During most recruitment processes, job candidates will be put through two types of interview; an initial telephone interview, followed by a face-to-face interview. Most of the time, this will provide you with enough confidence to proceed with the hire, safe in the knowledge that the candidate is a good cultural fit for the business. But, on other occasions, adopting a different approach can be more advantageous. For example, competency-based interviews can unearth whether the individual has got what it takes to adequately fulfil the role and its responsibilities.

So, what do we mean by competency-based interviews? Why would you choose this approach and how could it benefit your recruitment process? Here’s all you need to know.

What is a competency-based interview?

As the name suggests, a competency-based interview assesses the candidate’s skills and characteristics to determine whether they would be suitable for the position. As opposed to traditional interviews, which tend to focus on experience and qualifications, competency-based interviews aim to provide valuable insight into an individual’s preferred style of working.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) defines competencies as: “The behaviours employees must input into a situation in order to achieve high levels of performance”.


Why choose a competency-based interview?

Competency-based interviews are typically used when experience and qualifications are not seen as essential. For example, with entry-level or graduate positions.

Seeing as everyone’s individual skills, attributes, and behaviours are different, they are also used to see how candidates would react in certain situations or circumstances. Tasks such as oral communication, written tests, and problem-solving can help you find out how an individual could potentially perform in the workplace.


How does a competency-based interview work?

The questions asked at a competency-based interview will vary greatly depending on the job, company, and industry. However, skills that you may look for when recruiting include:

  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Communication skills
  • Decision making
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Organisation skills
  • Goal orientation


It’s common for interviewers to pose hypothetical scenarios so you may want to ask leading questions, such as:

  • “Tell me about a time when…”
  • “Describe an occasion when…”
  • “Can you think of an example of how/when…”
  • “When has it been important to…”


How could candidates answer competency-based interview questions?

As with any interview, regardless of whether it’s a traditional question and answer format or competency-based, the candidate may take the time to research the job description. By doing so, they’ll be able to pick out some of its key themes and think about how they could be a good fit for the role. This may help candidates think carefully about past achievements they’re proud of, situations they handled particularly well, and ways in which they contributed to the success of a business.

It’s a good idea to put yourself in the candidates’ shoes when formulating your questions. This way, you’ll know the sort of answers you’ll get and what to include in the job descriptions.

Pros of competency-based interviews

  • Fair process – A set-script is usually used for competency-based interviews alongside a score-based system to assess candidates. This results in a fair interview process of equal opportunity, where every candidate is asked to do the same thing.
  • Natural questions – Because several competency-based questions call for an example from previous experience, many candidates find this easier and more natural to answer. Standard interview questions often require research into alien themes or topics.
  • Supportive approach – Essentially, competency-based interviews give candidates every chance to show they have the skills, capabilities and personality to perform the job well.

Cons of competency-based interviews

  • False personas – It is not uncommon for candidates to spend a great deal of time preparing polished answers. This could unintentionally lead to false personas, where each candidate shares the same robot personality.
  • Challenging questions – Despite the best intentions, many competency-based questions can be quite challenging for the candidate to answer. As a result, they may freeze on the spot or give poorly constructed, unclear answers.
  • One dimensional – It is important for competency-based interviews to assess a wide range of personality traits, otherwise a candidate might not get the chance to convey their emotions or motivations.

Key takeaways

Competency-based interviews are a great way to assess the skills and capabilities of candidates. They identify characteristics and behaviours that are crucial in the world of work while ensuring that a candidate can perform the role and its responsibilities proficiently. Here are some key takeaways to remember if you plan on including them in your recruitment process:

  • Do remember that competency-based interviews might not be suitable or appropriate for all positions, as a lot depends on the job, your company and the industry you’re in.
  • The personalities of some candidates might struggle with competency-based interviews. Try to make the questions as clear as possible or combine with personality tests to get a better depiction.
  • To ensure you’re making the most out of your interview time, competency-based interviews should form one part of the recruitment process, alongside other tried and trusted approaches.