Being competent at competency-based

“So. Please tell me about a time when you…”  No interview type is perfect but as a recruiter I’m a huge fan of competency-based.  Done correctly they really allow the interviewer to get under the skin of what you’ve actually done / achieved in your career.  If you’re lucky enough your interviewer won’t be too clued up and will ask you the old favourites such as: What would you say are your strengths / weaknesses?  Why do you want to work for us?  Why should we recruit you?   What do you think you can bring to our company / team? – If you don’t practice pre-prepared answers to these questions then you’re your own worst enemy.

Competency-based questions are slightly trickier but don’t get yourself into a tizzy if you know you’re about to be on the receiving end of some.  There are some basic ones that you can still practise before the event.  Give these ones a try:


  • Please tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with conflict.
  • Describe the time you had to integrate yourself into a new team / group.
  • Can you describe a situation you’ve been in that best demonstrates your skills in time management?
  • “—————”——————–”—————–”————–” in communication?

Whatever the content you use for answers to competency-based questions there is a simple structure you can adopt to ensure you deliver a well rounded response.

SAR – No, not the 2003 virus we were led to believe would result in us piling corpses on every street corner to the soundtrack of burley, gravelly voiced men ringing bells and shouting, “bring out your dead!”  (Ahhhh, the UK media and their sensationalist ways.  Gotta love ‘em).  I’m talking about:

  1. Situation
  2. Action
  3. Results

Also knows as the 3 C’s – Context, Conduct and Conclusion (amongst other names no doubt).

If you can remember to cover these 3 areas when answering a competency-based question then you’ve taken a major step to giving the interviewer what they want.

Situation (Context) – Explain the situation you were in.  More often than not interviewees will automatically start here so I doubt it’s something you’ll need to practice too much.

Action (Conduct) – What did you do in the situation described? People usually talk in the, “we”.  “We did this…  We did that…”  Remember it’s you in that interview chair not the team.  You’ve got to describe what you did specifically.  For a lot of people it doesn’t come naturally (maybe through fear of coming across as arrogant???) so practice responding with, “I”.  “I did this…  I did that…”  Obviously, if the example you draw upon includes a time when you worked in a team then mention it but describe what role you specifically played.

Results (Conclusion) – In the 00′s of interviews I’ve conducted this is the section people often miss.  They tell me what was going on and what they did but fail to mention whether their actions actually worked or not, or how they measured / evaluated the impact.  If they provide this after further probing then all is good.  If not I may begin to smell a rat (am I allowed to insinuate rats smell? Apologies, but I struggle to keep up with the landscape of political correctness).

Sometimes there are candidates that describe the situation and then, in all the excitement, jump straight to the results.  Again, if after further questioning they can detail their involvement then I’m a happy chappy.  If not I start to wonder what actual part the person played in the anecdote they’ve just shared.  Were they simply a bystander? Are they telling me someone else’s story?  Is it just complete fabrication? – Obviously I probe and drill down until I’m satisfied either way but they’re not good assumptions to leave an interviewer having.  Know what I mean?

Allow me to demonstrate, albeit with a very basic example, for illustrative purposes:

Q: Please tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with conflict at your place of work.

A. When I started work at Company X I was put on a division with a lady who was upset she would have to share her client base with me.  As a result she became quite hostile and dismissive towards yours truly.  Not helping when I asked, hiding information…

… As you can imagine it wasn’t the most pleasant work environment for either of us so I took it upon myself to set up a meeting with her.  Having observed her coffee of choice I picked one up on the way to the office one morning, put it on her desk and asked, “Got a minute?”  I arranged to get an hour in her diary for two days later.  When we sat down we discussed the behaviours I’d observed and been on the receiving end of.  We also discussed X, Y and Z.  As a solution I proposed and negotiated a sort of, “team charter” we could work to with each other….

…Within 2 months the working relationship went from strength to strength.  Because of the flow of knowledge and two-way sharing of best practice both our divisions grow 3-fold. Revenue generated went from A – B and……

I repeat, this is a very basic example but I hope it demonstrates how easy it can be to apply the SAR method when answering a competency-based question.

So.  Please can you tell me about a time when you read a blog aimed at assisting you in answering competency-based questions?….  What do you mean, “no”?


Hungry for more?  Check me out at - training and coaching through recruitment complexities.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy


Thanks for your time.

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