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You have applied for the job, and you have just found out you are going to be invited to an interview – you are delighted and excited but this is quickly replaced by nervousness and anxiety.

Don’t panic everyone gets nervous before an interview, its natural but one of the ways to alleviate this anxiety is to give yourself time to prepare fully for the interview. So take a deep breath, make a cup of coffee and set aside some time to prepare.

How to begin?

First and foremost you need to do some research on the organisation– review their website, LinkedIn, Twitter and other forms of Social Media to get an up to date view on what is happening for them. It is important to know what line of business they are in, products / services, new developments and what their company values are. You will not be expected to be an expert on them but you will need to display that you have researched them and are enthusiastic and motivated by what you found.

Next step is to review the Job Description, Person Specification and your CV – it is important to go through the Description and Specification in detail (Yes – I mean line by line) so to be able to display your suitability through your relevant experience. This will help you put together some relevant experience and examples which will be of a great help in preparing further.

I have yet to meet an interviewee who hasn’t been asked / interviewer who hasn’t asked the following question:

“Tell me about yourself?”

This is what some people will call your “elevator pitch” and the aim is to try to keep it to a 2-3 minute answer. The easiest way to approach this is to start with your current role and work backwards, educational achievements / certifications and your major achievements. The key here is to keep it relevant / specific to the role you are interviewing for. Just remember this is not the time to divulge any personable information but rather an opportunity to sell yourself as a candidate of interest for the role, and practising this out loud will help build your confidence.

The key to successful interviewing is to use relevant examples to back up your answers, this is never more true than in the case of Competency Based Questions. Competency Interviewing is one of the most commons methods of interviewing that I see on a regular basis, and it’s something that we can all prepare for before an interview.

Some organisations will outline the competencies that they feel are required in order to be successful in the role, but the majority of organisations won’t and you will have to read the Job Description closely to identify the competencies. Some of the more common competencies are: Innovation; Time Management; Communication; Influencing; Teamwork; Problem Solving,; Adaptability, Leadership, Networking.

When it comes to answering Competency Based Questions, the winning formula is the Star Approach. In short it stands for: Situation, Task, Activity and Result.

Situation – This is where you set the context around your answer – specifics are required where was it, what was happening, who was involved.

Task – What were you responsible for?

Activity – What action did you take? What did you do? Focus on your individual input / action rather than on the team performance. Remember to use past tense rather than conditional – it’s what you did not what you would do!

Result – What was the outcome? If there is metrics to illustrate the result don’t be afraid to use them. If it didn’t turn out as you had anticipated illustrate what you learned from the process and what you would do differently.

The strongest responses will be use specifics rather than vagueness, and it will also ensure that you keep your answer concise and to the point. It would be impossible to compile a complete list of Competency Based Questions but what I can do is give you a flavour of some of them:


  • Tell me about a time an idea / project that you initiated? What did you do? Why? What was the outcome? Were you happy with the result?

Time Management

  • How do you prevent a project from slipping behind deadline?
  • How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time?


  • Give an example of a time when you have had to explain a complex / technical issue to another member of staff who would not have the technical experience? Give an example of when you had to convey a difficult or sensitive message?


  • Describe a situation when you have had to convince / influence others?


  • Tell me about a time when you have worked successfully as a member of a team?
  • Describe a situation where you were successful in getting people to work together effectively?

Problem Solving

  • Describe a time when you had to analyse a problem, suggest a solution and implement?

Adaptability / Flexibility

  • Tell me of a situation where you had to adapt to changes, over which you had no control?


  • Describe a situation when you had to lead a group to achieve an objective?

Networking / Relationship Building

  • Describe how you have built successful relationships with stakeholders or clients? How did you go about building the relationship? How do you maintain them?

It is rare for the entire interview to be focused on Competencies and you will also find questions such as the following in most interview formats:

  • What are your key strengths?
  • What are the areas you need to develop?
  • Why are you interested in this role / company?
  • Why are you seeking to leave your current role?

There is a wise old saying that goes “Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail” and this is very true with interviewing. There are no set questions that you can be guaranteed will come up in an interview but by identifying examples to some of the more common competencies it will allow you to become confident with the STAR Approach and how to use examples to display your skills.

The 2 things I would like everyone to take away from this would be:

  1. Practise, Practise, Practise – Practise saying your answers out loud, get somebody you trust to ask you the questions and see how you go!
  2. Examples, Examples, Examples – These are the key to success.


Thanks for taking the time to read our guide to interview preparation.

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