How to Conduct Competency Skills Interviews

Guide to Conducting Competency Skills Interviews - Tips and Techniques

Ensuring Your Next Employee Has the Capabilities You Seek

Competency-based interviews are becoming increasingly popular for Architectural Practices. They help give companies an understanding of how a designer would behave in the role, and what their future performance would be like.

Competency is built up of a combination of knowledge, skills and judgements. Examples of competencies an Architect should have are:

Teamwork: Vital for most careers, especially those that involve management. A candidate should be able to demonstrate that they can communicate effectively, understand the bigger picture and long-term goals for the hiring company, and quickly integrate into their team. 

Leadership: Leadership is a trait needed by Architects as they will need to mobilise the organisation or individual.

Problem solving: Being able to show that they can stay calm under pressure and think up creative solutions to problems that arise. 

Responsibility: A designer spends a large amount of their time working independently. Research and looking into the bigger picture of company investments is a big part of the role, and a candidate should be able to demonstrate they can take on responsibility and make informed business decisions. 

Commercial awareness: An experienced Architect should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the industry and a deep understanding of how the construction market works. They should be up to date on industry news and changes in regulations, as well as market trends and the customer demographics for the hiring company’s area of architecture.

Why Do Competency-Based Interviews Work for Architects?

A well-conducted, competency-based interview will help the interviewer ascertain that they are selecting the best candidate. The advantages that well-honed interview techniques offer in these types of interview include the following.

Reducing human error

Conducted by humans, interviews are prone to human errors. University of Michigan Professor Richard Nisbett explains, “When it comes to choosing a candidate, traditional interviews are as much use as flipping a coin.

”Interviewers tend to overestimate their abilities to make judgements on who are the right candidates. Trusting intuition can be a pitfall and cost companies by making poor hires. By conducting competency-based interviews, candidates can be hired based on their skills. This helps to prevent bias by factors such as outfit choice, handshake or posture. 

Recruiting high-quality talent

Enterprises are focusing more on recruiting Architects from the top of the talent pool. Rather than trying to fill a position as quickly as possible, using competency-based interviews helps ensure that the right candidate fills the position – the one with the most talent, and who is more likely to remain loyal to a company for the long term. 

Architects are essential to the success of practices, and the management of their investments. As such, the competencies they demonstrate will have a huge impact on any projects they undertake. By asking competency-based interview questions, the interview verifies skills and ensures that the highest-calibre candidate is hired.

Learning how a candidate applies their skills

A competency-based interview allows the interviewer to assess how the candidate applies their skills in different situations. Beyond knowing that they have the hard and soft skills necessary to be an Architect (such as reasoned decision-making, analytical skills, financial modelling, etc.), a competency-based interview also allows the interviewer to learn how they use these skills, and how that can be advantageous to the company that hires the candidate.

Confirming a pattern of behaviour

Asking a candidate several competency questions with variations confirms their behaviours. Picking up patterns of behaviour helps to understand how they will undertake certain tasks and if they are the right fit for the recruiting company. Unstructured interviews only give a quick snapshot of a person’s behaviour in comparison. It is important to learn how a candidate behaves in all situations, not extrapolate behaviour from an isolated case answer.

Develop a Selection Criteria

Before conducting an interview, it is crucial that the interviewer understands the exact nature of skills, attributes and knowledge that they are looking for in a candidate. Developing a watertight set of criteria will help in the formulation of questions and the assessment of all candidates in competition for the Architect.

Larger organisations may already have a competency framework. Smaller companies may need to give some time to consider the required competencies, and how to ask the questions necessary to test these at the interview stage.

Look at the Job Description

When seeking to fill an Architect role, a company must include all the competencies required in the job advert. These skills should be listed as ‘essential’ and ‘desired’ or ‘preferred’. Interviewers should keep these skills in mind as they progress through the interview, noting when the candidate demonstrates they have these required skills. 

Prepare Competency Questions

Once the criteria for the Architecture job has been determined, the next step is to establish questions to ask the candidate to determine if they meet these criteria. Interviewers should focus on the core of each competency, and develop questions that will enable candidates to demonstrate specific examples of when they have used these skills successfully.

Example Competency Questions

When establishing a candidate’s competencies, it’s vital to ask the right questions that are directly relevant to the role. The candidate should be able to explain why they made certain decisions, the impact their decisions had, and what the outcome was. 

Here are some example competency-based interview questions that might be asked in an Architect’s interview.

“Describe a time when an idea you had was challenged.”

When asking this question, the candidate is being challenged to demonstrate their industry knowledge, technical abilities, flexibility, decisiveness, personal integrity and independence.

For example, they may have suggested a management process in their previous job that was challenged. Perhaps they then used their knowledge of market trends, communication skills and persuasive abilities to convince their previous employer to commit to their idea. 

The interviewer may be seeking to test the candidate’s resolve and faith in their own abilities. However, simultaneously the candidate should show that they are able to be flexible and compromise as well as their tenacity to be tenacious and present their idea in a way that helps to overcome challenges.

“Tell me about a time you worked to a tight deadline.”

A candidate should be able to prove their resourcefulness and ability to think on their feet. Architecture is a field where people often need to work under pressure. The candidate may have to complete contracts within a certain time or adapt a deal so that it does not fall through as circumstances change. 

The candidate should be able to use deadlines to motivate themselves and others. They might provide an example of a time they worked extra hours or adapted a strategy to ensure that deadlines were met. The interviewer is testing that the candidate understands the importance of deadlines and, rather than missing them, adapts work process to ensure that deadlines are kept.

“Give me an example of a complex project you worked on.”

This is a common competency interview question as it gives candidates the chance to prove they can manage difficult situations and are adaptable. In their answer, the candidate should give a recent example that is relevant to the role they will be taking on.

From their answer, the interviewer should be able to gauge how well they deal with being challenged and their attitude towards complex projects. It should also help to understand their self-awareness and how they view themselves as a contributor to a project. As an Architect, the candidate who fills the role should be able to demonstrate a high level of accountability in their previous job, and that they can contribute positively to complex projects. 

“Tell me about a time when you failed to complete a task or project on time.”

A candidate should show how they manage their time for difficult tasks. They should not give answers that are negative justification, such as “I was sick before the deadline,” or “I had a personal family emergency occur a few days before the project was due.”

They should give a positive justification for why the deadline was missed.

Deadlines are occasionally missed. While it is not a trait that any company wants to see often in an Architect, it is admirable that a candidate can admit to mistakes and give reasonable justification. This ensures that they take their responsibilities seriously and deal with issues as they arise, rather than sweep them under the carpet or blame others..


Traditional interviews, whether they are face-to-face or over the phone, have been an industry-standard in Architecture for decades. However, new forms of interviewing are becoming increasingly successful in helping companies make the right hire. 

Competency-based interviews help companies to assess a candidate’s skills and ensure that they have all the qualities needed to thrive in the Architecture job advertised. Attractive and charismatic interviewees aren’t necessarily the most qualified, but in an in-person interview, these factors can create a bias that leads to an unsuccessful hire. Through a competency-based interview, human error and bias can be eliminated. 

Asking competency-based questions can help fix the broken process of interviewing, and allow the interviewer to establish patterns in a candidate’s behaviour that will help determine if the candidate has the skills.


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