By Debbie Holden 09 Sep 2019 6 min read

The most common competency based interview questions


Congratulations, you’ve secured an interview. Tailoring your CV really did the trick! 

So the next stage is to prepare for your interview. And the recruiter might have some strategical questions up their sleeve. Particularly questions that challenge your competency to do the job you’ve applied for. 

Competency based questions are to be expected at most interviews. Recruiters use these in interviews to assess a candidate’s potential future performance by finding out about their past performance. They require candidates to provide real-life examples as to why they made certain decisions, or how they implemented these decisions and why certain outcomes took place.

While these questions provide a great insight to interviewers, nobody would blame you for feeling like you’ve been put on the spot when one of these questions is fired your way. All you can do is educate yourself on common interview questions and prepare ahead of the big day. 

Below, we look at the types of competencies recruiters are looking for, and we’ve put together some of the most common competency based interview questions, so you’re ready for any question that’s fired your way.




What competencies do recruiters look for?

Communication: “Tell us about a time you had to adjust your communication approach to suit a particular audience?”

How we interact with others at work is important. You need to be able to build and maintain excellent relationships with clients and colleagues – this is essential for most jobs, and a skill every company wants in an employee.


Decision making: “Give me an example of a time where you had to make a difficult decision.”

Decision making skills are crucial to helping you solve problems at work – without these, a recruiter might question your faith in yourself when you come up against a real head scratcher of an issue with your work. By showing your ability to problem solve, you are reassuring the recruiter that should any obstacles stand in your way, you are efficient enough to resolve it.


Leadership: “Describe a situation where you assumed the role of a leader? Were there any challenges and how did you address them?”


Professional development: “What would you do to stay ahead of the curve with this role?”

Here the recruiter is looking to find out if you are passionate enough to develop your career. Whether it’s through work or through your own learning, give examples of times where you were inspired to learn more about a subject related to the job role, and talk about how and why you chose to study it more. Companies like employees who are willing to learn – keep this in mind when you hear this question.

If you want to get ahead in your career, displaying leadership skills is one way to get you there. Providing examples to recruiters about how you lead a project from start to finish with great results, where you coordinated work for others, or motivated a team will all work well for this question.


Responsibility: “Describe a situation where you were responsible for completing a task”

Recruiters value honesty and responsibility in an employee. If you take pride in your work and hold yourself accountable for your area, they will be happy to trust you to do the job independently without any major hiccups. Provide examples where you pushed certain milestones of a project for example and how you communicated its successes to your manager.


Teamwork: “Describe a situation where you worked well as part of a team. How did you contribute?”

A successful team comes down to teamwork. Collaborative work achieves results, improves productivity and boosts performance – it also allows you to build solid relationships with your team. Give examples where you saw an opportunity and created a project off the back of it to work with others.


Technical skills: “Describe a situation where you have had to use technical skills in your work”

Technical (more specifically digital) skills are in high demand in the automotive industry today – so many businesses rely on analytical data to grow their business. If you can give examples of the path you’ve led your work in as a result of data insights in the past, your interviewer will be very intrigued.



How to approach competency based interview questions

Competency questions require you to clearly explain what you did. In order to clearly relay your answers to the employer, consider using the STAR interview technique below to craft your answers:

Split your answer into four sections:

Situation: describe the background or context

Task: Describe the task or challenge you were faced with

Action: Explain the action you took, as well as how and why you did it

Result: Describe how it ended, what was achieved and what you learned from the entire situation. Don’t forget to relate the skill or ability you’re illustrating back to the job you’ve applied for.

Your answer doesn’t need to be long or overly detailed. Using the STAR technique will simply help you to relay it in an orderly fashion so its clear. So don’t take too long describing the situation or task – trim the unnecessary details.

Tip: Try not to sound too mechanical when you’re using the STAR technique to answer any competency based questions. It’s a straightforward and easy method to use, and guarantees a well structured answer – but you could so easily over-practice this method that your answers come across robotic and unnatural. 

Take a look at this Careervidz video of competency based interview questions below!


Examples of competency based interview questions

“Tell me about a time your communication skills improved a situation.”

This question requires you to emphasise your leading and communication skills. When choosing an example, pick one where you can show the results you achieved with your communications, such as driving awareness of a project, or encouraging signups for an event.

Example answer:

“I was working in a large garage where we had a team of 8 mechanics who were all running behind with their tasks. So I spoke to each of them to find out where they were at with their workload, then called up the relevant customers to inform them of the delay and give them an ETA on when their vehicle would be ready. It was a case of managing their expectations, which resulted in us overdelivering on the project. As a result, our customers were much more understanding of the situation and each of them became loyal to our services due to the trustworthy and honest approach we had.”


“Give an example of a time where you identified a new approach to a problem you experienced at work.”

This is a great opportunity to use the STAR technique. Explain to the recruiter why the original way wasn’t working. Then, explain the approach you suggested and why you thought this was a good strategy. Give examples of how you’ve made effective decisions and used your problem solving skills. Finally, discuss how your approach was then adopted by the organisation, or if not, why it was rejected. 


“Give an example of a time where you had to deal with conflict.”

Describe a difficult situation and how you handled it. This might include managing a quality service or an example of when you’ve delivered excellent customer service. Just be sure to describe the results of your actions. Ultimately the goal is to prove to the interviewer that you put your problem solving skills to use and it ended positively for the company.

Example answer:

“I was working in a dealership on the showroom when an angry customer came in. He was frustrated that his car wasn’t ready to take home yet and threatened to back out of the dal altogether. I took him to my desk and got him a drink, then sat down and spoke with him about our process and why the wait was worth it for his new vehicle. The checks, cleaning etc. that plays into the process of getting your new car hadn’t cross his mind previously, so once he understood what was happening he was much happier about the situation. This person has been a customer with us for many years now and comes to me personally whenever he visits.”


“If you were offered the job, what is the first thing you would change?”

Disregarding the experience and opinions of your new co-workers is unlikely to go down too well with your prospective team. You’re trying to get across that you’ll bring ideas to the table, not that you’ve come in to fix what’s broken.

Make sure that when you suggest areas for improvement, you do so with tact. Stress consultation and the need for information gathering. Words like ‘evolve’, ‘add’, ‘contribute’ and ‘develop’ can be more effective than ‘change’, ‘transform’, ‘overhaul’ or ‘fix’.

Example answer: I can see from the job description that part of this role will involve helping to manage the company’s sales team. I noticed as I walked in that the energy levels on the floor were low, and noone appeared to be actively engaging with customers. I’d be looking to transform this vibe and encourage and motivate this team daily with incentives, targets and general support. Building strong customer relationships will set us apart from the crowd of competitors and it’s something I am very passionate about.”


“Give an example of a time you’ve had to improvise to achieve a goal.”

The recruiter wants to know if you can think on your feet with this question. It’s designed to take you out of your comfort zone to see how you cope under pressure, but it also requires a real-life example to back up what you’re saying. Think about a time where you used your initiative to get out of a sticky situation. 

Example answer: 

“My previous company hosted alot of car showcasing events, which were an important revenue driver for the business. We always booked an avid speaker to talk about the cars and provide an insight to customers, but unfortunately he fell ill the night before the event. As the go to person within the organisation, it fell to me to fix the problem, and I actually ended up doing the talks myself, which really improved my presentation skills, and the feedback I received was very positive.”


“Give an example of a time you made a mistake – what did you do to rectify it?”

The key points to remember for this question are: 

  • Don’t blame others
  • Never say never
  • Explain how you handled it perfectly
  • Talk about lessons learned


We’ve all made mistakes at work. The key is to take accountability and then work to rectify it. And they won’t believe you if you say you’ve never made a mistake. 

Provide the recruiter with an example where you admit your mistake and take full responsibility – then explain in detail how you solved the problem. Be honest, then talk about what you learned off the back of that mistake.

Example answer:

After I missed a deadline to arrange to send some parts out to a different workshop, I created a spreadsheet for all future projects that gave clear deadline dates and whatever tasks were in process at that time. I was relying on my own memory, when instead I should have been taking key steps to ensure I was aware of what was due. I now have alerts set up on my system too that let me know when a deadline is looming.