One area that many jobseekers fall down on, especially in the interview, is not understanding what is required when asked a “competency-based” question.

I am not a great fan of these interviews, as somebody who is properly coached can do exceptionally well, score very highly, without ever having demonstrated the particular ability in their own career. They just have to know how to answer the question.

Equally, by answering the question incorrectly you will automatically not score well, and be deemed not to have the required characteristic.

What is a competency-based question? It is a question that asks you to display a particular skill, ability or characteristic.

“Tell me about a time when you had to go the extra mile for a customer”. “How do you deal with difficult colleagues?” “Tell me when you had to produce a difficult piece of work to a strict deadline”

When faced with these types of questions, very often interviewees will be a little clueless. They might say, well these types of problems don’t really occur that often, or it doesn’t really apply to me because I always look after my customers and don’t have to do any more for any individual and so on. Such answers will score 0 on the interviewer’s score sheet, whether you are right or wrong.

The best interviewees will take something like the last question and say “we are always working to strict deadlines. Let me give you an example, recently I had to produce a report for an important customer but we were extremely busy at work. I took it home over the weekend, analysed exactly what they needed and wrote the report in my free time on a Sunday. We beat the Monday deadline comfortably and won the contract”

A well-trained candidate will say something like that. It may not be true, they probably won’t be asked to prove it, but it will display the competency a big tick in the box for working to deadlines.

As I say, I hate the line of questioning, I think well-trained candidates do well, badly trained candidates do badly. That is not the point of an interview.

Nevertheless, be prepared. You may be asked to do one of these and it is best you understand what they are looking for and answer accordingly.