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How to answer competency based questions

17/09/2012
In my previous blog I mentioned how it is important to get ahead of the pack, and that graduate recruitment fairs should be on everyone’s list in order to achieve this.

A few months ago we attended the graduate recruitment fair at Manchester Central where we got to meet some of the 5000+ students in attendance, and met some fantastic potential candidates. We also went to the University of Southampton’s careers fair to speak to engineering and ISVR students. Both days were a resounding success, giving our Oil & Gas, Automotive, Power & Energy and Permanent teams an opportunity to meet face to face with future engineers. We were able to review CVs and answer industry-specific questions about finding your first role and some of the challenges involved in this.

One of the many questions asked that is worth answering in the blog, and will apply to a whole range of disciplines and sectors is;

“What is the best way to answer competency based question in application forms and interviews?”

Employers are inundated with very impressive academic qualifications on application forms, so they require a little bit more probing to identify the very best candidates. An effective tool for employers to use is competency / behavioural based question. These questions may change depending on the sector / specialism but they all follow the same pattern. An example question would be:

Planning & Organising – Give an example that illustrates the approach you take to organising the work of a team.

Employers will be looking at circumstance, behaviours and impact. When answering a competency question, it is important to use specific examples and to then give the situation context. Whether it is an application form or a face to face interview you need to be clear and concise and answer the question almost like a story. When you use an example, outline the problem and who was involved. Talk about the steps involved in resolving the problem and the positive outcome that resulted.

A model answer to the above question would be:

Whilst on my placement year with Car Engineering Ltd I was often charged with making sure the other students were up to speed with the project and always involved. An effective way of making sure everyone was clear on what was required for the project had been a regular team meeting. I had implemented a 15 minute morning meeting for everyone to get together, to discuss and make sure all the work was covered. As a result at the end of the placement the project was completed and successfully signed off. Everyone had a positive impact on the project and enjoyed completing it.

It demonstrates to the assessor that you are able to interact with a team, meet objectives and have an impact on the team situation. The same template can be applied to most competency type questions.

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