All You Need to Know About Competency Based Interview Questions

All You Need to Know About Competency Based Interview Questions
Posted: Nov 2019

Common interview questions and how to answer them. How to become an expert in competency-based interview questions

Nothing is guaranteed to strike more fear into the heart of the candidate as those that relate to competency, which in an interview situation are commonly disguised as ‘the scenario question’.

You know the ones. Open ended “tell me about a situation where you have….” questions. They’re questions, usually posed or forwarded by savvy HR managers, and are designed to show core competencies rather than technical knowledge. And there’s the rub. Whilst they may seem rather innocuous, they’re intended to demonstrate how you performed (or didn’t perform) in a crisis or challenging situation. For the unprepared candidate, the capacity for trip ups is huge – even for the most experienced PR professional.

However, by anticipating any of the questions below (or variations on a theme), and having the answers up your sleeve, the scenario or competency question can actually be a power for good: a platform from which a candidate can show themselves off in the best light.

It may seem obvious advice, but listen to the question – really listen, and, using the examples you’ve prepared pre-interview, answer accordingly. Don’t rush. Take your time to answer. But by breaking the open-ended question down into four components: ‘aim’, ‘execution’, ‘results’ and ‘evaluation’, the competency based question can actually provide you with some structure to what could other-wise be a very open ended question.

Here are a few examples in our ‘rogues gallery’ of scenario questions. As with every interview question, being able to provide measurable statistics or markers with regards to evaluation will earn you valuable brownie points in the eyes of the interviewer. Think ahead and think SMART.

  • Describe a situation where you have renegotiated an increase in fees with a client. How did you justify this?
  • Describe an example of how you influenced senior management to implement one of your own ideas. How did you validate that this idea could improve business performance?
  • Describe how your team has developed through your leadership. How did they change?
  • Describe a situation where you have given negative feedback to someone more junior than you and someone more senior than you.
  • Describe a situation where there was very little possibility to motivate a team you managed, perhaps no pay rises for over a year, or no bonuses for example. How did you overcome these challenges – and how do you know those measures worked?
  • Describe a situation that you have dealt with where there was an underperforming member in your team.
  • What is the biggest ‘crisis’ situation you’ve dealt with and how did you tackle it? What were the specific challenges you had to overcome, internally and externally? What went well? With the benefit of hindsight, what could you have done better?

Whether you love them or loathe them, one thing is certain - competency based questions WILL get asked. You just have to be ready for them.

The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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