At this level, you definitely can’t wing it anymore. Even if you’re a good talker, a few heavy hitting competency based (behavioural) questions and you’ll soon unravel.
Mainly because competency based interviewing (we’re going to call it CBI from here on in) requires you to look at your experience through a different lens. It’s not chronological, it doesn’t allow you to go off point (and if you do, you’ll immediately do yourself out of the running) and it also forces you to talk about the softer skills that sit behind your awesome technical façade. A subject most of us aren’t all that comfortable talking about.
It’s the toughest form of interviewing going, but it’s also the easiest to prepare for. Here are our top tips.
Understand what competencies are, and which ones your interviewer is seeking
Don’t brush ‘competencies’ under the table, thinking they’re not relevant to you. Sure, it is a style of interviewing used mainly by HR, but even if you’re meeting with just a line manager, you must be prepared as they may also have prepared CBI questions.
Also don’t assume it’s just ‘soft stuff’ and therefore shouldn’t be prioritised. Think about when you hire – yes someone may have amazing achievements, but if you can’t get behind the mask, or understand ‘how’, or ‘why’, they’ve done things, you’ll probably not put them through. CBI questions are designed and used to dig deep, uncover leadership thinking, working styles, thought processes and fundamental people skills. Answering these questions well is essential to creating the right impression, and communicating your point of difference.
Look carefully at the job description you’ve been given. There will probably be a section called “Skills Required”, or “Criteria”. Push the accountabilities/knowledge base to one side for now, and highlight those softer skills. Some of the most common will be communication, influencing, negotiation, conflict management, decision making, problem solving and analytical thinking skills.
Prepare your examples against each competency required, and always use STAR
How this translates into interview is that your interviewer will ask certain questions centred around these very same competencies. It could take the form of a question like this: ‘Tell us about a time you had to manage a particularly resistant stakeholder. What worked and what didn’t?’
For this, of course, you need a bank of examples to draw on to answer effectively. Yes, it it’s not the most interesting piece of Monday night homework you can do, but I’ll guarantee you, once you do it once, you’ll never look back. Not only will you feel super prepared, but the content you create will carry through to all of your interviews.
I’d suggest you draw up a mind map – place the competencies in bubbles, and start to brainstorm out examples for each. You’ll find that some as you work through them aren’t good enough, some may be better for other competencies, and also you’ll start to see where you may have gaps. This is fine and all part of preparing yourself to your very best.
Once you’ve got 1-2 good examples for each competency, flesh them out using the STAR framework.
A brief reminder, STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.
Situation: What was the initial context or problem? (Use this to bring them in to the story – set the scene.)
Task: Be clear about your objective (Use this to show clarity of thought and also emphasis your leadership role in this example.)
Action: Talk them through ‘what’ you did (But also ‘how’ and ‘why’ you did it – show them your thinking process.)
Result: The outcome (This may be twofold – there may be a quick win, but also a longer term benefit deliver. State both.)
I hear you saying, that’s all very well, but how will I remember all of this? Easy. Once you’ve created your mind map and written out your best 1-2 examples for each competency using STAR, create a flash card with a list of the competencies and against each, a one or two word prompt that will draw your mind back to the example. Because you’ve spent your time wisely working through STAR, a single prompt back to the situation is likely to jog your memory.