Part one interview answers: what does the interviewer want to hear?

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Mar 2012

12 Mar 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Introduction to You're Hired! Interview Answers

This book will help you to read between the lines and unravel exactly what the interviewer wants to hear from you, so you can provide the answer they’re looking for.

Packed with practice questions, sample tests and tips on how to impress a prospective employer, this book will help you shine - and beat the competition in the process.

Following this series will provide you with a valuable resource to help prepare for that job winning interview. Although it will introduce you to one very specific type of interview, the approaches and techniques that you will learn will stand you in good stead in any interview situation, giving you the knowledge and confidence to manage them in a way that demonstrates your skills and abilities. So, if you have an interview coming up, or you’re planning to enter the job market, make sure you bookmark this page and return weekly to read the advice will be on offer.

Structured competency interview questions

Interviews can be pretty daunting, particularly if you’re new to the job market, or have not been in it for a while. Images of being grilled by a relentless interviewer come to mind, but in fact, when done well, interviews are not intended to be deliberately intimidating or designed to trip you up, they are simply designed to be very thorough. On the positive side, if you handle them well they can present you with a great opportunity to show yourself in a good light. In this serialisation, we will demystify the process and give you some top tips to enable you to shine in even the toughest interviews.

Structured competency based interviews are used extensively by experienced recruiters and are probably the toughest interviews that you will come across in your search for a new position because they are very searching. However, with the right knowledge, preparation and work experience you can actually turn this situation around and make it the most straightforward interview that you will encounter.

Exploring competencies

Put simply, competencies are the way that organisations define the qualities that they need (and that you need) to excel in a job. Not to be confused with skills, competencies are usually concerned with how we do things, whereas skills are usually about what we do. As an example:

‘Producing accounts’ is a skill. It is a specific set of steps and procedures.

‘Providing information in a timely and accurate manner’ is a competence. The timely and accurate descriptors – the ‘how’ bit - make this a competence. In other words, competencies are the behaviours which are used to exercise a skill.

Competencies are typically drawn together in what is known as a “Competency Model” – a collection of competencies required to be outstanding in a job.

Let’s take a look at some competencies.

Most competency models can be collapsed (or clustered) into three broad areas. This gives you a very useful shorthand for understanding the competencies of an organisation more easily. We’ve done this in the table below.




Energy and drive

Judgement and decision making

Motivating others

Achievement oriented

Analytical thinking

Influencing and persuading

Planning and organising

Creativity and innovation

Team leadership

Task competencies are about delivering/completing tasks, setting objectives and getting things done.

Thought competencies are typically about direction, strategy, creativity, problem solving, change, innovation, judgement and decision-making. 

People competencies focus on communicating, motivating and developing.

As you can see from this much shortened list above, almost all jobs will require elements from each of these three key areas. It’s hard to imagine a job that does not require an element of thinking, or an element of interacting with others.

We call this model the Leadership Radar because like steering a ship or flying a plane you need to keep your eye on all your radar screens in order to navigate a safe course. Sometimes you’ll need to focus on just one screen, while at other times all three screens will need to be taken into account.

Structured competence based interviews

A structured competence based interview is designed to assess a person’s competence in the competency areas that define success for the role. It is designed to counter the impressionistic approach that unstructured interviews tend to have and is designed around three core premises:

Past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour. Research has shown this to be true - our behaviour is consistent over time. This is not to say that we cannot learn or change and a good interview will explore your learning.  If, however, you have demonstrated the ability to work in an organised and structured way then you will do this in all your jobs.

Competencies are a good indicator of success at a job. Again, this is supported by research. So for example, people who score poorly on ‘focussing on customers’ in an interview also tend not to perform well in this area in a job. The interviewer’s task is therefore to explore each competency thoroughly enough to be able to give a confident rating of your likely performance in relation to that competency.

Maintaining a structure and asking each candidate the same questions. Doing so ensures that the interviewer can systematically differentiate between candidates in terms of relevant criteria. This is quite logical really, if you do not ask the same questions and explore the same competencies with each candidate you have no way of making an accurate and objective assessment of who is the strongest.


In the next instalment we will look at the structure of the competence based interview and explore what you can expect to happen if you have been invited to one.

Here is a summary of what we will be covering over the next nine weeks:

Week 2: Preparing for the interview.
Week 3: During the interview.
Week 4: Task based questions and effective answers.
Week 5: Thought based questions and effective answers.
Week 6: People based questions and effective answers.
Week 7:Tough, non-competency interview questions.
Week 8: Trouble shooting & FAQ.

Buy the book - discount for Changeboard members

For more information on this topic, why not read the full chapter in “You’re Hired! Interview Answers: Impressive Answers to Tough Questions”, available for purchase from the Trotman Publishing website. Remember to use the discount code ‘change’ at the checkout to secure an exclusive 25% discount off your order*.

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