Answering competency-based interview questions – it just takes a couple of good stories

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One of the most important parts of any recruitment process is, as you already know, the interview.

You’ve already wowed the recruitment team with your finance skills. The interview is now your opportunity to demonstrate your personality and outlook as a senior member of the finance team. It is often the later stages of the recruitment process and can make or break your application.

Some parts of an interview are more straightforward (and possibly even enjoyable!) If you are like most candidates, you probably don’t relish the thought of answering those pesky competency-based interview questions. Questions such as: “What is your worst trait?”; “How did you resolve a recent challenge?” etc. All questions that can cause your blood to run cold. Especially if the interviewer is asking you a question that you’ve never considered before!

Competency-based interview questions aren’t a trick

From the interviewer’s point of view, those questions aren’t designed to trip you up. Instead, they are key for helping them dive deep and find out what makes you tick. What makes you happy at work. What you need to thrive in a role. We understand that those questions can be tricky but seeing how you handle such a question is a key part of most recruitment processes!

Of course, you can’t prepare for every single question that you are asked, no matter how much information you receive prior to your interview. You’ve already got plenty of experiences that you can draw upon in your career thus far. You can use these to identify a couple of scenarios, ready to offer up when you are asked a competency-based question. Think ahead, and revisit those stories that demonstrate an important moment in your work history. This can be the difference between making a great impression, and barely making an impression at all.

A work story that doubles as an excellent response to a competency-based interview question.

To highlight what we mean, this scenario from Kate (founder of Artemis Clarke) could be used to answer quite a range of competency-based questions in an interview, even though it was one event.

When Kate was on secondment with her accountancy practice in Australia, there was a member of staff who had a tendency to treat certain colleagues differently. It appeared to Kate that those who were not favourites often felt offended or upset by the behaviour of this one individual. And even though Kate was not being treated unfairly, she could not tolerate how it was impacting her colleagues.

Kate arranged a conversation with the Managing Partner and diplomatically explained the situation to him, demonstrating how certain members of staff were being treated differently. You can imagine what a tricky conversation that would have been, especially as Kate was new to the office in Australia! However, Kate felt so strongly that poor behaviour was unacceptable she took action to resolve the situation for her colleagues.

At this point, it’s worth noting that in order for Kate to secure a secondment to Australia with her accountancy practice, she had needed to put on hold her recent promotion to manager. Don’t worry; it had nothing to do with Kate’s ability. Rather, she and her husband had wanted to work in Australia together. There hadn’t been a business case to send both over as managers, so Kate had agreed to drop a rank for the duration to secure the secondment.

A great result.

The great result of this story isn’t just the fact that the Managing Partner dealt with the issue and there was a noticeable improvement in the behaviour of the individual concerned, (although that was a very satisfying outcome for Kate). The Managing Partner was impressed with Kate’s determination to resolve the issue. He could understand why the UK partners had wanted to keep her within the firm. Soon after she was re-promoted back to manager for the rest of her secondment.

A good result all round, I’m sure you’ll agree. It is a great story to have at the ready for when a tricky competency-based interview question pops up (although we’re hoping Kate won’t be applying for a new role any time soon!)

One workplace scenario – many competencies!

This one scenario provides a great answer for any number of competency-based interview questions. Questions such as: “When did you have to deal with a tricky situation?”; “How have you handled unacceptable behaviour in the workplace?; “Can you give an example of an awkward conversation?”; “Can you demonstrate a time when your values/ethics were important in your work?”; “How have you demonstrated leadership?”

The list is almost endless, but all are potentially the types of questions an interviewer will ask a candidate for a Finance Director, Head of Finance or other senior finance professional role. So, whilst this exact scenario is unlikely to have happened to you, it does at least give you an example of how just one story can be adapted to answer a multitude of questions.

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