August 2014 Issue 96

Running an effective competency based interview

B2B Editor1 August 2014

Running an effective competency based interview

Executing an effective competency based interview is not straightforward, and involves careful forethought and planning, and sometimes even a little bit of practice.

According to HorizonOne’s David Harrington, not only is it important to be well prepared, but you need to tailor questions to the technical and behavioural competencies of the role, as well as the specific ‘unknowns’ you want to understand about a particular candidate. .

Government interviewers in particular can become so entrenched in processes and guidelines that they take a very inflexible approach, using the same interview questions for all candidates in a rigid manner.

“There is a common misconception that during competency based interviews all candidates must be asked exactly the same questions scripted by the criteria – nothing more and nothing less,” he says.

The purpose of the interview has been lost in the process somehow. Remember that the questions are simply one of the tools you can use to gather evidence to assess the candidate against the selection criteria.

Asking tailored questions, probing beyond the initial query is a skill that can mean the difference between the right decision and a costly one.


Planning will dramatically increase your ability to make an effective evaluation and ensure a fair and equitable interview process for all candidates. Follow the same overall routine for each candidate with the same core questions, but also target potential shortcomings of each candidate with additional questions as required.

When designing interview questions, do a test run prior to the interview. Make sure they are easily understood and elicit the information you are seeking. Jot down the best follow up ‘prompts’ that will help you delve right down to the ‘hows and whys’ of a candidate’s prior performance, and make necessary adjustments prior to the interview.

Decide in advance what, if any criteria or questions are more important than others, and agree if an assessment grading system is to be used. Decide which panel member will be responsible for leading the discussion around each question.


Although there is no legal or legislative requirement to ask a set of defined questions, fairness is important and consistency will make comparisons across candidates much simpler. What this typically means is that there is a group of ‘core questions’ that are introduced in the same way for each candidate, and these form the ‘skeleton’ that frames the interview conversation.

A combination of behaviour based questions and hypothetical scenario questions is a powerful formula for exploring the previous experience that will define future performance.


The real skill in an interview is in the ‘drilling down’, the detailed exploration of the questions, asking the ‘how did you achieve that?’, ‘what was your role?’, ‘why did that happen?’, ‘what was the outcome?’

If a candidate provides a ‘vague’ answer, probe further – dig beneath the answer.

While it may be easier and feel safer to stick to the set questions, mastering the art of drilling down is the difference between a competent interviewer and a highly effective one.

Remember interviews are conversations, listen carefully to candidate responses and consciously assess each response in relation to the selection criteria. Only the very best candidates, or potentially the best rehearsed ‘pretenders’, will respond with a perfectly crafted answer.

If the response did not give you enough information to make the assessment, it is not necessarily a weak response (yet!). Drill down – the devil is in the detail!

Please contact David Harrington,General Manager/Director at HorizonOne Recruitment on 02 6108 4878 or [email protected] Level 1, 27 Torrens Street, Braddon