How to Nail a Job Interview in the UK | Competency Based Interview

Updated: May 23, 2019


You get an invitation to attend an interview and it is the one you really wanted to be invited to! You will get super excited no doubt, however, depending on how you processes these opportunities you may be entirely chilled about it or you may start to panic. Either way, I suggest below tips which can help you prepare for a competency based interview in the UK.


First of all double check your interview invite and if it gives you any specific instructions and expectations as to what they may be assessing you against. It may say it is a competency based interview or it may just say an interview. Competency based interviews are super popular in the UK. Competencies mean behaviours. Your behaviours. This means they will be assessing you on your past examples, how you deliver these examples (your structure to your answers) and your behaviours you particularly exhibited in that example. Also, if there is a point of contact and you have some additional questions, please ring them and do not think this will be viewed negatively. You are keen to understand the process and showing an interest in the organisation. This is certainly a positive step, you show you care about the interview! Even when you see a role advertised, if there is a name that clearly states they are happy to be contacted about the role, please do contact them. They will really appreciate this, again you are taking an interest. It is supposed to be a two way process and you are also assessing if the organisation is the right place for you.


It is all in preparation. You need to do your homework. You need to know the organisation, do your google research, industry, competition, how they make money if they are a private sector organisation, their current challenges and try to anticipate challenges they may get in the future. Almost always expect questions around why us, why now, what has prompted you to apply for this role, what excites you about this role. Make sure you have fully read a job advert and job role. You should be able to anticipate/guess some questions, picture yourself already in the job. Try and come up with a few model answers so you do not struggle to deliver them on the day, especially if you are conscious about your English language skills and think you have some more work to do in order to improve it. Think about their mission, vision and values - they should be published on their website. I am planning to do a special blog on values and how we can identify them but for now try to see if your initial values align to the values of that organisation. It does help if you mention this at your interview as well. Practice your delivery. Practice, practice and practice some more! It will only help you, trust me! I cannot emphasise this enough.


I often get asked about competency based interviews and evidence/examples people can put forward. They need to be real, do not to lie and do not make it bigger than it really was. You will get caught and interview panel will see through it by asking you additional questions/or further probing as it sometimes gets referred to.



There are many models that people use when it comes to preparing for competency based interviews and delivery of the same. There are SOAR and STAR. Structure and quality of your answer is very important.


SOAR stands for Situation, Obstacles, Actions and Result.


STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.


I agree, they look pretty identical. However, I personally always use the STAR model. There is always a task in every example, as in 'what you had to do'.


So when you are asked a question, for example, please give us an example of when you had to manage a difficult customer? What they are trying to assess is how you have dealt with the situation and what you actually did. This will give them evidence as to how you will deal with a difficult customer while working for them and they will assess your behaviours accordingly. In a nutshell, there is a view that past behaviour is the best indicator of how you will perform in the future.


So as a basic example, you could say:


When I worked as a hotel assistant at [a name of the hotel], my role was to ensure guests were welcomed, explained details of their room and confirmed the price etc


One day I had a customer who complained about their room and how filthy it was. I ensured I was listening to the customer, I did not interrupt and I waited until they finished. I remained calm and I apologised to the guest. I arranged in front of them for the room to be cleaned, offered to change the room and offered drinks discount as per the hotel policy. The guest was happy to wait for the room to be cleaned and happy with the drinks discount. They stayed in the hotel and actually returned again in the future.


Therefore, if we look at the above simple example in more detail by applying the START model. The situation was where you worked and your role/ what your responsibilities were i.e. guests and what you did for them. The task was a guest who complained about the room. The action was the actions you put in place to deal with the complaining guest i.e. apologies, offered solutions, discounts etc. The result was the guest was happy with suggested proposals and stayed as a guest at the hotel.


So in terms of the exhibited behaviours, you have demonstrated you have listening skills, customer services skills (you did not argue with the guest) and capability and experience to deal with a difficult customer (you had demonstrated you cared about the guest and their experience). Therefore, these may be the behaviours that they will want to see their sales assistants always show and apply as and when required.


On average a competency based interview should last up to 1 hour and expect around 5/6 questions. Therefore, you are looking to spend up to 8-10 mins per question. It is important to be clear, structured and consice. Deliver an answer that is easy to understand and follow without a lot of probing. They are very likely to have a rating scale per question, it can be 1-4 or 1-5 depending on their process. It may also consist of positive and negative indicators. For example, positive indicator - the candidate gave a detailed response and an example that met the level and quality expected of the role or negative indicator - the candidate did not give an appropriate response, the response was unclear, unstructured or did not meet the required level.


The example I gave above is a very basic, however, it should help you understand as to what they will be looking for when assessing your competencies/behaviours. For example some behaviours that they may be looking for could be around taking ownership, collaboration, emotional awareness, inspiring, supporting and delivering, innovation and open minding, conflict management, decision making.


In terms of other questions you should expect in a competency based interview, please see below:


  • What are your strenghts and weakness may be asked, so always have an answer prepared in case you get asked this question. I will write a separate blog about it as it deserves extra attention and not an easy task that comes to many naturally.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked in a team/led a project/led a team

  • Describe a situation when you had to support a work colleague

  • Give an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision

I hope you get a gist by now - as you can see there is a lot of tell me about a time when...give an example of when...describe a time when.


Also, if you do not have any work experience, then you could think about your school and/or university and anything you could use as an example that would demonstrate relevant behaviours. Anything counts and do not think it always has to be job related, especially if you are going for junior roles. This will actually give a proper insight to the organisation as to what kind of person you are. The senior you get, the levels of these examples also have to be pitched at the right level and naturally comes with experience.


Some organisations have competency based models/behavioural framework that they operate in. They may publish it on their website or may include it their invitation pack. This should give you a good indication as to what behaviours they are likely to assess and prepare your potential answers. You can also read more on the CIPD- Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in the UK website where they talk about Competence and competency framework HERE. Big organisations such as Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, Jaguar Land Rover etc publish their competency frameworks so if you ever apply to these organisations and get a job interview, you really should not have an excuse not to prepare properly as they publish a lot of useful material which should enable you to prepare properly.


Also, you may be asked technical competency based questions. These are different to behavioural questions as technical questions may be about a system or piece of legislation you will be using as part of your role.


Finally, make sure you ask questions when the interview finishes and they offer you a few minutes. This is a two way process so you may have something to ask, for example, you could ask about a size of the team, working practices/flexibility and culture of the team, current challenges and priorities for the team etc when you can expect to hear from them, next steps and similar.


If you are going for a competency based interview in the UK and need to double check a few points, feel free to book a free 30 minute telephone call with me HERE. I will be happy to help.


Thank you for reading


Sanja Williams


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