How to be a STAR in your Competency Based Interview

Competency based interviews are a style of interview which is increasingly being used by law firms to assess a candidate’s suitability for a job. This isn’t just for NQ roles but for private practice positions at all levels. But what are they and how should you prepare?

What Are Competencies?

A competency is a particular quality that an employer has decided is desirable for their employees to possess. These competencies are used to evaluate candidates and their suitability for the firm or the role.

What are competency based interviews and why are they used?

The competency based interview is based on the premise that the best way to predict future behaviour is to determine and evaluate past behaviour.

We often find competency questions form part of the interview rather than the whole interview so many firms use a combination of traditional interview methods and competency based questions.

You will be asked about a particular skill or competency and in order to demonstrate that you possess this skill or competency, you will be asked to use situational examples from either your work or personal life.

Competencies which are frequently tested by law firms (this isn’t an exhaustive list!)

• Teamwork
• Responsibility
• Commercial awareness
• Career motivation / Commitment to career
• Decision making
• Communication
• Leadership
• Trustworthiness & Ethics
• Results orientation
• Problem solving
• Organisational skills
• Technical Skills

Examples of competency based questions

Teamwork: Describe a situation in which you were working as part of a team. How did you make a contribution?

Responsibility: How do you react to criticism?

Commercial awareness: Tell me about a time when you identified a new approach to a problem.

Career motivation: When did you work the hardest and feel the greatest sense of achievement?

Decision making: Give an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision.

Communication: Tell us about a time you had to adjust your communication approach to suit a particular audience?

Leadership: Describe a situation when you assumed the role of leader. Were there any challenges, and how did you address them? Or tell me about a time you led a group to achieve an objective.

Trustworthiness/ethics: Give me an example of a time you were deceptive.

Results orientation: Give me an example of a time when you were particularly successful.

Problem solving: What’s the most innovative new idea that you have implemented?

Organisational skills: Talk me through a task you have been responsible for and how you scheduled your time and prioritised matters, or how do you ensure that you cope with a heavy workload?

Technical skills: Describe one of your toughest cases. How did you deal with it? Did you get the result you wanted?

Well-known techniques for answering competency questions

There are two well-known techniques which may help you structure your answers to competency questions:

1. The STAR Technique

This is also sometimes known as SOAR, where Task is replaced by Objective.

Situation: Describe the situation.
Task: Describe what task was required of you.
Action: Tell the interviewer what action you took.
Result: Conclude by describing the result of that action.

2. The CAR Approach

CAR stands for Context, Action, Result.

The Context is your introduction, where you describe the scenario you faced, the date and the place.

The Action forms the main body and should be the longest part of your answer. What action did you take? Remember to focus on your own individual contribution if you were part of a group.

The Result is the conclusion. What results did you achieve/conclusions did you reach/what did you learn from the experience?

Tips for preparing for a competency interview

• Read and understand the job/person specification.
• Try to pick out the main competencies that the employer is looking for from the job spec and think of good examples of when and how you have demonstrated each of these.
• Try to give recent examples where you can and draw on experience from your current or previous jobs or, if appropriate, other areas such as academic study or your personal life. If possible try to give examples from your current or previous jobs.
• Try to use different examples to answer each question rather than 2 or 3 examples to demonstrate a number of different competencies.
• Try to answer the question and limit the amount of background information/explanation you give.
• Make sure your answers and examples you use are the most relevant to the questions asked, rather than trying to impress your interviewers.
• Take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for a moment to think of an answer.
• Don’t make your answers up!
• Try to enjoy the interview!

Chadwick Nott can help you with every step of finding a new job including CV preparation and interview advice. Cathryn Holmes has over 11 years of experience of legal recruitment and is based in our South West team. Contact her now on 0117 917 1854 or at

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