When many companies conduct their interviews, they’re looking to see if a candidates experience on a CV matches with the skills required for the job. You’ll be asked about your skills, and to give examples of situations when you’ve used them.
However, applicants who tick all the boxes on their CV can come unstuck if they aren’t prepared for these questions and fail to back up their experience with good real-world examples. These types of interview can also give a leg-up to less experienced applicants who have the opportunity to prove themselves.
So how do you go about answering these competency-style questions?
We advise candidates to use the CAR approach to prepare and structure their answers. It’s got nothing to do with motoring, but used right and you’ll be driving away with a new job!
CAR stands for Context, Action, Result – so with your answer give the Context behind a problem, the Action you took to tackle it, and finally the (hopefully positive!) Result that came from it.
The context is the background to your story. Explain clearly and concisely what the problem was that you faced.
Summarise what you did to move things forward and solve the problem you faced. It should go without saying that this needs to show you and your skills in a positive light – saying your deferred things to a manager and leaving your part in the story there for example, isn’t going to impress your interviewer.
The result is what happened as a consequence of the actions you took. You want this to be positive as well. If there’s something that was learned from the issue as well, such as improving a process to make it more efficient or better the customer, be sure to mention this as well.
Let’s put it all together into an example for a customer service role:
Q: Tell me about a time you dealt with a complaint from a customer.
Context: A customer complained that their order hadn’t arrived on time.
Action: I followed up the customer’s order with the warehouse and they told me they were waiting on stock from the factory. I then went back to the customer to explain and apologise for the delay, and offered her free next-day delivery when her order was ready.
Result: The customer was grateful for the action I took and we have retained her business. As a result of this complaint, I pushed for better communications between departments so customers don’t get sold out-of-stock products.
Your answer will probably only be 3-4 sentences long but using this approach means it’s clear what went on, what happened as a result and how much you were involved in that journey. The skills you’ll be asked about will be the ones listed on the job description or advert, so you can prepare your examples in advance. Because you’re just retelling your experiences too, you won’t have too much to remember either.
You can even apply this technique earlier in the application process to tailor your application forms and covering letters as well.
Competency questions aren’t the only kind of question you can be asked – it’s just one of the 4 different kinds of question you’ll likely have to answer to get the job.