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Be a STAR in competency based interviews

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Competency based interviews, or behavioural interviews, are now becoming the norm as more and more employers realise how effective they are in predicting what a candidate’s performance is likely to be after he/she gets hired.


The concept was developed back in the 1970’s by industrial psychologists to help managers make solid hiring decisions. It is based on the idea that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. The interviewer looks for specific information about a candidate’s past behaviour in certain situations. Prior to the interview each position is assessed for specific skills and characteristics and then interview questions are developed to measure a candidate’s work ethic, job interest, work experience, strengths and weaknesses. It has been demonstrated that behavioural interviews improve hiring results and accurately determine whether the candidate is a good cultural fit for the company.


Most behavioural interviews will focus on these key areas:

  • Judgement and Problem Solving
  • Drive and Tenacity
  • Influence and Impact
  • Communication
  • Client / Customer Focus
  • Leadership
  • Management Control
  • Interpersonal and Teamwork
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Organisational Awareness

Typical examples of questions asked are:

  • Give me an example of a time when you overcame an obstacle at work with limited resources?
  • Describe a time when you succeeded at work because of your ability to communicate.
  • Which accomplishment are you proud of and why does it mean so much to you?
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone within the organisation.
  • Give me an example of a time you took a leadership role.
  • Describe a situation when you found yourself challenged.


Most candidates are aware of this type of interviews but, almost all the time, they tend to make the mistake of providing a text book answer instead of talking about what they actually did in a given situation.


To prepare for competency-based interviews, start with carefully reviewing the job description to identify the skills and traits likely to be assessed and then prepare a few examples from past experiences to demonstrate these skills and traits. It is advisable to talk about positive situations such as accomplishments but also about situations that started out negatively and ended positively. All examples should be fairly recent and picked from different areas of professional or even personal life.


Follow the STAR model to structure answers in a logical and concise manner:

  • Situation: Start with a brief description of the context and situation and give details about the circumstances and degree of involvement (who, what, where, when, how)
  • Task: Describe what needed to be done highlighting any specific challenges like deadlines or costs
  • Action: Describe the specific actions in response to the challenges and focus on putting an accent on desirable traits like intelligence, initiative, dedication, analytical thinking or project coordination
  • Result: Finish with the results of your efforts: what you accomplished and learned, and how your efforts were recognised. If possible, include figures to quantify achievements

Preparing and answering competency based questions can be a challenge but it is very important to ace it and demonstrate you have the particular skills needed for a specific position. Therefore, make sure you talk to your Investigo Recruitment Consultant about advice, more tips and documents on Competency based interviewing.


Stuart brings 13 years recruitment experience in the Northern Home Counties and Central London, with the last 11 years very much specialising in recruiting senior finance professionals. If you would like to get in touch, please contact Stuart on or +44 (0) 7711 373 284.


Stuart Endacott
Posted by Stuart Endacott
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