Competency-Based Interview Questions

Story by Gemma Beasley / July 22, 2022

What are they and how to answer them

Competency-based questions are designed to determine if you have the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that will lead you to be successful in the job you are interviewing for.

They are based on the principle that ‘the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior”.

You will be asked to tell a factual story of a time when you were in a specific kind of situation and could include many different types of situations, such as conflict management, communication, problem-solving and so on.

These questions may start with:

  • Tell me about a time when..
  • Give me an example of..
  • Walk me through a situation where..
  • Describe a time where…

How to Answer these questions

The easiest way of organizing how to tell your story is by using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Results)

Situation: Give a brief description of the situation or project. This gives context to your story and sets the stage

Task: What you were specifically tasked with and your role, even if the story is about a team situation.

Action: Talk through the actions you took and highlight any challenges or issues you faced

Results: What was the outcome of the situation or project? If there is a quantitative outcome such as you delivered the project 4 weeks ahead if schedule or made X% profit then make sure you mention that


A recent example that comes to mind is a multi-family project I worked on for xx Development. The project was a $30m, mid-rise new construction with outdoor amenity space (situation). My role on the project was Project Manager and my task was to buy out all trades and oversee the project team and financial management of the project through to completion (task). There were a few challenges along the way, one issue was the delay of materials (challenges) and so I had to secure a new supplier (action). Because these challenges were addressed, we were still able to deliver the project a week ahead of schedule and the client was satisfied. So satisfied we have since won another project with the same developer (result).

You may find there are follow on questions to the initial interview question. Such as

  • How did you feel when..
  • Tell me more about..
  • What did you say when..
  • Exactly how did you approach..

If you have told a story that is true and yours to tell, you will have no problem answering these follow-up questions

Things to remember:

  • Try not to overuse the word “we” even when describing a team effort. This can give the impression that you are taking credit for something you had a minor role in. You can say, however, “we had a change in the senior leadership team. As a result of the change, my role on the project changed to X (what your new responsibility was). How I adapted to this was…
  • Don’t get flustered by questions that ask you to describe failures or negative situations. These questions aren’t there to trip you up. Focus on answering these in an honest, professional way ensuring that you do not bad-mouth any individuals or companies. Try to describe what you learned from those failures and how that has made you more effective in your current role
  • Don’t try to fake it, holes in your story will be seen through. It’s much better to use a simpler but real-life example than trying to tell a story that isn’t yours
  • Practice telling some stories of your biggest and worst experiences out loud before the interview. Are you using I or we language?
  • If in an interview a question throws you off, say “let me think of an example for you” and take a minute. That’s fine, just don’t immediately give up and say “I can’t think of anything”
  • If you don’t understand what the interviewer is looking for, you can say “so I can give you the best example, are you looking for an example of a time when I had to deal with X?” or “I’m not quite sure what you are looking for, would you ask me the question is a different way?”
  • If you really do not have an example, then say so, do not try to fluff your way through it. You can say instead “I’ve never been in that situation, however, I have been in a similar situation where I had to.. (e.g deal with pressure or problem solve)
  • After any interview, it’s natural to think of things we wish we had said (or not said) or better examples we could have given. If you have the opportunity to send a thank you note (always do this where possible) then you can use this opportunity to clarify or give additional information that you feel is important

I hope this is helpful, if you have any questions at all and would like additional help in answering these types of interview questions, please let me know.


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