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Answer interview questions with real life examples

Many job applications and interviews ask questions about real life situations, known as competency questions.

Your answers help prove you have the skills and experience employers want.

How to answer competency questions

Use the E.A.R. method to answer competency questions:

  • E for Event: What was the event? Describe it. (Be brief for this one)
  • A for Action: What action did you take? Explain it. (use ‘I’ not ‘we’). This should be the longest section
  • R for Result: What was the successful result? State it. (Use an example that had a good result)

Think of examples from your life and work:

  • What do you do on a typical day at work, when volunteering, doing work experience, training or doing hobbies?
  • What help do you give the people that are part of your work or life?

Below are some questions and answers based on a customer service job to give you some ideas...

Life and work (competency) questions with example answers

Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer

E. Event – 

I was working at Smith’s store, and a customer came up to me while I was on the check-out. He told me that he had looked for a plant that had been in the store the day before, and had come back to buy it but couldn’t find it. He was quite angry as he said he had looked all over the store. 

A. Action –  

I offered to check whether the plant was in stock and explained that I could check the stock on the computer, as well as going to check the shelves. I asked whether he would like to wait or to have a look around the store while he was waiting. The customer decided to wait. I checked the computer and explained to the customer that the plant he wanted was in stock, but had been moved. I checked where the plant had been moved to and offered to take the customer to the aisle. 

R. Result – 

The customer was very happy and thanked me for taking the time to find the plant he wanted. He bought other plants as well as the one I had helped him find. The customer also continued to shop at the store after that time.

Provide an example of when you gave excellent customer service

E. Event – 

I worked in a store that sells mobile phones. A customer came into the store because he was having trouble with his mobile phone. 

A. Action – 

I asked the customer to explain the problem and listened carefully to him as he told me what was wrong with his phone. I asked him if I could look at the phone and he handed it over to me. As I checked the phone I explained to him what I was doing. I found the problem and showed him what had happened. While I was fixing the problem, I noticed something else on his phone that the customer might be having difficulties with, so I asked him about it. He said he would like more help to use the functions on his phone, so I explained it to him, and also gave him a useful website for an online tutorial.

R. Result –

The customer thanked me for fixing the problem and showing him how to use the phone better. He also thanked me for the extra help I had given him. The customer said he would recommend the store to his friends and family because of the great service he’d had.

Describe a situation when you worked flexibly

E. Event – 

I was coming to the end of my shift at work in Smith’s Store when my Supervisor asked me to work for longer. She said that someone had phoned in sick and she needed cover so asked me if I could work a longer shift.

A. Action – 

I said that I was happy to work later to help out, and covered the later shift. Because it was Christmas, the store was very busy and I worked until the store closed. I also offered to work extra days if I was needed for the New Year sales. 

R. Result –

The customers were served quicker because there was more staff on the shift. My supervisor thanked me for working at short notice.

Give an example of when you worked as part of a team to achieve a goal

E. Event – 

I was recently involved in fundraising for my local rugby club. I was part of a team to plan and organise a Fun Day at the rugby club.

A. Action – 

I suggested ideas for the Fun Day as we planned the event. I also listened carefully to other people’s ideas and in that way we decided what activities we would hold on the day. In the team we discussed and decided who would do different tasks. We decided this on who was good at the tasks, so I explained my strengths and listened carefully as others explained what they were good at and what they were interested in. One of my ideas was chosen and I was given it to plan and run as part of a smaller team. I realised that one of the other people was also interested, so I suggested they might like to be part of planning and running a cake stall. They were keen to get involved. We also decided on deadlines to meet. Before the deadlines were due I realised that one of the team was not going to complete their task and I asked them if they needed any help. They did want help, so I spent time helping them phone local businesses for prizes. 

R. Result – 

The Fun Day went very well and we raised money successfully for the rugby club. We worked well as a team and supported each other. The Fun Day was so successful that it was decided to run another one next year.

Explain how you have worked to and achieved a deadline

E. Event – 

I was working part time at Castleton Contact Centre and also in college studying Welsh. The Welsh tutor gave us an assignment and deadline date, and said that the assignment would count toward the final mark. I had just agreed to work more hours at the contact centre.

A. Action – 

Because I knew that time was going to be tight with the extra hours I was going to be working at the Contact Centre, firstly I made a calendar of all work commitments and all classes. Then I went over the assignment and wrote out a list of all I needed to do. Then I wrote a deadline date next to everything on my list. I put this on the calendar so that I had a clear plan to work to. Each day I checked off what I had achieved, and this motivated me to keep achieving the deadlines I had set myself. 

R. Result – 

I handed the assignment in on time. I worked all the shifts I was asked to cover and did not miss a Welsh class. I achieved a distinction grade for my course work and went on to achieve a distinction overall for my course.

Dos and don'ts

Follow these tips when answering competency questions:

  • Be honest and use situations from your own work and life
  • Don’t copy other people's work, and don't make up examples
  • Get help from people you work with or family and friends about what you have achieved if you can. Sometimes they may remember things you don’t

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