Top 10 Competency-Based Interview Questions

Illustration of a man being interviewed by a male manager

Competency-based interviews are designed to determine the interviewee’s set of skills. Rather than open-ended and traditional questions like ‘why did you apply for the job?’ and ‘what is your job experience?’, these interviews focus on key competencies required for the role like organisational, communication or leadership skills.

Most competency-based questions require answers that recite past performance. This is because interviewers want to see how candidates have responded to similar situations in the past. This way, they can decide if they’re truly fit for the role.

So, if you’re on your way to a good old grilling, get prepared by scrolling through our list of top 10 competency-based interview questions with tips on how to answer them!

1. ‘How have you supported a struggling colleague?’

This question aims to uncover your teamwork skills. This is especially important for roles that involve working alongside other members of staff. The employer will want to see if you’re able to help colleagues in difficult situations and provide support that will improve the performance of the company.

This is where you’ll demonstrate your empathy, cooperativeness and helpfulness. Tell a story about how you supported a struggling colleague, and always refer to how it benefited the business.

If you’re asked this question, chances are that your interviewer is hunting for a considerate, supportive and instrumental employee, rather than a lone wolf who prefers to work individually.

2. ‘Can you tell us about a time you had to deal with a challenge at work?’

This part of the interview essentially calls for answers to more questions like ‘Can you take the lead?’, ‘How do you deal with unexpected obstacles?’ and ‘Are you able to find solutions by yourself?’. Your future employer wants to tackle your initiative and ability to handle stress.

This is a great opportunity for you to use the STAR method. Recite a time when you faced a challenge at work and explain how you developed a successful outcome. Explain any potential consequences, had you not presented a solution, and highlight how the challenge may have put you out of your comfort zone. Let the employer know how you came up with the solution and what helped you deal with the stress. This way, you prove your ability to overcome potential hurdles at work.

3. ‘Have you ever had to handle an angry customer?’

Now’s the time for your people-skills to shine. If the role you’re applying for involves dealing with customers, your answer to this question matters more than anything. It’s important to establish your communication and problem-solving skills here.

Highlight your ability to handle unpleasant customers by sharing a story about a previous encounter. Tell the employer that you stayed calm and collected by maintaining a ‘customer is always right’ attitude. They want to hire a candidate who can handle complaints and angry feedback and maintain control over the situation. They don’t want someone who ‘leaves it to the boss’.

4. ‘Would you bring about change in the company? If so, how?’

Every employer wants an employee who can bring about change and innovation in a company. They will test your confidence and see whether you have the competency to get things done. Start off by suggesting areas of improvement but tread lightly – you don’t want to offend your future employer!

Research the company and discover any challenges it might be facing. Use words like ‘contribute’, ‘evolve’ and ‘develop’ to avoid sounding superior or like a know-it-all. The more positive, tactful and strategic you sound, the higher your chances of impressing the interviewer. You can even talk about a time when you established change in the past – discuss your decision-making process and elaborate on how it developed your critical thinking and leadership skills.

5. ‘How have you handled tight deadlines at work?’

This is one of the most common competency-based questions asked when discovering a candidate’s organisational skills. Your future job might involve tight deadlines and a stressful environment, so you want to show that you can work under pressure. Establish your time management and project management skills by reciting a fitting story about your experience.

A sample answer could include, ‘I make sure to prioritise each task according to the deadline and keep a calm demeanour while going about it. I don’t allow the pressure of the deadline to affect the quality of my work, and I do this by arranging my duties and commitments right from the start. If I’m working with a team, I’d go about it the same way and make sure everyone’s on the same page.’


6. ‘Can you tell us about the last time you worked as part of a successful team?’

This question aims to dig deeper into your teamworking and collaborative skills. Employers will value a candidate who enjoys working in teams.

Focus on a time when your communication, judgement and responsibility brought about great teamwork and good results. What did you do to build the team spirit? Were you the project coordinator? Perhaps the project ran based on your strategy?

Let the employer know what an active and cooperative team member you are with a sample answer like, ‘I considered my team members’ ideas and proposals, was always open to their concerns, and I made sure to give honest and constructive feedback so as to avoid conflict. When we finally all saw eye-to-eye on a strategy, I focused on the task, delegated each member and constantly provided motivation to get the job done.’

7. ‘Can you describe a situation where you were put in charge?’

This a common competency-based interview question when applying for a managerial role.

Show off your leadership skills by describing a situation when you were put in charge of a team. Explain how you inspired members to make a change and how you delegated each participant, and highlight the goals you set and what plans you took to achieve them.

Remember: employers want someone who can take the lead, think creatively, maintain responsibility and influence a team of their views and ideas.

Can you communicate your vision to a team? Make sure you cover important aspects of your story, such as how you persuaded team members to work together towards a positive outcome.

8. ‘Were you ever asked to do a job you’d never done before?’

Employers want staff who are flexible, adaptable and hard-working. They will ask you this question during a job interview to determine whether you’re able to work outside your comfort zone. Are you able to change your way of working in order to reach a goal? Would you be open to performing tasks outside your job role when required?

If you’ve done something you’ve never done before, tell the interviewer how you adapted to the changes and how willing you were to learn the new method or approach. It’s important to let them know that you can adjust to changes and become proactive when facing new challenges.

9. ‘Can you tell us about a time you had to put your creative input into a project?’

Employers look for creative individuals who can offer fresh insights into their projects. Are you stuck with conventional ideas, or can you think outside the box?

Prove your creativity and give examples of moments when you took the initiative and added a touch of innovation to a project. Mention how it provided value and delivered great results.

Remember: your interviewer will want someone who is constantly willing to find creative solutions to existing problems. They’re hunting for an employee who keeps up with modern trends.

An effective answer could be something along the lines of, ‘I noticed our website’s eShop wasn’t attracting enough visitors, so I took the initiative to redesign it using ideas from research I had been doing. I presented the mockup to my manager, he agreed, and so I took the lead, collaborated with my developers and gave the page an entirely new makeover. The eShop now gets the desired traffic we hoped for.’

10. ‘Have you ever made a mistake in your work? What actions did you take?’

Difficult interview questions such as these may make you uncomfortable and put you on the spot. Our tip? The best answers are the honest ones. Be frank about any mistakes you’ve made in your previous job, and we can guarantee that your interviewer will respect your openness. After all, they’re trying to discover how well you can overcome challenges and work blunders.

Mention the mistake briefly but focus on how you dealt with it and solved the issue. Let them know that you learned from the blunder and that you now double-check, carefully monitor your and others’ work, and are mindful of any potential errors.

Prepare for the interview by having a read through our list of common questions and scratch up a few ideas for answers. Refresh your memory of your past experiences and start preparing an interesting story to tell when that question comes your way. Just try to not sound too robotic – a great interview tip is to sound as natural as possible and let your personality shine.

Tell us how you’ve answered these competency-based questions in the past. What other questions might an interviewee face? Let us know in the comments section below!