How do you prepare for an important meeting?
  • When was a time you went above and beyond expectations?
  • How do you resolve conflict with a fellow colleague?
  • What is a change you’ve had to make to your work ethic?
  • Tell us about a particularly difficult project you’ve had to work on?
  • Give us an example of a time you’ve had to delegate to members of your team.
  • If we give you a project to manage, how would you first tackle it?
  • Describe a situation where you had a disagreement or an argument with a superior. How did you handle it?
  • Describe a time where you had to deal with an angry client/customer.

How you will be assessed

Interviewers will often mark your answers as positive or negative.


  • Demonstrates a positive approach towards the problem
  • Considers the wider need of the situation


  • Perceives challenges as problems
  • Attempts unsuccessfully to deal with the situation alone

Competency-based questions can sometimes require some amount of improvisation (which is not everyone’s forte!) However if you’re going for jobs in retail or customer service – or any vocation where you interact with the general public – the ability to think and act quickly is a coveted one. A common scenario is for the employer to ask that you sell them something. Below we outline the best way to tackle this type of question.

"Sell me this pen [coffee, book, etc.]"

To tackle the question to the best of your ability, the key is to first split this question into four parts (as follows):

  • Gather information on buyer
  • Respond to that information
  • How you deliver that information
  • Close the deal

Things to avoid

  • Not gathering enough information on the buyer
  • Not listening to their needs
  • Selling for the wrong reason
  • Forcing the sell

Key competencies employers look for

  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Strategic thinking