What Are Competency-Based Questions?

Competency-based questions are interview questions that require candidates to provide real-life examples as the basis of their answers. Candidates should explain why they made certain decisions, how they implemented these decisions and why certain outcomes took place.

Why are Competency Questions Used in Interviews?

Recruitment professionals believe that the best way to assess a candidate's potential future performance is to question candidates about their past performance. However, graduate candidates don't usually have any experience of the industry to which they are applying. Consequently it is impossible for interviewers to discuss previous job roles.


Instead, interviewers use competency questions to have candidates show how they have performed in various situations in the past, revealing individual personality traits. These are a great help for interviewers interested in finding out exactly who a candidate is and how they may act if employed.

Question format can vary. Sometimes the interviewer will be looking to gather non-specific information, rather than evaluating any particular competency or skill. More normally, interviewers will isolate key competencies that they believe suitable employees should possess, and tailor questions to focus on those skills.

When considering how to answer competency questions, candidates should not talk in broad terms, be too general or use their imagination when replying to interviewers. Instead, candidates should use specific situations from their life as examples.


Top 10 key competencies which interviewers often focus on:

  • Communication. Regardless of the position or industry, the way we interact with others is crucial and you need to be able to build and maintain excellent relationships with clients and colleagues. Example question: ‘Tell us about a time you had to adjust your communication approach to suit a particular audience.’
  • Decision making. Good decision making will help you solve problems, devise solutions and make efficiencies. Example question: ‘Give an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision.’
  • Leadership. Valuable for many reasons – such as showing that you can coordinate, motivate and lead a successful team. Example question: ‘Describe a situation when you assumed the role of leader. Were there any challenges, and how did you address them?’
  • Results orientation. Being focused on results is a skill that will help you excel in your career. It can be anything from improving a system or process through to hitting targets. Example question: ‘Give me an example of a time when you believe you were successful.’
  • Teamwork. Businesses don’t work properly without good teamwork. Collaborative working can achieve results, improve productivity and boost performance. Example question: ‘Describe a situation in which you were working as part of a team. How did you make a contribution?’
  • Trustworthiness. Good employees can be trusted to get things done. Example question: ‘Would you report on a colleague who you knew was taking money from the company illegally?’
  • Responsibility. Employees who take responsibility for and pride in their work are highly valued. Example question: ‘Describe a situation when you held responsibility for completion of a task.’
  • Commercial Awareness. A skill that illustrates intelligence, professionalism and commitment to the firm. Example question: ‘Describe a situation when you have had to use commercial awareness.’
  • Professional Development. Being open to enhancing your skills will always help you succeed at work. Example question: ‘Describe a period where you enhanced your skills effectively.’
  • Technical Skills. Ever more important, technical (and particularly digital) skills are highly sought after because so many businesses are using them to grow. Example question: ‘Describe a situation where you have used technical skills in your work.’