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Competency-Based Interviews The Q&A

Written by: Martin Cunningham, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

A competency-based interview is an assessment method in which interviewers ask questions about your past behaviour to gauge your future potential.

The idea is that your past performance is the best predictor of your future success.


How can I prepare for a competency-based interview?


As you prepare for your interview, think about times when you have demonstrated each of the competencies that are required for the role for which you are applying.


The STAR(L) model is a great way to structure your answers to behavioural questions.


STAR(L) stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result and Learning


When answering a competency-based question, you should use the STAR(L) model to structure your answer.


Here's an example of how you might use the STAR(L) model to answer a competency-based question

Competency: Teamwork


Question: Give me an example of a time when you had to work as part of a team


Answer:


Situation: I was part of a team working on a project to develop a new product.


Task: We were each assigned different tasks and we had to come together to finish the project on time. My task was to write the quality control aspect of the product requirements.


Action: I communicated with my team members regularly to ensure that we were on track and I identified where I could add value to the work of the others.


I also offered to help when I saw that someone was struggling


I made sure to be flexible and accommodating where required


I kept my colleagues updated on my progress and on the essential quality criteria that would impact the development of their tasks.


I completed the quality control document within time and shared the draft with colleagues for comment prior to the final edits.


Result: We successfully completed the project on time, to the quality specifications and within budget.


Learning: I learned the importance of good communication and teamwork in order to achieve a successful outcome.


On a deeper level, I learned that it is important to be proactive in team situations, to communicate regularly and offer assistance where needed. And if successful this is the collaborative approach I will follow in the position of [Name the job title]


Competency: Project Planning


Question: Tell me about a time when you had to manage a complex project


Answer:


Situation: I was working on a project to launch a new product


Task: I was responsible for planning and managing the project


Action: I created a detailed project plan that outlined all of the tasks that needed to be completed and the timeline for each task


I assigned tasks to team members and held regular check-ins to ensure that everyone was on track


I adjusted the plan as needed when we ran into delays or unforeseen obstacles


Result: We successfully launched the product on time and it was well received by our customers


Learning: I learned that it is important to be flexible in project management, to anticipate potential problems and to have a contingency plan in place.


This is the approach I will take in the position of Project Manager.


Competency: Leadership


Question: Tell me about a time when you had to take charge of a situation


Answer:


Situation: I took over a small team with low morale and poor performance


Task: I was responsible for turning the team around and meeting our targets


Action: I implemented a new structure and set clear expectations for each team member


I provided regular feedback and coaching to help them improve their performance


I recognised their individual strengths and delegated tasks accordingly


I motivated the team by setting challenging yet achievable goals


Result: The team's performance improved significantly, and we met our targets


Learning: I learned that it is important to be a proactive leader, to set clear expectations, to provide regular feedback and to recognise and utilise the individual strengths of team members. This is the approach I will take in the position of Team Leader.

Competency: Leadership ‒ Stakeholder engagement


Question: give an example of when you've had to find common political ground amid growing polarization.


Answer:


Solution: I was working as a political advisor during a time of growing political tension and there was little opportunity for compromise. There were debates around the future of the country and what direction it should take.


Task: I had to find common political ground amid this growing polarisation


Action: I spoke to people from all sides of the debate and listened to their concerns


I identified the key issues that were important to everyone


I facilitated a series of workshops where people could come together and discuss their views


Ground rules for the workshop I encouraged were:

  1. to be respectful of others' views

  2. to be willing to listen as well as share your own view (to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard)

  3. to be open to finding common ground.

  4. to focus on problem identification and solving

I helped to draft a report which summarised the findings of the workshops and presented it to the stakeholders


Result: The workshops were successful in finding common ground and identifying areas of agreement. This led to a more constructive dialogue and a better understanding of the different positions. Having found common ground, we agree on a way forward. The report was well received and helped to inform the debates around the future of the country.


Learning: I learned that it is important to listen to all sides of a debate This is the approach


I learned that it is important to facilitate dialogue between people with different views, to listen to what they have to say and to be respectful of their opinions and identify the key issues that are important to everyone. This is the approach I have continued with great success; I am happy to expand on this or provide other examples if you wish.


Competency: Dealing with Conflict in the workplace


Question: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation at work


Answer:


Situation: I was working on a team project and there was some conflict between two of the team members, which was impacting other team members and overall performance.


Task: I took responsibility for resolving the conflict and getting the team back on track


Action: I sat down with the two team members involved and asked them to explain their side of the story


I listened to their concerns and tried to understand where they were coming from


I helped them to see each other's perspectives and find a compromise that they were both happy with


I facilitated a discussion between the team members to help them air their grievances and come up with a plan to work together more effectively in future


Result: The conflict was resolved, communication improved and the team was able to continue working together effectively


Learning: I learned that it is important to be a mediator in conflict situations, to listen to all sides of the story and to find a compromise that everyone can agree on. This is the approach I will take in the position of Conflict Resolution Specialist.


Competency: Making a mistake


Question: Give us an example of a work-based mistake you made and what actions you took to rectify it.


Answer:


Situation: I was working on a project and I made a mistake that could I needed to take action to rectify the mistake and prevent further delays


Task: I took responsibility for fixing my mistake and ensuring that the project stayed on track


Action: I spoke to my manager and explained the situation


I took responsibility for the mistake and offered possible solutions


We decided on the best course of action, and I implemented it


I took responsibility for the mistake and apologised to the team


I corrected the mistake and put additional safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again


I updated the manager and the team on the status of the project and reassured them that we were still on track to meet our deadlines and not incur penalties


Result: The mistake was fixed and the project remained on schedule


Learning: I learned that it is important to take responsibility for your mistakes, to come up with solutions and work with your manager and the team to find the best solution and correct the error quickly and put measures in place to prevent them from happening again. This is the approach I will take in the future.


Competency: Innovation


Question: Describe a time when you had to be creative in your work


Answer:


Situation: We were implementing a gender champions network to increase the meaningful participation in Rule of Law agencies in a patriarchal society and we had to come up with an innovative solution to gain political support and to have credible women attend the first workshops.


Task: I had to be creative in my work to come up with an innovative solution


Action: I did a lot of research on the best way to implement a gender champions network


I looked at other organisations that had implemented similar networks and took inspiration from their success stories


I came up with an action plan and presented it to the team


The team liked my ideas and we decided to proceed with my plan


I led the team in a stakeholder mapping exercise to identify, assess and prioritise key stakeholders for the initiative.


The exercise was very successful in helping the team to focus on the most important stakeholders and understand their needs.


Result: We were able to gain political support and credible women attended the first workshop. The project was a success and has been rolled out across the region.


Learning: I learned that it is important to be creative in your work, to look at different ways of doing things and to take inspiration from others. This is the approach I will take in the future.


Competency: Communication


Question: Describe a time when you had to explain a complex issue to someone who was not an expert in the field


Answer:


Situation: I was working on a project that involved collecting data from different sources and analysing it to produce reports. One of the sponsors of the project was not an expert in the field and she asked me to explain the process to her in layman's terms.


Task: I had to adapt my communication to meet her needs in explaining complex issues


Action: I spoke to the sponsor and asked her what she would like to know about the process


I explained the process in simple terms, using examples where necessary


I answered any questions she had and we took time to ensure she was comfortable talking with others about our work, to the extent that was necessary.


I reminded her she could come back to me at any time should the need arise.


Result: The sponsor understood the process and was able to provide useful feedback on the reports we produced and explain our findings to her management teams.


Learning: I learned that it is important to be able to explain complex issues in simple terms and adapt my communication to meet the needs of the audience. This is the approach I will take in [Name the job role] if successful.


This is just a sample of how you could answer a competency-based interview question using the STAR(L) model.


By using the STAR(L) model, you can give a clear and concise answer that will show off your previous performance as a predictor to your future performance.


Follow me on LinkedIn and visit my website for more info!


 

Martin Cunningham, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

From policing roots to a 20-year Senior Management career, with over 30 years of coaching and mentoring, Martin has seen at first hand the triumph of high achievement and felt the pain and disappointment of getting it wrong and being unsuccessful.


As a senior manager in security and justice sector reform in Afghanistan and the Western Balkans, he coached at General Director and Ministerial level in politically charged situations.


Martin understands what it's like to want more from your challenging career in an uncertain world.


He's learnt the lessons and has the skills to help you make a lasting impact in a fulfilling career while making the world a safer place. Martin knows that until we fully embrace the voices of women we will not achieve the sustainable peace and freedoms we all deserve, it is why he is on a mission to increase the meaningful participation of women and men who share this mission who are working in Security and Justice Sector Reform countries in or emerging from conflict.

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