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Competency-based interviews (those seeking to elicit how you may have showed core competencies for a job in your past) are the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to interviews, and it is particularly important for women seeking leadership positions, to highlight core competencies. One large-scale review on women in both the UK and the US has shown that “Women are likely to undervalue the skill levels of their jobs, whereas men tend not to do so.” Related research on gender differences shows that men and women do not actually differ significantly in the competencies they possess.

However, stereotyping is still pervasive and somen are “less likely than me to be perceived by both male and female managers to display the characteristics of an effective manager.” Efforts should therefore be taken to pay particular attention to how you present your skills; a skilled mentor can help you hone your technique and ensure that any challenges you mention are presented in a positive light.

Drafting a Skills-Based Resume

From the outset, it is important for women applying for a leadership position to draft a thorough resume that is skills-based. When studying a job description, it is vital to go straight to the core competencies mentioned. For a leadership position, these will include decision making, conflict management, project management, teamwork, and creative problem solving (to name just a few).

Rather than merely stating these competencies in your resume, give them greater force by giving specifics. For instance, instead of saying ‘Headed the sales team’, you might stipulate that you “headed a sales team of 15 persons, improving sales figures by 15% in my first term.” Giving specifics will establish two important things: firstly, that you have built up the skills required for the job and secondly, that you can bring a measurable improvement to a new organisation. A well drafted skills section will also steer your interviewers in the directions you have listed, enabling you to prepare better for the questions they are likely to ask.

Preparing for a Competency-Based Interview

We know that women tend to underplay their strengths and skills, but your interview is no time to downplay your skills. Answering a competency-based question involves following the SHARE (or the STAR) method. S stands for Situation (You will need to name the situation that occurred that require you to show off your skill); Hardship or Challenge (What was the problem you had to fix?); Action (What steps or actions did you take to solve the problem?); Result (What did your actions achieve?); and Evaluation (What did you learn from the experience and what steps did you take to reduce the likelihood of the problem happening again?). When practising your answers, make sure you have not left out any of these crucial components.

Role Playing is Key

Relying on a trusted mentor is key to ensure your answers are on point. Before role playing, make sure you have three different situations for each competency. This will ensure you are relaxed and confident at the interview, since the interviewer will likely ask a question you have a good answer for. Record these sessions if possible, so you can make sure that your body languages expresses confidence and warmth.

Competency-based interviews can be tricky for women, because research shows we tend to underplay our skills. It is important to research the core skills required by the job you are applying for, thinking of specific examples for each skill and practising your answer using the SHARE method. Finally, rely on a trusted colleague or mentor to tweak your answers and make sure you present your competencies in a confident manner.