Competency Based Interviews (CBI)

What is a Competency based Interview?

Competency based interviews or CBI’s are often used in first interviews and use behavioural or situational questions which aim to find out how you have used specific skills in your previous experience and how you approach problems, tasks and challenges.  They are designed to take a fair and standard approach to the interview to remove some of the emotional elements on the part of the interviewer and provide a score that can be compared against other interviewees directly against the competencies required for the job. 

For you as the interviewee, the format can feel like a gentle interrogation rather than a conversation, but the structure can help you to keep to the point.  They are loved and loathed in equal measure by interviewees and interviewers alike, but if you are asked to undertake one preparation is key!

Positions with technical skills that are a primary or significant part of the role actually lend themselves very well to competency style of questioning, and many interviewers for these roles will adopt this style of question whether or not they had realised it. 


How to prepare for a competency based interview

  • Study the organisation’s website for the competencies they deem important – brand values and mission statements are great sources
  • Ask if you can have details of competencies ahead of the interview
  • Analyse the job and person specification in depth so you are really clear what the employer is looking for
  • Make a final list the of the competencies for the specific job
  • Review your CV for two examples for each competency
  • For each example, write a bullet point for each using the STAR model
  • Practice your answers with a critical friend


STAR model: 

  • Situation:     Briefly describe the Situation or background to your example
  • Task:           Explain the Task or activity
  • Action:         Outline the Action you took
  • Result:         Summarise the Result

Situation and task often roll into one another and should be fairly brief.  The action part is the critical section and you must keep it personal, i.e. talk about you, not the rest of the team.  Go into some detail don’t assume that they will guess what you mean in essence explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.


Examples of Competencies:

One competency might be achieving results and improving performance. In this instance an interviewer could use a couple of approaches.

The first might be a very specific question with no follow-up such as: describe an occasion when you achieved a goal; what steps did you take? After you have answered, they may just work through a list of similar questions covering the key competencies.

In the second approach, the interviewer may begin with a more open question such as: what has been your most significant achievement? They will then note examples of competencies in your answer and may ask follow-up questions. The challenge for you is to ensure you answer fully, but don’t waffle or spend too much time just describing the task.

A good interviewer will want to know what you learnt from your experience, particularly how you might have done things differently, so be prepared to reflect on your performance.