Tips on answering competency-based questions at job interviews

Job interview questions on skill sets/competency can be quite tricky. How do you demonstrate specific skills or answer question on them, to meet the selection criteria? Here is a guide that teaches you how to answer interview questions that begin with –"Tell me when you…" "What would you do if…?" "How would you handle a situation where…?"

Job interviews can be a nerve-wracking experience for most. It's the not knowing what's going to be asked that sets in the initial jitters. Some typical questions asked at job interviews are enough to faze even the most academically proficient candidate.

The thing is fresh graduate job interviews have become quite complex. Recruiters no longer gauge just the academic proficiency; instead they search for multiple skills which are generally not taught in conventional classrooms, but are essential for the industry. Students need to develop these skills on their own.

Wondering what these skills might be? Here is a rundown of the most desirable skills and attributes among fresh graduates hunting for a job -

  • Adaptable
  • Communication skills
  • Ingenuity
  • People skills
  • Sound judgment
  • Leadership qualities
  • Power to inspire
  • Managerial skills
  • Enthusiastic
  • Good at problem-solving
  • Possess planning & administrative skills
  • Be a team-person
  • Time management skills

That is a quite a list of qualifications for someone interviewing for their first job, but don't let that deter you. There are ways to master these skills, even though they appear alien.

Competency-based interviews/questions

The skills and abilities listed above qualify as competencies. These vital skills are essential for most working environments. This is why the selection criteria for most fresh graduate recruitments are centred on these skills. Recruiters ask competency-based questions, which are often tricky. Answers to these questions are not found in textbooks. You will have to rely on situations from your life to demonstrate your competence (skill). Only those with practised responses can impress the recruiters with their answer, the rest will find themselves floundering for words.

You may wonder why recruiters want you to draw on examples from your life and how that could have anything to do with work. The reasoning is pretty simple - the way you dealt with situations act as an indicator of how well you would be able to handle situations in future. It is a pointer that indicates potential.

The skill sets that recruiters look for in candidates depend mainly on the job profile and the industry. However, the most common of them have been listed above. They are basic skills required by most industries.

Do your homework before you attend the interview – check the job profile and the skills required for the same. Employers generally list the core skills in job descriptions and/or job announcements.

Typical competency-based questions and how to answer them

You know you're being judged for specific skills when the questions get personal and you are asked about a time when you had to take a decision or do an action.

Describe an incident where you…", "Can you tell me an instance when you…" You could be given a situation and then asked: "How would you react in this situation?" "What will you do if…" Your response may satisfy the person, or they may delve deeper into the subject, asking you a few probing questions.

Let's take the example of a job profile that requires teamwork. You could be asked questions like –

Have you worked in/been part of a team in college?

Your response doesn't have to be related to academics alone. You could have been a part of an organising team for the college festival or have been a member of a sports team or one of the volunteers in a group or a member of the editorial board. Pick a role where you had a key part to play and had a long association with.

How did your role/contribution

Speak of the responsibilities that you carried out - helped coordinate things, scheduled dates, conducted meetings, worked as a team.

What did you learn from this experience?

This is the tricky part – you must keep in mind that this whole drill is related to 'teamwork' because the initial question indicates it. Your answer must focus on team-building, working together with the team etcetera.

You can share your experiences – things like you learned to delegate work, so everyone has something to do. You learned to coordinate with others so there are no misunderstandings or delays. You learned that you have to pitch in for others and take on sometimes take on additional responsibilities

If you did the same things today, what would you do differently?

You have already spoken about delegating work and coordinating with others. Elaborate on the same points. Add that you learned these were important and will do these right in the beginning.

Also, add that you will schedule weekly/periodical meetings to check on the status/as a follow-up.

According to you what are the contributing factors of a successful team?

Whatever you say, don't forget to mention communication, coordination, openness, adaptability, understanding etcetera. Focus on key factors that are essential in all group dealings.

How to give the right responses

There are no right answers which the recruiters will check off the list. Your responses will be assessed as a whole. Link your responses to form a little story, something that flows well and is realistic. You can draw examples from extracurricular activities or your projects and assignments. However, your aim must be to use varied examples for each skill set that you are posed a question about.

When answering questions where you draw on your experiences you may sometimes lose sight of the real question. Remember that you are being evaluated for specific competencies. Focus on the question and be specific with your answer. Use key terms to describe your abilities – determined, initiative, proactive, committed etcetera.

Use what is known as the STAR approach to organise your replies. This will help you stay on track and allow you to guide your response to a desirable conclusion. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

  • Situation – put things into context to describe the situation
  • Task – describe what the job entailed and what was the aim
  • Action – talk about the specific duties and actions that you performed
  • Result – how did it all end, talk about the success

Through all this showcase your active involvement – at the end of it, your efforts must be highlighted. However, don't brag, be subtle about your achievements. Build it up the entire episode in such a way that your participation is evident.

Recommended Reading : Top 10 skills fresh graduates must have for getting a job

You take centre stage

When you use the STAR approach to answering queries a major chunk of your response must be devoted to the Action. Let's take the question on teamwork as an example. This is how it must be answered –

I successfully completed a group project along with three classmates during my final year. The task was (describe what you had to do).

Cover in brief what you did as part of the project – the methods involved, surveys you completed, interviews you took and anything else of importance.

Here speak in detail of what you did. Mention the role that was given to you. Mention additional responsibilities you took on, to expedite the work/because someone else couldn't cope. Talk about how you initiated discussions and provided new ideas and fresh approaches. Speak of the way you drafted plans and motivated the team and ensured that the team meets the deadline.

Also, mention any problems that you faced and how you overcame them. Tell the recruiters that you suggested periodic meetings so the progress could be checked. How you identified each member's strength and weakness and helped the others work as a team.

Speak of how you submitted the project report on time and that it was a success. Mention here that you like to take initiatives and plan things, but in the course of the project, you realised that working with different people, with different styles of working is also possible. You learned that keeping communication channels open helps when you are part of a team. You also learned that you have to stand up for other team members and are not in it alone.

Push your strengths and what you learned.

Answering the 'what if…' question

How do you react to hypothetical situations? The recruiters might not ask you about your experiences but might instead ask you situation based questions.

The best way to go forward with situational questions is to underline your skills as you discuss what you would do. Make comparisons between the hypothetical situation and a real life situation that you encountered and how dealt with successfully.

Remember to always give particular instances where you can.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 548 articles authored by Juana

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