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Competency Based Questioning - part 3

Career development and progression

08:00 Monday, 08 November 2021

UK Cyber Security Council

In this third part of our mini-series on Competency-Based Questioning - a technique used in recruitment interviews by the majority of employers at some point - we'll take another example of a question one is commonly asked in an interview, and give a sample answer with the ingredients we, as interviewers, would like to see.

Q: Tell me about a time when your communication skills improved a situation.

The key element, as always, is to answer the question that has been asked. The interviewer isn’t asking you how you improved a situation; he’s asking how you used your communication skills. What actually got better is secondary, as long as it’s tangible.

As we mentioned in our previous example, don’t be frightened to say “I” rather than “we”. You’re being interviewed here, not your team (or your comms team). Be succinct and consider the “STAR” approach: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Something like this:

“My company’s London office, where I happened to be at the time, suddenly lost all its telecoms and data links. The company had a pretty effective incident response process, which leapt into action, but the team were having major problems getting through to the service provider to report the fault. We were on the eighth floor, so I went down to the ground floor to see if the people at the security desk knew anything. Sure enough, they pointed out of the front window at the yellow digger that had just dug up all our links, and several dozen others for other companies in the building - hence the congestion on the telco’s support line. I called my incident response colleague on his mobile and told him what had happened, then waited for the telco engineering team to arrive.

"A quick engineer-to-engineer chat with them made it clear that services would be down for several hours at the very least as there were dozens of copper and fibre cables to re-connect or re-splice. I went back upstairs and explained the situation, and the incident team invoked the home-working procedure. So, although the services weren’t reinstated any more quickly than they otherwise would have been, the interaction I had with the engineers and the incident team enabled us to invoke the go-home action much more promptly than would otherwise have been the case if we’d relied on waiting for the telco to respond on the phone.”

The response is balanced, talks of “I” rather than “we”, and specifically mentions the concept that as someone with a technical/engineering bent, you were able to converse with the telco team in language they understood and then convey not just the facts but the implication back to the incident response team.

The sub-two-minute answer has told the interviewer the situation (services down), the task (figure out why, and what we can do about it), the action (go down and talk to the engineers) and the result (people went home to work rather than hanging around in the vain hope of a quick fix). Question answered.