Most interviews for a professional role are what’s termed competency based, or behavioral, interviews


  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Read the job specification and compare it to your CV to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself, what questions could you be asked? Practice your answers. For example, if the job specification asks for Java as a desirable skill and you haven’t used Java, you will need to emphasise your skills in similar tools/products. You could also refer to any training you may have completed.
  • Know the format. Ensure you know what format the interview will follow. Prepare for technical tests or competency-based questions. You can never do too much interview preparation.
  • Know the organisation. Visit their website. Find out what they have recently been doing in the market. Search on Google for recent articles and industry updates. Read their values and mission statement. For instance, if a company has values such as ‘delivering excellence to customers’ or ‘taking personal responsibility’, you can assume there will be questions around these values in your interview. Have a ready example of a project or experience to prove that your own values are in line. Try to give examples that are relevant to the role you are applying for.
  • Identify your successes. Identify projects you have completed that are similar to the job specification. Be ready to talk about them (note: do not mislead by describing projects you were not significantly involved in).
  • Confirm the interview details. Take the time to plan your interview, including the place and time, and who you will be meeting with. Aim to arrive 15 minutes before your interview.
  • Dress to impress. The first impression is very important. Wear smart business attire, even if the everyday role does not require it. Your appearance should be neat and tidy and remember to polish your shoes! Wear a positive face.


Most interviews for a professional role are what’s termed competency based, or behavioral, interviews. The aim is to use your past performance as a guide to the behaviors and skills you would bring to the workplace.

You will be asked to give examples of situations or tasks that led you to take certain actions. You’ll be asked about your course of action; what changes were implemented; and the effects those changes had on others. Make sure your answers detail these aspects. Wherever possible, focus on your individual contribution, rather than your role in a team.

STAR model

For clarity in answering competency style questions, we suggest you use the STAR model as a mental guide:

  • Situation. Describe a situation/problem you recently faced.
  • Task. What did you have to do?
  • Action. What action did you take and why? Were there any challenges/obstacles and how did you overcome them?
  • Results. Highlight the outcome.

Answering questions on your competencies

Read the job description and think about what core competencies the interviewer will ask about (a competency is any measurable skill/attribute). For each core competency, think of examples of when you demonstrated those behaviors (however, don’t prepare full answers as you risk not answering the specific question). You may find it is helpful to run through competency examples with your PLACE Consultant, or perhaps a friend.

Here are some of the core competencies employers often explore (please note this is just a guide to what may be asked):

Drive for results. This competency is about assessing your motivation and approach to challenges. Discussion could include:

  • What is the achievement you’re most proud of? Why?
  • Give an example of when you had to achieve a specific result.
  • What opportunities have you identified and used to achieve success?
  • Describe a time when you made things happen for yourself/your team.

Effective communication. This competency examines your ability to communicate effectively, including how you adapt your methods to the situation and people, in order to further business objectives. Communication can include: one-on-one discussions (formal and informal), group presentations, telephone, email etc. Different audiences may include peers, subordinates, senior management, customers, and suppliers. Discussion could include:

  • What was a particularly difficult issue you had to communicate?
  • Give an example of when you had to influence a colleague to accept your way of thinking.

Planning and organising. This competency assesses if and how you plan activities and/or projects. Often it may involve looking at how you fit your plans into the wider project plan. Discussion could include:

  • Describe a time when you had to plan a large piece of work.
  • How would you ensure you delivered results in your role?
  • Faced with conflicting priorities and deadlines, what do you do?

Customer focus. This competency looks at how well you understand and believe in answering the needs of external and internal customers. Discussion could include:

  • Describe how you dealt with an upset or angry customer.

Influencing others. Can you influence another person to change their thinking or take some action? It could for example be a colleague following your advice, or a client making a purchasing decision. At management level have you the skills to persuade and involve rather than coerce and punish? Are you ethical in your dealings with people? This competency could include the following discussion:

  • When and how were able to significantly change someone's viewpoint?
  • Give an example of how you responded when you were asked to do something you disagreed with?

Interpersonal and team skills. Many workplaces depend on project teams. Those who are collaborative and cooperative are most likely to thrive in such an environment. Discussion could include:

  • What skills and personal qualities have you brought to teams you’ve been part of?
  • Who was the most difficult person you have ever worked with?

Problem solving and decision-making. This competency assesses how you make decisions. What information do you utilise? How do you break that down to ensure your decisions are sound? Are you able to make key decisions alone? Discussion could include:

  • Describe a difficult business decision you had to make.
  • How did you approach making an unpopular decision?

Other potential questions

Why do you want to join us? You will almost certainly be asked why you want the position. Stress the aspects which attract you to the role. Highlight your skills that will enable you to fit in and achieve positive results.

What qualities do you think will be required for this position? The job specification will help you plan, but think of other qualities that may be required.

Why did you choose a career in this sector? Be positive about your reasons. If you have changed careers, give a logical explanation. Ensure you can talk the interviewer through your career in a clear and concise way.

What do you think of the last company you worked for? Only talk about the positive aspects.

What did you think of your past manager/supervisor? No matter what the relationship was, always be positive. For example, say they were the sort of person you learn from, or that you worked well together to deliver some important projects on time.

Are you considering any other positions at the moment? If you are, say so. But keep your response brief and assure them that you have not made any formal decisions. If you don’t have other current applications, say so.

Plan your own questions

It's a good idea to bring some of your own questions to your interview, to show you have given thought to the role. You could ask:

  • Looking at your company values of [name the values], how would my role add to these values?
  • What would you like me to achieve in the short and medium term?
  • What was the last successful project your team completed?
  • Could you describe the attributes of your ideal team member?
  • What experience do other team members have?
  • Are there any concerns about my ability to perform this job that we could discuss now?
  • When will the selection decision be made?