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Competency-based interviews

Published on 14/10/03 at 04:50pm

There are many different approaches to interviewing. Some people like to be quite informal and just chat while others will have a list of their favourite interview questions that they have devised over the years. However, the pharma industry is becoming increasingly structured and training its managers to conduct competency-based interviews. The whole process is designed to gather evidence about your ability to do the job in question well. A competency is defined as skills, knowledge or behaviours that are required for you to succeed in a particular role. For example, a set of competencies for a sales role might include communication skills, organisational ability, team skills, focused on results, intellectual ability and customer focus.

The interviewer will prepare a series of questions around each competency. As you respond they may probe further to gain a full picture of any particular skill or behaviour. Remember, all they are looking for is good tangible evidence that you are competent in that area and so the better prepared you are the more readily your answers will come to mind.

Preparing for a competency-based interview

Try to work out what skills and behaviours the employer might require in this role. Make a list of the main competencies that you think will apply to the jobs you are considering applying for.

For each core competency try to think of specific examples that clearly show you posses the desired quality. Make notes - you may not actually use them in the interview but it will help you remember your answers. If you have not been interviewed for a long time get a friend to ask you some of the example questions shown later in this document. It will allow you to rehearse your answers and is a great opportunity to get feedback and advice.

You are unlikely to be strong in every area so be prepared to concede that some areas are not natural strengths for you. Suggest how you reduce this weakness and concentrate on your strengths. However, be aware that some competencies are a pre-requisite. No one wants an accountant who cant add up or a surgeon with poor attention to detail! In the interview with an employer never get rattled or defensive. Stay calm, justify your answers and keep smiling!

Common competencies

To help you we have listed below some of the most common competencies that companies look for. Our definitions may not be identical to those of a prospective employer but they will help you understand competency-based interviewing and prepare for it.

Motivation/drive for results

  • takes pride in achievements
  • enjoys competition
  • meets/exceeds targets
  • sets personal goals and achieves them
  • perseveres in difficult circumstances.

The prospective employer is trying to assess if you are able to focus on achieving a result regardless of the challenges or obstacles put in your way. Will you persevere when others perhaps would give in?

Communication skills

  • answers questions clearly and concisely
  • listens effectively
  • explains complex concepts clearly
  • considers context of comments
  • uses written communication to a high standard.

Obviously the employer is establishing that you can communicate well but this may extend into scenarios when you have sold ideas, services or products or dealt with difficult situations with customers.

Organisational skills

  • sets daily priorities
  • meets deadlines without undue stress
  • adapts to changes in circumstances
  • defines an overall plan for a project or business
  • measures progress against plans and objectives.

Can you be relied upon to organise yourself in the most productive manner? This is the question in the mind of every manager. If you are not naturally organised how do you compensate for this?

Team work

  • willing to share with/support others to achieve results
  • supports manager and respects others
  • works in collaboration to achieve team goal
  • supports team/company view when you may not wholly agree.

Questions that might be asked

In considering you answers, use examples from your business or personal life, be specific and try to remember what the interviewer is looking for. Needless to say, all you preparation will be lost if you neglect the basics such as being on time and researching the job and company.

Drive for results

  • what achievement are you most proud of?
  • give me an example of a time when you have had to achieve a specific result
  • what opportunities have you identified and used to achieve success?
  • tell me about a time when you have made things happen for yourself/your team?

Communication skills

  • tell be about your university thesis
  • what is your opinion on...?
  • tell me about an occasion when you were successful at persuading an individual or group to follow your idea
  • how do you change your approach to suit that of others?

Planning and organising

  • describe a time when you have had to plan a largish piece of work, ongoing over a period of time
  • how would you approach ensuring that you delivered results in your role.
  • it's a busy day with conflicting priorities and deadlines what do you do?

Team work

  • tell me about a time when you worked with others on a piece of work/project
  • describe the interpersonal relationships/
  • behaviours within the team
  • how would you contribute to the team? Can you give be examples of how this has worked in the past?


I agree.  This is fast becoming / has already become the main type of interview we see our clients use.

Here are some more tips and a short video too:

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