Competency-Based Interviews & Selection Tests

You’ll often come across competency-based selection methods in the recruitment process. These operate on the premise that past behaviour is a good basis for predicting future behaviour, and take the form of competency-based questions that are asked verbally during the interview, or during a written competency-based selection test.

Both methods have a single goal: to find evidence of the skills required, based on your performance in previous jobs. Most questions would normally start with an invitation to describe a situation where you needed to use a certain skill and usually begin with “Give me an example”, “Describe a situation”, or “Tell me about a time when you…”

Competency-based interviews are becoming more common in the UK and across Europe, particularly by larger organisations and accountancy firms. Although they are not as widespread as they are within the United States.

Objectives of competency-based interviews

One of the main reasons why employers use competency-based interviews is that they want to focus on actual performance. The interviewer aims to deduce how you respond to certain situations that are likely to arise in your job, based on your previous experiences.

If you are faced with a competency-based question during an interview, it is important that you avoid general statements. Such questions are designed to ask for actual evidence of a specific trait or of performance, and if the employer does not find these, they will continue by asking further questions. You should also avoid theoretical responses; competency-based interviews focus on actual experiences in which you have performed or exhibited the desired trait.

Different types of competencies

Types of competencies that employers seek include:

  • Communication skills – Most managers spend over 75 percent of their time communicating, particularly as the workplace becomes more global, with teams spread across the globe. In order to make a positive impression, try to be as clear and concise as possible during the interview, and always observe proper tone and pacing to enhance the communication
  • Clarity of thought and decision making skills – With an interview question dealing with decision-making skills you will need to describe how you arrived at a decision including certain steps such as identifying the root problem, collecting and summarising data, generation of possible options and making the final choice. The interviewer is likely to be more interested in how you go about making decisions, rather than the final outcome. The way you approach the process is a good indicator of your capability of successfully solving it
  • Problem-solving skills – Many competency-based interviews and selection tests focus on applicants’ problem-solving, analytical, and critical thinking skills. Again, the interviewer won’t necessarily want to know the outcome, but rather the right approach
  • Planning and organisation – In response to questions about your project management experience, you can give examples of how you planned a project in your previous role. It’s important to provide details of both the planning and the execution elements, and the overall success of the project.
  • Teamwork – Those applying for team-based positions are likely to be asked about their teamwork competencies and ability to work well with other people. Therefore, sharing team working experiences and the outcomes will help give your interviewer more confidence in your ability to collaborate with others
  • Leadership skills -When asked to describe a situation highlighting your leadership skills, be careful to give examples in which you were able to persuade and motivate team members or you were able to clarify problems and make the right decisions.  It is also important to emphasise your ability or experience in delegating tasks
  • Negotiating and Persuasion Skills – Persuasion refers to one’s ability to convince other people to take the desired action. Negotiating, on the other hand, is the ability to discuss with other people until a mutually beneficial agreement is reached.

Preparing for competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviews and selection tests are also called skills-based recruitment or behavioural interviews. Before the interview, determine what kind of selection process your prospective employer uses, so you can prepare accordingly. Preparation for a competency-based interview could include the following:

  • Do your research on the company and role, to identify the skills and competencies that they are most likely to require
  • Prepare examples of when you were able to use these competencies successfully. Your examples should be as recent as possible
  • Before the interview, make a list of all your attributes and apply them to real-life situations where you were able to exhibit those attributes.

Preparing for selection testing

Selection testing refers to the method of recruitment in which applicants are asked to take tests, such as personality, ability or aptitude tests.

  • Personality tests – Personality tests will ask you about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. The reason why these are part of selection testing is that your personality will play a huge role in determining whether you are a right fit for the role, the team, and the organisational culture. It also gives clues about the general attitude and work style. There are no right or wrong answers in personality tests, as everybody is different. You should, therefore, answer the questions as naturally as possible without thinking about what answer the company is looking for. If you try to trick the system, the result is likely to come out as inconclusive, so it is far better, to be honest.
  • Ability and aptitude tests – These are designed to evaluate an aspect of your intellect, such as reasoning (verbal, numeric, spatial, mechanical and abstract), data checking and work sampling. Many sample tests are available online, and it’s recommended you take practice tests if you know or anticipate that these will be included in your interview. The best way to prepare for these is through practice.

If you’re looking for your next challenge in finance or audit:

Send Us Your CV, or Search Jobs to find out about the roles we currently have available.

Our Renaix Guide to Recruitment for Audit and Finance Professionals provides information on trends in the industry.

Similar posts: Interview Help, Accounting & Finance, Recruitment For Audit & Finance Professionals

Job Seekers

On the hunt for your next role? Upload your CV below and we’ll be in touch to discuss your requirements.


For employers seeking the right skills and cultural fit for your business, send us your vacancy to find out more about how we can help.

Submit CV Send Us Your Vacancy

Search Jobs