The 4 Pros and Cons of Competency-based Interviews

As we’ve mentioned before, there are various ways to interview a candidate, each with their own positives and negatives.

For instance, a telephone interview helps to cut out weaker candidates in a more timely fashion but isn’t a great way of understanding their body language. While group interviews usually encourage candidates to sell themselves more effectively but require multiple staff to carry out.

But it’s pretty safe to assume that at some point during the process you’ll have a face-to-face, individual interview with each candidate — mainly because this gives you a chance to really grill them and find out more about what they’re like.

And when it comes to face-to-face interviews, most businesses opt for “competency interviews.”

(You can check out some example competency questions, here).

In layman’s terms, this method of interviewing is designed to see how a candidate can relate their previous experiences with your role and describe how their specific skillset can overcome certain problems, tasks and scenarios.

For example, for a customer service role, you’d probably ask a candidate to “tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for a customer, and how did it make you feel?”

But despite competency-based interviews still proving to be very popular, is it really the right approach for your business? Here’s a list of pros and cons to help you make a decision.

Pros of competency-based interviews

It’s safe

An obvious inclusion in the pros list is the ‘PG’ nature of a competency-based interview.

It’s probably the easiest way to interview someone in a non-discriminatory way and get a series of automated answers to your questions.

And, your candidate will (in most cases) be expecting and prepared for competency questions!

As a result, you’ll get a real snapshot into a candidate’s experience, skillset and achievements.

It will also mean you’ll avoid any awkward blank-faced moments which you’d probably get if you asked something out of the ordinary.

It’s clear

As competency-based interviews require a candidate to describe how their skillset matches a certain aspect of the job that they are applying for, they can’t really bluff their way through the interview.

In other words, the candidate either has the skills or doesn’t.

From your point of view, you can get a clear understanding of whether the candidate is qualified and suited to successfully fulfil a position or not.

Another plus point is that you can easily gauge how well a candidate responds if they don’t have the relevant experience. You’ll be able to identify a candidate who tries to bluff from a mile away, while one who admits they may not have a certain skill but are willing to learn is showing a mature and honest outlook.

Just be aware that interviews shouldn’t always be about skills. A great formula also requires attitude too.

According to one study, only 11% of new employees failed in their first 18 months due to their lack of skills for the role. Whereas the main majority of people who didn’t succeed and left had problems motivating themselves or weren’t willing to learn new things.

You can read more about this in our previous blog: ‘5 Silly Reasons Not to Hire Someone’.

Your ideal new employee should be able to flip a competency-based question and demonstrate their positive attitude.

Cons of competency-based interviews

Unanswered questions

On the whole, you shouldn’t have any difficulties getting a solid answer from a competency-based question. However, there is an argument to suggest that you may get the odd response which completely misses the point.

For instance, if you ask a candidate about how they’ve previously handled conflict at work, you could confuse them. From a candidate’s point of view, they may wonder whether you’re interested in their ability to handle situations in a management style or wonder whether you are subtly suggesting that you have a dysfunctional team which need help.

In both cases, the answers could completely differ. This could then confuse you and make the decision process harder down the line.

The key is to word your questions well. By simply using one word instead of another, you could give a candidate the wrong idea altogether.

For inspiration on how to do this and what questions to ask, you may find our previous blog useful: ’10 Competency Questions to Assess Your Candidate’s Key Skills’.

Routine answers

One of the biggest issues with competency-based interviews is the quality of answers you often receive.

Candidates are advised to do their research and prepare for certain questions.

However, if you stick to the same style of questions, you’ll more than likely get the same responses.

Unless someone really does think outside the box, this could make the decision even harder.

Recruiter pro tip

Candidates aren’t the only ones under the spotlight during an interview, your business is too. According to Monster, 58% of candidates would turn down a position if the level of “banter” wasn’t very good in the interview.

Instead, try to ask a few simple questions to lighten the mood and make the candidate smile.

You can see a full list of examples here.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to carry out competency-based interviews is up to you. There isn’t a right or wrong way of doing it.

As a starting point, it might be worth adjusting your questions depending on the role. So if you’re interviewing for a sales position, you could focus on asking more obscure questions to see how they respond and adapt.

After all, a sign of a good salesman is one who is adaptable and can still get the outcome they need.

A different set of questions is also advisable if you have a handful of candidates all with top experience and skills. You won’t need to test their ability to do a job, you just need to see if they are a right cultural fit for your business.

Want more recruitment and HR tips? Then check out our blog today.

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Originally published at on August 13, 2018.



We’re a UK based, multi-sector recruiter that‘s on a mission to prove that recruitment doesn’t necessarily have to be predictable and boring.

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Coburg Banks

We’re a UK based, multi-sector recruiter that‘s on a mission to prove that recruitment doesn’t necessarily have to be predictable and boring.