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Interview Questions About Competencies

Updated: May 10

Almost every modern job interview includes questions about your competencies. Thinking carefully about the examples you will use before your interview will help you in three ways: you'll have time to choose examples that highlight your skills and capabilities best, you'll be calmer and more confident, and you'll show your interviewer that you are well-prepared and serious about the position.


Here are some examples of competency-based questions and answers, to help you prepare your best responses for interviews:


“Tell Me About a Time When Your Manager Asked You to Solve a Problem That They Couldn't. How Did You Approach the Situation?”

This is a difficult question to answer well, so take the time you need to prepare a careful answer before the day of your interview. Your interviewer is asking this question to see how you handled your relationship with your manager when offering your own opinions and solutions.

Your answer will tell the interviewer if you:

  • Were respectful and supportive, or rude and arrogant.

  • Panicked and rushed to a decision, or carefully thought about your options and chose the best.

  • Respected your manager's authority or not.

  • Offered your solution to your manager as an option, or decided and acted alone.

Choose an example of a time when you worked as a team to think of possible solutions to a problem. Your answer should show you thought about different options fairly, and supported your colleagues if they offered suggestions. Don't criticize your manager or other team members, explain why the original process was not working and how you respectfully offered a solution that could help. Your interviewer wants to choose an employee who analyzes problems and chooses solutions that are the most effective, and not just the solutions that they like.


Example answer:

"I was working on a photo shoot and our lighting technician called in sick. When my boss found out, he asked me to find out who else could do the lighting, because he was already busy with other things. We were hours from any major towns or cities and on a tight schedule, so that really limited our options to who was already on set. So, I decided to ask everyone on the crew about their previous lighting experience. One of our interns had been part of their high school AV club, so I suggested we ask her to take care of the lighting. My manager agreed this was the best solution available so we went ahead. Our intern was really nervous at first but I encouraged her to be confident, and use the team for support. In the end, she did a great job and the photos were used on a special holiday edition magazine cover.”

“Tell Me About How You Handled a Big Project From Beginning to End.”

Your interviewer is asking you this to see how capable and comfortable you are with a leadership role. This is also a good opportunity to think about examples of showing leadership outside of your professional career. You should choose an example of a project where you were the only leader if this is possible, because this will show that the leadership skills were yours and not someone else's!


A good example of your leadership skills should show you respected your team's opinions and suggestions but were able to make decisions and guide your team to a successful outcome. You want to show that you were an effective leader but thought of yourself as part of the overall team.


Example answer:

“I was part of a community effort to build new homes in a low-income neighborhood. I was asked to take the lead and I accepted because I thought I had the skills needed, plus it was a good opportunity for experience. I began by dividing up the tasks into smaller steps and assigning them to different teams, each of which had a team leader. I met with these team leaders every morning to discuss the steps that needed to be accomplished that day, and listen to any suggestions or problems the teams had. Later each day I checked in with each team to give them an opportunity to feedback on their progress and any problem-solving solutions they had used successfully. I recorded their developments on a Trello board so I could monitor our schedule, and I communicated solutions to common problems to the other teams. It was a big success for the community, and it felt great to be part of something so positive.”



“What Have You Done to Make Your Company More Successful?”

There are two ways to answer this question, and that is decided by what your job experience is. If you worked for a commercial company, you should try to give an example of improved sales revenue, cost savings, or other financial improvements. If your work experience was in a non-profit organization, you should focus on an example that shows either cost savings or major improvements to workflow efficiency.


Your interviewer is looking to hire someone who can see opportunities to improve company procedure and has the confidence to investigate and present possible time and money-saving solutions.


It's best to avoid giving general responses; try and mention specific numbers when talking about the impact your work had on your organization. You don't have to be exact with your numbers, just try to be close to the amount.


Example Answer:

"When I joined Company XYZ, I saw that the customer service team spent more time on manual catalog updates than responding to support requests. It seemed like the procedure could be automated using a plugin I've used before on a different job, so I decided to find out more about it. I did some research on how much it would cost to buy and install the plugin, what IT resources were required to configure the plugin, and how much time and money it would save us if implemented. I worked with my manager to provide the cost-benefit statistics to the finance department, and the company bought and implemented the plugin, leading to a 65% decrease in average response time.” 


Wrap Up

You have already shown the hiring manager that you have the skills needed to get this job; that's why you have an interview! So focus on giving the best impression you can on the day by:

  • Preparing your answers before your interview.

  • Thinking carefully about the examples you use, and choosing the ones that show your skills best.

  • Being specific about the improvements you have made to your company's efficiency or profits.

  • Being clear about your competencies, and your successes, but also being respectful about others.

By preparing the best examples of your competencies before your interview, you are guaranteeing a more confident and comfortable you on interview day. Your interviewer might even give you helpful feedback on your examples, so be open to this great learning opportunity. Confident, open, friendly, and capable people make excellent employees!


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