Image 2023 08 08 T03 44 42

How to handle competency-based interviews - part 2

Search by
Search by blog tags

In part two of our guide, Jenny Hills looks at what to say when you don't have the competency in question, and how to bring out your personality, values and vision for the future, even if the questions focus firmly on your past... 

Bringing yourself to the interview

One of the risks of a competency-based interview is that they can seem a little formulaic for both panel members and candidates. On the other hand, one of the best things about working in the charity sector is that we really care about the work our organisations do, the impact and the people.

Recruitment panels want to get to know what makes you tick as a person. Sometimes, you will be asked directly about your values or personal qualities: “How have you demonstrated our charity’s values of x, y and z”? However, don’t wait for a direct question like this to come up to show you who you are.  

You can avoid the risk of your answers appearing to be 'by the book' by showing your enthusiasm, your values and your personality and self-awareness, and thread these throughout your answers. 

Here are some examples of how to weave these in:

• “It’s important to me that everyone feels included and valued in my team, and so I…”

• “This was causing tension in the team, and while my preferred management style is to build consensus (which has previously manifested as conflict avoidance), I made sure to tackle this head on by…”

• “What drives me most is delivering justice for our communities, and I built this into our service design process by…”

We’ve seen candidates ace questions by being really honest about the limits of their experience, giving example of where things didn’t quite work perfectly and being very clear about what they learnt from it. 

How to answer a tricky question

There will probably be things on the job description or person specification that do not play to your strengths. That is totally fine – there is no perfect candidate for any job, and if you weren’t a strong candidate for the role, you wouldn’t be invited to the interview.

So, you’re asked about that one thing you haven’t done before or aren’t quite sure of. Don’t panic! The trick to answering a tricky competency-based question is to give your best (most relevant) example, and then demonstrate an awareness of the development points for you and how you are going to tackle them.

Let’s say you are a fundraiser going for a new role. The person specification says you need knowledge of the Raiser’s Edge CRM but you have only ever used the Salesforce system. However, you were the internal lead in implementing a major update and supporting your colleagues in adopting the new system.

When asked about your experience in fundraising CRM systems, in your answer you can highlight how quickly you got up to speed with this new system, how you made sure the functionality worked for your team and supported them to use it. You can then tell the panel, “I know you use Raiser’s Edge here, and while I have not used that CRM before, I’m confident that I will be able to grasp the system quickly, as I have already watched a number of introductory and tutorial videos on YouTube and it doesn’t seem too dissimilar. I’d be happy to do further training ahead of my start date to ensure a smooth transition into the role”. 

Taking your answers further

If you’ve researched the organisation and have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in the role, competency-based interviews can be frustrating, as the focus is on your past, not what you will do in future.

There isn't always a natural place in the interview to share your vision and plans for the role, but you can bring them in by linking to your past experience.

Let’s say in your current role, you have had great successes in bringing in younger donors, and you know a key part of this new role is to reach new audiences of potential funders. Give your STAR answer when asked about your experience of diversifying the donor base of a charity, and talk them through how you brought on younger donors. Then you can tell the panel (concisely) that you feel a similar plan could work at this charity, and while this aspect of what you did might not be relevant, these steps and that type of messaging are likely to be similarly effective in this role too.

This shows that beyond a competency match with the role, you have really done your research into them as an organisation, and thought through what your experience can add in this new role. That kind of preparation shows you are genuinely interested in them and their work, which always leaves a favourable impression on a recruitment panel.

Don’t feel the need to do this for every question, but if delivering on this one thing is a major point of interest for you in the role, and/or it tackles an issue you know the organisation is facing, it's always helpful to add this to your answer for the relevant questions.

So to summarise, there's nothing to fear from a competency-based interview, and plenty to welcome. It’ll be fair and objective, assessing your experience against requirements, and since you can anticipate the questions, you can prepare and structure your answers in the most effective way.

And while the questions may ask for little more than a list of what you’ve done, you can use them – with these methods and some wisely-chosen examples - to give the panel a far more rounded picture of who you are, showing them what you'll bring to the organisation when you're ultimately working in the role.

Jenny Hills, Chief Executive & Director Recruitment Practice, Harris Hill


​If you haven't already, you can read part one here, while for more advice on forthcoming interviews or executive-level requirements, you can reach Jenny Hills on 020 7820 7321 or via email to this address.

Back to the Harris Hill Blog homepage

  • Image 2022 11 26 T23 39 23

    Opportunity for all

    Find out how we’re working to deliver more diverse, equitable and inclusive recruitment…

    Find out more

  • Image 2022 11 26 T23 39 23

    Recruiting a charity CEO?

    Our executive recruitment specialists have an exceptional record of successful CEO, chair, trustee and…

    Find out more

  • The Harris Hill Salary Survey 2023

    Charity sector salaries

    Check out the market rate for your charity role in the latest Harris Hill Salary Survey.

    View our latest survey

News and insights

For more careers and recruitment advice: Read the Harris Hill Blog
Blogthumb Final

Thinking of temping? Here’s what to consider…

Temping offers flexibility, variety and a chance to boost your CV - but is it right for you?​ Hear from current Harris Hill temps as freelance writer and guest blogger Nicola Greenbrook explores...Do you ever catch yourself gazing out of the window, dreaming about a work life that breaks away from the conventional nine-to-five? Are you someone with multiple interests and many interconnecting ca...

Read more
Blog Thumb 2

Celebrating UK charity jobs for UK Charity Week 2023!

It's UK Charity Week 2023, so join us for a whirlwind festive tour of some of the best opportunities with charities around the country!​Yes, even though it feels about 30 seconds since you bundled last year’s decorations into an overstuffed box in the loft*, it’s December already, which means it’s time to get them down but more importantly, time for UK Charity Week 2023, celebrating the brillia...

Read more
B Corp Blogthumb Final

Harris Hill is now a Certified B Corporation

We're delighted to share the news that Harris Hill is now B Corp Certified! It makes us part of a global community of businesses meeting high standards of social and environmental impact, accountability and transparency, and leading the transformation of the global economic system. That's a big ambition, but at the simplest level, being certified is recognition that we're here for the right rea...

Read more
Blogthumb 2

Access all areas: how to use the Recite Me toolbar

As part of our diversity and inclusion strategy, the Harris Hill website now features the award-winning Recite Me assistive toolbar, providing a wide range of accessibility and language support tools for a more inclusive online experience. Here’s an overview of the benefits and how to use it.​There’s a lot to look out for when you’re searching for a new job online. In most cases, you'll actual...

Read more

Meet the 2023 Charity Softball finalists!

​Landing just ahead of the big day and 20th anniversary celebrations, meet the teams playing for glory in the 2023 Charity Softball League!Like any other year, 2003 gave the world some things we’d rather it hadn’t - war in Iraq, the SARS outbreak, the Black Eyed Peas – but over the course of that long hot summer, it also gave us (courtesy of founding father Leo Visconti) something we’re very gl...

Read more
Finance Blog Thumb

2023 Salary Survey: finance market trends

They’re certainly earning their keep in these financially-challenging times, but are charity finance professionals securing higher salaries and what’s happening in the market? Here’s what our finance experts have to say on the subject, updated from our 2023 Salary Survey, which you can view or download below for all the figures.​​​​​​Finance market trendsTo the world of charity finance now, whe...

Read more
Blogthumb Final2

How to secure new talent (without spending a fortune)

Candidate scarcity and high inflation have made securing new staff more challenging (and expensive) than ever, but there ARE ways to improve your hiring prospects that needn't cost a thing...(updated and extended from the 2023 Harris Hill Salary Survey)Beyond the world of marketing, where they grow on carefully-branded trees, our 2023 Salary Survey finds candidates in short supply and high dema...

Read more
Temps Blog Thumb

Considering hiring a temp? Here’s what you need to know…

​Hiring temps is a flexible and cost-effective way to fill gaps and bring in extra resource or skills, but if you haven't before, where should you start and what are the benefits? Freelance writer and HR specialist Nicola Greenbrook talks us through everything you need to know.What is a temp?A temporary agency worker or ‘temp’ differs from a permanent member of staff as, rather than being direc...

Read more