Employers and professional assessors are interested in how your skills and experience will contribute to success. When they consider your CV, covering letter and/or application form, they are interested in how well you understand what is required, and your capability for doing it well in the future.
Competencies are statements about skills, knowledge or personal traits that will enable you to be successful in the position or accreditation you are applying for. An application form and/or interview may ask you to provide examples – from your work history or other experience – of how you have demonstrated particular competencies.
Answering competency-based questions is a skill of its own. It can be easy to be long-winded by including too much information, or not address the competency they are asking about.
You can improve your chances by preparing short statements and examples for a range of commonly needed competencies in advance and using these to inform your applications and interviews.
Knowing what you are capable of is the first step in developing examples of your competencies:
Scan your CV and past job applications for keywords, especially for verbs that describe how you work and nouns that describe technical knowledge or skills
Re-visit your performance reviews and career discussions with line manager and others – what did they said about your strengths?
Review list of competencies to identify others you may not have noted, e.g. the Chartered Geographer Framework of Competencies (which has a range of articulations for each competency), this list of 95 core competencies, or this list of 35 core competencies grouped by type.
Ask a trusted friend or colleague to review this with you and identify any you may not have thought of.
Using the list of competencies you developed in the first step, identify situations in which you used or further developed this skill, knowledge or trait:
You should draw on your own experiences, showing how you demonstrated the competency in the past. This could be from school or university, the workplace, your family life/home responsibilities, your voluntary work or leisure. Try to keep most of the examples focused in a professional sphere unless you are very early in your career.
If is not enough to say that you have the experience, you must show evidence of making a success of that experience by describing how you acted and what the effect of those actions was.
Think about the “I” (what you did/achieved) rather than the “we”.
Draft and re-draft – keep your examples concise.
You may find it helpful to use the S-T-A-R technique to organise your thoughts:
The Situation or Task you were involved in – the setting and what was expected of you
The Actions you took in addressing the situation – what you did and when (use “I”, not “we”)
The Results of these actions, and how well you met your aims.
Or the C-A-R technique:
Challenge – The specific problem you needed to address
Action – how you went about solving the problem
Results – what was the outcome (using metrics)
Start each achievement or evidence statement with a strong action word, e.g. “I achieved”, “I delivered”, “I led”, rather than “I supported”, “I was involved in”.
If you are in a job interview situation, you might also discuss how you could have improved on what you did, to show further learning.
Try to ensure that your response relates to the specific competency they are asking about and not be so general it could apply to many different competencies.
Any application for a job or professional recognition will need a tailored response. Be selective in the examples you offer, so that they will resonate with the employer or assessor.
Identify situations or tasks that would be recognised by the employer or assessor, or results that align with the success criteria for the thing you are applying for.
Your experience and examples might be able to evidence two or three different competencies. Try to develop a range of examples that can be used in this way, so that you can use different examples throughout an interview or application form.
Before an interview, review the competencies and job requirements included in the role description. The interviewer is likely to ask about several of these in the interview. If you can, map out which of your examples will fit best with each competency so you are prepared if they ask you about it.
Tips for completing competence-based application forms from the Career Transition Partnership
S-T-A-R technique from Guardian Jobs
How to succeed in competency-based interviews
Example early career/graduating student competency-based CV and application form
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY NC 4.0), which permits use, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, provided the original work is cited and it is for non-commercial purposes. Please contact us for other uses.
Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2021) Evidencing your skills and experience in covering letters and application forms. Available at www.rgs.org/careersresources/evidencecompetencies. Last accessed on: <date>
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