Telephone interviews are becoming increasingly popular for employers as a pre-screening method for face-to-face interviews, and in an attempt to be more flexible to their candidates, as this will create a better chance to connect with top talent who may be unable to attend the office for every stage of the interview process. During these interviews, competency-based questions are often the preferred choice for employers as they focus on a person’s past behaviour. This is believed to be the best predictor for how an individual will cope with future situations. 

To help you prepare for your next phone interview, we’ve put together our top tips for answering competency-based interview questions over the phone, and what to expect when you pick up that call with a potential employer. 

What are competencies?

Where some interviews may concentrate on why you applied for the role, what you think you can add to the team or where your interests lie, a competency-based interview will require you to describe a past experience to prove that you’ve got the experience required, or the initiative that an employer is looking for.

Here are some key competencies that employers might be looking to identify throughout the interview process.

  • Individual competencies - knowledge, independence, and personal integrity. 
  • Managerial competencies - leadership qualities, time management, and delegation.
  • Analytical competencies - decision-making abilities and problem-solving.
  • Interpersonal competencies - social competence, such as building rapport.
  • Motivational competencies - initiative, drive, and ambition.

How to conduct yourself during a telephone interview

Telephone interviews can be daunting. It is sometimes difficult to portray your true personality over the phone, and to show your enthusiasm for a role that you are going for. Here are simple tips to show your confidence over the telephone.

  • Speak clearly and concisely. 
  • Find a quiet space to answer the call - you don’t want to be distracted by background noise.
  • Show confidence, they can’t see your expressions or body language at this stage. Try to relax and stay calm when talking over the phone.
  • Be friendly and approachable in your tone and language.
  • Be enthusiastic when you are talking about past experiences.
  • Don’t be afraid to show some humour and to have fun.

How to answer competency-based questions

As with a face-to-face competency interview, use the STAR technique to shape your answers.

  • Describe the Situation you were faced with, ensuring that it demonstrates the skills or ability that the question is testing.
  • Discuss the Task, or the next steps to fix the situation
  • Talk through the Actions that were taken to ensure the tasks were fulfilled. 
  • Share the overall Result of this experience.

In a competency-based interview, you will need to describe a time from a previous career or life experience that demonstrates how you dealt with a situation and what you improved or learnt as a result. This may be how you overcame an issue with a colleague, a mistake you made or a task you were assigned and that you completed well. 

You should aim to talk about these situations in a way that showcases the challenges you faced, as well as how you overcame them, and how they improved you as a professional. Even if the experience has an overall negative tone to it, it’s important to round off with the positives that you took from it, and how you developed in your role. 

How to prepare for a competency-based phone interview

It is important to consider what preparation you should be doing for your interview. Think about what key competencies are likely to be required for the role in question. Considering what types of areas you will be tested on, start writing out experiences throughout your life that could be applied to these questions. This will allow you plenty of time to build your answers and examples before you share them in the interview.

The advantage of having a competency-based interview over the telephone is that you can have examples, with details, written down in front of you that you can read from and use to prompt you if needed. 

If you are looking for further help with an upcoming interview, why not browse our content around job interview tips that has all the advice you need to succeed in your interview. Here at Michael Page, we have over 40 years’ experience in recruitment, so we can help you to prepare for your job search. If you would like to speak with one of our specialist recruitment consultants get in touch today.


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