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December 4, 2020, by Abigail Rowse

Applications and Interviews: How to Choose Your Best Examples

By Christian Jameson-Warren, Employability Education Projects Officer

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.

What is the employer actually looking for?

You might be in a position where you’re reading the person specification for a vacancy you’re interested in, and it includes this list:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication skills
  • Organisation skills
  • Creativity

All of these skills are quite broad, and sometimes there’s little or no explanation or context provided. What sort of ‘creativity’ are they looking for? What example of communication skills should you demonstrate?

How do you tackle a competency question?

During my time in the Careers and Employability Service, I’ve spoken to many students who feel frustrated about this. They feel their examples demonstrate the requirements, but later find their application is rejected. For me, there are two main ways to improve on this: choosing the best examples, then presenting them effectively. This blog focuses on choosing the best examples and signposts resources at the end to help you with presenting your examples in the best way.

For me, I’ve found the following steps to be helpful when assessing how best to illustrate a particular competency:

  • 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?

Once you have reflected on the above questions, you should understand why the employer is asking for a specific competency. You can then match your experiences to what the organisation needs, giving you the best answers in your applications and interviews.

How do you apply this advice to a real life example?

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 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 imagine what a typical day would look like as a data analyst. To help with this, you could do some research such as using our Types of Jobs pages, researching the employer, and reading the job profiles on Prospects.

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 creating marketing campaigns for other organisations.

How do you apply your experience to the job role?

As part of your research, you should realise why a particular competency is integral for the role. For example, the company may want to run a promotional campaign that your data analysis shows won’t work as drafted, which means you will need to communicate the changes needed in a clear, non-technical way to your marketing colleagues.

You have now figured out why the role requires communication skills. Your next step is to reflect on your most relevant experiences. 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, the Nottingham Advantage Award or from volunteering.

Your next stage is to communicate these examples effectively, whether in an application or an interview. Read our application forms page (check out the competency questions section) and our advice on interviews (see the behavioural or values section). Here you will find tips on how to succinctly communicate your examples. For more support, consider booking onto a skills workshop, completing our interactive learning tool about applications or listening to our Employability Matters podcast on how to make successful applications.

Posted in Applying For JobsCareers AdviceInterviews