How to ace competency based interview questions!

By RedLaw | 10 Oct, 2017

Senior Consultant, Keith Miles, takes a look at the often dreaded competency based interview questions in his latest blog.

Most lawyers are good at answering technical questions and discussing deals. But competency based questions can often be unexpectedly difficult. These are structured largely to test both your soft skills and to test your reactions and behaviours to situations. They are also used to help determine your cultural fit for the firm and the team with which you may be working.

This type of interviewing has become increasingly popular at all levels of seniority but our experience suggests that it is often these sorts of questions that trouble interviewees and can often put them on the back foot during the interview process.

To assist with a smooth and confident interview, I have given some pointers below, including a model to help focus and structure your replies. The STAR model.

• Such questions will usually focus on your skills in a specific area such as leadership, teamwork or communication. You will be asked to provide examples, e.g. “tell us about a time when you led a team on a transaction/had to deal with a difficult client/worked to a tight deadline…” which will be followed by more targeted, supplementary questions.

• These supplementary questions include things such as, “what did you learn from this experience?”, “what would you do better next time?”, and “how did that make you feel at the time?”

• Topics the competency based questions may focus on are:
– Adaptability/flexibility
– Communication
– Conflict management
– Decisiveness
– Delegation
– Influencing
– Leadership
– Organisation
– Stress/pressure
– Teamwork
– Time/Project Management

• As with all interviews, preparation is the key and an awareness of what, in any given situation, will constitute the right and most appropriate answer. In advance of your interview, think of some useful examples to use for these sort of questions that have arisen from the deals/cases or projects on your CV.

• A useful structure to guide you through answering competency based questions is STAR. This structure prevents waffling and also helps you to emphasise your individual contribution, your skills and attributes and the results that you are able to deliver.

Situation: begin by setting the context and concisely describe the situation and the task that you were set
Task – talk about the task you were set and what were your targets/goals and what actions did you take to complete the task?
Action: highlight the skills you drew upon to complete the task. Give detail; talk about what you did, how you did it and why.
Result: finish by underlining the end result – what did you deliver/accomplish.

Above all, remember that the competency interview based questions are designed to give a good insight into how you handle situations, but are also an opportunity for you to highlight your strengths and to sell yourself. For example, if you are asked about how you handled a situation involving a conflict – “Provide an example of when you made a mistake”, remember that an interviewer will be assessing whether you have learnt from your mistake, whether you understood the repercussions and whether you would handle the situation in the same way again.

At RedLaw, we pride ourselves on offering a fully consultative approach in our recruitment process offering guidance to our lawyer candidates every step of the way. We provide mock interviews and interview training to ensure that you can present yourself in the best manner.