The terms personality traits and competencies are often used interchangeably; however, understanding their differences helps significantly in your career planning and development.

What are personality traits?

Personality traits are deep-seated behaviours and preferences that people have had for most of their lives, and are pretty fixed and difficult to change.

Typical dimensions of personality that are assessed for the workplace are:

  • How you are energised and express yourself around others: Expressive or Reserved (Extroverted / Introverted)
  • How you gather information: Observant or Introspective (Sensing / Intuitive)
  • How you prefer to make decisions: Tough Minded or Friendly (Thinking / Feeling)
  • How you related to the outside world: Plans or Goes with the flow (Judging / Perceiving)

In the past personality tests have been a useful tool in assessing job suitability, and whilst they still have some relevance today competency based interviews and tests are more common when assessing people for particular job

What are competencies?

Competencies are the combination of observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities and personal attributes learned over time.

Beyond the technical competencies required for a job, the following competencies are usually included for assessment:

  • Teamwork
  • Problem Solving
  • Handling Conflict
  • Leadership

Recruiters use competencies as measures of how well you do certain things because they can be identified and described or measured.

See related article: How to define behavioural competencies

Competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviews, also referred to as structured interviews, are very systematic – with each question targeted at testing a specific skill or competency required for the job. Typically questions start with “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…

Your answers are matched against job-specific criteria and used to assess if you have the skills and competencies required for the job; the rationale being – if you performed well in the past you are likely to in the future.

Your answers must be supported with relevant examples from previous experiences, and expect the interviewer to then dig further into the examples provided for evidence of specific behaviours or skills.

Interview preparation for each job is essential as each has their own set of competencies which you should be aware of.  You can then prepare and practice answers in the form of “interview stories”) that highlight the relevant competencies and skill the recruiter is looking for.

The biggest, and most basic, problem for most interviewees is trying to ‘wing’ the answers – the results are too long, unfocused and missed opportunity to present themselves in the best light.


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