Competency-based questions are a really popular type of question used by employers during both applications and interviews. These are questions which ask candidates to describe when and how they have demonstrated a particular skill or attribute.
You might be in a position where you’re reading the person specification for a vacancy you’re interested in applying for and it includes a list of requirements like this:
- Communication skills
- Organisation skills
All of these skills are quite broad, and sometimes there’s little or no explanation or context provided. One of the concerns (and frustrations) that some students with autism have expressed to me is that these sorts of requirements are too vague. For example, what sort of ‘creativity’ are they looking for? Or, what example of communication skills would be best to write about?
I’ve spoken to many students – with or without autism – who feel frustrated because they write examples that they feel demonstrate they meet an employer’s requirements, but later find their application is rejected. This is especially true for very competitive opportunities.
A good place to start is to first identify why the employer is asking for a specific competency. Once you’ve done this, it’s easier to choose a relevant example that demonstrates to the employer that you have what they are actually looking for.
For me, I’ve found the following questions helpful:
- What is the organisation’s overall objective? (in some cases, this can be rephrased as “how does it make money?”)
- How does the role you’re interested in contribute to this overall objective?
- How does the tasks and aims in the job contribute to achieving this?
- What are the potential challenges to achieving your aims in the role?
- How do the requirements enable you to overcome the role’s potential challenges and achieve its goals?
Let’s walk through an example to see how this can work. Imagine you see a role for a data analyst in a marketing company that requires communication skills. You read through the main duties in the job description, and there’s no explicit mention of how communication is used in the role.
You may think “surely you only need good communication skills to do the actual marketing itself – not in a data analysis role”. Therefore your next step would be to research what typical tasks you’d be doing. Resources such as the job profiles on Prospects website can help with this.
During this exercise and research, you might note down that you’ll be working with non-technical colleagues in marketing. You also read that the company’s income arises from successfully creating marketing campaigns for other organisations.
You do a bit more research into potential challenges, and identity that one potential one is that a client may want to run a promotional campaign that your data analysis shows won’t work as drafted. Consequently, you’d need to communicate both this information, along with recommended changes needed to your colleagues in a clear, non-technical way they can understand.
You have now figured out why the role requires communication skills. Your next step is to reflect on your most relevant experiences. For example, when have you adapted your communication style or explained technical information to non-experts? You may want to draw on experiences from your course, work experience, society commitments, or from volunteering or other areas of your life.
Information on how to best structure your examples can be found on both the Prospects website and Target Jobs (please note, even though both pages refer to interviews, the advice can be applied to competency questions in application forms as well). Your university careers service can also help.