Competency questions – what are they really asking?

Sometimes when faced with a competency question (on an application form or at interview) it isn’t always immediately obvious what it is they are looking for.  Taking the time to work this out is important, as you will be able to focus your answer and give examples that provide evidence of the skills they are looking for.

So how to do this?
Ask yourself: What is the question getting at? What is it designed to find out about me?

Practice makes perfect. Here are some examples of questions along with their underlying meaning and topics you could cover in your answer (depending on the situation and job role):

Can you give me an example of when you’ve had to change someone’s opinion on an issue?

  • underlying meaning = persuasive communication

In your answer you could give an example of a time when you demonstrated the ability to influence and persuade. You could also mention things like effective communication, the ability to adapt your communication style to your audience for best effect, or being considerate of other viewpoints yet confident in your own.

Can you give me an example of when you persisted with something even though you were beginning to lose hope of success?

  • underlying meaning = achievement of goals

In your example you could mention your ability to create well-defined goals and responsd well to pressure.  Other ideas:  having the persistence and energy require to meet or exceed your objectives,  demonstrating resilience, or possessing the ability to look at things from different angles.

What do you think will be the most important issue/s facing this sector in the next five years?

  • underlying meaning = commercial awareness

Show you have an interest in business and knowledge of how an organisation operates, particularly in your chosen field.  An obvious way to do this is to show that you keep up with news in general and with your own industry area in particular.  You could also demonstrate that you are aware of the ways external factors such as government legislation, new technology, war, extreme weather conditions, or global issues can affect the operation of an organisation.

Tell me about a time when you completed a task without all the resources that you would have ideally needed.

  • underlying meaning = adaptability

Your example will give evidence that you are able to adapt to a situation which is not ideal and still produce an effective outcome.  Within this you could highlight having a flexible approach, the ability to think creatively, staying positive in difficult circumstances or being resourceful in responding to major changes.

Can you give me an example of a situation in which you have had to analyse complex information in order to make a decision?  How did you approach it?

  • underlying meaning = problem solving

This could entail your ability to analyse and solve practical problems and evaluate tasks or situations in a logical manner. You could mention being able to generate new ideas, think creatively, or bring different elements of a problem together and formulate an effective solution.

How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time?  Give some examples.

  • underlying meaning = organisation and planning

Show you take responsibility for the completion of tasks and ensure that detail is not overlooked when involved in a project.  You could highlight times when you have used your time management skills, prioritised tasks effectively, and / or  managed multiple tasks.  You could include that you understand the need, on occasion, for re-prioritisation if the unexpected happens.


One thought on “Competency questions – what are they really asking?

  1. Pingback: Competency questions – what are employers really asking? | Bournemouth University Placements & Careers Service Blog

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