Biographical Vs. Competency Based Interview: What’s The Difference?
24 July 2019

Let’s not lie to ourselves - interviews can be scary, from choosing the right outfit to the uncertainty of what questions you’ll be asked, it can be difficult to work out where your priorities should lie when it comes to preparation. That’s where we come in. In this week’s blog, we talk you through the differences between biographical and competency based interviews and how to prepare for both, including tips on memorisation and example questions.

What Is A Biographical Interview?

Also known as an unstructured interview, a biographical interview aims to get an overall impression of a candidate, their personality, attitudes and background. Usually this kind of interview is more conversational and does what it says on the tin – it looks for a biographical overview, without specifying particular skills. Because they function to get an overall feeling of a candidate, they are subjective according to the interview’s preferences.

Examples of biographical questions:

  • Tell us about yourself?
  • What can you offer the company?
  • Why attracts you to this role in particular?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?


What Is A Competency Based Interview?

A structured or behavioural interview, a competency based interview tests specific skills and behaviours in a variety of circumstances. The interviewer will ask questions where they are looking for you to talk through clear examples of how you’ve reacted and dealt with particular situations. Questions are crafted according to the job to find out how a candidate performs when faced with dilemmas. Competencies tested can include leadership, communication and conflict management skills.  



Examples of competency based questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a colleague and how you overcame it?
  • What has been the most challenging project you have worked on and why?
  • Describe a situation where you successfully worked as part of a team?


The STAR approach is a popular method to help with answering competency-based questions in a clear, structured and concise way, to avoid nervous rambling and keep you on track.

S: Situation: talk about the project and provide some context.

T: Task: describe the task you undertook.

A: Action: what steps you took to complete the task.

R: result: detail the outcomes and what impact they had.


How Do I Know Which To Expect?

Often if you are working with a recruiter, you can ask them what type of interview you’ll be walking into, and what to generally expect from the company. That’s one of the many advantages of working with a recruiter; you receive support throughout your application from submitting your CV to (hopefully) landing the job.

If you aren’t working with a recruiter, it’s not always easy to guess what type of interview you’ll be undertaking, but looking at the nature of the company, their size and the requirement of the role will give you a clue. A big international corporate business is more likely to ask a mixture of biographical and competency based questions, especially for a senior position, with several stages to the interview process. Contrastingly, a small family run business may be more likely to delve into biographical information and experience, to work out how you would fit in with the team as a priority, especially for a less senior position. But it’s always worth preparing for both to cover your bases and be in for a better chance of success.


What is your experience of biographical or competency based interviews? Chat to us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn. Looking for a new job? Scroll through our current vacancies or register for job alerts to find a role that suits you.




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