What are competency based questions and why are they asked during an interview?
A competency question is a question in which you need to provide a real life example for your answer. These questions are asked to test how a job seeker will handle a specific situation and ‘think on their feet’.
Some examples of competency questions that can be asked during a legal interview are:
How do you deal with difficult personalities?
In what way have you contributed to efficiencies in the work place?
How do you prioritise and deal with competing deadlines?
How do you keep up to date with legislative changes?
There a different methods to help you answer these questions to keep your responses structured. You may have heard of the STAR, SAO or the CAR method at some point throughout your interview process, or you may have come across these methods when preparing for an upcoming interview.
The SAO method is the easiest one to remember to help you keep your responses structured. SAO stands for Situation, Action and Outcome. This is a really easy acronym to follow when you are proving your exampled responses and will help you to describe the situation you were in, the action you took and what the overall outcome of the situation was.
We often ask candidates the question ‘How do you prioritise and deal with competing deadlines?’ One of my candidates last month replied this way.
“I would make a to-do list and communicate with the solicitors in my practice group to discuss my priorities and in what order to complete each task taking into consideration the deadlines I have"
Even though this candidate provided detail, there are a few issues with the answer. First, they didn't highlight a specific example of a time in which they had completing deadlines and what they did to prioritise the tasks. Second, they didn't emphasise what the tasks were and how many they had which didn’t give me a clear explanation of their ability to deal with multiple deadlines. A better answer would have been the one below:
”There was one occasion where I was advised to prepare a brief to counsel for an urgent matter that was coming up in Court, I was then instructed by another Solicitor to contact a client and complete a statement for a statement of claim in their matter which both needed to be completed that day. Having two competing priorities with specific deadlines I approached both Solicitors to discuss the tasks and communicated with them to prioritise both tasks. We looked at what was most urgent, being the matter coming up in Court, and I received admin support to complete the brief to then allow me enough time in the day to also complete the client statement and both tasks were completed within the given deadline.
Indeed, by providing the situation, action and outcome in a clear and concise manner, they enabled me to understand how they would handle this specific situation.
The biggest tip to remember when answering competency-based questions is use a real-life example. Do not answer these questions hypothetically. The reason you are being asked a competency questions is because the employer wants to test how you will handle that specific situations.
Lastly, remember to be confident and let your personality shine through. Interviews can be nerve-wracking (speaking from experience here) and I am sure we have all had a tendency to waffle a bit but this tip will help to keep your responses clear and concise.