Law Absolute - Recruitment specialists

Ace a competency-based interview

16th February 2015

A competency-based interview may sound intimidating, but in reality most interviews you have sat in your life will have drawn on an element of these type of questions, and while it may seem different, the most important thing to remember is the same for a regular interview – to prepare.

When it comes to acing competency-based interviews for London lawyer jobs or similar roles, a sure-fire way is to tick the employer’s boxes; in this guide we show you how.

“Tell me a time where you had to explain your point of view to a colleague.”

When it comes to competency-based interview questions, they will tend to surround a few of the main competencies employers look for. Here we take a look at the first, communication. An employer will want to know that you are a good communicator and rather than you just telling them that you are, in a competency-based interview they will expect you to show them how you are.

The above example question aims to uncover how you effectively communicate with colleagues and also helps demonstrate how you can be assertive in the workplace. To prepare for questions centred on this competency note down examples of where you have communicated something effectively, either at work or in another professional environment. This can be either over the phone, face to face or by email. What did you take into consideration when you were speaking to your colleague? What was the outcome of your conversation?

“Can you make decisions quickly?”

When it comes to decision making, employers want to see that you can firstly work well under pressure, but secondly that you can make quick and correct decisions. Someone who is easily flustered or stressed is not typically a good decision maker and being good at this is a trait that is often highly desirable in high pressure jobs such as City in-house legal jobs. In answering this question, don’t simply answer ‘yes’, but explain a time when you made a difficult decision quickly and what the outcome of this decision was.

“Explain in detail a situation where you negotiated a compromise between two teams or colleagues.”

Whether the role you are interviewing for is a position of leadership or not, an interviewer will want to see that you have the capacity to take charge when needed. In answering the above question or similar, explain the situation fully and the tasks that had to be addressed. Dealing with a variety of personalities is an important aspect of work and an employer wants to see that you can keep a level head even if others have not and inspire confidence in your colleagues.

“Describe a way in which you overcame a problem in your last job.”

In this instance it doesn’t matter how big or how small the problem was, but rather the manner in which you dealt with the issue. Here they want to see human characteristics, and the problem may even have been a mistake on your part; employers want to see that you can rectify a situation without stress that could make an issue worse.

“What were your responsibilities in your last role?”

Responsibility is a competency used in all jobs and employers not only want to see that you actively take on responsibility and how you approach such tasks, but it also pays to show how you feel about responsibility. Do you take on tasks or responsibilities that aren’t asked of you? In these questions you can demonstrate career motivation, which will tick another box for the interviewer.

“How do you maintain a good relationship with your colleagues?”

Again, while it is easy to explain methods of maintaining such relationships, it goes a step further to deliver an example of where you have done so. Perhaps a connection got you this interview; how do you maintain such a good relationship with that connection? Maybe you had a particularly difficult colleague – how did you remain professional at all times despite this? Here you can also link other competencies that haven’t been addressed thus far in the interview, such as communication.

“What achievement in your life are you most proud of?”

Every employer and interviewer wants to see drive in an interviewee. This question is perfect for setting yourself apart from other candidates. Try to give an example that others may not give; try to avoid mundane answers involving promotions or academic achievement and instead describe an example that illustrates your aspirations. Achievements outside of the work environment that may further your skills can show how you are working towards a specific goal and this will show drive to the interviewer.

“How do you ensure you meet deadlines?”

Often the best organisation techniques come from experience and an employer wants to hear about this experience and how you have developed the best technique for your working style. Perhaps you can teach them something new? Try to give an example of where you had a big deadline and were under a lot of pressure and explain how you overcame this and what you have learnt from this time.

In answering all of these questions a useful and easy way to ensure you are telling the interviewer what they want to hear and checking their boxes is to follow a structure in your answers, this structure is referred to as the STAR technique.

Situation – Describe the situation relating to the competency.

Task – Describe the tasks that needed to be addressed in the situation.

Activity – Describe the activity you carried out to address the tasks and what you actually did.

Result – Describe the outcome of your actions, whether you succeeded in addressing the situation or not. If not, be sure to explain what happened and what you learned from it. This, believe it or not, ticks another box for the interviewer – it makes you human and shows that you learn from situations to better address future issues.

These interview tips aim to help best prepare you for a competency-based interview but no interview, interviewer or interviewee is the same, so be prepared to adapt to the situation and don’t panic if it goes differently to how you had planned.

Image Credit: sylvar (