One of the most effective ways for hiring managers and recruiters to determine if a job applicant possesses the skills needed to be successful in a specific position is to conduct a competency-based interview (CBI). Also known as behavioral interviews, this approach requires the interviewer to determine the skills required in a role and then evaluate and rate candidates for those skills.

What is competency-based interviewing?

A competency is a combination of knowledge, skills, and judgment that are essential to do a job.  Designed to test one or more competencies required for a role, competency-based interviews focus less on the candidate’s previous experience and education level and more on the skills he or she possesses. This method also varies from the “getting to know you” interview style that centers around the job seeker’s personality. The interviewer will ask a pre-determined list of behavioral or structured interview questions—phrased in a way that encourages a situational response—to assess a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. The job seeker’s answers are then measured against standards set in behavior anchored rating scales.

The benefits of competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviewing provides recruiters and hiring managers with the ability to see beyond whether a candidate looks or sounds right for the role. This interview method provides a specific set of answers which can form the basis of a profile to measure one job seeker against another.

  • Past predicts future: Far more factual than asking hypothetical questions, this method of interviewing provides a deep dive into the candidate’s past behavior to help predict how he or she would perform in similar situations working in your organization. This helps to enhance your company’s quality of hire and reduces the chance of a costly bad hire—which according to the U.S. Department of Labor is 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings.  
  • Eliminates unconscious bias: 79 percent of human resources professionals agree that bias exists in the hiring process. Unconscious bias can be eliminated from the interview by removing some of the subjectivity seen in more traditional, biographical interviews. This manner of interviewing allows the interviewer to remain open-minded and less influenced by first impressions and biases.  
  • Accounts for diversity: Because it focuses on behavior, competency-based selections ensure job seekers of all ages and backgrounds are considered—regardless of their formal experience and education level.
  • Identifies transferable skills: The labor market is shifting from set jobs toward an ever-evolving skills-centric workforce. Competency-based interviewing provides an effective way to assess transferable skills.

Competencies to look for in an interview

The role of the interviewer is to ask questions that help to uncover real-life past situations and challenges the candidate faced, the actions taken to overcome these challenges, and the results achieved. The competencies to look for will vary based on the position and skills needed to perform successfully. However, some key competencies are important to assess during the interview.

  • Communication skills: Well-developed communication skills are essential for most jobs. When interacting with customers, clients, co-workers, and managers, constructive communication is essential to developing effective working relationships.
  • Adaptability: Things don’t always go as planned and organizations need employees who are flexible and able to adapt to changing working conditions.  
  • Problem-solving skills: Who doesn’t want a problem solver on their team? The interview is the perfect time to assess whether a candidate is results-oriented or buckles under pressure.
  • Teamwork: Teamwork is required in almost every industry. The ability to work collaboratively is critical to productivity and growth.
  • Creativity: Companies gain a competitive edge when they are innovative and forward-thinking. A candidate who can creatively solve a problem—or innovate in a manner that leads to increased productivity or revenue—will be a valuable asset to any organization.

Examples of competency-based interview questions

The STAR interview technique can be used by interviewers to elicit relevant information from candidates by asking questions that encourage a response that touches on a specific situation, task, action, and result. The following are examples of how to phrase questions to prompt the candidate to provide a real-life example. Past performance can be used to predict future success in a specific skill or competency.

  • Describe a…
  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Give me an example of…
  • What do you do when…

An Indeed survey found that only 30 percent of job seekers feel that the questions they were asked in their last interview were “very effective” at assessing their fit for the role. The STAR format gives the interviewee a chance to create a story with a conflict and resolution.

  • Situation: A project or challenge faced in the workplace
  • Task: Candidate’s responsibilities and assignments relative to the situation
  • Action: Process or steps followed to remedy or correct the situation  
  • Result: Results that occurred from the actions taken


A clearly defined competency-based hiring process can help your organization recruit and retain top talent. The competency-based interview method demonstrates fairness, encourages diversity, and simplifies the process of hiring good-fit talent.

In the second installment of this feature, we will conduct a Q&A with David Dubin, Founder and CEO of People Strategies. David will help us understand how to implement CBI and overcome resistance from within your organization.