Sunday, 31 October 2010

Competency questions - what else do you need to know?

As I've said before, I don't want to reinvent the wheel on this blog too much by providing information that you already know or guidance that is already well-documented on other graduate recruitment sites.  Thus, I am not doing to go into too much detail on answering competency-based questions, using the STAR model, making sure you address the question asked, etc.   Knowing how to answer a competency-based question is essential to success in securing a place on a graduate programme, so make sure you know how to answer them.

The challenge with competency-based interviews is that graduates are now so well-practiced and well-able to provide great answers, that even more questioning is needed to differentiate them in order to really try to identify the best for the roles available. In many ways this is causing a move back towards trying to ensure you have to think on your feet during the interview and therefore less scripted and formulaic questioning by the interviewers and their instead using what they have heard to determine what the next question is. Thus more and more the follow-up question to each competency scenario is becoming the differentiator.

What is the "follow-up question"?
This is the question that the interviewer might throw at you depending on the competency answer you have just provided. Some typical examples would be:

  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How would people in the team you managed say you did as project manager? What would they say you could improve on?
  • Why did you/it succeed?
  • Why did you/it fail?
  • What could you have done to make it even better?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • Would you do it again? Why? Why not?

How do they decide what question to ask you?
They will usually ask a follow-up question on the part of your 'story' that sounded the least plausible to their ears. For example, if you say everything went well and there were no arguments or issues, then they might follow-up on that with "What was it that made the team work so well together? Were there any contentious issues or points of discussion?"  To be honest with a situation like that, you are best to have an example of something that was difficult in the team - generally in situations where you are working in a team - especially at Uni - realistically something probably did go wrong and it was difficult. It sounds more plausible to be upfront about them - and as long as you learned from it, then that's perfectly fine - and in fact, more reflective of the working world too.

"What would you do differently next time?" is probably the most common and the most generic question asked, so it's worth preparing an answer to that for most of your scenarios.  Don't say you would do nothing differently - come up with something. A good answer might be to plan a particular part of it more meticulously, or to set objectives for individuals within the team so that roles are clearer - something like that.

Think of the question that you would least like to be asked as a follow-up to the scenario you've explained... and then imagine that they have asked you it - what would you say? I promise, you won't regret it! Worse case scenario, they ask the question and you have an answer prepped. Best case scenario, they don't ask it, but you go into the interview more confident because you're more prepped.

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