What is a Competency Based Interview?

Florence J. Tipton

The purpose of a competency based interview is to screen job applicants for the ability to master certain competencies related to a job. The questions asked during a competency based interview will usually target the knowledge, skills and abilities of the applicant. A competency based interview typically focuses on the cognitive ability of the job applicant to grasp concepts and interpret those concepts into job performance.

The purpose of a competency based interview is to screen job applicants for the ability to master certain competencies related to a job.
The purpose of a competency based interview is to screen job applicants for the ability to master certain competencies related to a job.

A competency based interview is structured to assess a job applicant’s ability and how that translates into doing the job correctly. The job applicant is evaluated based on a set of predetermined competencies need on the job. The competencies are considered behavioral skills related to things such as planning or teamwork that can impact successful job performance. By using these competencies as part of the interview questions, the job applicant is expected to demonstrate how each was utilized effectively in past job performances.

Typical competency based interview questions may ask a job applicant to explain his behavior or actions in a particular situation. The questions asked may predict future behavior of how an applicant would respond to certain situations that are common with the job. To answer the questions properly, the candidate may describe a situation when a certain competency was required to complete a task. The outcome of the task is typically described as the result of the applicant’s ability to recognize the best approach for success.

Other types of interviews tend to be more generalized, but a competency based interview may have a narrow focus for acquiring more in-depth information about work style behaviors. Generally, the hiring manager wants to know how well — or poorly — a potential employee may be able to successfully fulfill the duties of a particular job. A job applicant would need to provide concise explanations of his response to a scenario that is considered a common occurrence for the job. The explanation should demonstrate how the candidate used a specific skill that led to a positive outcome.

Preparing for a competency based interview may require the prospective candidate to expand his research in learning specific details about the job. Ideally, having a copy of the job description can give the prospective candidate further insight on what the job will entail. By evaluating the job description, the candidate might be able to identify the skills and abilities that are most important. He can craft his answers to the questions around those skills and abilities by demonstrating how past work experience mirrors what the hiring manager is looking for to fill the position.

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