The Ultimate Guide To Preparing For A Competency-based Interview

Posted on Thursday, April 20, 2023 by Faye CoppNo comments

You’ve done it! You’ve been called in for an interview - all your hard work brushing up your CV and translating your military skills and experience has paid off. Now you just have to tackle the interview itself. The interview process can be daunting – especially if it is your first one since leaving the Armed Forces. It is normal to feel nervous before you interview, however, you can help to get your nerves under control by properly preparing yourself for the interview and planning answers to the questions that typically come up.

One of the most popular styles of interviewing is the competency interview. Competencies are the skills and knowledge that you possess. In this style of interview, employers will pose open questions in order to find out what skills you have and how you have effectively used them in the past. Employers will be looking to discover real-life scenarios that demonstrate your strengths, so it is important to properly plan and to prepare detailed answers to the most common competency-based interview questions to ensure that you show yourself off to your best advantage. 

Remember that an interview is not the time to be modest. It is your time to shine, so don’t undersell yourself or your skills or you will do yourself a disservice and it may well cost you landing the job. The interviewer will have no prior knowledge of your professional achievements so you will need to spell them out to them when you get into the interview. 


Specific competencies will vary depending on the job in question and the industry you’re aiming to work in. In order to find out the key skills that are required for the job, start by looking at the job ad. Read the job description and write down any keywords. These will be the competencies that the employer is looking for. If you are struggling to decode what the required competencies are then look at the bullet points – as a rule of thumb each bullet point will indicate a separate requirement. 

Remember that it’s unlikely that even a perfect candidate will tick all the boxes, so if you possess most of the skills on the list but not all of them then it’s still worth applying for the role. In this instance it’s worth doing a little extra research around the role. Research similar job descriptions and see if you match any additional competencies listed on those which you could highlight in the interview. 

Specific competencies aside, most jobs, regardless of the role and industry will require candidates to possess transferable soft skills. Here is a list of the key qualities that interviewers will be looking for: 

  1. Good communication skills

  2. Strong decision making skills

  3. Teamwork

  4. Leadership 

  5. Trustworthiness 

  6. Responsibility 

  7. Drive to achieve results 

  8. Problem solving 

  9. The ability to multitask

  10. Commitment to learning and improving professionally

As an ex-military candidate it is likely that you’ll already possess many of these qualities as you’ll have acquired many transferable hard and soft skills from your time in Service. As these competencies are what an employer will be looking for it’s crucial that you can talk about them in your interview. Doing this successfully depends on proper preparation. 


 One of the most common pitfalls when it comes to nailing competency interviews is a poorly constructed and unclear answer, or series of answers. If you’re unsure of your skills and value then the interviewer won’t be able to see it either. Take the time to understand what your strengths are before you walk into the interview and plan how you will convey them to the interviewer. It’s worth keeping in mind what your potential employer might be looking for in a candidate – these interviews are devised to see whether you possess the relevant qualities and qualifications for the role. 

To make sure each of your answers covers all bases it’s best to take a structured approach to your preparation. Try using the STAR interview technique. It will help you to focus your answers on what is relevant. This technique is based on the following components: 

  • Situation – where you were, what the scenario or problem was. 

  • Task - what you needed to accomplish / resolve. 

  • Action – what you did to achieve your goal or to solve the problem. 

  • Result – the outcome that your action achieved. 

The STAR technique helps you to set the scene, describe what you aimed to achieve and how you accomplished it as well as quantifying your success. Apply this technique to each of the common competency interview questions that we’ve listed below and you’ll be well on your way to acing your interview. 


Below is a list of the most common competency-based interview questions so that you can familiarise yourself with the format and prepare your answers ahead of time. We’ve included some tips on what interviewers are looking for from each question so you can frame and answer them according to your individual skills and experience:

1. Give an example of a time you handled conflict in the workplace

To answer this question successfully you need to demonstrate that you are diplomatic, adaptable and can diffuse conflict and tension while navigating differences of opinion. Increasingly, employers are looking for candidates with strong emotional intelligence and soft skills as they are more likely to work well as part of a team. Include examples that highlight how you were instrumental in resolving workplace issues. 

2. Give an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace, and how you overcame it

The key to getting this question right is to concentrate on your skills and abilities that enabled you to overcome a challenge or problem at work. Show how you worked out a solution to the problem and improved the situation. Demonstrate how you are reactive and can think on your feet, how good you are at handling pressure and highlight your ability to lead a team through difficult times. 

3. What is your biggest career achievement so far?

Interviewers ask this question to try to determine what your core values are, what your work ethic is like and how you achieve your workplace goals. Put together a few stories that illustrate your greatest achievements – if possible try to highlight skills that relate to the position that you are applying for – and tell the interviewer why you consider that particular accomplishment important. If your biggest achievement is related to your military life, use commercial references such as budget slashing, determination, commitment and team work to communicate all the associated positive aspects.

4. Tell me about a time that your communication skills improved a situation

Communication skills are an asset to any organisation no matter what job you do. For this question you’ll be assessed on your ability to communicate effectively and sensitively in a stressful and difficult situation. Use an appropriate work-related example, possibly entailing handling disgruntled customers or colleagues, and highlight how your excellent listening skills as well as your verbal communication skills resolved the issue. 

5. Give an example of change in the workplace and how you handled it

This question is a gift for military personnel. Due to the nature of military life you will have had to adapt and change countless times throughout your career. Pick an example where you enjoyed the change and your job and performance improved because of it. Explain how your flexibility and positive attitude directly contributed to the overall success of this situation. 

6. Give an example of a time you identified a new approach to a workplace problem

Good problem solving is fundamental to many roles. If you’re applying for a management position then it’s likely that you’ll need to prepare a strong answer to this question. Problems in the workplace occur all the time. They could be due to communication issues, computer problems or as a result of a database error - the list is endless. Come up with a list of options from your own experience and choose one great example that illustrates key skills such as analysis and innovation and use it to show how you think outside the box to resolve issues. 

7. Describe a time when you set yourself – and achieved – an important career goal 

A question of this nature is geared towards assessing your motivational competencies, such as energy, focus and initiative so make sure you underline your enthusiasm and drive. Talk about  your desire to continually learn and improve and mention any courses or further education that you took in order to achieve your goal. 

8. Tell me about a time you lead a team in your past employment

Make the most of this question by talking about a time you successfully led a team. Give a brief overview of the team’s mission but focus primarily on the role you played and how your team achieved its goal. List your personal strengths and competencies and highlight your leadership style and how this made you the ideal person to lead the team. Conclude your answer by giving examples of the lessons you learnt while leading this team.

9. How do you cope in adverse circumstances?

This question not only tests your strength of character but also how you deal with stress, time pressure and how it impacts your performance. Think carefully about the response you prepare to the question. Talk about your coping mechanisms and how you learnt and progressed from adversity. Try not to focus on negatives and instead highlight any positive outcomes - even if it’s just increased self-awareness. 

10. Tell me about a mistake you’ve made

This is a tough question as it asks you to focus on a time that you failed. However, the key to successfully answering this question is to demonstrate how you learnt from the mistake and how it has impacted you and your work since. Tell the interviewer how you are now much better at double-checking your work, monitoring the progress and outcome of other’s projects and how it has helped you to deal with other’s mistakes. 

Though many of these questions seem straightforward it’s key to answer them in a clear and positive way. Don’t focus on any negatives instead highlight your strengths and how you overcame any issues. Lastly, make sure you backup your answers with evidence and that your answers aren’t exaggerated - your interviewer may check your achievements and stories with your previous employer. 


Now that you know which questions it’s likely you’ll be asked during your interview it’s time to practice! 

It can be tempting to miss this step if you’ve already prepared your answers and you feel ready for the interview, however, make sure that you rehearse your answers. The more you practice the more fluent and concise your answers will be and the better you’ll come across in the interview. Try practicing on our series of mock video interview questions that we’d devised specially for ex-military jobseekers. These mock interviews give you the chance to record your interview and to watch it back so that you can review your performance and identify any areas where you might need to improve, so they are well-worth doing. 

As much as an interview is about an employer getting to know you, it’s also your chance to understand more about the role you’re applying for and the organisation. Go in armed with a list of questions to ask your potential employer during the interview so you can find out whether the role is right for you, not just whether you are a good fit for the role. Remember if you’ve been asked to interview for a position that you’ve already impressed the company and you now just need to show them that you have the right knowledge, skills and attitude for the job. Gook luck! 

For further tips on how to prepare for your interview read our guide to nailing your interview in five simple steps.

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