Understanding Competency Based Interviews and how to prepare.

Aerial view of forest with green trees by one yellow

I’m Martin Cunningham and I qualified as a competency-based interview assessor over 25 years ago and have taught, coached and mentored throughout that time.

I was seconded by the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) in EU post conflict missions and led the Rule of Law capacity building pillars within EULEX Kosovo, (the largest EU civilian crisis mission in the world), working with Ministers of Justice and Interior, and where I also coached and mentored a number of senior Police, Customs and Correctional officers, at the executive level. I also trained Afghan Police Commanders in leadership, Command, control and risk-based decision making.

Having retired from the police and having left the EU mission work post BREXIT I have been approached by many to support them in their career development, with special focus on Interview preparation. Witnessing my clients successes, I decided that this is a great way to involve myself in helping others achieve their dream roles through career coaching, executive coaching and interview preparation.

Hence, I thought its only appropriate to share some of my insights regarding competency-based interviews with you all:

Most areas of the multilateral sector, where organisations are formed between three or more nations to work on issues that relate to all of the countries in the organisation, such as: the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); United Nations (UN); European Union (EU) and World Health Organisation (WHO) missions, together with many other national and international agencies or organisations from the governmental, private and none profit making sectors use competency interviewing to assess the potential and suitability of candidates for many, if not most positions. Many compete for positions are required to interview in their second language. I help a number of clients whose second language is English, prepare for English Language, Competency-Based interviews.

I have sat through so many assessments and interviews from both sides of the table and what is clear is that it is an eroding skill set, mainly because on securing a secures a position the successful candidate does not often rush off to be interviewed immediately and even those who assess, they will admit, it is a totally different experience on the other side of the table, computer or phone line.

Whilst there is a plethora of generic guidance out there, to secure that dream job your preparation must be tailored to the location, organisation and the specific competencies for the role. That is what I did and still do for my clients but as that is impossible to achieve in a short blog, I will focus on some generic tips how to prepare properly for a competency-based interview.

First and foremost, do not waste time bemoaning how unrealistic it might be or how it does not give you the time to explain this or that. If you do this, you are wasting energy. As with any test, say a driving test, there are a number of things you have to show you can do and you follow the system laid down, if you do not, you fail.

TIP 1: 

Accept the reality, the assessments are how the organisation say the assessments will be and, you fighting that before you secure the job is a battle you have already lost.

Probably be useful if I discuss a little about the thinking behind why so many organisations employ competency interviews:

Basically, the theory behind it is that if you can demonstrate that you have successfully demonstrated the competency in the past, there is a strong likelihood that you’ll be able to

repeat that success in the new role.

There has been research on this, though I accept there has been other academic studies that question the reliability of all forms of assessment and no system is perfect, remember if you are already focusing on why any aspect of the process is nonsense you have already put yourself behind the competition, and that competition is you and your approach to preparing for the interview.

This brings me onto the next issue many people have when preparing for interviews, they often think about who else is being interviewed… Don’t stress about that, it is wasted energy, focus on you!

TIP 2: 

Do not waste energy on your competition, focus on you!

Now, why the researchers suggest competency-based assessment provides a reasonable indicator of future behaviour and performance:

Competency-based interviewing establishes a reasonably strong predictor of future performance. The optimal predictor involves a trial period such as apprenticeships, internships, trial periods as a trainee, etc. as one can imagine assessing staff in the workplace, whilst optimal would be cost and time prohibitive. Therefore, most of the questions posed in a competency interview tend to be based on past experience, so it’ll be a question such as, ‘Tell me about a time when you….. ‘

A good panel focuses on ensuring each candidate has the opportunity to give the best of themselves, whilst ensuring the questioning is fair for all candidates and they are all assessed against the same criteria. They will be probing and delving and trying to get to the bottom of what your role was in that in that particular team now in preparing for a competency interview. But your role is key, you have to sell yourself within the competency framework. The more successful candidates give a whole answer and a concise and structured manner.

Most assessors will normally look to the job description and the role requirement. There will therefore be strong clues in those documents. It is where any preparation of yours should commence.

TIP 3: 

Always save the vacancy notice and any details you have placed on an application, including your cv, when you apply for the position.

Go through the advert and ask yourself to provide two or three examples for each competency. Most employers have a competency framework. You should refer to that when writing your application and when preparing for interview.

Now Practice, Practice, Practice.

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