Taking the “fear factor” out of Competency Based Interviewing

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A competency
interview is an interview process where the hiring company identify the key
competences (usually between 4-8 competencies) for the position they are hiring
for. They will interview all candidates on these competencies and candidates
will be scored on a scale of 1-5 usually with 5 meaning: the candidate effectively
demonstrated solid evidence of this competency.

Some examples of competencies are: Problem Solving, Leadership, Innovation,
Judgement and Decision Making, Technical expertise (in the relevant field), People
Management, and Team Involvement. 

In the Public
sector the candidate will have already answered questions in their application
form that should demonstrate their experience in these areas of competency.  In the Private Sector candidates will often
be informed of the competencies prior to the interview.

So, clients call
me and say: “I am an experienced (engineer, accountant, teacher, clerical
officer for example), and I need to complete an application form for a vacancy
but I am struggling with the competency questions”, or “I have a competency interview
coming up and I’m not sure how to prepare as I’ve never done one of these
interviews before”.

For the most part
clients possess these competencies but struggle to communicate them in a manner
that demonstrates their experience in these areas. In some cases clients don’t
recognise these competencies from their experience because they’ve never really
thought about it.  And once they hear
“competency interview”, the fear factor seems to set in.

The Client sets up
a meeting with Devane Careers to prepare for the interview. This service is a
two meeting process.  The first meeting
is used to analyse the client’s background in terms of experience, skills,
education and desire for the role. In this meeting training is provided on the
STAR (Situation, Task, Actions and Results) framework.  This is a framework that helps the client
design their answers to competency based questions. What does a competency
based question sound like?  “Tell me
about a time when you feel you demonstrated strong problem solving ability”?

Before I meet with
the client, I have already dissected the job description for the role they are
interviewing for, and I have reviewed their background very closely.  This will make our meeting very productive

Of course after
welcoming the client and making them feel at ease, I outline the structure of
the meeting and invite them to discuss their concerns, their reason for
applying for the role and their background in great detail.

I regularly notice
when a client arrives at my office, they bring a lot of material.  This could include job descriptions,
projects, CV, a recent Performance Appraisal, lists of interview questions from
their friend and more questions downloaded from the internet.  At times the client feels cluttered in their
head but also physically with all of the documentation.  They are not sure where to start they tell me.

I commence a
de-cluttering process by firstly analysing the job description and summarising
it together with the client. This process allows the client to now see their
alignment to the requirement to the role in terms of ability, skills,
experience and qualifications.

Next I discuss the
possible distraction of all of the documentation in front of the client.  I explain that some of it may not be relevant
and advise that it may be best to put it away for now and that we should start
with a clean slate.

I use a whiteboard
to document the client’s strengths, successes, experience, and
competencies.  Following that I train the
client on the STAR technique and they now see the relevance and the benefit of
this framework.  Next we work on each
competency and I facilitate the client to discuss their experience providing
clear and concise examples in each competency area. The client documents a
summary of each and I provide feedback if the example being discussed meets the
competency criteria or not.  In some
cases the client needs to remember another example which may demonstrate the
competency more clearly. I then advise them (for homework) to document each
example in the STAR format for their mock interview which generally takes place
within a week of this first meeting.                                                                                               

As we wrap up the
meeting, I am always excited and rewarded to see the difference in the
client.  The de-cluttered mind, the
realisation that they can put away the mountain of documentation, the increased
confidence, the relief, the feeling of support and the barriers broken down
with regard to the competency interview structure. 

Their feedback at
this point is that they feel much better and more confident that they now know
what to prepare and how to prepare. 

At the next
meeting, I carry out a mock interview following a discussion with the client.

I start with some
standard interview questions and then move to unexpected challenging questions,
and finally I examine all of the competencies one by one.  We pause after every 2/3 questions to provide
feedback and to give the client time to write down pointers. I then work on
more confidence building techniques with the client.  Finally we discuss key take aways from the

The “fear factor”
has disappeared and the client is well prepared for their competency based

But the story regularly
continues as clients move through to the next step in the interview process – next blog






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