How to ace competency-based interviews: A complete guide

Competency-based interviews can be an opportunity to use your skills to shine as a candidate.

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Understanding competency-based Interviews — What are they?

Competency-based interviews, also known as structured or behavioural interviews, focus on evaluating specific skills or competencies. These can include problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, and communication, among others. 

Employers favour this approach as it provides tangible evidence of how candidates have used their skills in real-world situations, thereby predicting future success in the role.

Are you heading into an interview soon? Recruit Ireland can help you prepare with its advice on finding a new job. Get a head start on preparation with help from Recruit Ireland. 

Why do employers opt for competency-based interviews?

Employers need to assess an applicant’s strengths before a job offer is made. Competency-based interviews help them do just that by understanding their previous experiences in detail.

It may sound more daunting, but they’re not looking to trip you up. By preparing in advance, you can use your skills to shine as a candidate. 

The benefits of competency-based interviews

The appeal of competency-based interviews for employers lies in their predictive accuracy. Employers can gauge how a candidate will handle future challenges by examining past behaviours. 

This method offers a more objective basis for comparison than traditional interviews, focusing on a candidate’s specific actions and results rather than hypothetical responses.

How do transferable skills fuel career transformation?

Competency-based interviews place significant emphasis on transferable skills. These are the skills you have already gained through work, education, and activities. They’re things like communication, adaptability, problem-solving, and digital competency for hybrid positions

Companies seek people with strong transferable skills as they can be applied across various job roles and schemes like apprenticeships and graduate programs. Recognising and articulating these skills can significantly enhance your chances of securing a job offer and helping to upskill your career.

Ronan Fox, e-learning teaching enhancement offficer with Rehab, used his passions and the skills he had gained in them to secure his dream job working in technology and education. 

Rehab’s Learning division is National Learning Network, a progressive leader in delivering personalised education, training, and development opportunities for people with disabilities or requiring additional support throughout Irish communities. Here’s what Ronan had to say:

“In the initial stages of my journey, I had doubts about whether my passion for technology and education could be turned into a career. However, as time went on, I realised that aligning my professional pursuits with my genuine interests was not just a luxury but a necessity for long-term satisfaction and success.”

By understanding the skills he had gained while studying his passions, Ronan Fox could align this with his career aspirations.

Mastering the competency-based interview

There’s an art to acing competency-based interviews rooted in understanding your work history and past experiences. The good news is that you already possess everything you need; it’s just about better appreciating what you have to offer and being able to speak confidently.

Understanding competency-based interview questions

Questions in a competency-based interview are designed to probe how you’ve handled situations in the past. Interviewers are interested in the context of the situation, your role, the actions you took, and the outcome. Employers typically assess competencies aligned with the role’s requirements, including teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and organisational skills.

Preparing for your interview

You must be prepared to tackle the questions we mention below in competency-based interviews. 

Start by researching the most common questions and reflecting on your past experiences where you demonstrated relevant skills. Prepare concise stories highlighting your accomplishments, focusing on situations with clear outcomes that reflect positively on your abilities and work ethic.

Common competency-based interview questions and how to answer them

Employers often rely on standardised questions, so it’s common you will encounter the same questions at different interviews. This makes preparing easier as you can focus on core experiences and tailor them to the roles and industries you’re applying to.

Some companies may ask more specific questions that you won’t have prepared, but if you’ve studied your work history, you should be able to influence the recruiter positively.

Sample questions and answers

Below is a list of competency-based interview questions and answers you may be asked:


Example question: 

“Can you describe a situation where you had to work closely with others on a team? What was your role, and what was the outcome?”

Sample answer:

“In my previous role as a project coordinator, I was part of a team responsible for organising a major corporate event. My role involved liaising between the marketing, finance, and logistics teams to ensure all aspects of the event were synchronised. Despite the tight deadline and differing priorities among departments, I facilitated regular update meetings and created a shared digital workspace for real-time updates and feedback. The event was a success, with a 20% higher attendee satisfaction rate compared to previous years. This experience reinforced the value of open communication and cooperation in achieving team goals.”


Example question: 

“Tell me about a time when you had to lead a project or group. What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?”

Sample answer:

“As the team leader for a cross-departmental project aimed at streamlining our client onboarding process, I encountered resistance from team members accustomed to the old workflow. To address this, I organised a series of workshops where each department could present their concerns and suggestions. This experience taught me that effective leadership involves empathy, flexibility, and the ability to unite a team around a common goal, even when facing initial resistance.”


Example question: 

“Provide an example of a challenging problem you encountered at work and how you solved it.”

Sample answer:

“In my role as an IT specialist, our company faced a major issue when a software update caused critical systems to malfunction, leading to significant operational delays. Recognising the urgency, I led a task force to troubleshoot the problem. We systematically tested various hypotheses under time pressure. After identifying the bug, I worked overnight with the software vendor to deploy a fix. By the next morning, we had restored full functionality, minimising the impact on our operations. This incident underscored the importance of calm, strategic problem-solving and the value of strong vendor partnerships.”

Top tips to ace competency-based interviews

To stand out in a competency-based interview, you need a strategic approach towards showcasing your skills and experiences. Below are some tips designed to get you prepared  leave a lasting impression on your interviewers:

  • Carefully analyse the job posting to identify the core competencies and skills the employer is seeking.
  • For each competency, prepare an example using the STAR format (ie structure your answers with the Situation, Task, Action, and Result method) to ensure you provide a structured and complete answer.
  • Select examples from your work, education, or volunteer experiences that demonstrate the required skills.
  • Rehearse your examples aloud, focusing on delivering them with confidence and enthusiasm.
  • Ensure each example concludes with a clear result or learning outcome that highlights your contribution and its positive impact.
  • Tailor your responses to the job and company by choosing examples that demonstrate the required competencies and how they can be applied in the new role.
  • Be prepared to discuss times when things didn’t go as planned and how you addressed the challenges.
  • Be ready to discuss feedback you’ve received in the past and how you’ve used it for personal or professional development.
  • Wear the right clothes for the job that also match your skills and experiences.

Head over to the Recruit Ireland job board to find current job opportunities across Ireland. Here you’ll find job descriptions to help you figure out how your experiences relate to what recruiters are looking for.

Final thoughts: Turning interviews into offers

Before any interview, make sure to recheck the job description and tailor your experiences to each role. Using the STAR method will help to prepare you to discuss your work history in a concise and purposeful way.

For more help preparing for a job interview, head to the Recruit Ireland advice centre for actionable information and interviews with real-life professionals from various industries here in Ireland.


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