Using Competency-Based Interviews for Better Hiring

Competency-based interviews, also known as structured or behavioral interviews, are a powerful tool in the hiring process. They enable hiring managers to assess a candidate’s ability to perform specific tasks and handle situations relevant to the job. By focusing on how candidates have used their skills in the past, these interviews provide a clearer picture of their potential future performance. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into how you can effectively use competency-based interviews in your hiring process.

Understanding Competency-Based Interviews

Competency-based interviews revolve around specific competencies deemed essential for success in a particular role. These competencies can include skills like leadership, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. The key is to identify the competencies that are most relevant to the position you are hiring for.

Developing a Competency Framework

Developing a competency framework is a critical step in implementing competency-based interviews. This framework serves as the foundation for identifying the specific skills, behaviors, and attributes that are necessary for success in a particular role. A well-crafted competency framework ensures that the hiring process is aligned with the organization’s needs and values. Here’s a detailed approach to developing an effective competency framework:

1. Job Analysis

The first step in developing a competency framework is conducting a thorough job analysis. This involves:

  • Reviewing Job Descriptions: Examine current job descriptions to understand the key responsibilities and tasks of the role.
  • Identifying Key Skills and Knowledge: Determine the essential skills, knowledge, and abilities required to perform the job effectively.
  • Understanding the Role’s Context: Consider the role’s importance within the organization, its interaction with other roles, and the impact it has on the business.

2. Consultation with Stakeholders

Engaging with key stakeholders is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the competencies required. This involves:

  • Interviewing Current Employees and Managers: Speak with individuals currently in the role, as well as their managers, to gain insights into the day-to-day requirements and challenges of the job.
  • Gathering Feedback from Different Departments: Include perspectives from various departments that interact with the role to ensure a holistic view of the necessary competencies.
  • Involving HR and Leadership: Collaborate with HR professionals and organizational leaders to align the competency framework with broader business strategies and cultural values.

3. Identifying Core Competencies

Based on the information gathered, identify a set of core competencies that are critical for success in the role. These competencies might include:

  • Technical Skills: Specific knowledge or expertise required for the role, such as software proficiency or industry-specific skills.
  • Soft Skills: Interpersonal and behavioral competencies like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability.
  • Leadership Abilities: For managerial roles, competencies such as decision-making, strategic thinking, and the ability to inspire and motivate others.

4. Prioritization and Categorization

Once you have a list of potential competencies, prioritize and categorize them:

  • Prioritize Based on Importance: Determine which competencies are essential for the role and which are desirable but not critical.
  • Categorize Competencies: Group similar competencies together to create a structured framework. Categories could include personal attributes, interpersonal skills, and technical abilities.

5. Validation and Refinement

After drafting the competency framework, validate and refine it by:

  • Seeking Feedback: Present the framework to stakeholders for feedback. This ensures that it accurately reflects the needs of the role and the organization.
  • Piloting the Framework: Test the framework in real hiring scenarios to see how well it helps in assessing candidates.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update the framework to ensure it stays relevant and effective as the role and organizational needs evolve.

Crafting Effective Interview Questions (with examples)

Crafting Effective Interview Questions (with examples)

Once you have identified the necessary competencies, the next step is to develop questions that will help you assess these areas. Effective competency-based questions typically start with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give an example of how you…”. These questions encourage candidates to share specific instances from their past experiences. Here are some sample questions with answers.


Question: “Can you describe a time when you had to collaborate with a challenging team member to complete a project? How did you handle the situation?”

Answer: “In my previous role, I worked with a team member who had a different working style. We were assigned a critical project with a tight deadline. I initiated a one-on-one meeting to understand their perspective and shared my concerns constructively. We agreed on a common approach and regularly checked in with each other, leading to successful project completion.”

Problem Solving

Question: “Tell me about a complex problem you faced at work and how you solved it.” Answer: “At my last job, I encountered a technical issue that was causing delays in our workflow. I analyzed the problem, researched potential solutions, and consulted with senior colleagues. I then implemented a new process that resolved the issue and improved overall efficiency.”


Question: “Give an example of a time when you had to lead a team under tight deadlines. What was your approach, and what was the outcome?”

Answer: “I led a team on a high-priority project with a tight turnaround. I organized an initial meeting to set clear goals and deadlines. I delegated tasks according to each member’s strengths and held regular check-ins to track progress. Despite the time constraints, we delivered quality work on schedule.”


Question: “Describe a situation where you had to explain a complex idea to a non-expert. How did you ensure they understood?”

Answer: “In my previous role, I had to explain a complex software system to clients who were not tech-savvy. I used simple language and analogies, and prepared visual aids to make the information more accessible. I also encouraged questions to ensure they fully understood the system.”


Question: “Can you provide an instance where you had to adapt quickly to a significant change in the workplace?”

Answer: “When our company underwent a major restructuring, my role changed significantly. I quickly adapted by learning new skills through online courses and seeking guidance from experienced colleagues. This allowed me to effectively contribute to my team in the new environment.”


Question: “Tell me about a time when you took the initiative to improve a process or solve a problem that was not part of your regular duties.”

Answer: “In my last position, I noticed that our client onboarding process was time-consuming and often confusing for clients. I proposed and developed a streamlined process using a digital tool, which reduced onboarding time by 30% and significantly improved client satisfaction.”

Customer Service

Question: “Describe a challenging situation with a customer and how you resolved it.”

Answer: “I dealt with a customer who was upset about a delayed order. I listened to their concerns, apologized for the inconvenience, and explained the situation. I expedited their order and offered a discount on their next purchase. The customer appreciated the gesture and continued doing business with us.”

Attention to Detail

Question: “Give an example of a project where attention to detail was crucial. How did you ensure accuracy?”

Answer: “In a previous role, I was responsible for preparing detailed financial reports. I developed a checklist to ensure all data was accurate and thoroughly reviewed my work before submission. This meticulous approach prevented errors and consistently earned praise from management.”

Time Management

Question: “Can you discuss a time when you had to juggle multiple tasks or projects simultaneously? How did you prioritize and manage your time?”

Answer: “During a particularly busy period, I had to manage multiple competing deadlines. I prioritized tasks based on urgency and importance, created a schedule to allocate specific time blocks for each task, and regularly reviewed my progress. This approach helped me meet all deadlines without compromising on quality.”

Conflict Resolution

Question: “Tell me about a time you had to mediate a conflict between team members. What steps did you take?”

Answer: “I mediated a conflict between two team members who disagreed on a project approach. I facilitated a meeting where each person could express their viewpoint. We then identified common goals and collaboratively developed a compromise that satisfied both parties and kept the project on track.”

Conducting the Interview

When conducting a competency-based interview, it’s essential to create an environment that allows candidates to comfortably share detailed information about their past experiences. Begin by clearly explaining the interview format and the types of questions you’ll be asking. During the interview, listen actively and attentively, giving candidates ample time to respond. It’s important to maintain a balanced conversation, allowing the candidate to do most of the talking while you guide the discussion with your questions. Take notes on key points to refer back to later and ask follow-up questions to probe deeper into candidates’ experiences and competencies.

  • Explain the Interview Format: Start by outlining the structure of the interview and what you expect from the candidate.
  • Active Listening: Pay close attention to the candidate’s responses, showing engagement and interest.
  • Time Management: Keep track of time to ensure all key competencies are covered without rushing the candidate.
  • Follow-Up Questions: Use probing questions to gain deeper insights into the candidate’s experiences and skills.
  • Note-Taking: Jot down important points and observations to assist in the evaluation process.

Evaluating Candidate Responses

Conducting the Interview

Evaluating candidate responses in a competency-based interview involves assessing how well the candidate’s past experiences and behaviors align with the competencies required for the role. Use a structured approach, such as a rating system, to consistently evaluate each candidate against the competencies. Consider the specificity, relevance, and impact of their examples. Pay attention to not only what the candidates did but also how they did it, including their thought process and the outcomes of their actions. This evaluation helps in making informed and objective hiring decisions.

  • Structured Evaluation: Use a rating system or scoring guide to assess candidates consistently across competencies.
  • Specificity and Relevance: Evaluate the detail and relevance of the examples provided by the candidates.
  • Impact and Outcomes: Consider the results and implications of the candidates’ actions in their examples.
  • Behavioral Indicators: Look for evidence of competencies through the candidates’ described behaviors and decisions.
  • Objectivity: Focus on the evidence provided by the candidate, minimizing biases and subjective judgments.

Competency-based interviews are a valuable tool in the hiring process. By focusing on specific competencies and asking targeted questions, hiring managers can gain deeper insights into a candidate’s abilities and potential. With careful preparation and implementation, competency-based interviews can significantly improve the quality of your hiring decisions.