Competency Based Interview Questions

Star - Glen Carrie photo



In our recent blog Job Interviews – It’s all in the preparation we spoke about the importance of preparing for different interview questions and in particular for Competency Based Questions.

Now whilst we’re not massive fans of these types of questions (because they largely test your memory rather than your ability and also favour people who are good at selling themselves), many companies still like to use them. It is therefore really important to prepare answers to some of the most common ones, especially if your mind goes blank when put on the spot.

Typical questions include:

Tell me about a time when you have:

-dealt with conflict?

-gone above and beyond?

-thought outside the box to resolve a problem?

-brought together a number of people to work as a team?

-had conflicting priorities – how did you deal with them?

-improved a system or process?

It’s useful to remember the STAR approach when answering such questions:

  • Situation (describe the situation you were in)
  • Task (explain the task given to you)
  • Action (explain what you actually did)
  • Result (describe what happened as a result of your actions)


The following example illustrates a possible answer to the question:

Give me an example of when you have gone above and beyond what was asked of you?”


As a first year audit assistant I was asked to do a stock take on a Saturday at one of our clients manufacturing depots (Situation).

I was asked to do spot checks on the client’s stock counting and pay particular attention to some items that were in the course of being constructed (Task).

I noticed that the paperwork indicated two assets that were in the course of being constructed but could only see one item in the depot.  I queried with the site manager where the other item was and upon further investigation it turned out that only one asset had been constructed and the other hadn’t even been started. I took photos of the one that had been started and made notes about how complete the site manager thought it was (Action).

I didn’t think that I had done anything remarkable with my actions, but it turns out that this was a material and contentious item within the client’s accounts and so my thoroughness (rather than just noting down there was only 1 item instead of 2) resulted in the client’s statutory accounts being amended to reflect the correct position. This potentially prevented any reputational damage to the firm had the accounts ever been contested. In addition the manager rewarded me with a special recognition form, which contributed to my rating as “outstanding” at the end of the year. (Result).

By thinking about how you can answer such questions you can also drop in a few additional pieces of information that may not naturally come up in conversation. For example, in the above answer the candidate was able to mention that they had been rated as outstanding in their first year and also showed an appreciation of the concept of materiality and reputational risk to the firm.

We recommend to our candidates to prepare for a handful of questions such as these and if you’re worried about not being able to remember them it’s good to practice with a friend or family member beforehand. There are no right or wrong answers but having thought about what you’re going to say should greatly enhance your chances of success on the big day.

Photo – courtesy of Glen Carrie/ Unsplash


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