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Before meeting with Tui, I lacked the confidence and skills for job search. Tui helped me to think about what I could do to build my confidence and together we came up with a plan that worked for me. Without the help from Tui I would have never got to where I am now and that is employed in the job I wanted.

Annette, Adult Job Seeker

What is a Competency-Based Interview?


People come to me and ask if I can coach them on how to answer competency-based questions using the STAR Model. They have usually gone into an interview unprepared and been sent away to practice, or the application process has specified the need to prepare for a competency-based interview using the STAR Model.

Competency-based interviews (also referred to as behavioural or situational interviews) are designed to measure work habits, skills, knowledge and behaviours you employ to manage a specific situation, problem or task at work. Competencies are made up of these measures.

Interviewers want you to provide specific examples of how you have demonstrated key competencies in the past. The theory behind competency-based interviews is “past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour”.

A competency-based question is typically framed in this way....

  • Tell us about a time when....
  • Give us an example of when...
  • Describe a time when...

However, a competency-based question can also be framed in this way...

  • Have you ever had a communication breakdown?
  • How did you deal with that?


What is the STAR Model?

What the letters in the STAR Model stand for:

S  - Situation

T - Tasks to action or solve

A - Actions taken

R - Results of your actions


The idea is that you construct or frame up your responses to competency-based questions using the STAR model. If you fail to cover any one of the STAR model parts, your answers to these types of questions will lack in quality.

Preparing for competency-based interviews:

Identify key competencies by reading the job description. If key competencies are not clear, consider the skills and behaviours that are likely to be assessed.

Choose your strongest achievements as evidence for each key competency area. Use examples that are positive and reflect a high level of competence.

Use the STAR model to frame your responses to these questions and use positive and concise language.

Use the examples provided below as a guide to writing your own responses to competency-based questions and also practise verbalising these.

The STAR Model

Construct your responses to competency-based questions using the STAR model. This model will help you to frame your answers to questions asked in a competency-based interview.

Use positive examples from past experiences and try to provide answers that are at least 1.5 to 2 minutes long.

The clue that you are being asked a competency-based question is the request of an example from past experiences.

Common Interview Questions do not ask for examples and it is important that you prepare for these types of questions as well.

A few examples of common interview questions:-

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Tell us about yourself?
  • What are your strengths?

How to structure your answers to interview qustions using the STAR model

Situation & Task:

What specific situation, task or problem example will you use to answer the competency-based question?

Describe the situation by outlining the scene in detail in order to give your listeners a mental picture of what was happening, including the task or problem you set out to achieve or resolve. Provide specific information about the situation.


Actions Taken:

What actions did you take and what decisions did you make to manage the situation, to achieve the task set or to solve the problem?

Describe specific actions you took to achieve great results in relation to the situation, task or problem in question. This is where you highlight the skills, strength of character and knowledge used to effectively manage the situation.



What were the results of your actions and decisions? How did it benefit your team, department and organisation? What did you learn? What was accomplished?

Describe the end results of your actions; the outcomes of the situation. This is where you outline what was accomplished; the learning gained and benefits to all.


  • Always use the word ‘I’ and not ‘we’ when describing the situation, tasks, actions and results.
  • Use real examples, not made up one’s
  • Use positive language and avoid using words like ‘would’, ‘could’ or ‘should’!
  • Do not expect the interviewers to know the products, procedures, systems and structure of your employing organisation, make sure you provide concise explanations of the situation, tasks, actions and results.

Examples of Competency-Based Questions & Answers

Question (Problem Solving – Managing Conflict): 'Tell me about a time when you had to intervene with staff members not working well together on a project or as part of a team.'

Situation to be managed...

'I was managing a team of five marketing staff who normally work on separate accounts, but needed to work as a group for a national launch of the company's major new product. When a critical deadline was not met, I realised that 2 staff members who were allocated to work together on a key task hadn't spoken to each other for over a year. They were refusing to exchange vital information and were creating a lot of tension in the team.

Task or problem to be solved...'It was my responsibility to get the product ready for launch, so I had to do something about this staff conflict immediately.'


Actions taken and decisions made...

 'As the revised deadline was only 24 hours away, I called a quick staff meeting and assigned critical tasks to two staff members who worked well together. I also gave the staff members in conflict separate tasks which I knew they could do without collaboration, and made an appointment to meet with each of them after the project launch.' 


Results of actions taken and decisions made...

 “The critical tasks were achieved by the next deadline, tension in the group eased, the total launch was a success and all staff knew that there was a plan in place to address conflict between the team members in question.

Question (Customer Satisfaction): ‘Tell us about a time when you really made a difference for a customer’

Situation .... 

A teaching graduate came to me for help with her C.V. (Curriculum Vitae). She had applied for first time teaching jobs over a period of 2 months and was unsuccessful in obtaining an interview for any of the 10 jobs she had applied for. She also appeared to be downhearted about the prospects of a career in teaching.

Task to be achieved...She asked me to do an appraisal of her CV and provide feedback on why her CV is not getting her into the interview room. She also asked for me to provide advice on what she would need to do with the C.V. to ensure that she gets interview offers.


Actions taken...

I provided an appraisal of her CV and made recommendations including the need to carry out a complete redesign of the CV and the reasons why, such as typing errors, use of long narrative and failure to include teaching practicum, strengths and any achievements. We discussed some good examples of strengths and achievements she could use and the fact that she had been given a lot of positive feedback from her teaching practicum and that this was great information to put into her CV.

I showed her how to layout information in a CV format i.e. use of bullet points, headings and sub headings, and spacing. I also talked to her about the need for clear and concise written communications in a CV. My client decided to employ my services as a professional CV Writer and asked me to design the CV for her.


Results of actions taken... 

My client was offered an interview for the first 3 applications submitted using the redesigned CV. She was absolutely thrilled with the results and sang my praises to whanau and friends resulting in continued referrals.

Feedback from prospective employers on why they gave her an interview also proved that the  C.V content and layout worked well for her by presenting  her strengths and ‘competitive edge’ over other teaching graduates i.e. her ability to integrate Te Reo Maori, Music and Performing Arts into various curricu

Consider experiences from your work, learning, family and community life to illustrate a number of important competencies.

EXAMPLES of Competency-Based Interview Questions

Teamwork/Interpersonal Relationships

  • Provide an example of when you contributed to teamwork.
  • Tell us about a time when you worked with a difficult person.
  • Give us an example of when you had to use tact and diplomacy.

Communication Skills

  • Tell us about a time when you had to communicate important information to a person or group.
  • Give an example of working with people from different cultures.
  • Have you ever had a communication breakdown? How do you deal with that?

 Self Management

  • Tell us about a time when you had a heavy workload and what you did to manage this?
  • Tell us about any professional development or learning plans you are considering?
  • What personal or professional development have you done in the last two years and why?

Organisational Fit

  • Give us an example of your experience of good or bad leadership.
  • Tell us about a time when you initiated an improvement.
  • Provide an example of how you have managed stress?
  • Tell us how you have upheld an organisation’s values?

Leadership & Influence

  • Describe a time when you led or motivated others.
  • Tell us about an influential person or event in your life.
  • Give us an example of when you managed a poor performing staff member or team.

Customer Service

  • Tell us about a time when you had to serve a difficult or angry customer.
  • Give us an example of when you really made a difference in customer service.
  • Describe a time when you served or helped customers of a different culture than yours.


Organisations will often have a competency ranking scale e.g.

Significantly exceeds criteria (much more than acceptable)


Exceeds criteria (more than acceptable)


Meets criteria (acceptable)


Does not meet criteria (less than acceptable)


Significant below criteria (much less than acceptable)


Table adapted from Kessler, R., (2006), Competency-Based Interviews, The Career Press Inc.

©2011 Competency-Based Interviews by Tui Needham, Strategic Career Services


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