Career Guidance

Guide: The most common competency based interview questions and how to answer them well

Read our guide, together with our How to handle competency-based interview questions tips, and double your chance of interview success.

How can you give the answer an employer is looking for unless you know the questions they’ll ask? By being prepared and taking in our experts’ advice on the 30 most common competency based interview questions you’re likely to face.

In this Article

What is a competency-based interview?

A potential employer will ask you competency interview questions to find out whether:

  • You have relevant experience for the job you’re applying for.
  • You’re reflective of your past work experience and aware of instances where you’ve developed professionally.
  • You’re aware of what they need.
  • You can cope with pressure.
  • Your personality would fit with their existing employees.

“Competency-based questions let you talk; they are open and invite a response that tells the employer about a real-life challenge that you have faced,” says James Shaikh, recruitment manager of experienced hires at EY (Ernst & Young).

Unfortunately, a lot of candidates deliver “poorly constructed or unclear answers”, he adds.

It’s important to go in to a competency-based interview with a positive attitude that’s founded on good preparation. Think of the interview questions as a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate why you’re the right person for the job.

Make no mistake: your competency interview answers will be key to whether or not you get the job.

How to prepare for a competency-based interview

To prepare for competency-based interview questions successfully, you need to do two things:

  1. Figure out all your skills, talents and abilities before the interview (self-analysis and awareness).
  2. Figure out how all those skills, talents and abilities meet your potential employer’s needs.

According to Shaikh, recruitment manager at EY, preparation boils down to considering “the nature of the situations where you have relied on your skills, and the complexity of the challenges you have used those skills to resolve”.

“We want to hear about candidates’ previous experiences and understand how they would handle different situations in the future, so it’s important to have thought about some examples ahead of the interview,” says Helen Tucker, director of Human Resources for P&G Northern Europe (Procter & Gamble).

Start your preparation for the most common competency-based interview questions by reading our How to handle competency-based interview questions guide. It tells you:

  • How to answer competency-based interview questions.
  • How competency interviews are scored by interviewers.
  • Example competency-based interview questions.

This guide makes multiple references to the STAR interview technique. The technique calls for you to structure your answers using four components: the Situation, the Task at hand, the Action you took and the Result your action achieved. Learn how to use the STAR technique in the aforementioned How to handle competency-based interview questions guide.

How to use this guide to common competency-based interview questions

We’ve analysed dozens of competencies and identified the 30 most sought after by employers.

The first 25 competencies are fundamental to every good employee. Practically, all of us would benefit from possessing them, and, in turn, every employer seeks them in their candidates.

The remaining five are role-specific competencies, and relate to a particular discipline or level of seniority:

For each competency, we show you:

  • Examples of interview questions that employers will ask when trying to determine if you posses the competency.
  • Descriptions and examples of the competencies and skills employers are looking for when they ask these questions.
  • How to prepare your answers to these questions.

Prepare for these questions properly, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of interview success.

This guide doesn’t provide stock answers. After all, you are unique, and your experiences and skills are, too.

Instead, we help you perfect your own answers to these competency questions, so you can show off your best self to your interviewer or interviewers.

Most candidates don’t take the time to prepare well. If you do, you’ll stand out in the best possible way.

1. Managing a quality service

Managing a quality service – example interview questions

  • How do you and your team identify and deliver the standards required by your customers?
  • Give me an example of how you’ve demonstrated an understanding of customer needs?
  • How do you respond to customer feedback?
  • Can you describe a time when you’ve been proactive in finding a solution to a problem encountered by your customers?
  • What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken? How did you handle the process?
  • Describe one of your current or recently completed projects, setting out the risks involved. How did you make decisions? How do you know that you made the correct ones?

Managing a quality service competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers who ask you questions about managing a quality service competency are looking for people who work well in teams, inspire others and deliver every time. You’ll need to show two sets of skills: external awareness and the ability to plan effectively.

External awareness skills

This competency question is common among businesses or organisations where the type of job could be affected by such issues as the state of the economy, competitors’ performance or public opinion.

Planning and effectiveness skills

As well as being aware of what’s going on locally, nationally or internationally, you should show you can:

  • Plan, organise and manage your time effectively.
  • Meet service objectives/targets.
  • Strive continually to improve the quality of service.
  • Apply programme and project management approaches.

Tom Laws, careers advisor at the National Careers Service, says employers also want people who:

  • Put limited resources to good use.
  • Communicate complex information to colleagues and members of the public.

Managing a quality service – interview answers

External awareness skills

Explain how you’re not only focused on your role within the company, but also understand the local and national issues that affect the employer’s sector.

Search online for news about the sector and the company’s financials. Do the same for any direct competitors.

“By being aware of the wider picture you immediately have more foresight to offer assistance to others, as well as demonstrating to management that you’re focused on larger goals, not just your own,” says Roddy Adair, national specialist director at Hays Recruitment.

Planning and effectiveness skills

Margaret Buj, interview coach and author of Land That Job, recommends using the STAR technique to answer interview questions. It stands for:

Situation (you set the scene).

Task (what was required of you).

Action (what you did).

Result (the outcome).

Buj adds: “Go into the detail of the situation and give the employer some context about your role and what your specific tasks were. You might want to reference a time where you really impressed a customer or a stakeholder and describe the exact lengths you went to to make them happy. Mention specific actions you took and explain why you took your decisions. Don’t forget to mention a tangible result at the end.”

Here’s what a project manager could say: “I successfully managed a £500,000 project and saved my department 20% of operating costs by implementing a flexible working policy, which increased productivity by enabling staff to work to their strengths.”

2. Communication skills

Communication – example interview questions

  • Tell us about a time when you used written communication to successfully influence someone? How did you go about structuring your writing?
  • Demonstrate how you vary your communication approach according to the audience you’re addressing.
  • Tell us about a situation where your communication skills made a difference to a situation.
  • Tell us about a situation when you failed to communicate appropriately.
  • Describe a situation where you had to explain something complex to a colleague or a client. Which problems did you encounter and how did you deal with them?

Good communication skills – what are employers looking for?

Whatever the role you’re applying for, every employer wants people who can talk persuasively, listen carefully and write well.

Verbal, listening, and written communication skills

The right candidate will be expected to:

  • Have empathy.
  • Be able to handle customers and colleagues well.
  • Adapt their communication style to different situations and audiences.
  • Influence and persuade stakeholders and decision makers.
  • Select the right information, for the right person at the right time.
  • Be able to help colleagues or members of the public understand complex information and ideas.

Communication skills – interview answers

Verbal, listening, and written communication skills

Think about your communication style, says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview.

“Do you like to communicate informally, in groups or as you walk around, or perhaps more formally? Do you prefer to communicate verbally or in writing? Whatever your normal style, indicate flexibility in your approach, depending on the situation, and show how you do it well.”

Whether you’re communicating by writing, speaking or listening, think carefully about the communication skills that will impress an employer, says Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV.

“Reciting a conversation with a colleague isn’t likely to excite the employer. Instead, you should give examples of presentations you’ve given to large audiences, or email communications you’ve sent out company wide.

“Always show the results you achieved with your communications, such as driving awareness of a project, or encouraging signups for an event.”

Jon Gregory, career coach and founder of, says: “You can no doubt describe a situation where your efforts were well received, but push further to show the value that you added. What was the outcome of the situation, and how might that have differed if you hadn’t communicated in the way you did?”

Your answer could focus on how you solved a problem, resolved conflict or motivated an employee through your communication skills.

3. Delivering at pace

Delivering at pace – example interview questions

  • Give us an example of when you took responsibility for delivering expected outcomes, giving credit to other teams and individuals where appropriate.
  • Tell us about a time when you had to sacrifice quality in order to speed up a project.

Delivering at pace competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers want people who motivate teams to deliver the best, high quality outcomes on time. You need to show the employer that you have good self-awareness skills, as well as project and time-management abilities.

Self-awareness skills

Self-awareness is a valuable trait for employees of almost all industries. They’ll want you to demonstrate that you:

  • Are aware of your limitations.
  • Understand the trade off between speed and quality.

Time management skills and project management skills

Keeping to timescales is another critical part of delivering at pace.

Employers are looking for people who meet deadlines, and track their own progress against milestones or targets.

Delivering at pace – interview answers

Self-awareness skills

To show self-awareness, outline your weaknesses when producing something fast, and then talk about how you manage and overcome them.

Choose a situation where the changes you made or the action you took turned something negative into a positive. “You want there to be a clear difference between the start and end of your story,” explains Karen Glossop, founder of Resonance Training.

Time management skills and project management skills

To show you’re adept at time and project management, it’s a good idea to have several accomplishment stories ready to use.

Margaret Buj, author of Land That Job, says: “It’s also important that the achievements you share are relevant to the jobs you’re applying for and that you’re able to quantify your experience as much as you can. If you’ve done something that has increased sales, or saved time or money, it’s likely to impress your potential employer.”

Here’s an example: you’re organising an event and the venue cancels at the last minute. You not only secure a different venue in a short timescale, but you also get it for 30% less than the advertised cost.

Or, perhaps you were awarded Employee of the Year for your excellent and speedy customer service.

4. Making effective decisions

Making effective decisions – example interview questions

  • Tell us about a decision you made too quickly and got wrong. What made you take that decision?
  • What big decision did you make recently. How did you go about it?

Making effective decisions competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers want people who can keep a clear head and use sound judgement based on solid knowledge when making decisions or offering advice.

Leadership skills

To impress as a candidate, you need to show that you excel at leading and managing others.

Demonstrate you’re the kind of person who:

  • Takes charge of a group when it’s necessary to facilitate change or overcome a deadlock.
  • Takes ownership of issues and seek to solve them.
  • Makes tough decisions, such as closing a facility, reducing staff, accepting or rejecting a high-stakes deal.
  • Sets priorities, and communicates them to colleagues.

Judgement and integrity skills

Employers want people who:

  • Make well-informed, effective, and timely decisions, even when data is limited or solutions produce unpleasant consequences.
  • Make decisions in difficult or ambiguous situations, when time is critical.
  • Make judgements based on sound evidence and expert insight.
  • Analyse evidence and evaluate options before arriving at well reasoned justifiable decisions.

Making effective decisions – interview answers

To really ace this answer, you must focus on, and clearly present, examples of making effective decisions at work. Describe the resulting benefits or successes of your chosen decisions, says Jon Gregory, career coach.

“For maximum impact, pick a decision-making example that the hiring organisation can relate to and appreciate, relative to the scale of role you’re applying for,” adds Gregory.

5. Collaborating and partnering

Collaborating and partnering – example interview questions

  • How have you created a good team spirit within your team?
  • Describe a time when you faced resistance or negativity and how you responded to this.
  • Give me an example where you collaborated with individuals or teams outside your business area to deliver a positive outcome.

Collaborating and partnering competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers are looking for people who work in a professional way with all kinds of people, and proactively build positive relationships to achieve great results.

Relationship-building skills

You’ll nail the interview if you show you can:

  • Work with others, and in teams.
  • Influence senior managers and decision-makers.
  • Convey ideas and information clearly, both in person and over email.

Cooperation skills

Employers value candidates who build positive, professional and trusting relationships with people across an organisation and outside it. Here are some examples of cooperation:

  • Working with colleagues or contractors towards a common goal, such as a project or sale.
  • Showing humility and patience when dealing with a difficult colleague.
  • Building a trusted professional relationship with a colleague who works in a different part of the business or organisation.

Collaborating and partnering – interview answers

Relationship-building skills

John Lees, author of Knockout Interview, says: “Learn how to ‘set the scene’ for this kind of answer. If you spend too long giving an overview of why the team was formed and what the team did, you’ll lose the employer’s attention. Give the background quickly.”

If you can’t think of an example of relationship-building skills from your work life, think of how you worked collaboratively in any unpaid work you’ve done, advises Claire Jenkins, founder of 121 Interview Coaching. Try thinking of the best team you’ve been part of and break down what worked about the dynamic between people.

Cooperation skills

Use an example of a productive, hard working team to explain how you worked collaboratively to make an impact.

“Make the ‘as a result’ part of your answer really powerful by thinking about what was achieved and why this was better than expected,” says Jenkins.

Statistics help to demonstrate the value of your cooperation skills. For example, you could say: “I reorganised a team of sales staff by matching roles to each team member’s strength. This led to a 20% rise in company profit by the end of the financial quarter.”

6. Leading and communicating

Leading and communication – example interview questions

  • When did you get a team to improve its performance? What were the problems and how did you address them?
  • Talk us through a situation where you had to make a decision without the input of key players who would later judge you on that decision.
  • Describe a time when you were less successful as a leader than you wanted to be.
  • Give us an example where you were unable to deal with a difficult member of your team.
  • How do you ensure that every member of the team is allowed to participate? Describe an example where you got people to work together.
  • When did you have to influence a senior manager, stakeholder or partner and how did you go about it?
  • Can you give an example of how you engaged your team in discussions about changes taking place in your unit, business area or department?

Leading and communicating competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers are desperate for strong leaders – that is people who lead others with conviction, passion and clarity, and engage them in a vision of the future. So, employers will be looking for people with excellent leadership and communication skills.

Leadership skills

Employers seek out people who are proactive in finding solutions to problems, says Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV.

You’ll need to show how you:

  • Inspire others to improve their performance (role model).
  • Anticipate and plan for change.
  • Delegate when appropriate.
  • Recognise how teamwork delivers more value than people working individually.
  • Set goals, and devise plans to achieve them.

Effective communication skills

For this competency, employers want people who:

  • Communicate the overall vision to their team.
  • Can influence and persuade others during meetings and over email.
  • They are looking for effective communicators and sensitive listeners. Essentially, people who can adapt their communication style depending on their audience.

Questions on leading and communicating often come up in interviews for management roles, so check out our guides on 2. Communication skills and 28. Manager.

Leading and communication – interview answers

Pick a situation where you influenced and inspired others.

“You should give a clear example of an incident that could have potentially been negative to your employer, and demonstrate how you presented a plan to your colleagues, and persuaded them to work together towards a positive outcome,” says Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV.

Jon Gregory, career coach, says: “Go for an example where things looked bleak and explain the full extent of the consequences that might have ensued had you not been involved.”

However, he adds: “Be wary of overselling yourself by keeping a realistic sense of scale over your contribution to the situation.”

7. Building capability for all

Building capability for all – example interview questions

  • Can you describe a time when you had to address underperformance and how you went about this?
  • Can you give us an example of how you nurtured a talented member of your team?
  • How do you increase your own knowledge and expertise and that of your team?
  • What are your own development areas and what are you doing to address these?

Building capability for all competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers want managers who get the best out of the people they lead, whether they be direct reports, coworkers or contractors. So, you need to show an openness to learning and demonstrate how well you nurture and manage talent to build a learning and knowledge culture.


For this competency, employers want people who are:

  • Inquisitive and intellectually curious.
  • Interested in enabling others to reach their full potential.

HR and internal communications skills

This competency is about being able to sensitively navigate internal communications. This includes:

  • Speaking confidently with co-workers and stakeholders.
  • Resolving internal conflicts.
  • Telling coworkers and colleagues what they need to improve, without hurting their feelings.

Building capability for all – interview answers


Your best reply to this is a competency story with a strong focus on personal learning. One that shows you continually push yourself, and others, to build skills and knowledge.

“You’ll need to think about a time when you have built up yourself or others,” says Lisa LaRue, career coach at CareerWorx.

Perhaps you did that through leading a team to success, dealing with an employee’s concern, resolving conflict or inspiring a demotivated individual in your team.

Examples include addressing an underperforming staff member, mentoring a more junior colleague, or organising training for your team.

For each situation, use the STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action you took and the Result you achieved. That way, you’ll be sure to quantify the value your choices and actions brought to your employer.

HR and internal communications skills

Once you’ve picked a scenario, the STAR technique helps you to describe how you created a positive outcome for all involved, says LaRue.

Ideally, your answer will marry the company’s goals with what you have achieved.

If you’re being interviewed for a senior role, you also need to show that you can create a culture of diversity, learning and knowledge to get the best of people across the organisation.

“This might be a good time to talk about energising fellow team members, even if the context is outside work. Make sure you describe ‘push’ leadership skills, such as driving people towards goals, and ‘pull’ leadership skills like drawing out the best from people,” says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview.

8. Good customer service

Good customer service – example interview questions

  • Please provide an example of when you delivered excellent customer service.
  • Tell us about a time when you had to calm an angry customer.
  • Tell us about a time when you had help your customers deal with a problem with your employer’s product or service.
  • Give us an example of time where you weren’t able to solve the customer’s problem. How did you handle the situation?

Customer service competency – what are employers looking for?

This competency is most relevant for customer-facing or customer service roles in sectors from retail to insurance. But it’s still relevant to all, not just those who sell things for a living: colleagues can be considered ‘internal’ customers. After all, they’re recipients of your information or your support.

Customer service skills

Employers want people who can deploy the right mix of empathy and assertiveness when dealing with customers.

Customer service can mean helping awkward, angry or abusive abusive members of the public. That’s why employers want people with a proven track record of working under pressure.

Good customer service – interview answers

Customer service skills

You need to prepare examples of good customer service for interview, proving how satisfied the customer was either through feedback or by showing how you measured their satisfaction levels.

Give an answer that shows you’ve dealt with this before and you’re ready to do so again, says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview. “The best way to answer is to give a genuine experience. For example, say: ‘I was working on an exhibition stand when a customer came up to me and ranted about being overcharged. The first thing I did was…’.”

Conversely, a bad answer would be: ‘I’ve been working with customers for three years’, which fails to convey the quality of service delivered, adds Lees.

Lisa LaRue, career coach at CareerWorx, advises focusing on the actions you took, and the resulting successful outcome. She says: “For example, if your great customer service led to them becoming a regular customer, that would be a good outcome. Perhaps they also told their friends of the great the customer service they received, resulting in new business for the company. The greater the outcomes the more engaging and powerful the scenario will be”.

You also need to focus on your specific contribution, not your role in a team. HR and resourcing specialist Lydia Fairman says: “It’s important to be specific about what you personally did and therefore talk about ‘I’ not ‘we’. Wherever possible provide a recent workplace example for answers, if it’s not possible, think of roles of responsibility outside work.”

A particularly strong answer would describe measured results, for example, ‘92% of our surveyed customers were satisfied their problems had been solved by our customer services team.’

9. Strategic thinking (seeing the bigger picture)

Strategic thinking – example interview questions

  • How have you ensured your team understands how its work interconnects with the other activities in the department?
  • How does your current role fit into the department’s overall objectives?
  • Describe a time when you developed and updated good practice in your area of work.
  • Give me an example of when you had to make a change in your work area. How did you ensure it fitted with the strategic direction of the department or your business function?
  • Think about a project where you needed to secure input from other departments. How did you identify that need, and how did you ensure buy-in from the appropriate leaders and managers?
  • Concentrate on a time when you failed to engage at the right level in your organisation. Why did you do that, and how did you handle the situation?

Strategic thinking competency – what are employers looking for?

To see the big picture is to have an in-depth knowledge of the organisation you work for, and industry you work in. Few UK workers possess this competency. More often than not, those that do are experienced, high performing individuals. As well as strategic thinkers, employers are looking for people with strong organisational awareness.

Organisational awareness skills

For senior roles, employers need people who can look at the company or organisation, help define goals and objectives, then devise ways of achieving them.

Strategic thinking skills

Employers need leaders who can evaluate how well the company or organisation is doing, and come up with ways in which things can be approved.

Strategic thinking – interview answers

Strategic thinking skills

“You should relish this kind of question as a great opportunity to show you have done your research,” says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview.

To find out about the company, check relevant websites and publications. Read about the names of key people and organisations. Try to gain a picture of the way this organisation sees its future, and demonstrate that you can be part of it.

“Select stories that show that you can perform the job well,” says Katherine Burik, founder of the Interview Doctor. “For example, talk about how you led your company to outperform its competitors; or perhaps describe a time you restructured an internal system that was preventing teams from working together towards a common goal.”

She adds: “Go with stories that make the listener ask, ‘How did you do that?’ Entice them with the short version, and leave them wanting to find out more.”

Organisational awareness skills

To answer this question well, relate it to the job you’re applying for.

Talk about how you could replicate previous or related successes with your potential new employer.

“You need to find out how the organisation differentiates itself from the competition,” says Lees. “Talk about specific services or products and their respective brand strengths. Begin by talking positively about the organisation, before moving into detail.”

10. Teamwork

Team working – example interview questions

  • When was the last time you worked as part of a successful team? What did you do to contribute to it?
  • How do you ensure that you maintain good working relationships with your colleagues?
  • Give us an example of working in a dysfunctional team or where there was conflict in the team. What was the cause? What did you do to help resolve the situation?
  • Describe a situation where you played an important role in a project as a member of the team (not as a leader).
  • How do you ensure that every member of the team is allowed to participate?
  • How do you build relationships with other members of your team?
  • How do you bring difficult colleagues on board? Give us an example where you had to do this.

Team working competency – what are employers looking for?

Many employers value team players. For this competency, they don’t just want to hear about how you work well in a team. They also want to know why you’re good at it. If you’re a true team player, you’ll excel at three key skills: communication, judgement and responsibility.

Effective communication skills

Employers are trying to discover how you listen and respond to other team members’ ideas, and whether you can interact with people effectively.

You’ll convince an employer you have effective communication skills if you show you:

  • Listen and respond constructively to other team members’ ideas and proposals.
  • Are open with other team members about their concerns.
  • Express disagreement constructively by, for example, suggesting alternatives.
  • Express support for other people’s great ideas.
  • Give honest and constructive feedback.

Judgement and integrity

Employers need people who make objective decisions based on data or educated hypotheses, as opposed to personal assumptions.

They want honest, transparent and honourable team members who work towards the business or organisation’s goals.

In an interview, you need to show you earn the trust of your colleagues and are willing to place your trust in them.

Ownership and responsibility

If you have a track record of taking responsibility, both when working individually or as part of a team, an

employer will want you.

Employers like people who take responsibility because they typically possess a strong work ethic and strive for excellence. They’re also able to secure consensus between different teams and departments.

Team player

Candidates who show they are fair, honest and treat other team members with respect, especially when they’re a manager, will impress an employer.

Here are some examples of team player traits:

  • They support group decisions.
  • Help others when they need it.
  • Seek solutions that everyone can get behind.

Team working – interview answers

This competency asks for a lot and how you answer depends on what type of role you’re applying for.

“As part of your interview preparation you should scrutinise the job description,” says Kim Whitfield, head of resourcing at M&S. “What work style skills are they looking for: a self starter, a leader, a motivator? Use this insight to inform your example and talk specifically about the role you have played within a team and how your skill set helped achieve your team objective.”

Think of a good example of working in a team, and talk about your experience of working in a team.

John Lees, author of Knockout Interview, says you mustn’t confuse being a ‘team player’ with leading a team. “When we talk about team players, most people mean those who are naturally extrovert and who display leadership characteristics, but there are many different roles in successful teams. You might be a natural leader, or someone who persuades others to work together. You might be an idea builder, a good organiser, or a safe pair of hands, someone who ensures projects are completed on time.”

Regardless of the role you take in a team, in the interview you need to show clearly what you contributed to the group’s success. “Use ‘I’ not ‘we’ when talking about the success of the team. Make it crystal clear what you contributed. Were you the ideas person, the co-ordinator, the project driver? Or perhaps you were the person who stopped the other members of the team strangling each other?” says Lees.

When handling teamwork interview questions and examples, you also need to show that you can compromise and support group decisions.

Teamworking is a highly regarded competency in a variety of work contexts, so you need to show that you are an active and cooperative team member. Don’t just say it, show it. Tell a story that includes progress or improvement.

11. Changing and improving

Changing and improving – example interview questions

  • How would you assess your ability to bring about change?
  • What was the biggest change you had to deal with in your previous employment. How did you handle it?

Changing and improving competency – what are employers looking for?

Have you improved a process for a customer? Do you innovate to make things run smoother or have you made improvements to a system? These are all things that employers value in an employee, because changing and improving makes their organisation more effective and agile.

“Most organisations go through repeated change, which often requires a mix of clear decision-making, sensitive consultation, and an ability to get things done,” explains John Lees, author of Knockout Interview.

Creating change

Employers need people who are “forward thinking and in touch with industry challenges,” says Kim Whitfield, head of resourcing for M&S.

People who create change constantly evolve their skill set to keep pace with development in their discipline or sector, such as learning a coding language or a new industry regulation.

Innovative and dynamic approach

Businesses and organisations love critical thinkers who can help them improve their approach.

At senior levels, people who can foster a culture of innovation in the company are among the most sought after.

Changing and improving – interview answers

An employer who asks you about your changing and improving competency is trying to find out whether you’re adaptable and can deal with uncertainty or change in the organisation.

Creating change

To answer this, you need to show you are comfortable with implementing and responding to change in an organisation. Can you use an example to demonstrate you’re effective in seeking out opportunities to create change, and encourage innovative thinking in your staff?

Before you choose a scenario to talk about, try to find out about your potential employer’s recent history and use it to your advantage. “If the last post-holder upset a lot of people, emphasise your diplomatic skills. If it’s an environment where there are turf wars or power struggles, show how you dealt with negativity or opposition,” explains Lees.

Innovative and dynamic approach

Whitfield says the more you research the company, the more precise your answer for this competency will be.

Discover the challenges facing the organisation. Work out what changes are likely to occur because of them. Then match your answer to similar challenges you have experienced and dealt with in the past.

You also need to show how you can modify your approach to achieve a goal, and that you’re open to change or unexpected obstacles.

12. Organisational skills

Planning and organisation – example interview questions

  • How do you plan to ensure you complete a number of tasks effectively?
  • Describe a large piece of work you’ve planned yourself
  • What techniques do you use to get things done?
  • How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?
  • During your most recent team project, how did you participate in its planning? What was your role in accomplishing the action steps needed to complete the project. How did you measure its success?

Planning and organisation competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers value people who can plan and organise their time and resources, and people who do jobs properly, effectively and to deadlines. If that sounds like you, then employers will want to hire you.

Organisational skills

Employers are seeking people who can handle multiple tasks at one time, and prioritise their time where it’s most needed.

This is relevant to any job where you’re required to manage your time autonomously. It’s especially relevant for jobs like event planning.

Planning and organisation – interview answers

Organisational skills

Think about how you cope when you have to manage several projects at once.

Don’t exaggerate your abilities, or say that you take on an ever-increasing burden of projects. Instead, talk about how you productively manage a full workload.

Identify times you initiated projects yourself or managed one given to you by someone else.

Describe how you faced obstacles or where you had to change strategy to get things done.

“Make sure you share bits of your personal experience so the employer can evaluate whether your experience will be right for the job,” says Katherine Burik, founder of the Interview Doctor. “The employer is hoping that your past experience will predict your future success. So explaining ‘what I learned’ is probably the most important part of the response. It gives you a chance to re-emphasise your strengths.”

Throw in a bounce-back question if you feel comfortable, advises John Lees, author of Knockout Interview. For example you could ask: ‘What opportunities would I have to use these skills here?’ This gets you useful clues about the kinds of projects handled, and organisational expectations about how things are monitored.

Lees also recommends breaking down your discussion of the project into five simple steps:

  1. The problem you needed to solve or original brief.
  2. How you got your initial project plan signed off, and who you had to influence.
  3. How you kicked-off the project.
  4. Snags you hit along the way.
  5. How you reached a successful outcome.

He adds: “Providing a step-by-step approach shows that you’re capable of working with goals in mind, and of dealing with each stage of a project’s life cycle. This is a great opportunity to make good job content sound great.”

13. Working under pressure

Working under pressure – example interview questions

  • It’s a busy day with conflicting priorities and deadlines: what do you do?
  • Which recent project or situation has caused you the most stress? How did you deal with it?
  • Give us an example of a situation where you worked under pressure.

Working under pressure competency – what are employers looking for?

Does pressure get to you, do you or thrive under it? That’s what employers wants to know when they’re interviewing you. They’ll be looking for real examples of how you managed to work under pressure, so they can gauge your ability to handle it.

Time management skills

Employers are looking for people who understand priorities and timescales, and can work with a sense of urgency to meet deadlines.

Planning and being organised can help people to cope well under pressure.

Organisation and planning skills

Businesses want employees who maintain a high level of standard in their work while juggling multiple projects.

Self management

Self-managers who manage their own time to meet goals are rare. They are good at handling pressure, know where and when to find help and consistently reassess priorities, which means they’re in high demand.

Working under pressure – interview answers

Time management skills

As with all competencies, preparation is key to your success. When providing examples of working under pressure, you should talk about time management using “strong, recent examples,” advises John Lees, author of Knockout Interview.

Don’t talk only about how you got the best results in your chosen scenario. Show you are realistic about setbacks and that you don’t over-promise. If necessary, you will push back on timelines if your team or you can’t meet them.

Organisation and planning skills

Pick a scenario where you can outline the steps you take to prioritise workloads. Be specific about techniques you have for organising your time – it’s even better if you can measure your success.

For example, you could say: “I had daily and long-term to-do lists, which I used to track the progress of multiple projects simultaneously. My productivity increased significantly using this method. As a result, three quarters of the projects were delivered ahead of deadline, and the remainder were delivered on time.”

Self management

Lees says: “If pressure is a daily event, mention that fact and talk about non-routine pressure; how you respond in a crisis. This kind of question is often directed at those returning to work after some time out of the market. Arm yourself with examples to reassure the employer that you haven’t lost touch with workplace pressure.

“Be prepared for the kind of employer who counters: ‘I mean real pressure!’ and make sure your example is about genuine pressure, not just another day in the office,” he adds.

14. Attention to detail

Attention to detail – example interview questions

  • Describe a time where you made a mistake in your work. How did you find the mistake? What actions did you take?
  • What tools do you use to check your work? Why do you use these tools? Provide an example of where you have applied these.
  • How do you go about ensuring quality when there are time pressures? Describe a time where you have managed to produce quality work when you were under pressure.
  • Describe a time where you found an error that was not immediately obvious.
  • Have you ever discovered a mistake that was overlooked by everyone else? How did you find this? What was the result?
  • Tell us when you had to persuade someone above you that they had made a mistake. What did you do in this situation? How did it turn out?
  • Tell us about a piece of work you produced where accuracy was essential.

Attention to detail competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers want to find employees who are thorough and accurate when dealing with a task. You’ll need to demonstrate your ability to complete tasks, organise them effectively and deliver them accurately.

Sees tasks through to completion

Employers want people who are:

  • Mindful of small details.
  • Stay on top of projects right up until they’re finished.
  • Adhere to procedures and standards.

Effective organisation

You should show you can:

  • Manage resources efficiently.
  • Manage particularly heavy workloads.
  • Monitor and check work or information.
  • Plan and organise time and resources efficiently.
  • Provide information promptly and in a usable form to others who need to act on it.

Accuracy and quality control

Employees who present accurate and consistent work are sought after. Employers want to see how you check the accuracy of information you’re given, and go into detail about how you monitor the quality of your work and others’.

You’ll be valued if you show you can:

  • Double-check the accuracy of information.
  • Carefully monitor the quality of your own and other people’s work.
  • Ensures things are done thoroughly or precisely.

Attention to detail – interview answers

When an employer asks you an attention to detail interview question, you need to show you’re thorough in your work, while tailoring your answer to the employer’s needs and goals.

For example, if you’re a journalist, you may be asked about your attention to detail in grammar, syntax and punctuation. A stockbroker could be asked about their attention to financial markets. Pick a scenario that’s most applicable to your industry.

“During the interview, I would really listen to the employer and be prepared to adapt your answers to the areas they’re probing. For example, if their language is financial and data driven, bring these examples to the forefront,” says Whitfield, head of resourcing at M&S.

15. Handling a difficult decision or situation

Handling a difficult decision – example interview questions

  • Describe a difficult situation and how you handled it.
  • Talk about a situation where you had to be sensitive to the needs of co-workers.
  • How did you come to that decision?
  • Have you ever had to make an unpopular decision?
  • Give us an example where you were unable to deal with a difficult member of your team.

Handling a difficult decision or situation competency – what are employers looking for?

We’ve all been in situations where you’re provoked, disappointed or treated in a hostile way. You may also have faced decisions that are hard to make, such as telling someone their role is redundant. An employer is interested in how you act under fire and how you withstand the tougher aspects of a job.

Decision-making and communication skills are two of the the most sought after and difficult to find competencies. Here are some examples of handling a difficult situation which may be relevant:

  • Your colleague has submitted unsatisfactory work.
  • There is a conflict between two members of your team.
  • One of your co-workers has been found to be dishonest.
  • You’ve had a disagreement with your line manager.

Handling a difficult decision – interview answers

Describe a difficult situation and how you handled it. Pick a story that required you to be sensitive to the needs of fellow co-workers.

John Lees, career coach and author of Knockout Interview, advises examples such as: telling someone they’re underperforming, saying no to a request for promotion, issuing a verbal warning, or telling someone they’re going to be made redundant. Pick a scenario that shows you’re not afraid of tackling difficult tasks, and that you can act tactfully, he adds.

In your answer, make sure that you show conflict management skills.

“Whether you choose to talk about a disappointment, a disagreement, or a decision that didn’t go your way, employers will be looking at your coping mechanisms and at how robust you are,” says Kathleen Saxton, founder of The Lighthouse Company. Talk about what you learned from the situation and how you built on that experience, she adds.

Match the level of decision-making to the role on offer, adds Lees. “A senior buyer may readily mention handling contracts with millions, while an assembly line worker may talk about the authority to shut the line down. Say something about the level of the decision you had to make, why it was difficult, and who you consulted; but be sure you emphasise that you made a decision and stuck to it. The employer is in reality probing difficulties you might have making decisions under pressure, so be prepared for a follow-up question.”

16. Adaptability

Adaptability – example interview questions

  • Describe a situation where you started off thinking that your approach was the best, but needed to alter your course during the implementation.
  • Talk about a situation where you were asked to do something that you had never attempted previously.
  • Tell us how one of your projects suffered a setback due to an unexpected change in circumstances.
  • Which change of job did you find the most difficult to make?
  • What was the biggest change that you have had to deal with? How did you cope with it?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to adjust to changes that were outside your influence or control?
  • Tell us about a time when you had to adjust to someone’s way of working to achieve a goal or complete a project?

Adaptability competency – what are employers looking for?

Can you change your style or way of working when necessary to reach a goal? Finding out how agile and adaptable you are is the aim of the adaptability competency questions.


Adaptability interview questions are particularly common in rapidly developing disciplines like IT, which must constantly adapt to new technologies.

Employers want people who:

  • Proactively keep up with changes affecting their industry or sector.
  • Look for ways to make a change work, instead of identifying why it won’t work.
  • Make suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of changes.
  • Shift strategies or approaches in response to the demands of a situation.
  • Continuously seek out ways to improve things, at project and company level.


You’ll be sought after if you can:

  • Adapt quickly and easily to change.
  • Show willingness to learn new methods, procedures, or techniques.
  • Adjust to changing environments while maintaining effectiveness.
  • Make good choices for the good of the company or organisation.
  • Listen well.
  • Change your behavioural style or method of approach when necessary to achieve a goal.
  • Respond to change with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.

Adaptability – interview answers

“We know that the world is dynamic and ever changing, so your history of adapting in moving scenarios is important,” explains James Shaikh, recruitment manager at EY. Prepare adaptability examples for your answer. For this, “think about a time where your ability to deliver something was impeded by a change in the brief, or any other aspect. How did you understand the impact of the change? How did you respond? What was the result?”

Another tip is to show that you understand the industry you’re applying to by using sector-specific ‘job language’ in your answers, says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview. “This should reframe what you have done in terms the employer can understand.”

17. Adapting your style within a group to get the best outcome

Adapting your style – example interview questions

  • Describe a time when you had to adapt your style within a group to get the best outcome for all.
  • Can you give an example of a time you influenced a colleague or manager to adopt your way of thinking?
  • Explain how you had to change your approach halfway through a project or task following new input into the project.
  • Describe a situation where you started off thinking that your approach was the best, but needed to alter your course during the implementation.
  • Talk about one of your projects that suffered a setback due to an unexpected change in circumstances.
  • Describe a situation where you were asked to do something that you had never attempted previously.
  • Describe your strongest and your weakest colleagues. How do you cope with so many different personalities?
  • If we gave you a new project to manage, how would you decide how to approach it?

Adapting your style competency – what are employers looking for?

This competency question looks at how you adapt your behaviour as an individual, but also how you flex your style in a group of people to ensure the best outcome.

Employers need people who can modify their behaviours and approaches for the benefit of the project, team or business.

People who can adapt their style remain open to new information and are prepared to change their mind when presented with compelling evidence or reasoning.

Adapting your style – interview answers

“Adaptation questions fish for past relationship difficulties,” says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview. In your answer, emphasise your flexibility skills. Stack up examples about team members, staff who have reported to you, previous managers and customers or clients you have worked with.

He adds: “Talk about people who have inspired you or energised you, people you have learned from. If you worked in a good team, say so, and explain why the team worked. This is a very good opportunity to praise past colleagues, which sends out a signal that you work well with others and can learn from a variety of contexts.”

Katherine Burik, founder of the Interview Doctor, agrees that you need to delve into your past to uncover when you may have had to “eat your words” for the benefit of the company’s end goal. The answer for this question is all about showing your flexibility. Describe an example to the employer which shows you aren’t stubborn and can adapt to new information.

18. Delivering value for money

Delivering value for money – example interview questions

  • Explain how you delivered value for money on a project or task following new input into it.
  • Describe a situation where you changed your approach, which led to higher profitability for the company.
  • Describe a situation where you produced better results with fewer resources.
  • Discuss an example where you increased productivity in your team.
  • Tell us about a situation where you helped increase company profits.

Delivering value for money competency – what are employers looking for?

Here, the employer wants to find out whether you will use the organisation’s money to best effect, such as delivering projects within budget or achieving the best outcome with limited resources (time, people or money).

Effective budget management

Questions about budget management are all about commerciality, explains Maria Mawby, human resources business partner at Volkswagen Group.

Every business or organisation would benefit from people skilled in reducing costs and increasing productivity.

Examples of cost savings and increased efficiency include:

  • Reducing or eliminating waste.
  • Using a form of technology to increase speed and/or accuracy in an existing process.
  • Renegotiating deals, or securing discounts.
  • Finding cheaper suppliers.
  • Achieving economies of scale.
  • Reducing overheads like office rental, power usage or telecommunications packages.
  • Removing duplicate orders.

Return on investment (ROI)

Senior business leaders are expert at making the most of their budgets. For this competency, employers want people who work collaboratively across teams to ensure the organisation maximises its success with the resources available.

Delivering value for money – interview answers

Prepare examples where you have delivered value for money. However, remember that non-financial examples are also valid.

Mawby says: “Sometimes candidates think this has to be about money”. But it doesn’t. Your answer can be “linked to saving resource, efficiency and process and future strategy and focus.”

“Always try and link it back to the bottom line if possible”, adds Mayby.

19. Resilience

Resilience – example interview questions

  • Describe a situation where things deteriorated quickly. How did you react to recover from that situation?
  • Tell us about a project where you achieved success despite the odds being stacked against you.
  • Give us an example of a situation where you worked under pressure.
  • Under what conditions do you work best and worst?
  • Which recent project or situation has caused you the most stress? How did you deal with it?
  • When is the last time that you were upset with yourself?
  • What makes you frustrated or impatient at work?

Resilience competency – what are employers looking for?

Employers want people who can deal with pressure at work, and stay strong in the face of difficult situations. Keeping calm, focused and poised is a plus for employers in every sector.

It’s important you can demonstrate strength of character at work, and composure in the face of adversity.

Resilience – interview answers

Before you answer, think about what resilience would mean for your potential employer.

Resilience, the ability to bounce back after setbacks, is important in many roles, says Alan Andrews, HR manager at KIS Finance. “Think of good examples which demonstrate how you applied this quality. The best answers tell a story and show your personality. You could say: ‘My last job required tremendous resilience. For example, my project was sent back to the drawing board multiple times because of changes to policy. That got some people down, but I just got on with the job and gave the project the same attention I gave it when it first crossed my desk.’”

Resilience in itself is a positive quality, but it’s the process we go through to make us resilient that’s interesting, says James Shaikh, recruitment manager at EY. “If your great idea was unsuccessful the first time, did you take on board the reasons why and address them by refining and developing the idea? If you managed to get a piece of work delivered, despite short timescales, did you adapt the project to meet the deadline? Explain the process you went through to establish that resilience is the more interesting answer.”

20. Integrity

Integrity – example interview questions

  • Tell us about a time when someone asked you to do something you objected to. How did you handle the situation?
  • Describe a situation when you showed integrity and professionalism.
  • When have you had to lie to achieve your aims? Why did you do so? How do you feel you could have achieved the same aim in a different way?
  • Tell us about a time when someone asked you something that you objected to. How did you handle the situation?
  • Have you ever been asked to do something illegal, immoral or against your principles? What did you do?
  • Tell us about a situation where you had to remind a colleague of the meaning of integrity.
  • Have you ever gone against company policy? Why did you do it and how did you handle it?
  • How do you ensure compliance with policies in your area of responsibility?

Integrity competency – what are employers looking for?

In all businesses, it’s important to build trust by keeping your promises, sticking to the rules and behaving honestly and ethically. Integrity competency questions give employers the chance to check whether you’ll deviate from your principles. Employees who lack integrity can damage a company’s brand and harm its image in ways that may take years to reverse.

If an employer asks you about this competency, they are looking for someone who is honest and demonstrates strong moral principles. They want to see that you are diplomatic and have strength of character.

Integrity – interview answers

It’s only natural for employers to want to hire candidates who are honest, professional and have good moral character. In your answer, show them you’ll make sound decisions that’ll uphold their image, says Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV. Pick a scenario that reflects this.

“A classic example to use is an occasion where you have stopped a customer from making a purchase because the product or service is not right for them. You may lose out in the short term, but that customer will definitely be back in the long term,” he says.

21. Conflict between others

Conflict between others – example interview questions

  • Describe the personal skills needed to deal with conflict between other people.
  • What are your strongest and your weakest colleagues like? How do you cope with so many different personalities?
  • Talk about a time when you felt that conflict or differences were a positive driving force in your organisation. How did you handle the conflict to optimise its benefit?
  • Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a conflict within your team. What did you do to help resolve the situation?
  • Describe a situation where conflict led to a negative outcome. How did you handle the situation and what did you learn from it?

Conflict between others competency – what are employers looking for?

Conflict competency questions are designed to see how you handle conflict.

Conflict resolution

Conflicts and disagreements happen. What employers want to know is how you would resolve such situations constructively.

They are seeking someone who possesses conflict management skills, empathy, and an understanding of other people’s’ feelings and needs.

Creative tensions

Conversely, employers also want people who stimulate creative tensions and encourage productive differences of opinion. They don’t want people who simply shut other people’s views down.

Conflict between others – interview answers

“When you hear conflict your mind may jump to the experiences you have had watching colleagues at loggerheads,” says James Shaikh, recruitment manager at EY. He adds that these examples shouldn’t necessarily be the ones you talk about.

Disagreements happen often at work, so in your answer think of an accomplishment, then consider the conflicts you had to overcome to get there. Consider how you worked to enable a more harmonious and effective working environment.

When you choose your scenario, always remember what the commercial end goal was and how it was achieved. Emphasise the success of the conflict resolution in your answer.

22. Motivation

Motivation – example interview questions

  • Describe a time when you had to win over a reluctant or unresponsive person.
  • Give us an example of a situation where you knew that a project or  task would place you under great pressure. How did you plan your approach and remain motivated?
  • Tell us how you have motivated others to do their job better?

Motivation competency – what are employers looking for?

If you know what motivates people, you can help them to succeed. In a managerial position, this is a sought-after skill but it’s also important in all team-based working. Don’t forget that employers will want you to be self-motivated, too.

Employers are looking for you to discuss how you have inspired both yourself and co-workers in the past. They want to know how you get the best from people and understand what motivates them, along with leadership qualities.

Motivation – interview answers

“When deciding which examples to use, keep referring back to the job advert and the competency framework,” says Tom Laws, careers advisor at the National Careers Service.

For example, if the role requires a lot of independent work, talk about times when you have shown yourself to be self-motivated on projects or starting new initiatives.

For a management role, discuss situations where you motivated a team. “Try to fit your examples to the advertised post,” he adds.

John Lees, author of Knockout Interview, says you should think about varying examples. “For example in sales or customer support roles, talk about improving or maintaining performance. Or where others have been laid off, talk about how you motivate people in a difficult situation.”

23. Taking control of a situation

Taking control of a situation – example interview questions

  • Describe an occasion when you intervened to take control of a situation.
  • Tell us about a project or situation where you felt that the conventional approach would not be suitable.
  • How did you figure out and manage a new approach? Which challenges did you face and how did you address them?
  • Talk about an unpopular decision that you made recently. What thought process did you follow before making it? How did your colleagues or clients react and how did you deal with their reaction?

Taking control competency – what are employers looking for?

Taking control of a situation competency questions help an employer find out how you use your initiative, how you persuade people and initiate change.

If an employer asks about this competency, they are trying to get a sense of your management style, says Siân Duffin a student support manager at Arden University. “They’re also looking for your ability to take other people on a journey with a project and show how you deliver a successful outcome.”

Taking control of a situation – interview answers

“Go for an example where things looked bleak and make sure to explain the full extent of the consequences that might have ensued, had you not been involved,” says Jon Gregory, career coach.

Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV, advises talking about a situation that could have been harmful to your employer, but you presented a plan to your colleagues and took the lead to achieve the goal.

“If you can talk about a particular style of leadership you’ve had to adopt, or times when you’ve been out of your comfort zone and still managed to achieve results, the employer will be impressed,” says Duffin.

24. Problem solving

Problem solving – example interview questions

  • Describe how you needed to research a problem and came up with different alternatives to resolve it. How did you determine the most appropriate solution?
  • What’s the best idea you’ve ever had and successfully implemented?
  • Talk about a project that didn’t go to plan. What did you do to rectify it?
  • Tell us about a time where you needed to consult several different groups to come up with an answer to an issue. What was the outcome?
  • What’s the most challenging workplace problem you’ve encountered? What did you do to come up with a solution?
  • If you inherited a team that you sensed was not performing optimally, what would you do to begin to solve the problem?
  • Describe the steps you normally take to make a decision. Tell us about a time where this did not result in the answer you anticipated and how you handled that.
  • How do you assess the quality of decisions or recommendations that other people present to you? Provide an example.
  • Describe a time where you needed to choose between a number of ideas. What criteria did you use?

Problem solving competency – what are employers looking for?

The employer is looking for your ability to accurately analyse a situation and identify the right solution. They’ll be drawn to people who have a positive approach to a problem, can identify the right solution and implement it, all the while being keen to learn and improve.

Employers will ask questions about your problem solving skills to discover if you’re diplomatic, attentive and if you’re capable of continually improving your approaches. Examples of problem-solving competencies include:

  • Dealing with a shortfall in budget or projected profits.
  • Working around the absence of key team member during a key phase of a project.
  • Turning an unsatisfied customer into a satisfied customer by offering them an alternative product or service.

Problem solving – interview answers

“Select a strong example where you worked with a problem that was reasonably complex. For the word ‘problem’ substitute ‘project’ if it helps to clarify appropriate situations,” says John Lees, author of Knockout Interview.

Katherine Burik, founder of the Interview Doctor, adds that you should select stories relevant to the job you’re applying for. “Highlight your strengths. Go with stories that make the listener ask, ‘Gee, how did you do that?’”

Be aware of timelines, cautions Lees. “The longer the timeframe between the start of a project and its completion, the greater the responsibility. Lower-level personnel may deal with daily pressures and deadlines; higher management looks to longer-range projects and deadlines. Position your response accordingly.”

25. Creativity

Creativity – example interview questions

  • Tell us about a time that called for your creative and original input.
  • Talk about a situation where you trusted your team to create a new approach to an old problem. How did you manage the process?
  • Tell us about a time when you had to convince a senior colleague that change was necessary. What made you think that your new approach would be better suited?
  • Describe an idea that you have conceived, implemented and evaluated.
  • How do you determine whether ideas are worth pursuing? Provide an example.
  • Give an example of where you needed to ‘think outside the box’ to come up with a solution to a challenging problem.
  • What’s the best way to inspire creativity in your team? Tell us about a time when you’ve done this.
  • When have you brought an innovative idea into your organisation? What did you do to ensure it was successful? How was it received?

Creativity competency – what are employers looking for?

When an employer asks about your creative skills, they’re looking for someone who develops fresh insights into situations, challenges conventional approaches, and delivers new ideas and innovations.

Some examples of creativity include:

  • Devising an innovative way of organising new projects.
  • Changing something aesthetically, for example rearranging a shop window display to encourage more customers or redesigning a part of a website.
  • Finding creative solutions for repeated problems, such as finding a new way to cut company costs.

Creativity – interview answers

To answer this question, make the crux of your answer about where you’ve previously shown initiative, says Jon Gregory, career coach. “Organisations value proactive individuals. By showing that you personally picked up the ball and made something of a situation, you’re demonstrating a level of practical creativity which had measurable value.”

Be sure to support your accomplishments with numbers to show your impact, if possible.

We’ve talked about competencies that every business or organisation in most sectors wants to see in their employees. Here are five role-specific competencies.

26. Sales

Sales – example interview questions

  • Exceeding sales targets: can you explain what the target was, how you managed the process and to what extent you delivered?
  • Handling difficult clients: describe the challenge, clearly explain what you did to overcome the problem and how this benefited the business.
  • Hunger and ambition: give examples of times you’ve gone the extra mile and the sacrifices you made along the way to get a result.
  • Influencing people: provide examples of how you convinced a client or one of your reports to try a new approach.

Sales competencies – what are employers looking for?

Whether you’re selling a product or service, involved in lead generation or working with teams on pre-sales research, employers want key skills that give you an edge.

Employers want people who can persuade a customer to buy. Examples of sales skills include:

  • Being able to negotiate.
  • Good interpersonal skills.
  • Relationship-building skills.
  • Good product knowledge.

Sales – interview answers

Sales jobs fit a spectrum between simply looking for business leads, pushier techniques looking for a one-off transaction and consultative selling where it may take a long time to win a long-term sales relationship, explains John Lees, author of Knockout Interview. So, you need to tailor your answer based on what is most impressive and relevant to the employer you’re applying to.

For sales-specific roles, the employer will be looking at your entire interview presentation as an example of your sales technique.

27. Team leader

Team leadership – example interview questions

  • Describe a situation where you needed to inspire/lead a team. What challenges did you meet and how did you achieve your objectives?
  • Two team members are having dispute. How do you come up with a solution that’s fair to all? Provide an example.
  • Any team includes people who don’t perform. Describe the toughest person you have had to manage, where it ultimately led to that person leaving. How did you handle this situation?
  • What problems has one of your staff or colleagues brought to you recently? How did you assist them?
  • Tell us about an unpopular decision that you made recently. What thought process did you follow before making it? How did your colleagues or clients react and how did you deal with their reaction?
  • When is that last time that you had an argument with a colleague?
  • What steps do you take to understand your colleagues’ personalities? Give an example where you found it hard to adjust to one particular colleague.

Team leadership competencies – what are employers looking for?

You may be a temporary team leader or someone whose main job is to lead a team or teams. Whatever the situation, an employer will be looking for team leaders who focus on the task, delegate where they can, bring people together and motivate them to get the job done.

Here, employers want to know whether you can successfully persuade and lead others towards a company objective. Examples of team leader skills include:

  • Interpersonal skills.
  • The ability to effectively communicate.
  • Delegation skills.
  • Trustworthiness.
  • The ability to motivate others.

Team leader – interview answers

Outline the situation, your role and the task of the group overall. Describe any problems which arose and how they were tackled. Say what the result was and what you learned from it.

“The key to this is bringing to life when you had to deliver through others that are not direct reports,” explains Maria Mawby, human resources business partner at Volkswagen Group.

28. Manager

Management – example interview questions

  • Describe a situation where you were able to influence others on an important issue. What approaches or strategies did you use?
  • Describe how you needed to influence different stakeholders who had different agendas. What approaches or strategies did you use?
  • Tell us about an idea that you managed to sell to your superior.
  • Talk about the project or idea that you were most satisfied to sell to your management.
  • The employer may also give you a scenario and ask you to describe the steps you’d take to manage that situation.

Managerial competencies – what are employers looking for?

Employers need managers who are confident in their own viewpoints, but also listen to others. They also need leaders who are adept at gaining people’s agreement to plans and projects, and guiding them to a goal that meets the company’s or organisation’s mission and values.

Management skills questions aim to discover whether you’re the sort of person who allows things to go wrong, or whether you’re a self-starter who will work to find solutions, says Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV.

Examples of management skills include:

  • The ability to think creatively.
  • Integrity and responsibility.
  • Communication, interpersonal and leadership skills.

Management – interview answers

You need to demonstrate that you have the ability to convince others of your own point of view, and can gain agreement of activities or products. This leadership skill is essential for good managers, so your employer will be looking to see how good you are at influencing others.

Jon Gregory, career coach, agrees and says you should support your management contribution with tangible results. “Go for an example where things looked dire and explain how you took control and remedied the situation.”

29. Stakeholder management

Stakeholder management – example interview questions

  • Using examples drawn from your experience, describe how you measure and take account of the impact of your decisions on external parties.
  • Give an example where you underestimated the impact of your decisions on stakeholders external to your organisation.

Stakeholder management competencies – what are employers looking for?

A project can have lots of stakeholders – this competency is about managing their expectations, their views, motivations and impact.

When an employer asks you about your stakeholder management skills, they’re want to know if you can identify and then understand the motivations of anyone who can affect the outcome of a project.

Examples of stakeholder management skills include:

  • Managing expectations of a project.
  • Communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Project management skills (specifically experience of dealing with multiple stakeholders).

Stakeholder management – interview answers

When responding to stakeholder management questions, make clear you keep abreast of all local, national and international policies affecting the organisation, which could potentially shape stakeholders views.

Also demonstrate an awareness of the company’s impact on the rest of the industry, along with its global positioning.

Start by showing what research you’ve done. Lydia Fairman, HR and resourcing specialist, says it’s not enough to read the company’s website. She advises: “Companies want to know you want to work for them, and why. Make sure you understand what they do. Google them. See if they’ve published any recent press releases, won any big contracts. Where do they work, are they international or nationally based? What markets do they cover? How big is the company?”

Think broadly. Consider the company’s positioning in the industry and worldwide. Talk about what challenges may face its stakeholders, and how you can contribute to overcoming them.

30. Dealing with a difficult customer (customer service)

Dealing with a difficult customer – example interview questions

  • Describe different questioning techniques that can be used when communicating with customers.
  • Tell us about a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer.

Dealing with a difficult customer competencies – what are employers looking for?

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve faced customers who are difficult or unreasonable. The key to handling such situations is keeping a cool head but also solving the problem to everyone’s satisfaction. If you can do both, you’ll be a compelling candidate.

When asking about this competency, an employer wants to know if you can deal with confrontational situations calmly, and that you have the skills to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

Dealing with a difficult customer – interview answers

“Most candidates use this question to show they can cover difficult people or situations with tolerance, understanding and patience,” says Jon Gregory, career coach. “However, you can take things further by picking an example where you went above and beyond the call of duty and the customer became even more loyal than before.”

“Give an example of a customer who was being unreasonable, and show what steps you took to mediate the situation,” says Andrew Fennell, founder of StandOut CV.

Both Jon and Andrew agree that should you end this answer by highlighting how you turned the situation into a positive solution that benefited both the customer and your employer.


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