Back to Back Issues Page
Career-Life Times, Issue #61--Conquering Competency-Based Interview Questions
August 31, 2009

Click on the birdie to...

Free Twitter buttons from

Issue No. 61 -- August 31, 2009

In This Issue:

  • Conquering Competency-Based Interview Questions
  • Sweet Tweets!
  • How to Bounce Back From Unexpected Unemployment
  • How Pen and Paper Can Work Magic in Your Job Search
  • Resources
  • Worth Quoting
  • Just for Laughs

    Conquering Competency-Based Interview Questions

    I recently responded to a reader asking for help with preparing for competency-based interview questions. Here's what I told her:

    Commonly questioned competencies include adaptability/flexibility, collaboration/teamwork, communication, delegation, conflict management, customer focus, decision-making, and management/leadership.

    Most competency-based interview questions are along the lines of "Tell us about a time when you..." They want to hear detailed examples of how you used particular competencies to deal with specific situations. For example, for the adaptability competency, the question might be "Tell us about a time when you had to change plans for a project already underway, and how you explained the need for those changes to others."

    You can anticipate the type of questions likely to be asked by reading the position descriptions and the competencies they mention. Also, a website offering several example competency-based questions is here: Competency Interviews.

    With these kinds of questions it's difficult to provide sample answers, because your answers must be specific to your own experiences.

    The key is to be prepared to talk about specific situations in which you actually used the particular competencies in successful or effective ways.

    When responding to the questions, you want to:

    (1) Describe the situation you were faced with or the task you needed to accomplish. It's best to talk about a specific event or situation rather than give a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewers to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.

    (2) Describe the challenges you needed to overcome. The bigger the challenges, the more impressive your story will be. (But don't exaggerate; stick to the facts.)

    (3) Describe the action you took to overcome the challenges and resolve the situation. If you are discussing a group project, it's OK to mention that it was a team effort and share the credit, BUT be sure to focus primarily on the actions YOU took, rather than the actions of the team.

    (4) Describe the results you achieved (money saved, process improved, customer pleased, etc.). Tell what happened, what was accomplished, what was learned. Be specific.

    You can think of this question-answering process in terms of the acronym SCAR for Situation, Challenges, Action, Results. It's a very effective way to answer competency-based questions.

    While it's best to talk about actual situations, if they ask about something you have no specific experience with, admit that and follow up with how you WOULD handle it. Say for example they asked, "Tell us about a time when you disagreed with your boss about how to accomplish a task, and how you convinced him or her to let you do it your way." This could be related to the decision-making competency. You could say "I've never been in a situation where I disagreed with my boss and felt it was necessary to convince him to do something differently, but if it happened, I would explain the reasons why. For instance, I would discuss the possible consequences of doing it his way, then explain how my way would avoid those consequences or improve the outcome. I would compare all of the pros and cons of the two methods, persuade him that my approach would be better for the company, and seek his buy-in and approval to proceed."

    Be prepared for follow-up questions to your answers... they may want more details.

    POWERFUL TIP: Think of a few different situations you've been through that were particularly challenging and where your actions led to important successes. Jot down all of the specifics of what happened (remember SCAR). Make a list of the competencies that could be related to those situations. You'll then have powerful answers to a variety of competency-based questions. Practice those answers. At the interview, listen for questions for which those answers will apply. Then impress the hiring manager and get the job!

    Sweet Tweets!

    Here are some of my recent Twitter tweets (posts) with information you may find helpful, interesting, or both:

  • Bet you don't hear these job interview question very often: "Can you scream?" and “Do you like vampires?”

  • When leaving phone no. on voicemail, speak SLOWLY, clearly, & repeat it. Recipients shouldn't have to replay msg over & over to decipher it.

  • Interesting - RT @BridgetAyers: RT @Fishdogs: 7 trends job seekers and workers should know about:

  • Helpful, interesting & entertaining article: RT @BooleanBlackBlt: How I Made 3 Hires with Twitter in 6 Weeks:

  • Excellent article re: job interviews - RT @nickcorcodilos -- Unfair job interviews are best:

    How to Bounce Back From Unexpected Unemployment

    (This is a guest article by Cassandra Washington)

    Layoffs are so widespread today that sometimes not even your hard work, talent, title, or track record can save your job from being eliminated. That's why it is important to know how to recover from a sudden job loss.

    Here is a six-step plan for landing your next job.

    • STEP 1: Know what you have to offer. Inventory your assets and accomplishments. The more you know about yourself the better you will be able find the job right for you. Plus it really boosts your self-confidence.
    • STEP 2: Discover what you want. Why settle for any job when you can have the job you love? Unemployment is a good time to discover your passion and purpose so you can select a job the fits you best.
    • STEP 3: Research options. After completing the first two steps, you are ready to explore available opportunities and pursue those that best match your skills.
    • STEP 4: Update your marketing materials. Once you know your strengths, your desires, and what jobs are available, you can create a strong resume that grabs the reader's attention and gets you the interview. One resume does not fit all, so focus on targeting your resume to the employer's needs. Generic resumes don't get to the "yes" pile.
    • STEP 5: Polish your pitch. Practice talking confidently about what you have to offer in a way that convinces others you have the skills and attitude to be successful. Speak in terms of results. Simply recounting your responsibilities and tasks rarely has the emotional punch to capture the listener's ear.
    • STEP 6: Get support. You will accomplish your goals faster when you work with a coach. A coach provides the support you need to help you stay focused as you accomplish each step of the career transition process. You'll receive the accountability to get things done, the feedback to move things forward, and the encouragement to keep on going.

    If you suddenly found yourself without a job, these six steps will help you navigate your way through unemployment and back to work as quickly as possible. Try to stay positive and don't take the objections personally. Remember that unemployment is temporary and your next job is right around the corner.

    Cassandra Washington knows how to move pass the shock of layoff and create new opportunities. She is a passionate career coach with more than 15 years of experience. Her mission is to help others experience the fulfillment of working in their "best-fit" career. Does your career need a coach? Visit for the motivation you need to make real changes in your life.

    How Pen and Paper Can Work Magic in Your Job Search

    (This is a guest article by Kevin Donlin)

    What separates successful job seekers from those who struggle to get hired?

    Two things: clarity and motivation.

    You must be clear about the job you seek, the results you've produced before, and the employers you want to work for.

    And you need motivation to persist through long hours of research, networking, false hopes, and follow-up that may lie between you and your next job.

    Want to know an easy, effective way to get clearer and more motivated in your job search?

    It's as easy as taking pen to paper. In fact, that's what it is: taking pen to paper.

    Why does this help?

    Writing forces you to clarify your thinking -- it's impossible to be muddle-headed on paper (members of Congress notwithstanding).

    Also, writing demystifies worries that may have nagged you for weeks. A problem defined is a problem half-solved, which frees up psychic energy and motivates you to act.

    But why write with pen and paper?

    After doing it every day for more than 30 years, I've found that physically moving a writing instrument -- as opposed to typing -- has three benefits, which can help you find a job faster:

    1) Clarify your goals

    Writing about any concept will crystallize it. But, because writing by hand is often slower than typing, it can force you to be more deliberate in your choice of words, which can improve clarity.

    Tip: Write your job search goal by hand at least once a day, and read it out loud (to further clarify and reinforce it).

    Example goal: It's October 31. I'm an IT manager earning $75,000 salary, at a high-tech business with 50-100 employees, within 20 miles of my home.

    2) Produce insights

    As a child, you probably played connect-the-dots, drawing lines from dot to dot until a picture appeared on the page, almost as if by magic.

    The following exercise can produce "magical" insights in your job search.

    a) Write down the names of your favorite 5 supervisors, on a sheet of paper. Now, find at least one trait they share that lets you connect two or more names by lines.

    Examples: Where did they go to school? Do they golf? Do they live within 50 miles of you? Are they over 40?

    b) Once you find one or more commonalities between past supervisors, use that data to find more people like them. In fact, names may pop into your head as you write.

    Here are people you can play "connect the traits" with, to find more like them:

    * 5 favorite clients/customers
    * 5 people with the best jobs
    * 5 good companies that are hiring

    3) Reveal connections

    For this final exercise, divide a sheet of paper into two columns. In the right column, draw 10 circles. In each, write the name of a company you want to work for. These are your Top 10 Employers.

    In the left column, draw 10 circles. In each, write the names of 10 friends or acquaintances who know the most other people in your town or industry. These are your Top 10 Contacts.

    Now, make connections between your Contacts and Employers.

    Do this by drawing lines from Contacts to Employers. You can make more than one connection from each Contact -- in fact, some may have lines to 2, 3, 5 or more Employers.

    Call your 10 Contacts and ask for names of people at Employers where they have connections. You will call those new people later to demonstrate your knowledge of their company, needs, and opportunities, and ask for information that can lead to a business meeting. (Never ask for an "informational interview," which is just a plea for a job.)

    Also, drawing this on paper will reveal companies where you have no contact. So ask your Top 10 Contacts, "Hey, I don't know if you know anyone at Company X, Y, or Z, but who would you call if you were in my shoes?"

    Finally, you may come up with names of more potential employers as you write. That's because you've probably never seen all these company names on one sheet of paper, where they can prompt your mind for ideas.

    There's something powerful about your hand moving a pen on paper. It's a motor skill that fuels creativity more than typing alone.

    Try these exercises today, to put more clarity and motivation into your job search tomorrow.

    Kevin Donlin is co-author of Guerrilla Resumes. Since 1996, he has provided job-search help to more than 20,000 people. Kevin has been interviewed by The New York Times, Fox News, ABC TV, CBS Radio and others. To learn more about how to create a Guerrilla Resume, visit Guerrilla Resumes.


    More Articles. You can find more articles on my website by clicking on Article Index. Here a new one you might enjoy: Five Things Not to Do in a Job Interview

    F*REE Weekly Teleseminars. Every Wednesday at 3 pm eastern (Noon Pacific), Judi Perkins, "The Power Keeper Job Coach" is hosting online Q&A sessions about job search and other tough career issues. Judi was a successful recruiter for 22 years and knows the ins and outs that will help YOU find a new job. Sign up for her free teleseminars; even if you can't attend live, you'll receive an audio recording to listen to at your convenience. To sign up, go to

    Video: Why Does a Guerrilla Resume Work so Well?. This video features job search and resume experts Kevin Donlin and David Perry revealing a powerful resume design (one that YOU can use right now) while being interviewed on a TV show. View the video here: Guerrilla Resumes video.

    "Gen Y Meets the Workforce: Launching Your Career During Economic Uncertainty." This is an advice-packed 42-page ebook by Heather R. Huhman, an expert in helping college graduates pursue their career dreams. But much of the information applies to all ages and all career stages. You can get it F*REE by clicking here: Gen Y Meets the Workforce.

    Freecycle. This is a great service and I've been using it myself for about 3 years now to find new homes for stuff I no longer need or want. The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,799 groups with 7,192,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for f*ree in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Membership is f*ree, too. Go sign up here:

    Best Career Strategies. I've produced an ebook called "The Best Career Strategies of 2009: How to Get Hired and Get Ahead Even When the Economy is Getting Worse." It's loaded with powerful tips -- and it's F*REE! Go get your copy here: Job Interview Success System. The job market is worse than ever, but you don't have to go it alone. Get step-by-step help, and a big advantage over your competition. Get all the details here: Job Interview Success System.

    Worth Quoting

    "Many receive advice,
    only the wise profit from it."

    Just for Laughs

    An Amish Adventure...

    An Amish boy and his father made their first trip to a mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again.

    The boy asked, "What is this Father?"

    The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, "Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don't know what it is."

    While the boy and his father were watching with amazement, a fat, old lady in a wheel chair moved up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls slowly opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. Then the walls closed.

    The boy and his father watched the small circular numbers above the walls light up sequentially. They continued to watch until it reached the highest number, and then the numbers began to light in the reverse order.

    Finally the walls opened up again, and a gorgeous 24-year-old blonde stepped out.

    The father said quietly to his son, "Go get your mother."

    So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at

    Please forward this to your friends!


    P.S. To prevent your email service provider's spam filter from interrupting delivery or this newsletter to your email inbox, please add to your address book or "safe list."

    P.S.S. I apologize for the glitches (especially in links) you may see if you receive this as straight text. If you can receive your email in HTML format, choose that and it'll look better. (There may still be some odd formatting quirks, though.)


    Lowe-Commotion Publications
    7402 Paddon Rd.
    Vacaville, CA 95688

  • Back to Back Issues Page