Interviewing is a two-way process. The interviewer wants to find out if you have the skills, experience and attitude required to perform well in the role and you want convince the interviewer that you are the right candidate. Sometimes, interviews are so informal they amount to little more than a chat. 

One more structured type of interview is a “competency based” interview. The employer decides which skills (or competencies) are required for the role. Questions are then designed specifically to invite the candidates to give examples of times when they have displayed those skills or competencies.

A competency is defined as: ‘A skill, knowledge, ability or behavioural characteristic that is associated with superior performance.'

All competencies should be:

  •      Observable
  •      Measurable
  •      Linked to job requirements
  •      Linked to the assessment strategy and business needs
  •      Future-oriented
  •      Based on strong performance

How Competency Based Interviews Work

The interview will be more systematic than a biographical interview where all the questions relate to your previous employment or education. Each question will target a specific skill or competency. Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they then need to back up with concrete examples. The interviewers will then dig further into the examples by asking for specific explanations about the candidate's behaviour or skills.

How to answer a CBI question

Prepare, prepare, prepare! This may sound simple but you must prepare fully for your interview and specifically look at how you would answer the competency questions. You will not know the exact format of the questions that you will be asked but by studying the job advert or specification you will be able to get an idea of the questions you are likely to encounter. For example, if the job advert says you need ‘excellent communication skills’ then it would be fair to assume that your communication skills will be investigated during the CBI.

To help you structure your answer, you should follow the “STAR” model:

  • Situation - Describe the situation or the problem you had to deal with
  • Task - Describe the task that the situation required
  • Action - Describe the action you took and the obstacles that you had to overcome
  • Result - Describe the end results emphasising the positive outcome

Situation / Task

Describe the situation that you were confronted with or the task that needed to be accomplished. With the STAR approach you need to set the context. Make it concise and informative, concentrating solely on what is useful to the story. For example, if the question is asking you to describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult person, explain how you came to meet that person and why they were being difficult. If the question is asking for an example of teamwork, explain the task that you had to undertake as a team.


This is the most important section of the STAR approach as it is where you will need to demonstrate and highlight the skills and personal attributes that the question is testing. Now that you have set the context of your story, you need to explain what you did. In doing so, you will need to remember the following:

  • Be personal, i.e. talk about yourself, not the rest of the team. Always start with "I did ..."
  • Go into some detail. Do not assume that they will guess what you mean.
  • Steer clear of technical information, unless it is crucial to your story.
  • Explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.


Explain what happened eventually – how it all ended. Also, use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and what you learned in that situation. This helps you make the answer personal and enables you to highlight further skills.

This is probably the most crucial part of your answer. Interviewers want to know that you are using a variety of generic skills in order to achieve your objectives. Therefore you must be able to demonstrate in your answer that you were taking specific actions because you are trying to achieve a specific objective.


Let’s take the example of Customer Focus.

Definition: Individuals who display this competency understand and believe in the importance of customer focus. They listen to and understand the needs of customers and meet and exceed their needs to ensure satisfaction.

The interviewer might ask you,

“Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a very angry customer. What was the situation? Why had it happened? What did you do? How was the situation resolved?”

They are looking for a specific example of a situation you have actually dealt with in the past. You should not generalise. Don’t say “Oh, it happens all the time.” Tell the interviewer about one occasion when you dealt with a customer complaint and brought it to a satisfactory conclusion.

Good luck!

Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you wish you can restrict or block cookies by changing your browser setting. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website.