How to answer competency-based interview questions

Author: Daniel Smart
Posting date: 18/08/2014
How to answer competency-based interview questions

At some point in your life sciences career you are likely to be interviewed by someone using competency-based questioning. Understanding the methods and reasoning behind competency-based questioning will enable you to give strong and effective answers.

What is competency-based interviewing?

Competency-based questions are a method of interviewing by which the interviewer requires you to show abilities that are integral to the role by using examples from your past experiences.

Most large pharmaceutical companies will have a standardised interview framework that their human resources team will adhere to. Other types of interviews, such as informal conversations or random questioning, are less systematic and often don't ask the same questions of each person being interviewed, which can lead to bias. Competency-based interviews, however, often use a formal scoring system of positive and negative indicators and so are less subjective in the decision-making process.

The type of interview that you can expect often depends on the hiring company but an experienced life sciences recruitment agency, such as Proclinical, will be able to prepare you for what you are likely to face.

Examples of competency-based interview questions

By using competency-based interview questions, employers are asking you to back up claims about your skills and experience with real examples. The questions that you will be asked will depend on the position that you are being interviewed for.

If you will be required to work as part of a close team, you might be asked questions that test your teamwork and diplomacy skills, such as:

  • Give an example of when you have been part of a successful team. How did you contribute to its success?
  • When was the last time you had an argument with a colleague?

For leadership roles the interviewer might explore your initiative, adaptability or decision making. You could be asked:

  • Tell me about a time when you have been in a difficult circumstance. How did you resolve this?
  • Describe a situation in which your initial approach failed and you had to change tack.

Interview technique

With this type of questioning it is important that your answers are succinct and that you do not to go off on a tangent, so you will need to consider how to articulate your experience to the interviewer.

STAR technique for job interviews

STAR is one of the most effective interview techniques for competency-based questions, and is a proven method for structuring your answers so that they are relevant and focussed. Make sure that you listen to the question, take a moment to consider your answer and reply in the following way:

Situation: Briefly set the scene to give the interviewer some context. Ensure that you refer to a specific instance and real people. Do not generalise about typical situations and avoid being vague.

Task: Explain what your responsibility was in this situation and what the challenges and constraints were.

Activity: Describe what you did and why and always focus on your contribution to the task, not what your colleague or your team did.

Result: Always try to end your answers on a positive outcome. If the situation did not end particularly well, explain what you have learnt from the experience to turn it into a positive example. 

Interview preparation

A good understanding of the role and the skills required will enable you to anticipate the types of questions that you might be asked. Research the position and the company thoroughly so that you know what skills they will ask you to show and are able to convey them effectively in the interview.

It can be very difficult to think of good examples if you are unprepared and the interviewer puts you on the spot. Prepare for your interview by thinking of situations when you have used these skills and ask a friend or your partner to conduct a mock-interview with you.

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