Behavioural or Competency-Based Interviews (CBI) are still a very common method employers use to address how suitable someone is for a role. So, what are they and how can you best prepare for them?

Competency-based interview questions are designed to get you to draw on your experiences to demonstrate certain competencies in the way you handled a situation. It is considered by many to be a fairer and more accurate interviewing tool, as it assesses a candidate’s true ability to do the job based on a consistent set of criteria. It aims to gather information about a person’s past actions and accomplishments, as well as their actions and reactions.

What can you expect in a CBI interview?

Competency-based interview questions usually begin with:

  • “Describe a time when….”
  • “Give an example of ….”
  • “Describe the most….”
  •  “Tell me about a situation when….”
  • “What would you do if….”

The best way to answer CBI questions is with the “STAR” approach:

  • Describe the “Situation”
  • Describe the “Task” (this is putting it into context and explaining your role)
  • Discuss the “Action” taken
  • Summarise the “Result” or outcome

Some ways you can use STAR in interviews, are:

  • Recall situations that have taken place over the last 12-18 months.
  • Understand what you did in those situations, what you said, thought, felt, etc. To understand exactly “how” you did what you did.
  • Make sure you talk specifically about your involvement or role in the situation.
  • Always talk in the context of what “I” did not “we.”

The interviewer will often probe deeper to fully understand your involvement and the way you handled a situation by asking questions such as:

  • Tell me exactly what you did to resolve the issue?
  • Describe the key steps that you took?
  • What was the basis for your decision?
  • How did you go about it?
  • What was your objective?

What are some examples of CBI questions?

Here are some example competency-based questions, listed within groups of key competencies often sought by employers to help you practice and prepare for a competency-based interview:

Achievement Drive

  • Can you give me some examples of experiences in your current job that are most satisfying to you? Why are they satisfying?
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t very pleased with your performance. What did you do about it?

Analytical Thinking

  • Describe the biggest problems you have faced in the last six months. How did you handle them?
  • Describe a specific task you found especially challenging. What was it about the task that you found difficult? How did you overcome the difficulty? What was the result?

Conceptual Thinking

  • Describe a situation that required careful thought on your behalf.
  • Describe how you went about identifying user needs on a particular project.

Concern for Order

  • Tell me about a time when a client/customer was not getting the service they deserved from you or your organisation.
  • Describe a specific task you found especially difficult to accomplish. How did you overcome the difficulty?

Customer Service Orientation

  • What have you done in the last six months to foster effective customer relationships? How do you know if you are meeting your customer’s needs?
  • Sometimes, customers have very unrealistic expectations. Can you describe a time when you have had to persuade a customer to rethink their expectations and help them consider alternatives? What was the outcome?

Develop Others

  • If you left/were promoted tomorrow, do you have a replacement? What did you do to help develop him/her?
  • What are the major training and development needs of the people in your department? How did you identify them? What are you going to do about them?

Taking Ownership

  • Describe some recent work related problems and the actions you took to solve them.
  • Describe the toughest decision you have had to make within a work context. What was the situation? How did you approach it and evaluate the options? How did you feel? What was the outcome?

Attention to Detail

  • We have all had times when we just could not get everything done on time. When and why has this happened to you?
  • Can you describe a time when you needed to cut corners to get something done? How did you feel? What was the outcome?


  • Tell me about a situation in which you have had to adjust quickly to changes in organisational priorities. What was the impact of the change on you?
  • Describe a time when another person was able to persuade you of their views and opinions. How did you feel about the issue initially? Was the person able to change your mind? How?

Information Seeking

  • Describe a problem you have encountered at work in the last six months. How did you go about rectifying it? What was your involvement?
  • Tell me about the most important decision you have made. How did you go about gathering information to help you make a decision?


  • Give me some examples of you doing more than required in your job.
  • Tell me about some projects you generated on your own.


  • What are some of the most imaginative things you have done in your present position?
  • What kinds of problems have people recently called on you to solve? Tell me about your contribution to solving the problem.

Communication Skills

  • Could you give me an example of a presentation you have made to a senior management or client group? Describe how the information was prepared and presented.
  • Can you describe a tough inter-personal situation that you have been faced with? What was the situation? Why was it tough? How did you approach the situation? What did you feel? Did you remain objective? If so, how? What was the outcome?

Negotiating Ability

  • Describe a major issue that you have had to fight for. How did you go about it? Why was it important to you?
  • Give me an example of a situation where you have had impact and been able to influence a group of people to do something.

Teamwork / Motivation

  • We have all had to deal with difficult people. Give me some examples of when this has happened to you. Why was it difficult? How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about the best team you have worked in. Why does it stand out positively in your mind?


  • Describe a situation in which you gave all, but failed.
  • What are some of the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome to get where you are today?

Tolerance for Stress

  • What are the highest pressure situations you have been in, in recent years? How did you cope with them?
  • How often do you find it necessary to take work home? Why?

If you’d like some help with competency-based interview questions or how to approach them, get in touch with us today to enquire about our coaching services, or give one of our friendly recruitment consultants a call on 02 9262 4836.

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