Practice Tests

Competency Based Interview

A competency interview (also referred to as a situational, behavioural or competency based interview) is a style of interviewing often used to evaluate a candidate's competence, particularly when it is hard to select on the basis of technical merit: for example, for a particular graduate scheme or graduate job where relevant experience is less important or not required. However, increasingly, companies are using competency based interviews as part of the selection process for experienced recruitment, as it can give valuable insights into an individual's preferred style of working and help predict behaviours in future situations.


A competency interview (also referred to as a situational, behavioural or competency based interview) is a style of interviewing often used to evaluate a candidate's competence, particularly when it is hard to select on the basis of technical merit: for example, for a particular graduate scheme or graduate job where relevant experience is less important or not required. However, increasingly, companies are using competency based interviews as part of the selection process for experienced recruitment, as it can give valuable insights into an individual's preferred style of working and help predict behaviours in future situations.

Conventional job interviews may focus on questions relating to an applicant's past or previous industry experience, but this is an ineffective tool for graduate level candidates who are not expected to have any former experience in the industry they wish to work in. Questions about industry experience will not be part of a competency interview.

Instead interviewers will ask questions that require candidates to demonstrate that they have a particular skill or a "key competency" the firm is looking for.

Candidates will be asked to do this using situational examples from their life experiences, to illustrate their personality, skill set and individual competencies to the interviewer.Competency interviews may also feature questions that probe candidates on their knowledge of the company and industry they have applied to. This type of interview question tests candidates on their motivation and commitment to career.

A typical competency based interview will last for one hour. At most major firms competency interviews will also be standardised. Consequently all applicants can expect to be asked identical questions.

What are Competencies?

A competency is a particular quality that a company's recruiters have decided is desirable for employees to possess. During interviews and assessment processes competencies are used as benchmarks that assessors use to rate and evaluate candidates.

In interviews recruiters look for evidence of competencies by asking candidates competency based questions. This style of question forces candidates to give situational examples of times in the past when they have performed particular tasks or achieved particular outcomes using certain skills.

Key Competencies

A firm will usually isolate several key skills or "key competencies" to look for in candidates at interview. You will be graded in terms of each competency based upon your answers to competency based questions.

Employers typically use some of the following as their key competencies:

  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment to career
  • Commercial awareness
  • Career motivation
  • Decision making
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Trustworthiness & Ethics
  • Results orientation
  • Problem solving
  • Organisation

Why are Competency Based Questions Used at Interview?

In the case of applications for graduate jobs, candidates typically have no experience in the industry to which they have applied. Consequently it is not possible to assess their suitability for a job role based upon their CV alone. This has led to the development of competency based interviews becoming the prime way to interview inexperienced graduate applicants.

Typical Competency Based Interview Structure

Questions in competency interviews will usually refer to activities a candidate has participated in at school, college or university, or any other activities that can be used to effectively display evidence of particular competencies or a particular competency.

A typical competency question could be: "Describe two situations where you have had to work as part of a team." When asked a question like this, you should be able to talk for several minutes about your participation to a particularly strong team you have been part of in the past and how your sense of teamwork helped lead a task or project to successful completion.

You should have an idea before the interview of the experiences from your life that you could use as examples to demonstrate the key competencies of the firm to which you are applying. You are likely to have to provide at least two examples for each competency during your interview.

It is quite acceptable to ask for and to use a few moments of thinking time before answering competency questions. If necessary, simply notify your interviewer by explaining you "may need to think about this for a few moments". Once you have thought of a good example to use, continue with your answer.

Who Uses Competency Interviews?

Estimates indicate that a third of all employers are using competency interviews as part of their recruitment process. Large graduate employers are especially likely to use competency interviews as part of their graduate recruitment procedure, in particular as part of an assessment centre.

Will I Be Given a Competency Interview?

It is hard to tell if a competency interview will feature as part of your assessment process before making your application to a firm, although the application form itself may help to give you a clue. Many employers who do use competency interviews design their application forms to include a number of competency questions. Take note if you find any questions on your application that ask you to give situational examples. These may be a strong indicator of what is in store at interview!

Key Competency: Motivation & Commitment to Career

It is likely you will be asked why you wish to work for this company in particular, and what distinguishes this company, for you, from its competitors. This question requires you to discuss your knowledge of the firm in detail and prove to your interviewer your desire for a job.

To answer this question you should describe:

The key strengths this firm has over its competitors in the industry (e.g. more specialised in certain niche areas, more international scope, more respected).

What appeals to you personally about the firm (e.g. your interests in the firm's niche areas, your relevant study at university).

Other relevant factors you find interesting (e.g. the impression you have of the working style at the firm, the social side of the company, the type of charitable work the firm is involved in).

You may also be asked what you believe you will be doing during your first year on the graduate scheme. You should be particularly clear about exactly what it is you will be doing. If you cannot answer this question, you are unlikely to be successful. If you are currently unsure, it is perfectly acceptable to contact firm's graduate recruitment departments before applying to discuss anything you do not already know about the job.

Competency Based Interview: The first 60 seconds

Although competency based interviews are standardised, a typical interviewer will decide within minutes whether they like you or not, and this is likely to affect the outcome of the interview. It is very important to give a good impression to your interviewer from the very first moment you meet.

Shake hands confidently, smile, introduce yourself, and be generally convivial to the occasion. Sitting quietly and communicating poorly will not help you, and neither will boisterous or arrogant behaviour. You should be polite but outgoing, assertive but not aggressive and aim to be every bit as professional as the interviewer who is assessing you.

Partner interviews

Partners are senior members of staff at a firm. Unlike normal members of staff, they own a share of the firm, receive a profit share (rather than a salary), and will undertake legal responsibility for the firm's affairs. The Big 4 accounting firms all have more than 500 partners in the UK.

The purpose of the partner interview is to see if your personality is suitable for the firm you are joining. There are no set questions, this is merely a conversation about why you want to join and what it is you hope to achieve. Partners may also be looking for evidence of commercial awareness and commitment to career.

Questions Likely to Be Asked


  • Why do you want to join this firm? Why not a competitor?
  • Why the line of service you have joined?
  • What do you think you can bring to this firm?
  • How do you think you will benefit from working here?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
  • What do you do in your spare time?

Interview Tips

Partners are trying to determine whether you are a trustworthy, genuine person, who can be trusted to deal with the firm's clients and give them the right impression. They are also trying to determine if you are likely to fit in amongst other employees. Try not to show off.

A partner has had many years of experience and if you talk about something bear in mind that the partner is likely to know much more about it than you do. This interview is predominantly a matter of assessing social chemistry, so make sure you are personable, friendly, open and relaxed.

Shake hands confidently, smile and be courteous. Make sure you hold strong eye contact throughout your interview. You should ask questions, such as the partner's role in the firm, and what sort of clients he/she deals with.

Technical Interview

A technical interview is a type of interview that typically features questions that are specific to the role you have applied for, brain teaser and/or [numerical reasoning questions](https://aptitudetestsonline.netlify.com/numerical-reasoning-test/), or both types of question. Technical interviews are generally used to assess candidates for technical or specialist graduate job positions (such as jobs in IT, Engineering and Science) rather than general graduate schemes.

Technical interviews may be used for less specialist roles (but if so only usually for highly competitive roles) such as jobs at investment banks. However, these interviews are less likely to contain technical questions specific to the job itself, and more likely to contain [numerical reasoning questions](https://aptitudetestsonline.netlify.com/numerical-reasoning-test/) and/or brain teaser questions.

Types of Technical Interview

It is not unusual for an interviewer to show a candidate a wiring diagram or a line of computer code and expect instant analysis in a technical interview. Candidates should bear in mind that interviewers are not just interested in technical knowledge (although this is very important) but also how candidates approach problems, construct their thought process, and demonstrate personal skills, such as communication.

Technical Interview Questions

In a technical interview candidates are likely to be asked questions that:

  • relate to specific knowledge about the company's technical activities; relate to understanding the technical work required to be completed as part of the job applied for;
  • relate to work completed as part of a degree course (if this relates to the job applied for);
  • require candidates to solve actual technical prolems that they would be likely to face if employed.

Candidates may also be asked brain teaser questions and difficult numerical reasoning questions such as:

  • What is the degree angle between the hour and minute hand of a clock at 3:15pm? (Lehman Brothers)
  • What is 17 x 18? (JPMorgan)
  • How many manhole covers are there in London?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • How many golf balls are up in the air in England on a Sunday at 13.00

Panel Interview

A panel interview follows the same rules as a conventional interview, but is conducted by more than one interviewer. For graduate level interviews, the panel will probably consist of just two or three interviewers, usually a combination of:

  • HR team member
  • Line manager
  • Partner

During a panel interview you may find that only one of your interviewers is asking you questions. Even if this is the case, you must still make sure that you maintain eye contact with each assessor. Do not talk directly to one person, but instead look from person to person when you talk, but always finish by talking to and looking at the person who initially asked you the question. Industry issues or work procedures is not usually tested. The subject of your written exercise may also be used as the basis for a discussion in a later interview.

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