Skip to main content
My Cart

What is Competency-Based Interviewing?

When the standard interview questions aren’t helping you objectively evaluate candidates, it’s time to try competency-based interviewing. Learn how to ask the right questions and hire the right employee.

When conducting job interviews, why do we ask the questions we ask? How did the standard questions become the standard questions, and what insights do they give you into the prospective employee? We might not spend a lot of time thinking about the interview process. There is a tendency to rely on vibes, which means you might be missing out on a great employee by failing to ask the right questions and understand how to evaluate answers.

These are the problems that competency-based interviewing addresses. You’ll no longer worry about winging it in job interviews. By using this research-backed methodology, you’ll become a more thoughtful interviewer with a deeper understanding of each candidate’s fit for your company.

Focus on Key Competencies

Competency-based interviewing is all about determining what the key competencies for a role are and crafting questions that uncover a candidate’s competencies. It’s not enough to ask about a candidate’s work history. You have to have an explicit understanding of the competencies a successful candidate must hold, and you have to know what questions are going to reveal those competencies.

Seek Specific Examples

While most interviewers will ask candidates about their past work experiences, the questions might not be designed to assess specific competencies. In competency-based interviews, the interviewer will ask behavioral questions, eliciting responses based on actual experience. Candidates will recount specific examples of their skills in action, prompted by questions that begin with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…”

Probe for Details

A competency-based interview is an opportunity for a candidate to offer an impromptu case study of sorts. Follow up on those behavioral questions by seeking further details, focusing on the context of a problem or situation, the interviewee’s thought process, what knowledge, skills, or resources they called upon to solve the problem, and the outcome of these actions.

Strive for Consistency and Fairness

If you’re winging it in an interview, your questions might go all over the place. “Vibes-based interview” techniques might result in a good conversation with someone you could be friends with, but you might reflect later that you didn’t come away with any actual data you can call upon to make a hiring decision. Competency-based interviewing solves this problem by presenting a clear rationale behind the kinds of questions you ask and by helping you produce a standardized set of questions that offer a fair framework for evaluation.

Integrate Other Interviewing Strategies

While competency-based questions help us form a better picture of a candidate’s qualifications, they are not the only questions that matter. It is but one tool in the interviewer’s kit. Behavioral psychology, social psychology, communications training all have something to offer the interviewer, not to mention all of the useful ideas that come from cognitive ability theory, situational judgement theory, and anti-bias training. On that last point, we all have biases that we might not be aware of, and we need to learn how to account for them when evaluating candidates for employment. Interviewing is a science, and while we can’t become experts in every one of these fields, we have to at least think scientifically if we’re going to hire the best people available: question assumptions, build theories from evidence, make sure our results are replicable.


Learning how to hire is not something we often think about, but it is a skill every small business owner has to master. Competency-based interviewing takes the guesswork out of the hiring process and lets you directly compare one candidate’s competencies to another’s. Done right, you’ll end up with a team whose goals, methods, and dispositions align with your own and whose competencies are tuned to success in a given role. But, as we’ve argued elsewhere, be careful what you ask for! Seeking out engaged, creative, and accomplished employees means you are going to have to reward those qualities. With Competency-based interviewing, you end up with the kind of employees you asked for: ask the right questions, and you’ll get the right employees.

Are You Ready to Do Better Growth Management?

MentorWerx is all about growth strategy and management. That means giving you the tools you need to develop sound strategies, structure your organization to lay the track ahead of the train, and implement the tools you need to grow. Ready to learn more about how we do that? Book a free consult and bring your questions. See if you like working with us on our dime, and get some good advice in the process.