Competency Interview Questions

25 Questions and Answers by

Rachelle Enns is an interview coach and job search expert. She works with candidates to perform their best in employment, medical, and post-secondary admission interviews.

Competency was updated on May 4th, 2019. Learn more here.

Question 1 of 25

Give me an example of a challenge you overcame in your last position.

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Competency Interview Questions & Answers

  1. 1.

    Give me an example of a challenge you overcame in your last position.

      How to Answer

      Demonstrate your positive approach to problem-solving. Show that you are proactive and competent when it comes to challenging workplace situations. Perhaps you went over and above to meet a tight deadline while taking over the responsibilities of a co-worker who was out sick. Another example could be that you trained yourself on a new software that was difficult to understand.

      In your answer, focus on the steps you took to overcome the challenge, rather than the challenge itself. The interviewer wants to hear that you are determined and able to problem solve.

      Rachelle's Answer

      "The biggest challenge that I overcame in my last position was that I was brand new to the industry. I had sales experience; however, I knew very little about the oil and energy industry. I took my evenings and weekends to study hard on industry background, and trends. It didn't take me long to feel comfortable and confident when speaking with potential clients. All it took was some time and dedication!"

      Rachelle's Answer for an Admin Interview

      "When starting my last role, there were 35 critical leadership openings in the business. It was causing a huge challenge for the businesses to function and meet their key initiatives. I worked closely partnering with talent acquisition to accomplish the successful hiring and training of all roles."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Manager Interview

      "My last challenge was to complete product testing within a deadline that was very tight. I was able to keep the test cells running 24 hours a day by monitoring their status from my laptop at home and by asking team members on later shifts to stop by and make sure they could hear it running."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Marketing Interview

      "In my last position, I was tasked with fixing a very broken website. So, I not only learned WordPress, but shopped other providers and learned that WooCommerce was not the best fit for our needs, and migrated the site over to Shopify. I had to teach myself some basic code, as I had minimal resources or support within my organization. In any event, I got the site up and running and working better than ever!"

      Rachelle's Answer for a Retail Interview

      "When I first arrived in my position, the inventory management in our store was out of control. Clothing was stashed in the back room, in every nook and cranny imaginable. I decided to take hold of that project immediately, setting a new standard for the floor sales staff."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Sales Interview

      "I would say the biggest challenge I overcame in my previous position was my lack of outside sales experience. I had inside sales and account management but had never done a cold pitch. At first, it was uncomfortable, but as I became more confident in the company and my knowledge of the industry, I learned what an asset I could be in outside sales. By meeting prospects face-to-face, I could assess not only their sincerity and level of interest but also connect on a personal level. What's ironic is the thing that gave me the greatest pause about taking the position became my favorite part of the job. It's something I look forward to continuing to do daily with your organization, should I be offered the position."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Teacher Interview

      "The district was running a referendum to pass what would get cut from the budget and had a list of proposed cuts; elementary Spanish was at the top of the list. Being told that, purely for budgetary reasons, my job and department would be gone was quite a challenge. We saved the program, in large part due to the support of my current and former students and their families."

      Holly's Answer for an Industrial Engineer Interview

      "The first thing I will do is bring Big Data down to its unique set and reduce the amount of data to be managed. Then, I would leverage the strength of virtualization technology. That way, the organization can virtualize this data set (the “hero” of managing Big Data) to allow multiple applications to reuse the same data footprint. Also, you can store the smaller data footprint on any storage device that is vendor independent. Once this is completed, the compact footprint allows organizations to dramatically improve Big Data management in key areas and save money on IT expenditures."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Home Health Aide Interview

      "One of the most difficult situations that I have had to face on the job was a patient who had dementia. He would frequently become agitated, restless, and sometimes angry. I would patiently remind him of a conversation in a way that suggested something rather than making him feel like he was forgetting. I also encouraged him to leave notes to himself for the purpose of recollection. Eventually, his state deteriorated, and he needed more full-time care than I could offer, but we certainly made his situation work well for him as long as we could."

      Sue's Answer for a Landscape Architect Interview

      "One of the most difficult parts of the job as a landscape architect can be a limited design budget. We are often expected to produce creative solutions with very little budget because clients don't understand the time and energy needed to develop creative solutions. In my previous job, there was this time when a past client wanted a quick final design and construction drawings completed on a very tight schedule and with a limited budget. I knew it was too risky, so I turned down the work and respectfully explained my reasoning to the client. The client hired another company for the job. A few weeks later, the client called me. They had several delays with their project and realized that the schedule and budget combination was unworkable. They should have allowed for a longer schedule or a larger budget for the project. The client told me that they wanted to work with us on the next phase of the project because they valued our judgment and appreciated the honest feedback we had given."

      Darby's Answer for a Family Physician Interview

      "The thing that scares me the most, I suppose, is that I will miss something that could make a difference in a patient's life. I don't necessarily mean a life or death situation. However, sometimes missing a diagnosis because of a lab error or because I wasn't aware of a certain medication the patient is on can make a big difference in a plan of care. I want to be vigilant in my practice as a physician so that my patients know they can count on me."

      Heather's Answer for a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Interview

      "A difficult situation I faced recently was working with an elderly client that had just suffered ​a stroke. After working with her for many months it was still hard to get potential employers to see past her age and it took longer than expected to place her in meaningful employment. The client and I had effective and positive sessions and I provided assistance and encouragement the whole way."

      William's Answer for a Technical Writer Interview

      "The job of a technical writer is much more than just creating documents about technical topics. It involves a great deal of research, planning, collaborating with other organization members to understand their needs, and speaking with subject matter experts on the topic you will be writing about. While the majority of time is spent composing the document, it also requires editing, revisions, and reviewing the document with the project stakeholders to get their approval."

      Ronda's Answer for a Board Chairman Interview

      "In my previous role as a non-profit director, I faced a difficult challenge related to our budget. We were faced with a financial shortage that caused us to evaluate whether or not we would have the resources to fulfill our mission. With the help of my leadership team, we were able to identify areas where we could reduce funding while still operating successfully. The result was minimal impact to our staffing and operations, and we were able to revisit the areas where we cut costs once we received additional funding."

      Rachelle's Answer for an Apartment Leasing Agent Interview

      "I have spent the past nine years working in residential leasing, taking on listings from apartments to penthouses primarily in the downtown district. Although I have not worked with single-family homes, I have represented a few multi-unit townhouse developments. I appreciate the volume of work associated with apartment leasing, and, with our city growing and developing so quickly, I anticipate an even greater uptick in leased properties over the next few years."

      Marcie's Answer for a Bank Manager Interview

      "In my current role as a bank manager for Acme Bank, I am in charge of driving the employee experience. This means that I'm responsible for hiring and retaining new talent and overseeing onboarding, coaching, and employee development. When I came into the position, morale at the bank was extremely low and we had a retention issue. The employees were unmotivated and unhappy. I believed it was time for a change and a breath of fresh air. I started initiating team-building activities and events into our monthly schedule so everyone could get to know each other better and have some fun together. I also met with management and paved the way for more growth and development opportunities for the employees. Nowadays, morale has greatly improved and our retention problem has disappeared."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Superintendent Interview

      "My biggest challenges in my most recent position are surrounding the demographics of the schools I supervise. Often, our young students are coming to school hungry, not properly clothed for the cold weather and have low attention spans because of issues associated with their home life. I have initiated a few programs such as a breakfast club and a clothing swap to try to offer some relief. Those initiatives have proven to help significantly. My teachers are telling me new success stories every week and I am thrilled to have made an impact on this common problem."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Study Abroad Advisor Interview


      Rachelle's Answer for a CNC Operator Interview

      "I am hyper-aware of safety on the job, and care about the fact that my co-workers should feel safe at work and always return home to their loved ones uninjured. Working as a CNC Operator is dangerous, being around all the machines, and with all of the potential distractions. I show diligence by ensuring that I, and everyone on shift, is wearing the proper PPE. This diligence includes the right non-slip safety boots and approved ear and eye protection. I do not hesitate to warn my co-workers when I see a potential risk, and I am also incredibly diligent with my documentation and logs. I also double-check that my machines are turned off and cleaned at the end of each use, ensuring that the next operator is walking into a safe situation."

      Lindsay's Answer for a Biochemistry Technician Interview

      "In a previous role, I was working with several clients at the same time. I had one client in particular who would often ask for last-minute testing to be rushed. I would do all that I could to get the testing accomplished in the small window of time that he was giving. At one point, this client's rush tests were starting to result in a delay for other clients' tests. I spoke to the client and explained that there are many testing requests each day. I told him that I completely understood that his testing was important, but other clients also had very important tests to run, and I needed to be fair to them. The client and I agreed that asking for less than a 24-hour turnaround on testing for his company was not always reasonable and that, to provide quality and timely results, we would ask that only emergency testing be given a rush request."

      Rachelle's Answer for an Audio Engineer Interview

      "As an audio engineer in the news industry, breaking news often creates much tension and stress in the control booth. Producers are changing their minds constantly and I am given multiple various orders while I am also listening to the speakers. During these times, I remain calm, and my first priority is making sure all of the audio that comes out is crisp and loud, despite the changes behind the scenes."

      Rachelle's Answer for an Assistant Principal Interview

      "One of the most difficult situations I've ever faced was when one of our senior teacher's wife passed away. He taught biology, and we had to find a couple of different substitute teachers for his year of sabbatical. The students had a tough time that year, and we had to give them extra encouragement."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Surgical Technologist Interview

      "One of the major challenges that I faced in my last position was with the overall organization of the OR. The schedule's weren't always properly laid out and the coding system wasn't always adhered to. I did the best I could to fill in the data and documentation when I could. I felt that the smallest changes could really help and they often did."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Veterinary Assistant Interview

      "When I volunteered at the animal shelter, I had a dog that had vomited and pooped all over his cage and rolled around in it. I cleaned him up and his cage. He was a large Rottweiler mix and very sick so it was a challenge to move him as well."

      Christina's Answer for a Writer Interview

      "My most challenging project to date was writing a biography for a famous politician. It was hard to overcome bias and prior knowledge the public had about this person. However, I found that the more time I spent with the person, the more I was able to write in the way that he deserved to be portrayed. I took a creative approach and removed a lot of the political jargon, replacing it with stories and angles that the everyday person could appreciate."

      Clara's Answer for an Application Database Administrator Interview

      "I was once tasked with leading a project that was entirely outside of the realm of my position description that involved preparing a 7 piece mailing in-house for 500 individuals. I was given guidance on how to prepare the 7 components which included collaborating with individuals from a different team. My first step was to create a timeline and a list of action items to ensure that I didn't miss a step that could derail the project. I contacted all parties involved and informed them of the timeline and their tasks. I added a decent amount of buffer time in my deadlines to allow for error since this was an unfamiliar project for me. Once I had that ball rolling, I booked a conference room for an afternoon to allow me the time and space to fully prepare this mailing in-house. Then, I contacted the volunteer coordinator to recruit some support for physically putting the mailing together. I maintained regular contact and checked-in with everyone involved to ensure a smooth process. As a result of my planning, communication, and accountability, I was able to complete the project a full 4 days ahead of schedule with no errors."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Territory Sales Manager Interview

      "I faced major challenges when working as a/an (X position title) for (X company). I was responsible for (X duties) and one day I (X examples of major challenges/problems and how you handled them). I nevertheless remained calm, collected and professional and did not let these challenges affect my performance."

      Audra's Answer for a Student Advisor Interview

      "In my previous role, I worked in a school's main office and assisted with recruitment and various tasks. Last year, we were tasked with planning and organizing the testing schedule for the SAT and several AP exams. This was a complex project that affected a quarter of our student population. When it comes to testing, several rules must be followed to ensure that students get their scores and can then send them to colleges they apply to. To carefully work my way through this project, I made sure to read all directions closely, create various checklists, and double-check all of my work. I made sure to communicate clearly to everyone involved--this included students, teachers, and families. It was difficult and time-consuming, but my careful and thoughtful work and listening to advice from the leadership team helped me be successful. After those busy few weeks, I was congratulated by our leadership team for a job well done."

      Heather's Answer for a Bacteriology Technician Interview

      "We had a task at work to accomplish as a team. It wasn't the fact that the task itself was difficult, it was getting everyone to contribute and work as a team. I was able to identify people's strengths and assign tasks accordingly. Once I took the lead and guided the team, the project ended up being very simple and we finished ahead of schedule."

      Samantha's Answer for an Auditor Interview

      "When I worked for one of my previous companies, they had just gone public and had no auditing department. I had a little experience from a previous position and offered to take a look when we failed the first audit we undertook. I found that lack of internal controls and documentation was the root cause. I then had to create the entire auditing department. This lead to my promotion as Internal Audit Director. I hired a team and we got the company back on track. It was by far the most stressful and difficult project I've ever had to undertake because of my limited experience, and the company's budget for hiring was small."

      Heather's Answer for an Addiction Nurse Interview

      "While I have never personally been affected by addiction, I do have loved ones who have been. In fact, my brother is part of the reason I decided to become an addiction counselor. He has battled with addictions of one kind or another for years. From alcohol to methamphetamine, the effects that these addictions have had, have been far reaching."

      Heather's Answer for an Alcohol and Drug Counselor Interview

      "My most recent difficult project was organizing an AA meeting last minute because our regular venue had a roof leak. I was able to delegate tasks to include calling clients, calling counselors, reserving chairs and arranging coffee and donuts for the meeting. The meeting went so well, and I had so much positive feedback that I decided it would be a great place to have our future meetings."

      William's Answer for an Application Analyst Interview

      "Overcoming challenges is a key part of an application analyst's job. Regardless of how well you plan a project, something unexpected always occurs and needs to be resolved. While I don't look for problems, I enjoy challenges that require me to innovate and be creative to resolve them. For example, I encountered an issue with one of my tools to analyze applications in my last job. It didn't integrate with the company's ERP system. After some thought, it occurred to me that there may be an API available from the vendor. I contacted them and confirmed that they had a solution to this issue. I quickly integrated the API into the application, and it worked perfectly."

      Ryan's Answer for a Veterinarian School Interview

      "For me, I think facing a situation that involved animal mistreatment or cruelty would be one of the most difficult things to encounter, purely because of my love and respect towards animals. I will find it difficult to understand how someone could mistreat animals, and am sure these types of situations can be very testing."

      William's Answer for an Application Developer Interview

      "A computer's system software controls the system's operation and provides an environment for the user to access applications and other computer services. Applications depend on the system software and hardware to function. Apps use code and instructions to access the computer hardware, system software, and other services such as access to the internet. The user interface for the app will be different to comply with the standards of different systems."

      Rachelle's Answer for a TSA Screener Interview

      "(Situation) My biggest challenge as a new security officer was learning all of the regulations behind the job. (Task) The learning curve was steep, but it was imperative that my co-workers and employer could rely on me to have a full understanding of the job. (Action) To meet this challenge, I spent many personal hours studying manuals and testing my knowledge with flashcards. I even found some competency tests online. (Result) In the end, my employer told me that I was the most diligent person he had hired in a long time. I expected the role to be challenging, so I was prepared to put in the effort required to succeed. I expect that this challenge will be the same if I am accepted as a TSA Screener. I am ready to face this challenge and put in the hard work to overcome any obstacles."

      Christina's Answer for a Voice Writing Reporter Interview

      "I once was a voice reporter for a court case and I had never covered court before. It moved very fast and used terminology I was not yet familiar with. However, I reviewed my work after the court was over and made sure to correct any errors I found. In the future, I want to make sure I research topics I am unfamiliar with before I transcribe them."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Warehouse Clerk Interview

      "In this warehouse clerk role, I expect the greatest challenge will be the heavy amount of warehouse data input, requiring knowledge, speed, and accuracy. In my current role, we have a robust inventory management system with over 10,000 SKUs. It was a challenge to learn all of the functions and product options; however, in just one short month, I was breezing through the system and even learned shortcuts which led to more efficient customer interactions."

      Rachelle's Answer for an Athletic Director Interview

      "In my last position we did not have a great turnout for our women's sporting events. To solve this, we created a new marketing campaign with a slogan that caught everyone's eye. We began to get local media coverage, as our teams started to win more games. Slowly and steadily, the school spirit increased, and we saw a 40% attendance increase in just three months."

      Nisha's Answer for an Underwriter Interview

      "In my career there have been many difficult situations but what I would like to mention here is one incident where a loan application came to me and we had a very little time to process it. We had to do everything quickly which required the cooperation of the whole team. One of our team members decided to quit the job at that same time, because of which we were in an even worse situation. That is when I decided to overtake the work that other team member was handling. With proper team work and coordination we finished the project on time and also got the contract."

      Christina's Answer for a Voice Over Artist Interview

      "I once struggled to push myself in voice overs because it was hard for me to get out of my own voice and transform into a new role. However, I studied acting and learned how to transform my voice for various roles."

      3 Community Answers

      Anonymous Answer

      "It was the first week of my current job; I was working on the system test, getting trained for the test. One day the guy who was teaching me was sick, and he calls off. On the same day, Engineers have done some change in the configuration file of the testing SW, so we have to follow his procedures, his steps he writes it down in his language which was difficult for me to decode. But I try to make sense on his code with a google search and try to find meaning in his speech, and I asked for help and made sure that what I understand and what you mean is the same. Then I have done testing, and it works."

      Rachelle's Answer

      This is a good example; however, it's difficult to follow. I recommend organizing your thoughts and sticking with the facts. Please see below.

      "The first week of my current job, the person training me called in sick one day. The same day our engineers changed some configuration files that impacted our testing. The colleague training me wrote down the steps for me to follow, but it was in his language which was difficult for me to translate. I utilized Google to translate and asked others for help. In the end, I performed the testing, and it worked out well."

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      Anonymous Answer

      "In the international organization I was working in at that time (before my current job), I started as a team coordinator. All of a sudden, a task force was created within the team in order to better coordinate and supervise the massive project the team was working on at the time, and I was invited to join the task force, with an almost immediate start, as the project was running behind. At the very beginning, I read the job description and felt like I was matching it only for 60% of the requirements. Nonetheless, I felt grateful and empowered by the fact that my director believed in me so much to offer me the position, and I was sincerely excited about such a learning experience, so I accepted. I admit, there were a few tough weeks, when I had to hit the ground running, learn a few new software and get used with a new style of work, but, all my hard work paid off, my contract was extended, and I was offered to remain in the organization until the end of the project."

      Rachelle's Answer

      This sounds like a challenge, indeed! It's great that you stepped up despite any hesitation or fears. Nice answer!

      "At Company ABC, I started as a team coordinator. Suddenly, a task force was created within the team to better coordinate and supervise the massive project at hand. I was invited to join the task force, with an almost immediate start, as the project was running behind. At the very beginning, I read the job description and felt like I was only a 60% match for the requirements. Nonetheless, I felt grateful and empowered by the fact that my director believed in me so much to offer me the position. I was sincerely excited about such a learning experience, so I accepted it. I admit, there were a few tough weeks when I had to hit the ground running, learn new software, and get used to a unique style of work, but all my hard work paid off. My contract was extended until the end of the project."

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