Understanding Competencies

Before I delve into the competencies and specific questions, I think it worthwhile to consider what competencies really are and consequently explore what conceptually makes a potentially strong management consultant. For this, I draw on the work of Richard Boyatzis, a leading expert in the field of emotional intelligence and leadership development.

The definition of a competency (Boyatzis 1982): “A capacity that exists in a person that leads to behaviour that meets the job demands within parameters of organizational environment, and that, in turn brings about desired results”


Now lets look at a set of competencies for strong management that Boyatzis identifies. As you read through the broken down concepts, it quickly becomes clear that these traits clearly resemble the demands placed on graduate consultants within many prestigious firms:

1.Efficiency orientation
Focusing on objectives, tasks and achievements. Setting challenging goals and supporting appropriate planning. Facilitating overcoming of obstacles. Encouraging people to act in this way. [Results Oriented]

2.Concern with impact
Demonstrating a significant interest in power and its symbols. Use of power-oriented behavior such as using various methods of influence, seeking positions of power, etc. [Sounds like ambition and commitment to career]

Showing a strong belief in individual self-control and self-driven action. Acting without waiting for full agreement or authorization. Taking responsibility for actions. Acting to dissuade defensive and risk-averse behavior.

Showing belief in self, values and ideas. Able to talk decisively and take confident and decisive action. Communicating this self-confidence to others and hence instilling confidence in them.

5.Oral presentation skill
Able to speak well, using effective language, modes of speech and body language. Uses effective symbolism and metaphor in words and actions. Appropriate use of visual aids.

Uses inductive reasoning to identify patterns and relationships. Able to create models and symbols to communicate these concepts. Uses synthetic and creative thinking to develop further ideas and solutions. [Sounds like Analytical skills]

7.Diagnostic use of concepts

Able to use deductive reasoning to convert models and ideas into specific instances and possibilities. Concepts are turned into practical and useful tools. [Creative yet practical problem solving]

8.Use of socialized power

Developing networks and hierarchies of people and mobilizing them to achieve specific ends. Acts as a person in the middle to resolve conflicts and bring people together. [Networking]

9.Managing group processes
Building the identity of groups and people in them. Building common goals and objectives. Developing group roles. Creating ways of working together and facilitating teamwork. [Teamwork]

As a consultant, you will most certainly be working in teams dealing with people; you will also be working independently focused on tasks using your own initiative and shouldering responsibility to get things done on time; you will need to overcome obstacles with strong adaptability and problem-solving skills; you will be a part of meetings where you may have to present reports and updates; and finally, you will need to develop relationships with people that you can later leverage to achieve business goals.

To aid our understanding a bit further here’s a colourful diagram:

Now, there are two further competencies not yet noted that are specific to consulting:

10.Commercial awareness
Demonstrating a passion for the business. Knowing what the company does: services, clients, values and achievements. Showing awareness of business issues and pertinent trends within the industry by using a variety of resources to remain up-to-date with market developments.

11.Client focus/ customer service
Developing strong client relationships built on trust, integrity and credibility. Providing exceptional customer service going beyond what is merely expected in order to satisfy clients/ customers/ stakeholders.


Right, so we have some core competencies that firms like KPMG, PwC and Accenture will be looking to identify in prospective graduate consultants. All of these competencies are comprised of various components which then complicates things somewhat. Furthermore, companies may mix and match and divide competencies to focus on their particular style.  But before we get into the specific questions you might expect to be faced with, lets get the concept completed and talk a little about how to formulate an answer. This may be boring for some – just skip onto the questions page.

The competent competency interviewer’s competency based interview questions will be generally phrased thus:

Tell me about a time when…..[insert relevant competency, eg. you worked as part of a successful team]’

Give me an example where you….[solved a problem]’

In order to answer these questions effectively, make sure you understand what competency the interviewer is addressing and what component skills and behaviours make up that competency.  For example, solving a problem may be very simple but if you look back to competencies 6 and 7 you can see that you’re going to need to fit in a fair bit of info to satisfy this question as it involves:

  • detailing the problem
  • explaining how you approached/ analysed it and broke it down
  • what resources did you use to help formulate effective solutions
  • how did you select the most appropriate solution
  • how did you implement it
  • what were the results

A good interviewer will structure this conversationally, so you can break your answer up and be receptive to probing questions. A bad/ less competent interviewer will need you to do most of the structuring. Therefore, you have to be concise yet forthcoming with the info to make sure to give your best.

Apply this technique of breaking down competencies into their components in order to select the strongest examples from your experience to fit the questions. This will help when structuring as well.

So, advice on STRUCTURE:

Andy you’re a S.T.A.R. – Situation. Task. Actions. Results

Explain the context, make sure there’s a clear goal, detail the actions the team but more importantly YOU took, and end with the results. Simple.

I’m sure there are other acronyms but essentially they’re all the same.

And that’s that. For now. Head on to the competency questions section for further advice.

2 responses to “Understanding Competencies

  1. Pingback: The Ultimate 10-point Strategy « Consultinggrad

  2. Pingback: The Ultimate 10-point Strategy

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