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Competency Based Interview Techniques

Competency interviews.

In the scientific and engineering industries there is now a leaning to less skills based interviewing and a focus being placed on a competency based interview.  For most people, this is the hardest part of the interview process and requires looking at what your skills are in a completely different way, as well as having to sell yourself which a lot of people really struggle with.  A competency interview delves deeper than a standard interview and will focus on your ability to apply your skills and knowledge to the specific tasks in the job specification.

So what is a competency interview?

A competency based interview can go under a number of different names including behavioural interview or situational interview and is a focus on specific competencies that the employer requires you to have.  These competencies are based on the actual role that you are being interviewed for and tend to be centred around your soft skills such as leadership or communication rather than your technical ability.  Competency questions are usually standardised throughout the organisation and this interview type tends to be driven by the human resources team.

Typical competency questions.

There are hundreds of different types of competency but the questions tend to follow a typical format such as "describe a time when you..." or "give me an example of your..." and they are looking for a specific, real life, example from you.  The questions tend to be focussed around a number of 'core competencies' that relate to the specific post, there are some examples listed below:
• Team working
• Leadership
• Communication
• Adaptability
• Problem Solving
• Innovation
• Working under pressure


Due to the sheer volume of competency questions out there it can be difficult to prepare in advance for an interview.  Sometimes you will be given a list of competencies that a company will ask you questions on, but in most cases you will not have this luxury.  I find that in cases where you do not know what competencies are going to be targeted it helps to prepare a list of situations that you have been in where you have used a number of different competencies.  These situations could come from anywhere, but will ideally have a link to the job you are applying for.

For example, you may have worked in a laboratory that has shifting workloads and you may have been put under some pressure to complete a task.  This situation will have incorporated a number of competencies such as adaptability and working under pressure.  If you think of five specific situations where you have had to resolve a problem or an issue then you will have probably covered enough competencies for most interviews.

Format for competency answers.

In order to remain focussed on the question I find that answering a competency based question using the STAR format helps.  STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result and is the order in which you should format your response.

Below is a simplified response using the STAR format to use as an example.  As you can see from this short response a number of competencies have been touched upon and you can expand on these areas dependent upon the competency question you have been asked.

Situation - Several samples arrived in the lab that needed immediate testing.
Task - I had to ensure that the samples are tested on time to prevent down time on plant.
Action - I divided up the tasks to the best qualified scientists on the team and prioritised other work accordingly.
Result - All samples were tested on time with minimal disruption to standard work schedule.

If you prepare a minimum of five situations in advance you will find that you have favourite STAR answers to most competency questions.

If you have a specific question regarding competency interviews, or any other specific dreaded interview question, then please contact any member of the STEM Recruitment team who are all experts in this area and will be able to help.

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