News image

What’s the difference between behavioural and competency based interviews?

22 Jan 2015
Reference:; Barclay Simpson; The Undercover Recruiter
If you're not sure of the difference between behavioural and competency based interviews, you're not alone. It's quite simply very confusing.

One talent management site begs employers to appreciate the difference between the two so that they can hire the right people. It's evident that even some employers don't know their behaviours from their competencies either.

The reason everyone gets confused is because both types of questions tend to start with something like “describe a time when…” and both require you to talk about your past experiences in order to demonstrate that you meet the criteria for a given role.

The difference comes in the second half of the question. Competency-based questions are asking about skills, talents and abilities that you've honed to a given level. The CIPD (perhaps confusingly) describe a competency as 'the behaviour that lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and describes what people bring to the job.' They are always specific to the role: think financial, technical, marketing or leadership skills, for example.

Behavioural questions are trying to find out more about your personality. They aim to get beyond observable behaviour and find out what drives you to behave a certain way. Interviewers want to find out about the way you influence people and situations, the types of teams (or not) that you prefer to work in, your communication and your decision-making style and your attitude to risk. Behavioural questions are asking whether you fit the culture of the organisation and the mould for the type of person they think can do the job.

The trouble is you may be told that you are facing a competency-based interview, but it turns out to be full of behavioural questions and vice versa. You can, of course, try to dig a little deeper with HR on the types of questions you may be asked, but the trick is to be prepared for both.

For competency questions read the job description thoroughly and look at the skill base of others in similar roles. For behavioural questions get to know the team and the organisation: look at LinkedIn profiles, read Twitter feeds and blogs – discover the personality of the company.

Knowing the difference between the two may not be the key to getting over the interview hurdle, but understanding them both may just be.