Before going into the preparation for graduate telephone interview competency questions, along with some helpful guidance and tips for a graduate phone interview. I believe it is first best to gain an understanding as to firstly 'what exactly is a competency based question' and also 'why competency questions are used in graduate telephone interviews'.

What are Competency Based Questions?

Competency based questions are questions given within a (telephone) interview scenario that requires a candidate to initiate and provide examples from their experience to answer the company's questions, relating to one of their core competencies. A competency being an ability that means you are well suited, that you are appropriately qualified to carry out the job position. In cases where the candidates are more experienced, often with numerous job roles, they would then be able to provide examples of competencies from those cases (their jobs). However, a candidate interviewing for a graduate job will obviously have much less likely experience to draw upon. So instead they are often advised to use examples from internships, roles within university and college societies etc. to show that they have covered the competencies the company requires of them.

Why Competency Based Questions are Used in a Graduate Phone Interview?

If we consider the view of  a perspective company looking to hire graduates, competency questions can be deemed useful in determining a candidate's future performance within the role by inspecting what they have achieved through their past experience from the examples the candidates provide. Therefore, the more examples and in-depth scenarios the candidate offers in the interview, which the interviewer can gauge as the candidate having to require a higher performance, then it is more likely the recruiter will see you as a future higher performer also. Competency based interviews are considered a rather new modern twist on the traditional interview and one which most graduate recruiters seem to be favouring.

It is important to remember however, just because it is a competency based question interview does not mean they will just ask you about competency questions within the telephone interview. They may throw in the odd traditional interview question such as "why do you want to work for us?". Hence, it is important that you prepare that aspect of your interview style also. Furthermore, they are also highly likely to presume you have done reasearch into the company and the job role and are expectant of you to show such knowledge surrounding their company and why you can fit into their graduate scheme. So be prepared for questions relating directly to their company. By doing the research anyway, it should provide you with an understanding of what you will likely to be doing in the role, and assure the company recruiter that you have scrutinised long and hard over the job application, which proves in itself you are valid a candidate who analyses decisions rather than making sudden rash ones.

A Brief Preparation on Researching the Company You Have a Phone Interview With

Therefore, before you start preparing for the competency questions in the telephone interview it is vital in almost every graduate job interview that you have Carried Out In-Depth Company Research - An idea of a brief research plan could be:

Firstly, start with the job role and the job description, find out the type of tasks that you may have to carry out etc.

Secondly, research the company as a whole and specifically the department you are likely to be working in. What do they do? What tasks and projects are they involved with?

Thirdly, check their 'details' such as the current share price, the current plans of actions, you want to be right up to date with their actions and potential issues they are facing. Check for them in the 'news', get on to google alerts and make their company name an alert, a great way to get right up to date with their actions.

Fourthly, get on the phone and ring them, make inquiries about the company and how the business is going, you are more than likely to be surprised at what you can find, with the interviewer being even more surprised with such in-depth knowledge of the company. (You could even ask for advice and tips in how to do well in your phone interview, or they might even put in a good word for you - at least worth a go). At the very least, if you subtly mention that you have rang around the company's departments to gain information, it proves to be a great signal to a potential recruiter that you can actively seek out information, that you take initiative to go beyond the average applicant. Moreover, the more research you have committed yourself to, the more confidence that should provide you in the interview and higher the degree of detail you can talk about with the interviewer. Also giving you an increased chance of you asking intriguing and engaging questions with the interviewer.

Finally, be sure to do instigate at least some research into their competition, identify areas of difference and commonalities between them.

How Graduates Can Prepare and Organise for Competency Questions in a Phone Interview

  •  Research Company Hints and Tips into Answering Competency Questions does the company offer specific guidance and tips on answering competency based questions in their telephone interview such as PwC etc. on their website. If they do, make sure you list down every competency they have to offer on that site. If not be sure to check out major companies (and the company's competitor's list of competencies) that offer advice and useful hints on how to answer competency questions, you should find a lot of the major companies will have competencies that cross over. Often they will list a number of qualities that competency-based questions will be asked on. In PwC [4163]  as an example, they offer a list of potential competencies in which candidates may be asked upon in a phone interview, hence it is up to you to commit research into these qualities and familiarise yourself in order to produce the best response and answers in relation to questions based on these competencies. Examples from PwC include: "Be Curious: Learn, Share and Innovate" and "Demonstrate Courage and Integrity". Remember although most will cross over, some companies will have differing competencies, so you should not presume it is a one-fits all, although you should not presume that to be the case in any interview.
  • Find Examples from Your Experience that Match up to the list of Competencies - therefore, for every question that is posed to you based on one of the potential competencies that will be asked, you have a scenario that is able to identify specifically to that exact situation. The example simply has to demonstrate that you have in fact done it and were substantial in that specific role. For example, in the competencies above "Be Curious: Learn, Share and Innovate". You could have for example have been provided an essay at university that needed to be carried out to a certain standard. But, you had found the essay topic interesting and because you were curious and eager to learn you decided to go into research which was beyond the expectation of you. Then, you went on to produce a Powerpoint pdf format of the extra detail and notes you have summarised, which you submitted had submitted to your module organiser, who then asked your permission for it to be shared across all other students who were taking the module so they could benefit from it also.
  • Organise how You Answer The Interviewer's Questions - a method such as the STAR technique[4164] , which is situation - the scenario that you were in, task - what you had to carry out, action - what you did within the scenario in response to the task you had to carry out, result - what had occurred as a result of the action you had carried out. By organising how you answer a question you won't ramble as much, and you will be sure to have hit all the points that you wanted to make in response to the competency question being asked. It is important however, to not appear too rehearsed  in the interview and make sure you are actually listening and responding to the question directly. Although there are beneficial aspects to methods such as the STAR technique, do not forget to stay flexible in how you approach an answer.

General Preparation Specifically for a Graduate Telephone Interview - Hints and Tips

Now you have sufficiently prepared your competency based answers, it is now important to understand that a phone interview is quite different to that of a face-to-face interview, below are some general guidelines on carrying out telephone interviews and how to improve on them in the future.
  • Stationery at the ready. A few pens, pencils and a pad of paper will do, you may need it for noting down contact details etc. At the very least you wanting to be writing down the name of your interviewer as you will be constantly referring to it throughout the interview, a small but effective way to building a good rapport.
  • Practice makes perfect. If this is an phone interview that matters (most are) and you have never carried out a phone interview before it is vital that you practice over and over again. Get a friend to come up with some competency based questions (you can find them on most big company websites) and get them to provide you with a mock interview. Ask them not if you were good (they are your friend they will always say you were good) but instead how you can improve (ask them to do a little research into what makes a good telephone interview, so they have an idea as to what to look out for in your answers also). Then with the constructive feedback take that into your next mock phone interview with a different friend. Try rehearsing answers on your own too.
  • Location, Location, Location. Make sure you are answering the interview in a place where you will not be subject to distraction or noise. Be sure to let people know you are simply not to be disturbed during the duration of the phone interview, you need 100% focus and dedication, if you are going to ace this telephone interview.
  • Use a land line. Not your mobile phone. Firstly, you do not want to be running the risk of your mobile to suddenly die or mobile service connection cut out on you. Secondly, the quality of the landline is far superior to that of most mobile phones.
  • Keep Your Resume Close By. If they call upon any details regarding referees contact details, or any important dates such as placements you are able to provide that information efficiently and promptly.
  • Stand. Your voice is often said to sound more projected, when stood instead of sat down hence projecting a greater sense of confidence.
  • Dress for work. At a subconscious level there have been claims that actually getting into a work uniform automatically increases the sensitivity of the brain, making you feel and act more attentively. It can only help, right? 
  • Hands-free Headset. Here you obviously free your hands and have less to concentrate on, get a quality headset and you will be able to hear the interviewer clearer as well as yourself to them.
  • Smile. By smiling your tone of voice and your general attitude will appear brighter and happier.
  • Don't rush. You want the interviewer to firstly hear and given time to comprehend what you are saying, speaking fast gives off the impression of nervousness and generally they won't be able to actually understand what it is you are trying to say. Instead take a deep breath and speak slower and project your voice.
  • Don't babble. Don't go on talking and talking, you want to keep your answers concise and brief, if they want more information from you, then they will ask. However, it is important you stay engaged with the interviewer, they will soon get bored if you go off on five minute rants.
  • This probably goes without saying but it is important still, be polite. Please.

If you have any other tips and advice or want to share your experiences on how you prepared for graduate telephone interview competency questions please do leave a comment below.

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Graduate Telephone Interview