How to answer competency based interview questions

Competency-based interviews are becoming more popular in recruiting, thanks to the fact that they can give an employer a much better idea of a candidate’s actual skills within the workplace and predict their performance. They are also commonly known as behavioural interviews or structured interviews.

It’s important to note that these behavioural interview questions are not solely focused on physical work skills – they also include queries about your knowledge and attitude, so it is best to be prepared for any scenario.

Essentially a series of behavioural questions where the interviewer will ask you to describe a situation that demonstrates your abilities, relevant to the role you’re interviewing for.

Typically, we have found that common behavioural interview questions will usually fall under one of five main categories.

Behavioural questions: Five main categories

Drawing on our decades of recruitment experience, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of key competency questions, grouping them into five bite-sized areas: Individual, Analytical, Managerial, Motivational and Interpersonal.

We’ve also added examples of behavioural questions for each one to give you an idea of what you might be able to expect during your interview.

1. Individual competencies

These refer to personal attributes – your decisiveness, tenacity, knowledge, independence, risk-taking, and personal integrity.

A typical question is: Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was challenged.

Here, the interviewer is looking to learn a number of things about you, such as what you view as a challenge (as opposed to standard questioning or criticism), and how you managed that challenge. For example, did you work through the challenge by proving your knowledge on the subject? Did you face the challenge privately in a meeting rather than making a scene in front of the entire workplace? Did you prove your tenacity by sticking with it even when it was challenging?

This type of multi-faceted and open-ended behavioural question is typical in that it covers a number of areas, so take your time to communicate more than one facet of your personal skills and competencies in your answer. 

RELATED: 10 challenging interview questions you should prepare for

2. Analytical competencies

These refer to your decision-making abilities, innovation, analytical skills, problem-solving, practical learning, and attention to detail.

A typical question is: Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.

In this case, they would not only look to learn about your suggestion to the problem, but also the method you took to raise it with a manager and whether you managed to implement the solution, or simply learned from the experience.

Any employee who sees a problem and suggests new and useful solutions is always going to be a valuable asset to any company, which is why employers like using behavioural interview questions to learn if a candidate is capable of these skills.

3. Managerial competencies

These refer to your ability to take charge of other people, leadership, empowerment, strategic thinking, corporate sensitivity, project management and managerial control.

A typical question is: Tell me about a time you led a group to achieve an objective.

Even if you’re not applying for a leadership position, don’t be surprised if you find yourself facing a question about managerial competencies. Leadership skills are valued in any position, and if it’s a company that hires internally for these roles, it’s certainly a trait you will want to exhibit straight away.

4. Motivational competencies

These refer to the things that drive you, resilience, motivation, result orientation, initiative, and quality focus.

A typical question is: When did you work the hardest and feel the greatest sense of achievement?

Keep in mind that behavioural questions in this category don’t necessarily have to relate to workplace scenarios. If you have a work example that fits, absolutely share it, but if you have a personal example that clearly demonstrates your ability to set goals and motivate yourself to work hard and meet those targets, don’t be afraid to share that, either.

RELATED: How to answer one of the most dreaded interview questions

5. Interpersonal competencies

These refer to social competence. Many workplaces function on the basis of project teams, and the more collaborative they are, the more likely they are to thrive.

A typical question is: Describe a situation where you got people to work together.

Communicating and working with others is vital for any role, regardless of whether or not you are functioning as a team. Similarly to the management category, if you don’t have a good example from a previous workplace, feel free to explain a personal situation where you showed interpersonal skills.

STAR – the simple way to answer behavioural questions

Answers to competency-based questions are very structured, so we recommend the STAR technique.

●        Situation (explain the setting)

●        Task (describe what you had to do)

●        Action (what you did)

●        Result (how it worked out)

Here's an example:

Question: "How do you cope working under pressure?"

Answer: "I work well under pressure. For example, recently due to some resignations the workload in our department significantly increased (situation) and my particular workload nearly doubled. I was asked if I would work overtime (task). I agreed and worked professionally and efficiently during a very busy and stressful time. I organised my tasks by priority and date with relevant stakeholders using an online project management tool (action) – this helped me deliver everything on time and get stakeholder understanding for the low priority tasks that needed extra lead time. I showed I could work well under pressure for the benefit of the whole team (result).”

You may need to do a few practice runs at home to get used to the STAR system, but the way it covers all the bases of what an interviewer is looking for is well worth the effort.


Remember, be yourself when answering competency or behavioural-based questions; use real-life examples and relate them to your experience, how you reacted or how it made you feel. These are not trick questions. They’re designed to create the best match between an individual and an organisation. Ensure you’re well prepared and you’ll quickly realise that competency-based interviews represent a great opportunity to describe some of your finer moments to a captive audience.

To make sure you get your dream job, take a look at more of our interview tips.


Candidate Relevancy gauge

Job Match

Using only your CV, Job Match can find the best jobs for you.

Simplify your job search by downloading our new App

Download Our App Download Our App

Join over 60,000 readers!
Receive free advice to help give you a competitive edge in your career.

Advertise Your Role With Us

Advertise Your Role With ReachTalent

Popular Articles