The Competency Answering Technique

Competency interviewing can often be the most difficult type of interviewing, both for the interviewer and the interviewee. For the interviewer, it requires understanding the competencies required for success in the position, which often can include a detailed analysis of the position as well as current employees who have succeeded in the position (and their common competencies). Yet when performed accurately, it can produce highly successful results.

An example of a competency is intelligence. The specific competency for a position may require someone with a minimum intelligence level. Competency-based questions which can probe this competency could include:

  • "What were your SAT (or ACT) scores?" (since the SAT and ACT provide a general guideline to IQ and general intelligence.
  • "Give an example of how you learn new things." (which will give the interviewer an opportunity to drill down on any specifics to better understand your learning style and approach)
  • "What is your IQ?" (yes, they might actually ask that question and yes, in general, they can)

These are just a few sample questions on one specific competency (intelligence). Other competencies which may be measured may include creativity, analytical reasoning, strategic skills, tactical skills, risk taking, integrity, drive, organizational skills, teamwork, willingness to change, enthusiasm, ambition and life balance, just to name a few. A fully developed competency model may have as many as 30-50 different competencies that are being evaluated. And yes, it can produce a more grueling interview process.

For the interviewee, it may not be readily apparent that the interviewer is evaluating you on a competency-based model. And even if you are aware of a competency question, you likely will not know what the requirements are for the competency for the position. Successful competency interviewing focuses on those key competencies which are critical to success in the position.

So how do you answer competency questions? First, by understanding the key competencies for the position. When you have the opportunity to ask a question in a competency interview (or almost any in-depth interview, for that matter), it should be this one:

  • "What do you consider to be the top three key competencies for this position?"

Or, stated in another format:

  • "What do you consider to be the top three critical success factors for this position?"

Note that with both questions, you are hitting on hot button phrases ("key competencies" and "critical success factors"). In fact, if you ever hear the phrase "CSF" being used in a business setting, they are referring to "Critical Success Factors." Or "CSF's" for short.

Either question will drill to what the interviewer considers to be the key competencies for the position. It will then be your responsibility to answer how you fit each one of these competencies. There are three approaches you can use to align your background to these competencies:

  1. Provide your competencies in summary format as a follow-up response to their reply.
  2. Answer each of the competencies in your later interview question responses.
  3. Post interview in your thank you letter.

You must be ready to align your background with these competencies in order to win the position. Don't worry though, since almost none of your competition will be taking this extra step. Just by making a sincere and focused effort, you will set yourself far apart from the field.

P.S. Do not be surprised when you get a different answer to this question from each interviewer. Seldom is an employer so well organized and process driven that all of the interviewers are in complete synch on the top three competencies needed for each position. But use that diversity of opinion as an opportunity to emphasize those aspects of your background which are the most important for each individual interviewer.