Preparing for Competency Based Interview Questions

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During the interview you may be asked competency based questions. These questions are designed to help the interviewer understand your personal qualities and how you deal with different situations and behave in a work environment. Look at job advertisements to see which competencies have been highlighted for your role. Then, prepare possible questions based on these competencies and think about specific examples from your work. If you don’t have professional experience, use examples from volunteering or education and training courses.

Sample competency questions include:

“Tell me about a time when you kept calm under pressure”

“Give an example of a time you had a deadline but could not reach it. What happened?”

“Tell me about a time when you worked in a team”

“How do you deal with conflict situations?”

 Common competencies:

 The STAR method

When answering competency based questions, the STAR method is a really useful technique to us.


Using a structured technique to describe an example clearly for the interviewer of when you demonstrated different competencies will ensure that your answers are easy and quick to understand. ‘Storytelling’ in this way will also keep your interviewers engaged and interested. It will ensure your answers are clear and concise, while also descriptive.

The STAR method will also not only give proof of your abilities and competencies, but will show the interviewers your strengths and suitability for the job, based on your answer and actions that you took – even if you do not specifically refer to your own strengths.

 Using the STAR Method

 Think of one specific example from your past experiences to answer each question.

S Situation

This sets the scene. Describe a situation that relates to the interviewer´s question. When did it happen and where?

T – Task

Discuss what your role/responsibilities were or what the task was.

 A – Action

Outline what you did and the action you took.  Use the word ‘I’, not ‘we’ to show accountability for your actions. Give a real example of one incident in the past rather than multiple. Give step by step details of what you did and how you did it.

This section will be the longest part of your answer.

 R – Result

Tell the interviewer about the positive result of your actions. Talk about the benefits of what you did. Did you learn from it? / Implement positive changes as a result?

Tip: Focussing on one specific example can be challenging. Keep it simple and check if you are using adverbs of frequency like “always”, “every day” or “often” or using plurals. If you are, try to instead focus on one specific moment, a ‘snapshot’ of the past – using the past tense where possible instead.

 Examples using the STAR technique:

Example 1:

I was the Promotions Officer for the International Volunteering Society in Dublin City University, during my studies.
For the international volunteering trips, the society needed to recruit 30 volunteers each year. To promote this and recruit volunteers, we decided to host a multi-cultural day. I was responsible for finding guest speakers and activity leaders for the multi-cultural day event.
I started with members of our own society. I also approached other societies such as language, dance and sports societies, where I knew there were many people involved from diverse cultural backgrounds. I also asked to speak at different society meetings to encourage people to get involved and created a plan of events and a timetable for the day.
I managed to get speakers and activity leaders representing 10 different countries and during the event, we held 10 workshops including a Zumba dance session, an African drumming workshop and cookery demonstrations. Over 1,000 students attended the event, and 67 also signed up as potentials for the international volunteering programme.


Example 2

I worked as a Volunteer Sales Assistant in the Enable Ireland Charity Shop, where I was responsible for organising stock, operating the till and dealing with customers.
I started off in the backroom removing clothes from bags and separating the items that could be sold, to items that needed to be recycled. After a few weeks, I became responsible for training new volunteers in the layout and organisation of the stockroom. I also came up with a new layout for the shop, which involved putting similar clothing and styles together, making it easier for customers to locate items and it also made the store look more like a high street shop. I created very visual and themed window displays and I started working on the till, calculating the takings at the end of the day, bringing them to the bank and training in new volunteers in this area.
I gained a lot of skills like organisational and time management skills and I became more efficient. I also learned that I am creative and enjoy coming up with new ideas to solve problems and improve sales and customer experience.

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