Tell me about a time when...

Tell me about a time

 21 Jan 2020

OK, so you’ve had your interview confirmation come through and you’ve found out there’s a competency based element to it – Yikes! The competency based interview can feel quite daunting initially but with a bit of preparation, you can nail it.


Get a list of competencies / values

See if you can find out what your prospective employer’s values and professional competencies are. 

You could check the firm’s website, either the “About Us” or “Careers” section usually, to see if they talk about these. You could also Google “Company Name Competencies” as sometimes you will find some useful nuggets, either listing them or other people talking about their experience of interviewing with that company and what questions they were asked.

Another source of competency identification is the job specification. This will most likely include a list of your responsibilities and desired attributes and you can deduce from that what the relevant competencies might be.


Get Prepared

Once you have identified possible competencies, it is time to rack your brains for the best examples that will demonstrate your capability in these areas. If you don’t have a relevant example from your career history yet, but you have done something in your studies or personal life to highlight that skill, then it is equally valid to use that.

If you are able to, think of 5-6 chunky examples where you can draw on your experiences in as many of the competencies in one example as possible. Once you are under the pressure of an interview situation, you may only be able to remember 2-3 of them on the spot, so the more you are able to think of in advance, the better chance you have of remembering a good number of them in the interview. Be careful to use a different example for each question.


What are they looking for?

Remember they are not trying to catch you out. They want you to do well, or they wouldn’t be wasting their time interviewing you.

They just want you to provide evidence that you can do the job. Moreover they will invariably be wanting reassurance that you will be a good fit and productive addition to their team.

Typical questions tend to take three different forms:

·      What went well scenarios

·      What went not so well scenarios

·      Tell me about a time when…….

It is important to focus your answers around what YOU did, not the wider team. If you talk about what “we” did, it deflects away from your skills and isn’t the answer the interviewers will be looking for.

If you are asked about a time when something didn’t go so well, look for a positive explanation of why that was and talk about what you did to rectify the situation and what the ultimate outcome was. Don’t be disheartened by this kind of question; view it as an opportunity to highlight how well you learn from mistakes and what that meant for you in terms of building resilience and determination, taking initiative and such like.

Practice using the STAR method when you are formulating your answers. Set the scene for the situation, talk about the task you were undertaking, tell them what actions you took to achieve the outcome and then discuss the end result. Keep it concise, but to the point.


What are common competencies?

Each firm will value some competencies more than others. Also, depending on your level of seniority, each competency will have its own required level of complexity. For example, under “Business Development” an Assistant Manager may only be required to spot potential opportunities to offer additional advice to an existing client, whereas a Director may be expected to run seminars and bring new clients into the firm.

However there are some core competencies that are typical across the tax industry. Some of these include, but are not limited to, the following:

            ·      Communication                                                                  

·      Relationship building

·      Decision making

·      Team work

·      Commercial awareness

·      Leadership

·      Exercising professional judgement

·      Planning / Organisation / Time management

·      Problem solving

·      Results orientated

·      Delivering quality

·      Negotiation skills

·      Integrity

·      Responsibility

·      Resilience

·      Innovation

·      Self motivation

·      Making an impact


Killer questions

Invariably some interviewers will throw in a particularly difficult curve ball. These could be an industry specific question or something completely random and unrelated. This will be as much to observe how you react to the question, as the answer itself. The key is not to panic. Smile, if it seems appropriate to do so. Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts. It is perfectly fine to tell the interviewer that you just need a couple of moments to think about the question before you give your answer.


Additional help

There are a number of websites now that are a useful source of reference for competency based interview prep. Many will detail example questions and the reasoning behind the questions, so you can better determine what the interviewer is looking for and tailor your answers accordingly.

Of course, you never know what questions you will be asked in a competency based interview, no more than you ever know in advance what questions will come up in an exam. But your preparation should be the same. Do your research. Find some example questions for each competency and prepare answers for each one. It’s the very best prep that you can do to ensure you make the best possible impression at the interview. Good luck!


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