Alternatives to using Competency Based Interview Questions


As we eluded to in our recent blog Competency Based Interview Questions, here at Artemis Clarke we’re not big fans of these types of questions. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time or a place for testing how people will respond in certain circumstances, it’s just that asking for historic examples can favour people with good memories and those who can sell themselves well. Instead, perhaps consider some of these alternatives:

Role Play

In certain jobs it is critical to understand how people will react to challenging situations. For example if you are recruiting for a customer services representative then testing how a candidate would handle a tricky customer would be an obvious choice. Although it may seem slightly staged, structuring their reaction through role play (rather than just asking the question “How would you deal with an irate customer?”) often works very well. People’s behavior can be markedly different if they are being shouted at or feel threatened and in jobs where this is a strong possibility then it is important to understand whether your potential new employee is likely to be able to handle such situations.

Role play could also be used to test managerial qualities, for example asking the candidate to deal with a member of staff who is consistently late or is underperforming generally. By structuring it through role play you are more likely to be able to assess someone’s emotional intelligence (EQ) than just asking for a theoretical answer.


Presentations are commonly used for more senior placements but don’t overlook using these for junior roles as well. Unless the role will require a confident presenter from the start, it’s more important to focus on what the candidate says rather than how it is delivered. For example you could ask them to talk about their three key values or at a more senior level you could ask them to present back their SWOT analysis on the business. This should provide a good understanding of cultural fit and strategic thinking, respectively. It will also give you a good insight into how much they have prepared for the interview and how serious they are about getting the job.


Business problem – ask for solution

A good way to test your candidate’s technical ability is to ask them to address an existing problem within your business (in advance of the interview). This will give a great insight into whether they have the skills/ knowledge for the role and potentially provide some useful business advice.


Finance specific tests

When recruiting a finance professional you are likely to require a candidate who has strong excel skills. Creating a test that checks whether they can do V-Lookups, Pivot tables etc would be a good way of assessing this, plus you can gauge how quickly they work, whether they are good problem solvers and whether they work well under pressure.


For a management accountant role you could ask them to review and comment on a set of management accounts containing deliberate errors or unexplained variances. Additionally you could ask them to produce a new budget based on prior year with some additional commentary about the business.


Technical questions such as tell me the double entry for …. or explain depreciation/VAT/ prepayments to a non-finance expert are always good to throw in as well 😉


Other tests

Prioritization tasks are really good to use if the candidate is going to have some autonomy and be under pressure to get the job done. As such tasks will involve a degree of judgment it is best to talk through their answers rather than just marking in isolation.


Drafting letters/ emails in response to a client would be another good thing to assess if this will be required within the role. A candidate who consistently makes mistakes and uses poor English will not present the company in the best light externally.


Personality profiling such as DISC and McQuaig can also be used to assess the candidate’s cultural fit with the business. For more senior roles where an in depth assessment is required, then perhaps consider a trained psychologist such as Caroline Gourlay. Caroline will be doing a guest blog next month to explain her work and how to avoid hiring an office psychopath!


Recruiting staff can be a time consuming and costly process and one that is best to get right first time. Using a combination of structured questions (which we will cover in a separate blog) together with job specific tests and personality profiling we believe you are likely to maximize your chances of success. (BTW if you would like help with the finance specific tests, this is something we include within our standard service).



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