Competency questions either at interview or in an application form are notoriously difficult and annoying – the best way to describe them is to show examples:
- Have you ever influenced someone to do something or changed their mind?
- Tell me about a time when you failed to complete a task or project on time.
- Give an example of when you’ve excelled yourself at work in the past.
- How do you ensure that you maintain good working relationships with your senior colleagues?
- Tell us about a situation where you made a decision and then changed your mind.
- Tell us about a situation where your communication skills made a difference to a situation.
- Describe a situation where you had to explain something complex to a colleague or client.
- Demonstrate how you vary your communication approach according to the audience that you are addressing.
The employer isn’t really interested in that time you were in the netball team, or the details of the challenges you went through at work. What they want to see is a well-structured answer, and evidence of your potential.
The STAR model is an excellent framework. STAR stands for situation, tasks, action and result:
- Situation: Open with a brief description of the situation and context of the story (who, what, where, when, how).
- Task: Explain the task you had to complete highlighting any specific challenges or constraints (e.g. deadlines, costs, other issues).
- Action: Describe the specific actions that you took to complete the task. Always start with how you planned ahead, whatever the task. Then go on to describe the actions you took, highlighting desirable traits without stating them (initiative, intelligence, dedication, leadership, understanding, etc.).
- Result: Close with the result of your efforts and include statistics to quantify the result if possible. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, what new skills have you learnt from the experience that you can apply to the role you are applying for?
Most questions will have a word count of between 200-300 words which means you will need to write very concisely. It’s also worth preparing your answers in a Word document first rather than working straight off the form – this will allow you to do those all-important spelling and grammar checks.
Competency questions are not just used in application forms but will form the basis of most interviews too so practice your answers both in writing and aloud.