Our Guide to Competency Based Interviews

 27 Aug 2013

Our guide to getting through competency based interview.
Many companies now use competency based interviews (CBI’s) as a gauge to ascertain candidate behaviours and how they approach situations. The word CBI can fill a perfectly suited candidate with nothing but fear and dread. A slight sweat comes out and you totally forget that you can do the job you have applied for.
The interviewers know you should be good for the role as they have asked you to interview, but throw a CBI into the mix and a sensible well- educated individual can start to shake and appear like a rabbit in the headlights. As a recruiter I often dreaded telling candidates that they would face a CBI. The immediate thought is to run for the hills and the mind goes blank.
CBI doesn’t mean a firing squad, once you realise what it actually is and that no blood is required, then we can turn it on its head and deal with a CBI efficiently and professionally. (You are still allowed the wobbles – but only a little)
Like them or hate them, companies use them to bench mark potential employee’s in order to work out if you will fit into their organisation. CBI’s offer no bias, all candidates are judged on a level playing field by the answers given.
The internet offers hundreds and hundreds of different practise guides on how you should tackle the CBI. Just visit google and you will find not only how to handle a CBI but also some websites have the answers too! See, not so scary now!
I have been on both sides of the desk having had CBI interviews as a candidate, but have also been involved as an interviewer.
From an interviewers perspective, you get the opportunity to ask each candidate similar questions,  this means you can see how each candidate would handle what is thrown at them and also hear what previous experience they have had of similar scenarios. 9 times out of ten your answers will be written down by a scribe and they will be reviewed at a later date.
Some interviewers love hearing what you have to say and you end up with the glorious tangent that opens up your personality and common ground with your interviewer. Don’t panic if this doesn’t happen, sometimes when CBI’s are reviewed later it allows the interviewer time to reflect and hopefully get you back in for a further chat, the 2nd interview, which will probably be a lot less formal.
The CBI allows the interviewer the chance to work out your experience and ability but also (I think most importantly) how you handle each situation or scenario.
The internet is a wonderful place filled with ideas on CBI’s. It would do you know harm to have a hunt about, but at DPS I would rather break it down into small manageable chunks for you.
What Kind of questions will I get asked?
The majority of CBI’s will ask questions around the following areas; problem solving, influencing people, team work, customer service, communication, planning and organising etc. These questions will be asked in a number of different ways and this is where the slight sweat come on again. If your interviewer has a nice set of competencies, then you are set. They will send you a list of their competencies or they can normally be found on the job spec.
If you are told it will be a CBI and you don’t get much else then you will require a little bit of Sherlock Holmes (if in doubt, google it out!). Normally I would concentrate on the general areas mentioned about.
How do I answer the questions?
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!! Oh and Prepare.
I always advise having a least 3 examples for each competency.
  • 1 example from your current employer, 1 example from a previous employer and a home answer.
The home answer can show that you do have a life outside work and you would be surprised how many times fitting a new kitchen uses problem solving, communication and dealing with 3rd party suppliers! Don’t worry if some answers cross over to another competency. Just make sure you have at least 3 each for the one competency.
The most popular and easiest way to answer a CBI question is using the STAR process:-
  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result


If you write each of your examples using this format then you should be fine. Also don’t be afraid to take them with you. An interview isn’t a play, they don’t expect you to have memorised everything. Personally I think an interviewee who brings notes and is prepared already covers the “planning and organising” competency just by looking at them!

How will I know which example to use?
Listen for key buzz words in the CBI questions. That will give you an indication of which CBI topic the interviewer is talking about.
For example a typical competency based question would be:
Tell us about a time when a problem you faced required investigation?
This is a problem solving question.
Can you tell me about a communication that you have had to deliver that was important to the company, department or team?
This is a communication question?
These ones are pretty straight forward.
It’s the questions such as:-
Can you tell me about a time when a customer’s expectations weren’t met?
This could fall into the category of problem solving, delivery, communication …………..PANIC!
My advice is interpret the question yourself and stick with it. If you have an example that your think fits, go with it.
The don’ts of a competency based interview
Don’t talk about “we did this” or “we did that” – the company hasn’t invited you along to the interview to hear what your team did. This interview is about what you did and no one else. Yes show you are a team player, but also keep the emphasis on your skills, experience and what you can bring to the role and organization. As a nation we are modest and it’s not in our nature to brag about what great things we have done. However, this is the moment that your grandmother's reserve should be pushed to the side and you should “blow your own trumpet”. The last thing you want is for the company to go and recruit your team without you because you have told them how wonderful they are!
If you don’t know the answer – just say so or ask them to repeat it, DON’T WAFFLE. No one wins there and it’s better to be honest.
And finally!
If you are in any doubt about the CBI you are about to undertake, ask ME! It’s my job as your consultant to make sure you are as comfortable as possible going into your interview. I’m more than happy to do a mock CBI and run through your examples. If anything it would put my mind at rest too!
Wobbles and sweats should not be so bad now!?!
Gill Durham
Durham Professional Service


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