A guide to competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviews have been a staple in the recruitment process for decades both in and out of Financial Services, yet many candidates still struggle to understand and prepare for competency-based interviews. Hopefully, in this blog, we will be able to help you understand and prepare for the competency based interviews.

What are competency-based interviews?

Competency-based interviews are interviews that aim to test your core competencies, these will vary from industry to industry and job to job. They attempt to find out what core skills you have, how you use them and examples of this in both your career and wider life.

How long are competency-based interviews?

Most competency-based interviews will last in or around 1 hour. This can massively vary depending on; how the interview has gone (good or bad), how many stages the company has in the recruitment process and how many candidates are interviewing for the role.

What are competency-based interview questions?

Competency-based interview questions aim to identify and expand on your core competencies which are described by Indeed as “Skills, certifications, knowledge of different software products or personality traits that make you a desirable candidate”

Examples of personal core competencies

The following are some core competencies for various aspects of a business:

Business Focus 

  • Meeting customer needs: Anticipates, responds to and seeks to exceed the expectations of existing and potential customers
  • Business awareness: Has an up to date and detailed understanding of business needs, customers and the business 
  • Personal results: Sets oneself clear and challenging objectives, striving to achieve them within agreed deadlines
  • Business development: Researches and obtains quality business for the firm by building and maintaining useful working relationships
  • Team results: Sets clear and challenging objectives, inspiring and encouraging high performance from teams and individuals. Reviews progress achieved, publicly and privately recognising achievement

People Focus

  • Involving people: Encourages the contribution of others and takes their views into account
  • Developing people: Demonstrates a genuine interest in coaching and developing others in order to improve performance 
  • Managing relationships: Builds and maintains good relationships with customers and colleagues by adopting the most appropriate approach to deal with people and situations
  • Influencing others: Influences others using rational arguments and identifies basis for compromise and reaches agreement
  • Written and verbal communication: Conveys accurate information effectively using the most appropriate methods to reflect the needs of the audience and ensure understanding

Personal Focus 

  • Personal organisation: Efficient in one’s use of time and works well in a structured way 
  • Self-control: Performs effectively by keeping emotions under control, particularly in stressful and difficult situations
  • Self-confidence: Projects a realistic belief in one’s own ability. Not afraid of criticism, will raise issues and challenge even in the face of expected or actual opposition
  • Self-development: Takes responsibility for personal improvement, learning from experience and new situations
  • Determination: Demonstrates repeated effort over a period of time, overcoming obstacles in order to achieve a goal

Change Focus 

  • Adaptability: Responds positively to changing business circumstances and readily adapts behaviour to maintain effective performance
  • Strategic approach: Understands the long term direction of the business and can relate this to one’s own business area
  • Innovation: Thinks of and / or encourages new ideas, and is keen to experiment and see ideas implemented 

Analytical Focus

  • Information gathering: Seeks the full range of relevant and accurate information in a methodical way 
  • Forward planning: Anticipates the possible demands and outcomes of a particular task or situation. Plans and prioritises appropriately 
  • Analysis and judgement: Logically breaks down problems / situations into their essential parts and draws reasonable conclusions based on their analysis
  • Decision making: Makes timely and balanced decisions, based on available information but is prepared to review if circumstances change 
  • Wider thinking: Actively considers the wider picture, identifying patterns and connections between issues / situations that are not obviously related

Quality Focus

  • Thoroughness: Is accurate, pays attention to detail and ensures tasks are completed on time 
  • Quality Conscious: Consistently works to a high standard and looks for ways to improve current working practices and processes
  • Initiative: Takes appropriate action before being asked and actively finds solutions to problems
  • Integrity: Shows support for the group values – particularly demonstrating the highest levels of honesty and integrity

What should I expect at a competency-based interview?

Prospects detail “Expect questions opening with ‘Tell us about a time when you…’, ‘Give an example of…’ or ‘Describe how you…’ examples include:

  • Describe a situation in which you led a team.
  • Give an example of a time you handled conflict in the workplace.
  • How do you maintain good working relationships with your colleagues?
  • Tell me about a big decision you’ve made recently. How did you go about it?
  • What has been your biggest achievement to date?
  • Describe a project where you had to use different leadership styles to reach your goal.
  • Tell me about a time when your communication skills improved a situation.
  • How do you cope with adversity?
  • Give me an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace and tell me how you overcame it.
  • Tell me about a time when you showed integrity and professionalism.
  • How do you influence people in a situation with conflicting agendas?
  • Give an example of a situation where you solved a problem creatively.
  • Tell me about a time that you made a decision and then changed your mind.
  • Describe a situation where you were asked to do something that you’d never attempted previously.
  • Tell me about a time when you achieved success even when the odds were stacked against you.”

How do I identify my core competencies?

Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • How would others describe you?
  • What are you really good at?
  • Why are you good at those things?
  • What are some of your biggest achievements?
  • What was required from you to achieve these?

How do I identify the core competencies required for my job?

Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Are you client-facing?
  • How often are you interacting with others?
  • Does your role require lots of analysis or research or is it more interpersonal and relationship-oriented?
  • What do the jobs descriptions say the ideal candidate possesses?

What are core competencies for Financial Services?

Core competencies of a Financial Advisor 

  • Influencing others: As a salesperson, you will have to influence your clients on day-to-day clients whether that be what investment to peruse or persuading them to remain invested with you or your company.
  • Self-confidence: You will need to be confident and decisive in that every decision you are making is appropriate for your clients and confident in your ability to analyse each situation independently.
  • Thoroughness: Linking to the last point, you will need to be thorough to be confident. Going through everything meticulously is very important in this profession and industry.

Core competencies of a Paraplanner

  • Analytical: When looking at the steps taken in providing advice to clients, analysis skills ranks highly. It is important to understand the appropriate recommendations you are giving to a Financial Advisor by analysing the client’s needs.
  • Adaptability: There will be situations in which a client’s desire or risk for change will be altered. It will be your job to remain adaptable and respond to these changed accordingly.
  • Information Gathering: As a Paraplanner, it is at the core of your role to gather information effectively. Completing this competency efficiently, effectively and correctly will determine how successful you are at your job.

Core competencies of an Administrator:

  • Managing relationships: When you are an Administrator you need to be a people person. Ensuring the maintenance of relationships both internally and externally is of paramount importance.
  • Communication written and verbal: When you are in daily discourse with colleagues it is important that you are keeping an open dialogue with them.
  • Personal organisation: Personal organisation is the most important aspect of an administrative role. If you are not organised your job will become far more difficult and unorganised.

Core competencies of an Equity Release Advisor:

  • Analysis and judgement: In equity release, you will have to use judgement and analysis to understand your clients wants and needs and respond accordingly.
  • Determination: As a salesperson, you will need to stay determined to chase the deal down to the completion point.
  • Managing relationships: As an Equity Release Advisor you have to deal with clients and their families often in trick situations, you must successfully navigate through these situations to effectively carry out your role.

How do I prepare for a competency-based interview UK?

Cheatsheet: Jot down a few of your key core competencies both personally and for your job role with examples / stories to detail these competencies

Tell a story: By using the traditional story arc of ‘beginning, middle and end’ you will be able to demonstrate the progression of an event that occurred covering the start of the project / problem / task / conflict (etc) and following it through to the completion or resolution.

5 Ws (and 1 H): 

Who? Who is it about? Who was involved?

What? What happened? What was the outcome? What was the market like?

When? When in your career did this happen? When did it take place?

Where? Where did it take place?

Why? Why did it happen? Why did this situation come around? Why were you a part of this? Why were you involved?

How? What did you put in place to make this thing happen? How were you involved? 

A lot of detail can be added to an idea when using the 5 Ws and 1 H method and can be flipped and be used to glean information about the company from the interviewers as detailed by ABRIVIA.

What is the STAR technique in competency-based interviews?

The STAR technique is the ‘go-to’ technique when looking to effectively answer competency-based interview questions. It stands for:

S – Situation

T – Task

A – Action

R – Result

How to use the STAR technique in competency-based interviews?

Start by talking through the situation, set the scene talk by using the 5 W and H method and using the ‘beginning’ section of the story arc.

You then lay out the task what the task is and when it happened, who was involved, why it came about and where this was (whether that be the company to what the point in your career was.)

Then work through the actions you took during this time including how you dealt with people involved / timeframe / workload etc. Honestly and clearly explain the result of the task, linking it back to the question or competency to complete the answer.

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Infographic courtesy of QuestionPro

Advice from our team

Steve Higson:

  1. “Step outside of your comfort zone, one thing I always tell my candidates is that no one will shout your greatest achievements like you will – if you don’t; who will?
  2. Remain honest at all times, the only person you will be harming is yourself when your work ask you to complete a task that you have no idea how to do!
  3. Expect a different approach from company to company. A large company will have a much different recruitment process to a small, local ‘one-person-band there is no universal set way a question should be answered”  

Adrian Watson:

  1. “It is important to remember not to overthink or stress about an interview, it’s not something you can or would want to rehearse. By rehearsing your answers, you are not giving your interviewer the real version of you. Ultimately an interview is about the culture fit as well as the skills fit.
  2. Allow your passion to show when talking about an event or story, not only will this impress the interviewer it will also open your mind up to other anecdotes that you may be able to use
  3. If you have a tough question that you are struggling to answer; take your time! Ask for the question to be repeated or take a sip of water and take a moment to formulate your answer”

Jason and Alyson Cane

  1. “A good way to look at core competencies are; You have two aspects of your role; the what and the how. The what includes the larger skills that you may have such as business development, interpersonal skills etc and then the how are the competencies themselves which fall under the wider skills. For an example, under interpersonal skills may be ‘involving people’ and ‘managing relationships’
  2. You may have an interviewer that lulls you into a false sense of security in terms of how the interview is going, they may be nodding and smiling but remember to not get complacent and to fully answer the question every time.
  3. It is a great idea to take a ‘warm-up’ document or a ‘cheat sheet’ to help remind you of certain aspects that you wish to cover. This will prepare you for the interview and also impress the interviewers by showing how much you have prepared. As long as you are not constantly looking at your sheet and reciting things from it, it will be a great tool”

Gary Venner: 

  1. “Start writing down great examples when they happen of effective competencies e.g. a demanding day where organisation skills were needed to prioritise work and get everything done; when you had to deal with a difficult client or team member. Ask colleagues what examples they could recite where you showed effective behaviours to achieve / exceed outcomes against objectives. 
  2. Use the star model so that the answer is well structured, keep the situation and task brief, spend more time on the actions taken so that you give at least 5 good examples of what you did (remember to tell the interviewer why you chose to take the actions that you did) 
  3. Lastly, make sure the Result achieved / exceeded the task. If the example doesn’t meet the objective / task abandon this example and use a different one. Otherwise, the example will give the impression that ‘nearly’ is good enough.”

Ryan Venner:

  1. Make sure the examples are about your involvement – they are interviewing you for the job, talking about what your colleagues previously achieved isn’t what the interviewer wants to hear
  2. Be prepared – competency-based interviews can be overwhelming to provide such detailed answers, however, if you are prepared and know your examples well, it will come naturally
  3. Read the interviewers’ body language – sometimes candidates can receive feedback they waffled on, make sure you read the body language of the interviewer to gauge their interest
  4. Ask if they would like you to expand further – if you feel your answer was too short, check before you move onto the next question