(In)Competency Qs

Competency Based Interviews. I hated them. I’m still not that fond of them; perhaps partly because I’ve failed so many and because they (or I) just don’t do me any justice, well at least they didn’t used to. I’ve been bitter, yes. But I think what really irritates and frustrates me about these interviews is their mechanical and rigid execution.

Firstly, I find great difficulty in and therefore resent having to neatly structure and compartmentalise my life and experiences into neat examples of ‘times when’ to clearly express qualities that are often nuanced and complex by nature. I’ve built relationships, I get on with people, I’ve worked in teams my whole life, I know what needs to be done and I get it done, I have a sense of responsibility, I’ve solved problems – BUT, not quite in nice neat wholesome digestible instances. I’m a six meal a day person.

Secondly I despise interviewers that are little more than verbal application forms. The difference between a good and a bad interviewer will often mean the difference between your success as a candidate who puts forward their best foot and your failure as a candidate who hasn’t ticked the boxes.

For example, I had a telephone competency interview with PwC recently and it was excellent because the interviewer played her role – she asked questions to follow up and draw out what she wanted to hear from me; she probed (appropriately) and demonstrated an ability to converse with people, sometimes lacking in these kinds of interviews; consequently, we had a healthy conversation where I was relaxed and able to understand what she was looking for and react accordingly. This wasn’t just a verbal application form.

Past interviews haven’t gone so smoothly. The interviewer asks a question then it’s over to me for a 5min speech where I’ve been instructed to give my full-bodied answers in the neat S.T.A.R format (Situation. Task. Actions. Results). How mechanical can you get, even Arnie’s T-800 had more flexibility, his CPU after all was a neural net processor – a learning computer, which is more than can be said for some recruiters.

Of course, I could go on, but I’ve turned the page, gained closure and left my bitterness behind. Hanging up, getting rejected and saying ‘what does the stupid recruiter calling from the Philippines know, I’m way better than that’, doesn’t get me anywhere. There’s obviously a system here, a process and a neat framework for easy assessment so that only candidates of a certain measurable level are processed further. As a former recruitment consultant I know this, but I’m also human, and a man, so rejection is wounding and demands the ego to kick back with a bit of anger a pinch of hate and a teaspoon of bitterness – it’s not me, it’s the system.

The trick is to understand the rules of the game, learn to love it and play your heart out.

You need to analyse the competencies these firms look for and understand them to a degree that arguably some senior executives don’t even appreciate so that you can communicate your experiences in a manner that is easy to understand and clearly exhibits those sought-after positive traits. That means breaking down a skill like organisation for instance into various components (planning, managing multiple tasks, prioritising) and selecting appropriate examples which can then be kitted out with all the language and structure needed to ‘idiot-proof’ your answers.

[Interviewers are not idiots]

And so, there are two tasks here, firstly know what questions you’re going to be asked then secondly, formulate and practice the best possible structured answers.

Check out Understanding Competencies and Competency Questions from the menu where you can find a list of common competencies and understand their components. Eventually I’ll aim to align the competencies and specific questions to specific consultancies.

More Excellent Resources:

WikiJob: What is a competency Based Interview? More details on Qs and Techniques


One response to “(In)Competency Qs

  1. I know exactly what you mean when you mention how mechanical some interviewers are and especially if it’s a phone interview. On so many occasions, I’m asked a competency question and end up talking for 3-4mins with absolutely no response from the interviewer, not so much as a “uh huh”. Then they simply move on to the next question and you have no idea if your answer was satisfactory. I had an interview with Fujitsu a while back and it was the best interview experience of my life, it really did feel like a conversation, the follow up questions were brilliant and I was 110% confident of my answers and I passed with flying colours. But I will say that preparation is key to the competency interview and have had numerous questions that were posted on wikijob by other candidates.

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